Hundreds of cars hit by hail in Chattanooga area storms

Hundreds of cars hit by hail in Chattanooga area storms

May 3rd, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Dozens of new Passats made at the Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant are seen parked outside the plant recently. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Hundreds of new and used vehicles at Chattanooga area dealerships were damaged by hail in last week's severe storms, ranging from small dings to broken windshields.

Volkswagen workers are checking hundreds of newly made Passats for hail damage at its Chattanooga assembly plant. The cars, both test vehicles and customer cars, were parked on the loading yard adjacent to the factory awaiting transport to dealers.

The National Weather Service recorded hail from 1 to 2 inches in diameter in Hamilton, Marion and Bradley counties and baseball-sized hail in Sullivan County in upper East Tennessee Wednesday, according to meteorology technician Loren Marz.

"Hail of an inch or more is considered severe and will put dents in most vehicles," Marz said, adding the hailstorm was the worst in at least three years for this area.

In the Cleveland, Tenn., area, Rodney Bethune, new vehicle sales manager at Honda of Cleveland, put the number of damaged new or used vehicles on the lot at 150.

"Everything I had on the lot had hail damage," he said. "None had extensive damage, just a few pings. The damage was pretty well minimal," he said. But the dealership is repairing damage for buyers and that it must be disclosed to them, Bethune said.

Larry Hill Ford and Larry Hill Imports in Bradley County had about 300 vehicles damaged, ranging from mild to practically unnoticeable. The dealership said it plans to sell the vehicles with repair costs posted on the window.

Meanwhile, auto dealers on the row of lots off Highway 153 in Chattanooga were dealing with the hail damage as well.

Steve Marlin, general manager at Pye Acura, said that as many vehicles as were outside sustained some level of damage, including broken windshields in two cases.

However, most problems were small dings, which are undergoing repair at the dealership with costs covered by insurance, he said.

Charlie Durham of Kia of Chattanooga said less than a dozen of its vehicles sustained damage, which he termed "very minimal."

"We have to disclose anything that was fixed on the car," he said.

Guenther Scherelis, general manager of communication for VW in Chattanooga, said every car on the yard is undergoing examination.

He said it is too early to say if there was any damage to the autos, which include both test vehicles and new customer cars.

The massive yard is where the cars are temporarily parked before they are shipped by rail or truck. The German automaker announced just last month it had started making customer cars.

Businesses which repair vehicles damaged by hail report a brisk business this week and expect many more repair jobs to come in as insurers process the thousands of property claims.

"We're covered up with business right now," said Donny McAllister, who operates Dent Busters in Ringgold, Ga., along with his father. "We've worked all weekend and we'll be working days and nights until we get all these cars fixed."

McAllister said he has already received more than 20 cars and expects far more this week. He said the typical repair job ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, depending upon the number of dents or bumps in the roofs, hoods and panels made by the hail.

Steve Holmes, of Collegedale, said golf ball-sized hail hit his house at about 8 p.m. last Wednesday and damaged the vinyl siding.

One damaged spot is bigger than a softball and there are a dozen or so smaller ones, he said.

"It sounded like a Boy Scout troop with baseball bats whacking the outside of the house," Holmes said.

Business editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.