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Inflatable cover offers shelter from hail damage

11/07/2013



According to those who track such things, each year some 250,000 vehicles are damaged by hail, and to the tune of more than $3,100 per claim.

Michael Siciliano hopes to reduce those figures with his Hail Protector, a car cover that inflates to provide a buffer between your vehicle and even softball-sized hail.

Siciliano lives in Texas, where hail can be large and intense. Several years ago, he was watching his and other children enjoying an inflatable water slide at a backyard birthday party.

“There were 40 or so kids,weighing around 50 pounds each, all jumping on this thing like crazy,” Siciliano recalls.

An electronics major and the son of an engineer, Siciliano thought that if an inflatable toy could withstand active children, perhaps something similar might protect a vehicle from hail damage.

For three years, Siciliano experimented with various devices. One system, based on the kind of compressed air you’d use to inflate your tires, took four days to fully inflate.

If you opt for sufficient padding instead of using air pressure, Siciliano said, the cover is too bulky to be folded and stored in the vehicle’s trunk.

Eventually, he combined what appears to be a regular car cover with electric blowers and can inflate the largest of Hail Protectors — one large enough to encase a sport utility vehicle or a Ford F-350 dualie pickup —in less than 10 minutes. The smallest of the Hail Protectors needs only four minutes to fully activate over a vehicle such as a Fiat 500.

The fan that creates the air pressure within the protector — at the rate of 10 cubic feet of airflow per minute — can run for an hour with power from eight AA batteries, for three hours without detracting from starting power via a vehicles accessory plug, or indefinitely when plugged into a regular household electrical outlet.

Hail Storm Products LLC of Gunter, Texas, started selling its Hail Protector car covers this summer.

“I didn’t conceive of it as a business,” Siciliano said of his early days of development. But the project has blossomed — well, five years later — into a business.

“What kept me going was No. 1, it works,” Siciliano said, “and No. 2, 19 out of 20 people who see it say that it’s awesome, ingenious, and our owners continue to say the same thing. That’s what keeps you going.”

One feature of the Hail Protector is an email and text alert system that comes as part of the package.

Early each morning, owners receive a Weather Central forecast for their region, with a followup alert should severe weather approach their area. The alert is designed to provide a half-hour warning before hail might fall. The idea is that cover can be used as a standard car cover, with inflation needed only when weather is threatening.

The Hail Protector is available in six sizes — three for cars and three for SUVs and pickups. All include the daily forecast and storm alert.

Prices range from $299 to $399, which is still less than most people’s auto insurance deductible. Each is sold with a one-year warranty, though a two-year extension of that warranty is available for $25.

Siciliano is hopeful that someday auto insurance companies will offer reduced premiums to people with Hail Protector equipment.

The Hail Protector is sold through the Hail Protector Hail Damage Protection System | A Complete Solution for Preventing Property Hail Damage!, where you also can see a video by the History Channel, which fired softball-sized ice at 80 miles per hour at a vehicle with a Hail Protector System.


From The Detroit News: Inflatable cover offers shelter from hail damage | The Detroit News
 
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