DALLAS -- It started with a pinging sound as a pre-Easter hailstorm rolled through auto dealerships north of Dallas, where thousands of vehicles were damaged and dealers huddled with insurers on Friday.
The light sound of ice pebbles raining down on new and used inventory in cities including Plano and Lewisville turned to a thud overnight Thursday, punching golf-ball sized holes through some windshields and causing millions of dollars in dents.
“There’s several weather situations that can give a car dealer nightmares,” said Brian Huth, general manager at Five Star Ford in Plano. “Hail is one of them.”
With around a thousand cars and light trucks on the lot, Five Star was relatively lucky, suffering mostly small dings from marble-size hail, Huth said. “Even if it’s just a speck or two, we’re going to end up fixing that vehicle.”
Among nearby dealers, some got missed by the hail entirely and others suffered much more serious damage. Repairs could take weeks or even months.
Ray Huffines, CEO of Huffines Auto Group, said it was probably the worst hailstorm he’s seen in terms of the number of vehicles damaged.
“We have nine dealerships and five of them have some kind of damage,” he said. “Usually when there’s a hailstorm, we don’t have five dealerships in two cities [hit], it’s usually just one.”
The affected dealerships are in Plano and Lewisville, and all but one had light damage, which is the good news. The bad news is that Huffines Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Plano had moderate damage to a significant number of vehicles.
“We’re still working with our insurance company, so we don’t know how much, but it would be in the millions of dollars,” said Huffines. About 3,000 vehicles overall had hail dents; most dents will likely be repaired without having to remove the paint.
Huffines said a lot of the cars will be discounted for sale and would be subject to “sizable discounts.”
The week’s severe weather was not the only hail in northern Texas this month, and it might not even be the worst.
A March 16 storm on the Fort Worth side of the metropolitan area damaged around 50,000 vehicles and caused an estimated $600 million in damage, said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.
It was too early to know how the latest storm compares to that one, he said. “I have no idea how bad it’s going to be, but it’s going to be bad.”
Severe weather is not uncommon this time of the year in Texas, Hanna said, but the hail storms came a couple weeks early compared to last year. “It’s starting a little early here, so we may be in for a rough ride.”
North Texas is in the “hail belt,” as well as a tornado zone. There have been hailstorms in recent years that caused as much as $1 billion in damage overall to vehicles and buildings.
New vehicles will generally be fixed if the damage is light, Huth said. But potential buyers can also accept the damage and cut a better deal. That would be in the case of roof damage, for example, where it’s not that noticeable or bed damage in a pickup.
Huth said there’s only so much dealers can do to protect their inventory, given that there are city ordinances that limit the types of structures they can build on their lots.
Likewise, car buyers in Texas are accustomed to shopping inventories in the open air. “People really like to see their car outside,” Huth said.
Five Star, which prides itself on having a huge selection, was helping out customers who were assessing their own damage.
One customer who lives across the street decided to trade-in his dented pickup for a new one. Five Star was happy to help out. “We’re business as usual here,” said Huth.
The storms have not set back the construction of Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano, the automaker said.