Steven Firstenberg was at the corner of Longwood and Brookline avenues in Boston on Tuesday afternoon when hail the size of golf balls began pelting his car.
With wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour, the storm so thoroughly dented Firstenberg’s 2013 Honda Accord that a mechanic at JN Phillips Auto Glass in Newton told him his insurance company may decide it’s not worth repairing the car.
“I mean you’re sitting there — one minute you have this beautiful car and the next minute you have a piece of junk,” said the 62-year-old Waltham resident and owner of a limousine company. “I love that car.”
In some places, the thunderstorms that roared through the city during Tuesday’s afternoon rush hour dropped hail two inches in diameter, the largest ever recorded in Suffolk County, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record for hail in the region was 1½ inches on June 6, 1966, according to weather service meteorologist Nicole Belk.
The storm downed trees, knocked out power, and left so many car owners with dinged exteriors and broken windshields that some auto body shops are struggling to keep up with demand.
Repair shops are calling in technicians from across the country who are experienced with the kind of severe hail damage seen more often in places like Texas and Kansas. Those mechanics specialize in paintless dent repair (PDR), a technique that can fix dents without more time-consuming and potentially more expensive panel replacements and new paint.
Hail Management and Appraisal Group’s Lisa Kaese said she arrived in Boston first thing Wednesday from Albany, New York, to demonstrate the process for Boston repair facilities and bring in technicians to contract with the body shops. Walking around the area, she kept counting the number of cars on the street with hail damage.
“We’re probably going to be here for another month and a half,” she said. “From the amount of damage I’m seeing and the amount of reports that are out there, it appears to be one of the heaviest storms that we have seen in one area.”
One of the shops hiring PDR help is World Auto Body Inc. in Brookline, one of the most heavily hit areas. Once owner Vitaly Fedosik saw the hail, he immediately thought “We are going to be busy for months, and the problem is that there are going to be too many cars and people are going to want their cars yesterday.” He said he has never seen anything like this.
“We are a little overwhelmed, but what are you going to do? It’s the business we are in,” he said. “Everyone is frustrated.”
With a few PDR subcontractors from Chicago arriving Friday, Fedosik hopes to work on about five hail-related repairs a day. He already has 32 appointments scheduled and keeps getting more assignments. While some cars will be able to get the PDR treatment, the ones with severe hail damage will require more intensive repairs.
JN Phillips Auto Glass service operations contact center manager Joyce Lynch said the surge in demand reminds her of the past winter.
“It’s nuts,” Lynch said. “This is probably one of the first times that we’ve been as busy as the winter time, in the summer time.” Immediately after the storm, Lynch contacted the managers of her 42 shops and changed her employees’ schedules to make sure they were fully staffed till the end of this week.
Between 4 and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, her call center received almost 350 phone calls, three-quarters of which were related to the storm. On Wednesday, they got more than 2,000 phone calls, mostly regarding shattered glass.
The calls at Arbella Insurance in Quincy have also increased, vice president of claims Joseph Salerno said. Many of them are related to dented cars but some involve downed trees on fences and homes. While Salerno said insurance coverage varies depending on the customer’s plan, the policyholder is generally responsible for the deductible.
Thankfully for Firstenberg, his insurance covered the glass repair and the deductible. But, now, he has to figure out how to get these craters out of his car, along with a number of other irritated Bostonians.
“It’s a mess,” he said. “It’s a mess, mess, mess.”