DALLAS -- Texas auto dealers are turning to "hail sales" and "storm chasers" to try to make the best of a bad situation: the Lone Star State's worst run of hail damage in years.
San Antonio is the latest victim, with a storm last week piling on more damage after one in mid-April that the Insurance Council of Texas declared the costliest hailstorm in state history.
More than 110,000 vehicles throughout the storm zone were pelted by large hail, causing about $560 million in damage, the group said. The April 25 storm was less intense, but that was no comfort to dealers already scrambling to deal with thousands of dented vehicles.
"I've been in San Antonio all my life and I haven't seen one this bad," said Tim Cliver, COO at Red McCombs Automotive in San Antonio. "Some stores didn't get hit and some stores did." About half of the vehicles at the dealership group were damaged, he said.
Marion Palmore, general manager of Cavender Toyota in San Antonio, said the city generally does not get a lot of hailstorms and certainly not back to back.
He said around 400 vehicles that had been damaged in the first downpour and then repaired were "re-hailed" in the second one. "Hopefully, we won't have any for five or 10 years," he said.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area was hit by three hailstorms from mid-March to mid-April. Add it all up and there has been about $3 billion in property damage from storms so far this year in Texas, which is comparable to the figure for all of last year, said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the insurance council.
"It's just a much rougher year," Hanna said.
This year's storms aren't more numerous than usual, he said, but they have delivered larger-size hail and hit more urban areas. And Texas' storm season runs through June, meaning the worst may not be over.
The quick succession of the storms and the widespread damage have left rental cars and loaners in short supply and dealers' body shops inundated.
Teams of outside storm chasers offering paintless dent repair and experts in "slasher sales" are moving in to help relieve the pressure on dealerships, though these vendors can potentially damage a store's reputation if they make promises they can't keep.
Dealerships can also help themselves by offering dent removal in their body shops or using sales promotions to increase sales and trigger manufacturer bonuses.
Islam Hindash, general manager of Mission Mitsubishi in San Antonio, watched helplessly as nature opened up on about 850 vehicles on his lot in mid-April, causing about $6,500 in damage per vehicle.
"As the hail was coming down and we had customers in the showroom, I thought, "Oh my God, not another disaster,'" said Hindash, who has been through two floods in recent years. "Everyone is in hail mode right now."
Hindash's solution: a hail sale that promises customers as much as $3,000 in savings, plus other bonuses. "It actually is not always bad," he said, "because people want to take advantage of the dollars."
Hindash said the paintless dent repair team he picked had to pair up with a local company that will be responsible for repairs.
The dent fixers have set up shop in the dealership's body shop. Having them on-site means salespeople can make a deal and have the vehicle repaired in a few hours if that's what the buyer wants, Hindash said. Most take the vehicles as they are.
All in all, Hindash said, it's a lot to deal with but doesn't have to be a disaster. "At the end of the day, I think it will turn out OK."