Yes, it's an Airbag for Hail

By Karen Schwartz Features


According to the National Weather Service, there were 7,031 hailstorms reported in the U.S. in 2012. So what do you do if you have a shiny new car and live in Texas, which reported more events than any other state?

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You make sure you have the right insurance. You watch the skies and run for cover. You park in a garage, or under a carport. You buy a padded cover.

Or you buy an airbag.

Gunter, Texas, resident Michael Siciliano is the inventor of the Hail Protector, an external airbag that inflates to cover and protect cars from hail damage.

"Living in North Texas, I looked around and all I was seeing were padded covers, which were bulky and weren't protecting entire vehicles," Siciliano says. "The Hail Protector is portable, packs up small, and is fully inflated in five minutes."

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Is hail a problem for you?

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Hailstorms peak in March, April and May.

"Some of the most significant natural disasters have occurred in the last decade," says Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute, "and some of these have involved hail."

In Texas, hailstorms can occur almost any time, says Pablo Moreno, an insurance agent with the Texas Insurance Agency in Houston.

"Houston's a subtropical climate, so we have various types of weather that causes hailstorms to happen different times of the year," he says.

2012 hailstorms by state

State Hailstorms State Hailstorms
Texas 795 Michigan 115
Kansas 426 Montana 115
Nebraska 384 Louisiana 91
North Carolina 319 New Mexico 81
Oklahoma 299 Florida 73
South Dakota 293 West Virginia 68
Tennessee 258 Wyoming 51
Kentucky 248 Vermont 41
Missouri 246 Idaho 35
Minnesota 235 Maryland 32
Illinois 229 Washington 28
South Carolina 224 New Jersey 27
Alabama 220 Oregon 26
Indiana 210 Maine 20
Virginia 208 Massachusetts 20
Georgia 196 California 17
Ohio 195 Connecticut 15
Iowa 184 New Hampshire 13
Mississippi 162 Arizona 7
Arkansas 157 Rhode Island 6
Pennsylvania 142 Utah 6
North Dakota 134 Nevada 3
New York 131 Delaware 2
Colorado 123 Alaska 0
Wisconsin 121 Hawaii 0

The Highway Loss Data Institute says approximately 250,000 cars are damaged by hail every year in the United States alone. Hailstorms are also a prime source of suspicious claims, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says.

Are you covered if your car is damaged by hail?

You're covered for hail damage only if you've purchased comprehensive coverage, sometimes referred to as "other than collision," which also covers hazards including vandalism and theft. Of course, you'll have to first pay the deductible on your insurance policy.

Hailstorm insurance claims typically run from $800 to $1,000, Moreno says. But many repairs cost less than the customer's deductible, he says, meaning a lot of damage goes unreported to insurance companies.

Will your insurance premium go up if you file a claim for hail damage?

Generally, claims for hail damage won't affect your rates because they're considered natural, unforeseeable events that are out of your control. (See which claims affect your rates with the Crash-o-Matic.) But if you've recently filed other claims, you can be seen as a higher risk, and you'll probably pay more for your automobile insurance in the future.

For that reason, minor hail damage to your car may not be worth an insurance claim. (See "Hail damage claims: What you need to know.")

Insurance companies typically do not charge lower rates for drivers who park in a garage.

Protect your car from an upcoming hailstorm

So how can you protect your car from an upcoming hailstorm?

Siciliano's Hail Protector -- it hits the market March 19 -- comes in three sizes that range in price from $299 to $399 and runs off battery power, a car's cigarette lighter or a home electrical outlet. The price also includes a lifetime subscription to severe weather alerts via smartphone or e-mail, with a warning on the potential for hail 30 to 60 minutes before a hailstorm hits.

Those National Weather Service alerts are available, often free, through other providers as well.

You can also protect your car from an upcoming hailstorm by taking a common-sense approach, says Barry.

"Listen to the weather reports, and if you live in an apartment building, try to park your car under a carport- a parking space that has a roof on it," he says. "(Finding a complex with covered parking) is worth the investment if you're an apartment dweller."

If your car does get damaged by hail, Barry says you should "document the loss by taking photos and notifying your insurance agent right away."

And Barry has one final tip: "Don't get rid of your comprehensive coverage. If you look at your policy, the amount that goes to comprehensive coverage is a small percentage that covers a lot -- including floods, hail, earthquakes and windstorms -- so don't get rid of it."

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An airbag for hail. Really.