Heavy traffic at Northeast Richland body shops following last week’s hail storm

hcahill@thestate.com, jholleman@thestate.comMay 27, 2014 

A look at storm clouds that rolled through Northeast Richland Friday, producing large hail.

COURTESY OF DICK SMITH NISSAN/USED WITH PERMISSION

— The hail storm that rolled through the Midlands late last week is keeping many Northeast Richland auto repair shops hopping, as customers drive, and even tow in cars for repair work.

Wanda Lowe, a customer service manager at Summit Collisions along Newland Road, said Tuesday the day had been nonstop since the early morning hours, with customers filling the parking lot.

“I got here early to get a handle on things from the weekend storm,” Lowe said. “I had people in the parking lot at 7:15 a.m. I have had someone tow a car in that is so damaged that it might not be able to be fixed, it is beat up so bad.”

The surge of customers coming in for repairs has caused some insurance companies like State Farm to send out catastrophic analyst teams (CAT) to handle estimates for damage to expedite the process of so many repairs. State Farm has set up a drive-in inspection area in the Lowe’s parking lot at 10106 Two Notch Road so customers can make an appointment and receive a vehicle damage estimate.

“Hail damage causes a lot of cosmetic damage and the car can still be driven, unless there is glass damage,” said Bruce White, a spokesman for State Farm. “It brings in a high volume of claims in a short period of time, qualifying it as a catastrophe.

“Over the holiday, claims started being reported and that drew the attention of CAT teams.”

Gus Mallios, president of Summit Collisions, said those teams help relieve some of the pressure as his parking lot continues to be “inundated” with customers.

“We have had nearly 100 cases today,” Mallios said. “Most of the storm happened here and it is a mad house out there. We don’t have a handle on how large this is going to be, but from what it looks like it is going to be pretty big.”

Total damage caused by Friday’s storm is still being calculated.

Still, in terms of monetary damage, hail storms historically have been among the most destructive weather events in South Carolina.

One of the most expensive storms, in April 2011, caused $45 million in damage statewide, while less widespread hail storms caused $13 million in damage in March 2008 and $13.8 million in May 2011, according to the Insurance News Service.

“The 2011 storm had us busy for about four months, but 90 percent of those repairs were paintless dent repairs. Right now, it might be a lot worse, it is just too hard to say. Most of the repairs are in the $2,000 to $5,000 range and those can take time.” Mallios said.

Don Purcell, president of the Spring Valley Auto Body shop, has also seen an influx of customers from the storm and says that the average fix for his shop so far is about $1,500, but he has seen a car with about $6,000 in damage.

Friday’s storm dinged almost all 200 vehicles in the lot at Dick Smith Nissan, but it hardly put a dent in the big Memorial Day weekend sales period, according to Eddie Maracich, general sales manager.

“It pretty much touched everything on the lot,” Maracich said. “Some had a few small dents, some had big ones, but it was all fixable stuff.”

Rather than give a dent discount, the dealership fixed the dings, and the dozen or so cracked windows, before handing off the vehicles to buyers on the busy weekend, he said.

VIDEO: Hail storm in Sumter Friday, May 23, 2014

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