August heralds the beginning of the hail season in South Africa and consumers in areas prone to this phenomenon are bracing themselves for yet further manifestations of extreme weather in this form. 

Global climate change manifests in extreme weather formations such as freak hail storms with hail stones as large as cricket balls.

But consumers aren’t the only ones bracing for the hail season.

Insurers know too that the changing of the season can bring disaster on a scale and speed that is almost beyond comprehension and tests even disaster reinsurance levels.

When major hail storms strike as they have done with alarming regularity in recent years, insurer claim centres are inundated with claims and repair resources such as body shops and paintless dent repair companies are completely overwhelmed.

(In the last two years, three major hail storms made news headlines as they ripped through Gauteng.)

The traditional body shop approach is to replace body panels with new. Although this is necessary sometimes, when the hail damage is massive, by far the majority of hail damaged cars can be repaired with PDR or Paintless Dent Repair.

If a consumer is lucky to have an insurer in the know about PDR, then the repair can be done relatively cheaply, efficiently and quickly.

But where the hail disaster becomes exploited by service providers, then expensive repairs are still carried out by replacing body panels or using body filler and repainting the vehicle.

When a large number of vehicles are involved, the total number of repairs can take up to a year to be completed.

In some bizarre cases body shops will pay for the skills of a paintless dent repair technician themselves, but then charge the insurer the full rate as if traditional body shop repairs had been carried out.

Savvy insurers are starting to insist on the repair by qualified dent technicians and wanting to see the invoice submitted by the actual sub-contractor.

Qualified PDR technicians are in short supply in South Africa.

There is no formal training centre or recognised technical qualification or training centre. The SAQA standards are inadequate and are currently being revised, and almost all training is actually done by dent repair companies themselves.

There are vast differences in quality work standards in the South African PDR industry. As in any unregulated industry there are the bad apples who survive merely because there is no standard by which to judge them.

The motor industry does too little to support the training of PDR technicians, and there are only so many, mostly handling the local demand for their services from preferred auto dealers.

Thus when a hail disaster strikes, PDR resources are spread too thin.

In this scenario, insurers have taken to importing PDR technicians from abroad – so-called hail chasers because they specialise in paintless dent removal for hail damaged motor vehicles worldwide, and follow wherever hail storms strike.

Too little effort is made to source PDR technicians in the local market.

Unfortunately, in some cases, several unscrupulous body repair shops may abuse hail chasers who enter the country on short notice without the requisite work permits, exposing the imported PDR technicians to unnecessary risks.

And where an insurer will insist on the legal work permit, the quality of some local dent pushers (Not qualified dent repair technicians) may be found wanting and the repairs may leave the consumer in a worse off position.

When PDR is performed by a properly qualified technician the repairs can be virtually untraceable or undetectable to the naked eye. Compared to traditional repair methods such as a panel beater, PDR leaves a vehicle’s body as close to its original manufacturing condition as possible.

Poor quality PDR workmanship is directly related to poor techniques and training.

It should be in the interests of the insurance industry that enough PDR technicians of good quality are trained to handle normal levels of dent repair and that more repairs are done this way to save the consumer in the long term.

If a formal qualification is set up to train PDR technicians, it will need to have an extended practical training period.

Too many so-called dent technicians will claim qualification after a few weeks of training, whereas a true PDR craftsman needs much longer than this to perfect the techniques of paintless dent repair.

But as we approach another hail season (and possibly another disaster) perhaps it is time for the insurance industry to take a keen interest in supporting the PDR industry to grow cheaper solutions to a recurring problem.