In a storm, you can have a shiny new car one minute and a battered write-off the next. Comprehensive car insurance can help.
It's easy to work out if your car insurance covers storm damage. Here's the simple equation:
Protect future you – get comprehensive car insurance
How do I make a car insurance claim for hail and storm damage?
If a storm damages your car and your comprehensive policy covers it, here's what you need to do from the time the storm hits to the time your claim is processed:
- Get yourself to safety. If you are driving when the storm hits, get yourself out of harm's way by pulling over somewhere safe. Don't leave the vehicle until the storm passes.
- Minimise further damage if possible. You should take reasonable steps to prevent further damage, like moving your car off the road or putting on your hazard lights. You can drive your car home but don't drive if the windshield or taillights are damaged. That's illegal.
- Gather evidence. Take photos of your car's damage and any other damage in the surrounding area. Note the date and time.
- Contact your insurer. Do this as soon as you can, especially if there's widespread damage throughout your city. If there's a mad rush of people claiming, you'll want to join the queue as quickly as possible.
- Cooperate with your insurer. Provide all appropriate evidence and documentation to support your claim and agree to meet with any experts or claims assessors they want you to meet with. Don't make any repairs until you have your insurer's permission.
- Don't forget your hire car. Many comprehensive policies will cover the cost of a hire car if you car is totalled or you need to send it in for repairs. They will sometimes authorise this even before deciding on your claim, so ask them how to go about organising your hire car while you have them on the phone.
- Submit your claim. Depending on the insurer your options may be to submit online, using an app, through the mail or in-person. Your insurer will explain their preferred method.
- Wait for a response. Your insurer has 10 business days to respond with their decision or to let you know if they need more time. If they do need more time, they're required to let you know what else they need from you and to give you status updates.
Checklist: Documenting the damage
The easiest way to document the damage in detail is with photos. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your snaps.
- Take full-scene photos that show what happened, where your car was parked and the surroundings.
- Take close-ups to show specific damage. You don't need to take a separate picture of each dent, but should make sure that all damage is clearly shown in the photos.
- Where necessary, you might want to label the photos with information such as "driver side door" to make them clearer.
- Remember to check the interior. It's important to document the damage as fully as possible.
How to lodge your insurance claim
Most insurers will let you lodge your claim in one of several ways: via their website/app, over email, over the phone, by mail or in person. You might even use a combination of these. For example, when you speak to a rep over the phone, they might take down all relevant information and ask you to email them supporting evidence like photos.
Whatever you do, make sure you take down the reference number for your claim so you can include that crucial piece of information during every step of the process.
If you claim is accepted and your car needs repaired, the insurer will explain where to take your car. If you're due a refund, they will deposit your funds into your chosen bank account.
What if my claim is denied?
Here's what to do if your insurer denies your claim and you think they've made the wrong decision:
- Appeal directly to the insurer. All insurers have an internal disputes department that's separate from the claims department. Their job is to review disputed claims and reverse any incorrect decisions.
- Appeal to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). If the insurer denies your claim for the second time, you can appeal to the AFCA, the dispute resolution body for Australia's financial sector.
- Take it to court. If the AFCA doesn't side with you, the only option you have left is to take the insurer to court. If it's a big claim and you are absolutely convinced you're in the right, talking to a lawyer may be the way to go.
Which car insurance policies cover hail and storm damage?
The only level of car insurance that will cover storm and hail damage is comprehensive car insurance, which is typically the highest level of cover you can get. The other types of insurance out there, like third party property damage and third party fire and theft, will cover you for other types of damage like damage to others' property - but not for storm damage to your car.
A comprehensive policy will cover almost any type of damage you can think of, including:
- Damage you cause to your own car
- Storms floods, wind, earthquakes and almost any type of weather you can think of
- Hitting wildlife
- Being hit by an uninsured driver
- Being hit in a hit-and-run
- Parking lot dings
When won't I be covered?
There are a few situations where your insurer could deny your hail-related claim, even with a comprehensive car insurance policy that covers hail and storms. Here's what to avoid:
- Drink driving. If your insurer can show that you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the damage occurred, that could be reason enough for them to deny your claim.
- Putting your car in harm's way. If your insurer investigates your claim and finds out you moved your car from the garage to the street during the storm, they could use this as evidence you intentionally tried to damage your vehicle.
- Not providing evidence. Not all hailstorms are city-wide, newsworthy events that insurers are aware of. For example, if you're in a rural area and a sneaky hailstorm rolls in and smashes your windscreen, your insurance could be sceptical. Make sure to take photos of other damage around the property and note the date and time of the storm so your insurer can check it against weather records.
How to protect your car from storms and hail
It's much better to avoid storms altogether than to deal with a battered car and long wait times for repairs. Here's how to keep your car out of harm's way:
- Stay on top of the forecasts. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has up-to-date weather warnings and some insurance companies are starting to develop their own hail warning systems, like Budget Direct's Hail Hero system.
- Stash your car somewhere safe. If you have time ahead of time, find somewhere safe to park your car, like in a garage or on higher ground if you're in a flood zone. If you have nowhere to take your car, you can use specially-designed car covers or even blankets. Just make sure to tie the blankets down securely.
- Find shelter. If you're caught in a storm while on the road, find somewhere safe to park. Some ideas include underpasses (but only if you can pull over safely) and shopping centre car parks. Think twice about parking under trees or you could be the victim of a falling branch.
- Drive safely. If you can't find somewhere to park, use safe driving skills. Turn on your lights for visibility and don't speed up to beat the storm.
Where and when do most storms occur?
Destructive storms can strike any time in Australia no matter where you live. That said, there are some particular times of year when you should stay on top of the forecasts and have a plan for your car.
Hail has been known to affect all major population centers in Australia and is most common from September through April. That's when the warm surface temperature clashes with the cool upper atmosphere: perfect conditions for those highly destructive ice pellets known as hailstones.
Hailstorms are particularly damaging since they can send a bombardment of hailstones the size of tennis balls pummelling into the ground below.
Cyclones are most common from November to April and mostly affect coastal areas of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.
A cylone's high-speed winds have the tendency to make projectiles out of branches, street signs and anything that isn't tied down - and these can rip your car apart if it's exposed.
The sheer amount of rainfall can also cause extreme flooding and if the water reaches your engine, it could be goodnight for your car.
Thunderstorms can happen any time but are at their worst from September to April. They've been known to cause widespread damage throughout most of Australia's major population centres.
High winds can send branches and other loose objects flying into your car and flooding can destroy your floorboards and even your engine. Hail is also common during thunderstorms.
Picture: Getty Images