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Does Auto Insurance Cover Sandstorm Damage to My Car?

Does Auto Insurance Cover Sandstorm Damage to My Car?

Driving through a sandstorm, also known as a haboob in the Southwestern United States, can cause significant damage to the exterior of your vehicle. There will be erosion of painted surfaces, glass and trim.  Additionally it will instantly weather your car by 10 years. As an auto insurance damage adjuster I have written numerous estimates for this type of damage.

So, does auto insurance cover sandstorm damage to my car?  Sandstorm damage is covered under your comprehensive policy as this is a weather related event.  Damage from a sandstorm can include windshield pitting, erosion of painted surfaces, dulling of exterior trim, and damage to electrical or mechanical systems.  

An estimate for sandstorm damage can be lengthy and expensive, a vehicle can be in the repair shop for 2 weeks or more depending on the amount of parts required and refinish time needed.

Let me explain on how to submit a comprehensive claim for sandstorm damage and how to prepare for the insurance adjuster.

Opening a Comprehensive Claim for Sandstorm Damage:

When calling into your insurance company to set up your claim, make sure to have the location, time, and date of where you were when the sandstorm happened.  Insurance companies have resources to confirm weather related events such as the strong winds experienced during a sandstorm to rule out insurance fraud.

The claims examiner will then check to see if your insurance is paid and up to date.  Once confirmed, they will schedule an appointment with an auto damage adjuster.

They will first attempt to set up an appointment at a drive-by inspection facility. This can be a body shop in which they have an agreement with to repair customers vehicles on a cost-effective basis.  Here an adjuster will write an estimate for your vehicle and try to convince you to have your repairs completed there. It is your choice where to have your vehicle repaired so you do not have to choose that body shop.

You can also ask to have the damage adjuster come to your home, workplace or body shop of choice, as not many people have time during the day to go to an appointment.  Adjusters have printers in their vehicles, so they can have an estimate for you immediately after the inspection is completed.

Preparing for the Damage Adjuster and Estimate:

Before your vehicle’s inspection, make sure to go over all of the vehicle by yourself so that you can point out as much damage to adjuster to include in the estimate.  Write down everything you see or mark it with an automotive pen. If you leave your car at a body shop, that shop’s estimator will write their own estimate for the insurance adjuster to review.  

Having completed this homework in advance can reduce any delays when having your vehicle repaired.  Delays occur when the adjuster misses damage or does not believe it is part of the claim. They have to go back to the body shop, re-inspect the vehicle and write a supplemental estimate.  It can take an adjuster 2-3 days to return to a body shop.

Here is a guide on what to look for related to sandstorm damage.  

Painted Surfaces:

Coming out of a sandstorm, your vehicle’s paint will look like it has been sandblasted.  The refinish will appear dusty, like its needs a car wash, but upon closer inspection, no amount of cleaning or polishing will brighten it up. This is because the clear coat has been eroded. There are thousands of tiny chips in this layer, which disrupt the factory glass-like luster and smoothness of an undamaged paint job.

Since you were driving through a storm, any and all panels on the car can be affected, some more than others depending on the direction of the wind.
 

Painted Panels Most Often Damaged from a Sandstorm:

  BumpersDoors
Painted body moldings
  Hood Painted Door handles Painted antenna covers  
  Fenders Side Mirrors Gas door
  Windshield Pillars   Roof Rails Painted grilles
  Roof Quarter Panels Painted body cladding


Exterior Trim:

Some vehicle exterior body and trim panels are made out of an unpainted textured black plastic.  These panels are vulnerable to everyday wear and tear, they can even scratch easily from a finger nail.   Sandstorm erosion can discolor them to a lighter gray color and strip any texturing.

Exterior metal trim such as wiper arms, antennas, and inserts can become discolored and pitted. Chrome exterior trim can endure sandstorm damage fairly well.  Inspect chrome trim closely and make sure there are not any fine chips or wear, since it is harder to inspect a reflective surface.


Exterior Trim Most Often Damaged from a Sandstorm:

  Plastic door handles Body cladding Mirror housings Running boards  
  Exterior body molding Door edge guards Vertical door trim Mud flaps
  Plastic grilles and inserts Truck bed protectors Door belt molding Roof racks
  Chromed & un-chromed emblems. Wiper arms and blades Wheel flares Spoilers
  Lower bumper spoilers or valances. Cowl grille (under wiper arms) Plastic decals Washer nozzles  


Lighting:

Today’s headlights are very advanced pieces of technology.  The contain sensors, control modules, and expensive LED and HID lighting modules.  Replacement costs vary from $300 to over $3500 in high end cars.

Headlights are affected by sand in the same way as paint, the exterior plastic is eroded and will leave a hazy surface.  Most plastic headlights include a clear protective UV coating from the factory to prevent fading. This coating will be stripped off by a sandstorm.  

Insurance companies will often try to reduce an estimate by paying to polish headlights or re-clear coat them. Do not agree to this type of repair as polishing removes plastic from the lamp lens. The lens surface will be worn down which can cause a lensing effect.  This can deform the light beam profile. Additionally, I have not seen any factory repair guidelines that mention polishing headlights or spraying a clear coat onto headlights.


Pay Close Attention to Chipping, Haziness, and Wear on these Lighting Components:

  Headlights Side indicator lamps
Door handle illumination
  Fog lights Mirror mounted turn signals Tail lights
 Turn signalsUnder Mirror Puddle lamps Roof marker lamps


Windshield:

Your front windshield glass is the first thing you would notice being damaged after a sandstorm. Thousands of microchips in the glass will make looking through it very difficult. Some states can write you a ticket for this damage.

You can also find etching on side door and rear glass panels. Seals and trim around the glass can also be affected, these seals are black plastic or rubber and can discolor.


Pay Close Attention to Etching and Haziness on the Following Glass and Trim Pieces:

  WindshieldVent glassSeals on glass
  Side door glassSide mirrorsTrim on glass
  Rear glassSunroofHandles mounted on glass    


Wheels and Tires:

Most wheels today are painted, even if they appear to be un-refinished bare aluminum, they have a clear coat applied as a protective layer.   This can be easily stripped and eroded by a sand storm. Wheels can be repainted, although some machined aluminum varieties will have to be replaced.

Chrome wheels are more durable to sandstorm damage but are not excluded, inspect the wheel up-close for damage.  Wheel covers aka hubcaps are also affected in the same way as any painted surface. Tires can sustain fading and white paint on raised lettering can be worn off.


Pay Attention for Fading, Paint Erosion, and Pitting in the Following Parts:

  Aluminum wheels Wheel center caps Lug nuts
  Painted wheels Hubcaps Tires and tire lettering  
  Chrome wheels Valve stems and caps Wheel inserts


Mechanical Damage:

Vehicle cooling and air conditioning systems are vulnerable to sandstorm damage and are often overlooked by adjusters. The radiator (for engine cooling) and condenser (air conditioning) are located behind the front grille for optimal air flow.

Sand and small pebbles will become lodged into the cooling fins clogging them and reducing cooling capacity.  If the sand grains are large enough they can even puncture the air conditioning or radiator cooling tubes causing a leak and disabling your A/C.

Your vehicle’s air filter can become clogged and require replacement along with the engine bay becoming overly dusty requiring a detail.

Other exposed mechanical components such as brake calipers, rotors, and suspension components can become discolored from sand erosion, these parts will have to be replaced as you cannot repaint them.

Look for Sand and Pebbles Inside these Mechanical Parts:

  Radiator Transmission cooler  
  CondenserEngine oil cooler
  Inter-cooler     Air filter

Look for Fading and Erosion on these Suspension Components:

  Brake rotors Control arms
  Brake calipers Axles
  Struts Brake shields


Electrical Systems:

Radar cruise, automatic braking, lane assist, surround, rear and side view cameras, these are some new features modern cars have.   These systems rely on a series of sensors positioned through the vehicles exterior.

The most commonly damaged electrical components in a sandstorm are radar sensors and cameras.   Most radar sensors are mounted in a vehicle’s upper or lower grille and are exposed directly to the elements.  Erosion of their surface can reduce the signal to the radar sensor.

Cameras can be mounted under the rear tailgate / trunk, in the side mirrors, and grille.  The glass lenses are vulnerable to erosion just like a windshield and must be replaced when they are hazy or chipped.


Pay Close Attention to Haziness, Erosion, and Chips on these Sensors:

  Grille mounted radar sensor Trunk or tailgate camera
  Side view cameras Bumper mounted cameras
  Front grille cameraParking sensors


Final Thoughts:

Depending on your insurance company, your damage adjuster can be rated on how cost effective they write an estimate.  The lower the estimate, the higher they are rated, and the higher the chances of getting a raise. Insurance companies try to save money on repairs and will often repair components that should be replaced.

Be wary whenever an adjuster is writing to polish a component on an estimate. Whenever you polish something, especially plastic or a vehicles clear coat, layers of the surface are being removed.   This makes that surface more vulnerable to premature wear, oxidation, peeling, and fading.

Your best repair experience will result from understanding the damage on your vehicle, understanding your estimate, and setting your expectations with the adjuster and body shop.  Finally, you do not have to use the body shop the insurance company recommends.

Check out these articles on the differences between an insurance approved body shop, an independent body shop, and a dealership body shop along with the pros and cons of each.

Finally, if you have any questions of comments about a sandstorm damage claim, leave me a message in the comment section below.

Related questions:

How can I save my deductible?  You can go to a body shop that will reduce or waive your deductible.  Shops accomplish this by repairing parts that were supposed to be replaced, avoiding some repairs and providing a discount on parts and labor.  They can also purchase cheaper aftermarket parts instead of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).

Can an insurance company waive my deductible?   Unless you have a policy that includes a deductible waiver, an insurance company will not remove your deductible.   You can ask the insurance damage adjuster to provide an appearance allowance for minor damages. Credit is allotted towards the deductible in return for not repairing or omitting a repair.

Check out this article for more information about appearance allowances.


Doug Anderson

Saturday 4th of January 2020

This was a well written explanation of what to do and not to do. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this . Hoping to find someone like you to write my estimate. Thank you