This week Johannesburg motorists experienced a devastating hailstorm leaving many unsuspecting vehicle owners diving for cover under highway bridges, roadside trees or speeding toward their nearest garage.
Many of those unlucky motorists, who were not in time to seek cover, now find themselves with vehicles looking anything but in mint showroom condition.
Richard Green, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairer’s Association (SAMBRA), a constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organization (RMI), says his outlets always experience a flood of enquiries from concerned motorists after hailstorms such as this one.
Green says it is advisable to get a professional assessment of the damage from a reputable repairer that is well equipped to deal with hail damaged vehicles. The repairer can also provide advice on how best to proceed with repairs.
“Depending on the depth of the dent left by the hailstone, the dents can be removed by a process known as PDR or paint-less dent removal,” says Green. This process utilizes trained professionals and involves specialised tooling which accesses the metal panels from the inside and manipulates the dent until it is completely repaired. Green says this method is used internationally by insurers. “The only cautionary note here,” he says, “is that horizontal panels, such as your roof, bonnet and boot may have been subjected to so many hailstones that removing them using the PDR method may stretch the metal and in cases such as these the panel may need to be replaced.
In most cases, however, the vertical panels will not be affected to the same extent and can be easily repaired using the PDR method,” he says.
All SAMBRA-accredited members either have full time employed PDR specialists or make use of specialists who operate independently.
In the unfortunate event that you are caught in a hailstorm, Green provides the following advice to motorists:

  • Keep calm – The first and golden rule is to keep calm, lower your speed and ensure your lights or hazards are turned on for increased visibility.
  • Find a safe place to pull over – Ideally it is preferable to try and pull over and wait out the storm where there is some cover. You must, however, always remain in your car to avoid personal injury. Also be cautious of stopping under large trees where there is a danger of falling branches and debris. Position your car so the windshield bears the brunt of the hail – This glass is the strongest glass and is specially reinforced. The side and rear windows aren’t as strong and are more prone to breakage.
  • Keep a heavy blanket/s in your boot – Another idea is to keep heavy blankets in your car. This will provide you with a protective covering that you can throw over the bonnet of your car to prevent hail damage.
  • If your car is damaged, evaluate your options – If you are insured, call your insurance company immediately and notify them as to what has happened. Follow their advice as each insurer has its own cover, terms and conditions and required processes to follow. In general, it is advisable to take photos of your vehicle and submit them to your insurer. Depending on the claims process, your insurer will evaluate your vehicle and recommend applicable options.

In some cases you may elect to manage some of the repairs yourself, such as replacing damaged wiper blades or a smashed headlight. If you are insured let your insurance company know of your intent to do so.
“A hailstorm is a catastrophic event and places enormous pressure on both insurers and repairers so the length of normally accepted repair cycles may be slightly longer over the next couple of weeks,” concludes Green.