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Without getting political, it’s pretty clear that the planet’s weather is getting wilder. Within Australia, normally arid places have been under water recently, and heatwave conditions in many regions are making bushfires ever more deadly.
Another thing that’s changed is the prevalence of violent storm cells, often ones containing a lashing of cricket-ball-sized (or bigger) hail-stones.
Even areas with no real previous record of hail storms are now seeing these destructive events from time to time and, if you’ve ever been caught in one, you’ll know the horror of having giant lumps of ice pelted at you and everything around you.
Ever seen in-car footage on the news when such a hail storm hits? The noise is incredible and the vision shows the windows of the car being smashed one by one as the driver attempts to maintain control and find somewhere safe to stop.
Even if your car just happens to be uncovered in a driveway when the storm strikes, the effects can be devastating and the damage bad enough to even make the car an insurance write-off.
As somebody who has experienced just such an event, it’s fair to say that even if you were brave enough to pull on a motorcycle helmet and race to the driveway with a doona to throw over the car to protect it, these storms hit so hard and fast that massive damage will still occur.
And even if the car is repairable afterwards, that process – in my case – involved a near-new hatchback with factory paint being returned to me with at least some filler under that new, but no longer factory, paint.
For those without the luxury of a garage or off-street car-port parking, the odds are that eventually, their car could be damaged in this way.
So, if you don’t have a garage or car-port, what’s the best solution on how to protect your car from hail damage?
Parking under a tree won’t work, purely because a big hail storm will actually strip the tree of its leaves. Maybe if the forecast is for a potential hail storm, you can leave the car in a covered car-park for the day, but even the best weather forecasters can’t accurately predict when hail might arrive or how bad it will be.
As with our hard-won experience, racing outdoors with a doona or sleeping bag as a DIY hail car cover is both dangerous and too little too late.
So, the best hail blanket for cars is actually a specifically made car cover for hail. Which means if you don’t like the prospect of having your car destroyed by high velocity ice, you need to invest in a hail proof car cover.
Hail proof? Well, not really, as the experts tell us that in a storm with those cricket-ball sized rocks of ice, even the best automotive hail cover will struggle to offer 100 per cent protection against glass and panel damage.
But if you have a car parked in an exposed position and there’s any chance of such a meteorological disaster looming, a quality hail protection car cover is about as good as it gets in terms of prevention.
So what are hail proof car covers in the first place and how are they different from any other outdoor car cover?
While general car covers offer protection only from sun and rain, the next step up is a storm cover which will be stronger and better made.
They still really only protect against UV light and water, though. And that’s where the hail cover comes in because it’s designed to prevent hail damage as well as offering some protection against falling branches.
The biggest difference between a normal outdoor cover and a hail cover, of course, is the layer of padding (usually consisting of condensed foam) in the top and sides to give that impact protection.
But these are more than just a padded cover: A good hail cover will also have a soft inner lining which protects the car from scratches as whatever prevailing wind that is part of the storm tries to tear the cover off the vehicle.
Look even closer and you’ll find a good quality hail cover will also have adjustable straps to help keep it in place. With that in mind, it’s important that the car is clean and dry before it’s covered.
Custom-made hail and storm covers are also available and in some cases these will be made in three pieces with zips to join each section.
That makes them a lot easier to fit (as they can be quite bulky) and the three-piece covers usually consist of a top layer that is rolled over the car from front to back with a single side panel that zips on.
And since it’s a custom made product, you can specify Velcro-sealed slits for aerials and other options to suit the exact car you have.
Another relatively recent development has been the inflatable hail cover. By filling lots of pockets with air, you effectively produce a padded surface that should deflect hail stones before they get to the car’s panels.
They obviously require inflation once they’re draped over the car, so while they promise good protection, they do take some time to fit correctly. Which is fine if the storm is expected, not so much if it’s one of those out-of-nowhere hail storms.
Also, if you go down the inflatable path, make sure the cover you buy comes with a compressor to inflate it and a repair kit to fix leaks down the track.
So, how effective are hail covers? Actually, they can be very effective as the padding acts to take the force out of the hail as it strikes the cover, decelerating the ice to the point where it doesn’t damage the car.
Think of a hail cover as being like a cricketer’s leg-pads; they act as a barrier between the ball and the batter’s shins.
However, Sunshine Coast-based Cover World told us that its experience with really enormous hail stones (bigger than cricket-ball sized) is that they can still cause damage purely because of the force they carry.
Even the best cover can never be a totally hail proof car cover. Still, even if that was the case, the damage would be reduced by a large percentage with a good cover fitted.
Cover World also reckons you’ll only get good quality in a hail cover by paying a bit more.
Off-the-rack hail covers will generally run to between $500 and $1000, but if you want the best protection possible, you need to have a cover custom made and that, combined with better quality materials means more cost.
At which point, a really premium hail protection cover can easily see you spending $1200 to $3000.
Companies like Cover World operate solely as a mail-order business and take orders online before shipping hail car covers Australia-wide.
But even without a physical shop-front, there’s still plenty of good information available and, in the case of Cover World, the link for more info is: Coverworld.com.au
Just make sure the quality is what you want from such retailers, because not all covers are created equal. You might also be lucky and find a hail cover at Aldi, but Kmart and other more general retailers aren’t as likely to stock such a thing.
In states where Bunnings still has an automotive department, you might also get lucky, but specialist automotive shops and online are your best bet.
Don’t forget to look for an online review of the brand you’re considering to see if others have found it a quality item.