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Hail insurance claims are on the rise. Hail damage always presents a dilemma for car owners: It is usually cosmetic -- but they see the damage every time they approach their cars.

Many decide to live with dings. Others file comprehensive insurance claims only to find out the cost of repair doesn’t reach the amount of their deductibles. Some might find that seemingly minimal damage is enough to cause their insurers to total out their cars.

Should you fix your car? Should you keep a hail-damaged car that’s been totaled? Will your rates rise?

Here are the most common questions we see about hail damage car insurance claims. 

My car was damaged by hail. Am I covered?

You’re covered for hail damage only if you have comprehensive insurance coverage, sometimes known as "other than collision," which also covers such hazards as vandalism and theft.

You will have to pay your comprehensive deductible amount.

Minor hail damage often isn’t worth claiming because the repair costs do not exceed the deductible. Major hail damage can total a car.

I can live with some dings; do I have to fix my car?

If you own your car outright, the choice to repair the hail-damaged car is yours. Many people keep and spend the insurance company check.  If, later on, the car is involved in an accident -- whether it’s your fault or not -- the pre-existing hail damage would be deducted from any settlement.

If you have a loan outstanding on the car, yes, you probably will have to fix your car. Any settlement check will arrive made out to both you and your lien holder, which will want the value of the asset it still owns protected.

Will a hail claim increase my insurance premiums?

It will depend upon your state’s laws and insurance carrier’s ratings system, but generally comprehensive claims of this nature don’t affect your rates. There are even some states that don’t allow surcharges for comprehensive claims or claims where you are not at fault. 

Claims for damages caused by natural events typically are not held against you, since they are unforeseeable and out of your control. But you should check with your insurer to be certain. 

Keep in mind that even if your rates can’t be raised due to a hail claim, the number of claims placed against your policy can affect your rates. If you recently filed other claims, the total amount of claims made could cause you to be seen as a higher risk. Thus, you’ll pay more.

Does hail damage affect the title of the car?

Hail damage will be noted on your car’s title only if the following are both true:

  • The insurance company has declared it a total loss.
  • Your state allows hail damage as the sole reason for a salvage title.

Many states have a “hail” designation to distinguish hail-totaled cars from wrecked or flooded ones. Others simply mark the title as "salvage."

If the car is not declared salvage, the title is still clean. The damage may show up on electronic notification systems, such as Carfax, though.

What happens if I decided to keep the hail-totaled car?

If your car is declared totaled because of a hail claim and you intend to keep driving it, ask your insurance company to buy the car for its salvage value. If your car was worth $12,000 before the hailstorm and your insurance company places its salvage value at $7,000, it will send you a check for the difference -- minus your deductible, of course.

You may need an inspection before the car is allowed back on the road. The title will be “branded” -- forever reflecting the car’s declaration as a total loss. Some states have a hail-damage notation for titles.

A car with a branded title is difficult to insure for comprehensive and collision coverages because its value is difficult to determine.

Does gap insurance cover the loss in my car’s value?

No. Gap insurance will not cover the diminished resale value of your car. Gap insurance pays only in cases where a car is totaled, and it pays only the difference between what is owed on the car and what it was worth before it was damaged, minus any deductible.