We get a lot of people asking about “hail blankets,” or “hail blankets reviews,” usually because they want to find a low-cost way to protect their cars or because a storm is approaching and it’s an emergency.
Do these blankets exist? They do, but they are mostly DIY projects done very hastily. Do blankets offer protection against hailstones? Any extra layer of protection will of course help, but they’re unlikely to stop larger hailstones unless your DIY project is well thought out and well executed.
Here are your best strategies IN ORDER:
- Park indoors (obviously)
- Buy an inflatable hail protection system
- Create a DIY hail blanket solution.
DIY is definitely cheaper and can work, but it requires a little thought and planning.
Let’s walk through each of these.
A Quick Review of Hailstorms
Before we get into the strategies, it’s best to understand a bit about hailstorms. They are primarily an issue in the Midwest and Southeast, although they can occur anywhere. States that usually suffer the most hail damage are (in descending order):
- South Dakota
As far as time of year, the period from March to June is when the risk of hail damage is the highest, although hailstorms can occur in any month. For a great overview of how to recognize and avoid hailstorms, check out our recent article.
Three Basic Strategies
Parking Indoors or Under Cover
We know this is an obvious point. However, if you don’t have a home garage or are traveling, thinking about where to go in advance will help. Parking garages (e.g. malls, airports, casinos) are the best bet.
In a pinch or while traveling, drivers commonly use gas stations, truck stops, overpasses, Sonics, bank drive thru’s…any place that offers cover for temporary shelter.
Parking under trees is generally not worth it as falling branches and leaves can do as much or more damage than many hailstorms.
Inflatable Hail Protection Systems
We did a detailed review of hail protection systems that goes in to great detail on pros, cons, costs and operating instructions. This is the leading product:
The key takeaway of that review is that these systems simply offer the best protection on market if you have to park outdoors. The downside is that they are more expensive than a DIY option and cost around $300 depending on options.
Basically these systems are inflatable car covers that are operated via remote control. The resulting “cocoon” can withstand even very large hail, such as golfball and baseball-sized. It’s a premium solution, but it works.
A Simple DIY Hail Blanket Solution
The Challenges of Using DIY Hail Blankets
If you don’t have a garage and cannot afford a hail protection system, DIY may be your only option. Using blankets has three main challenges:
- Blankets must be thick enough to prevents dents and dings
- Many blankets, even seemingly soft ones, can be abrasive and scratch a car’s outer clear coat
- Fit is an issue, especially in windy and stormy conditions.
The internet is full of DIY videos of industrious car enthusiasts and wanna be entrepreneurs using blankets to protect cars. One of the most entertaining is from a group of Aussies who drop marbles off a roof to simulate the effect of hail stones.
How thick would a blanket (or multiple blankets) have to be to provide adequate protection? That obviously depends on the size of the hailstones. Baseball or golfball sized hailstones will probably damage most cars unless a LOT of padding is used. Smaller hail can be mitigated with thicker, padded blankets.
The problem is that is all in hindsight. When a storm hits, it is hard to predict if hailstones will be small or large. If you are relying on hail blankets, peace of mind will always be hard to come by.
The outer clear coat on most newer cars is very thin, usually 35-50 microns (1/1,000 of a millimeter). This makes a sheet of paper look thick by comparison. Clear coat is easily scratched, especially when abrasive materials continually rub against it, which is exactly what happens in storms.
Even seemingly soft blankets can scratch if they are made from the wrong type of materials. Recently, I placed a very soft, 100% polyester blanket on the corner of my hood while cleaning my garage. It was gently moved a couple of times. When I removed it, 4-5 thin scratches were easily visible in the clear coat. Imagine if this blanket had been violently flapping against the paint during a windy storm.
Our solution (discussed below) gets around this issue by using a basic, affordable car cover as the only layer that touches a car’s paint.
Car covers are designed to fit tightly with side grommets and strap and buckle systems. Blankets are pretty much the opposite. People try everything from closing the hood/doors on the edge of blankets to using weights and tape.
Fit is always going to be a concern when using blankets. Unless secured tightly they can blow off and leave your car unprotected.
Also, they can flap in the wind and if even slightly abrasive, as discussed above, can damage car paint. This is one of the main reasons that you must be very careful when using blankets.
A Step-by-Step DIY Approach
Being car nerds, we have probably thought about this topic more than 99.9999% of the population. A DIY solution can work, but you have to address all of the above challenges. Here is our simple strategy.
- Buy a basic outdoor car cover with a soft inner lining to avoid scratching your paint
- Add on layers of padding to prevent dents and damage (use as many as needed to match the severity of the storm)
- Secure the padding layer with straps, ropes, tape, etc.
Step 1: Purchase a Basic Outdoor Car Cover
The main reason to buy a car cover, versus using a home blanket, is that car covers are designed not to scratch paint. Solid quality universal fit covers typically cost around $60. As you look for a cover, your main goal is to find one with good inner lining softness. Here is one example:More expensive car covers have softer, higher quality inner linings. Although some can cost as much as a full hail protection system, many good ones exist in the $100-$200 range.
Step 2: Add Layers of Padding
Now that you have a basic car cover, all you need is padding. The two most important things are: to cover as much of the car as possible and to have sufficient padding to prevent damage. Obviously very large hail will require a lot of padding.
People often use whatever they find around the house including blankets, pillows and cushions. Foam rubber mat tiles and even moving blankets are affordable options that can work well if secured correctly. Items such as these also stay in place better than pillows and cushions.
We personally prefer foam rubber (exercise mats, floor mats, etc.) as it offers good protection and is lightweight.
Remember, if hailstorms are severe, the more padding the better.
Step 3: Secure the Padding Layer
This is crucially important. If your padding layer gets blown off, your car will almost certainly get damaged. Here, we generally recommend a “belts and suspenders” approach, meaning secure the the padding layer multiple ways.
First, your car cover will most likely have grommets (little eyelets) and come with a strap and buckle system. Run the straps underneath the car and secure tightly.
The padding layer can generally be snugged down using a combination of packing straps, ropes and bungees. Four to eight ropes and straps may be needed to get a secure fit. People also use tape (e.g., gray tape) to secure the corners around the bumpers.
Pro tip: do a trial run when you have free time and when there is no stress from an approaching storm. Even a few minutes of practice can pay off down the road. This is especially true if you live in the 8-10 states that make up ‘hail alley.’
We have seen people set something heavy (e.g., a 25 pound bag) on their hoods and trunks to keep blankets from blowing off. We do not recommend this approach.
So, if anyone asks you about hail blankets, hail blankets reviews, or any such topic, tell them a DIY hail blanket is not the best strategy. However, for many people, it may be the only option they have. If that is the case, you must be diligent about using enough padding and securing the padding tightly so that it will not blow off.
With average out of pocket costs to repair hail damage ranging between $2,500 to $3,500, depending on where you live, having a proper hail protection strategy is worth it. Do you and your car a favor…plan your strategy in advance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Hail Damage a Risk All Year?
Yes. Hailstorms are recorded every month in the U.S. However, October through January have far fewer hailstorms. For a month by month breakdown of the risks, check out our article.
While hailstorms are a risk all year, even the most hail prone cities only face 10-12 hail days per year. While that is a lot, it’s at least manageable number.
How to Know if a Hailstorm is Approaching?
The most common signs are dark looking clouds, accompanied by thunder and lightning and sudden drops in temperature. Of course, listen to your local weather station as well. They’re not always wrong!
What Does It Cost to Repair Hail Damage?
A recent survey by an insurance company in the upper Midwest found the average to repair private car (non-commercial) damage was $2,500.
This fantastic blog post provides a great overview of costs based on number of dents and location on the car.
What are Some Unexpected Risks?
People generally protect the top of their cars first (roof, trunk and hood), and they should. However, hailstorms are usually accompanied by high winds, and it is not that unusual to see hail damage on doors. Winds often blow hail stones horizontally.
What are Common Mistakes?
There are several mistakes to watch out for. First, make sure the inner lining of the car cover is clean. If it has dust or other abrasive debris on it, the added weight of the padding layer coupled with the force of strapping down the padding layer, almost ensures that your paint will be scratched.
Another issue is gaps in the padding layer. Any area not fully protected can and will be dented if the storm is severe enough.
Not securing the padding layer securely enough is certainly a big concern and a step, that if not done well, will result in your car being damaged.
Lastly, don’t panic if at all possible. Getting in a hurry can cause missing steps and cutting corners.
Can a DIY Option Really Work?
It certainly can, but you must: (a) have enough padding to match the storm you are facing, i.e. golf-ball size hail requires several layers of padding, preferably of foam rubber, to be confident, and (b) secure the padding layer such that it wont come loose in stormy conditions. The latter is easier said than done.
What are the Best Options for the Padding Layer?
This is a matter of opinion, but we prefer foam rubber materials, such as exercise mats. These provide great protection and are light and easy to manage. Many people have reported having good luck with blankets. These can work well but for equal size and weight, they provide less protection than foam rubber in our opinion. Thus, you have to use a lot more of them with a severe storm.
Why Can’t I Just Use a Thick Car Cover?
Good outdoor covers are made out of multiple layers of fabric. The best ones have 5-7 layers and are effective at preventing light door dings. While these type of covers would likely be effective against small hail (e.g., pea sized), the main problem is there is no way to predict, with any certainty, the size of hail stones in advance.