Hail Shield Build Help

hduran

EF0
Mar 4, 2011
16
0
0
Tulsa, Ok
I know some have made their own hail shields, and this year, though it's always been on the back of my mind each year, I want to attempt to pull this off. I have a few questions before I dive into this:

-How wide did you make yours? I plan to exceed the width of my vehicle by 18 inches on each side. I think this will give me enough coverage without reaching over to oncoming traffic.

-Does it tend to wobble at highway speeds? I plan to cantilever mine over the front of the car mainly for windshield protection and don't want it to go into such a crazy wobble because of the wind that it will rip itself off of my roof.

-If you could make yours better, what would you do?


Thanks in advance.
 
Aug 4, 2008
200
35
11
Nashville, TN
I have a Hummer H3 and debated doing one like you describe (very easy to mount things to my roof in the crossbar channels), but opted to just cover the sunroof. I framed it with 1" pvc, covered it with rubber tubing insulation and attached dark gray wire shelving for the protection. It probably saved me a cracked or shattered sunroof on May 18th near Utica, KS when I took several tennis balls. The problem with doing one to cover the entire roof is the simple fact that not all hail falls straight down :) It would have done me no good on May 23rd when I had 2" hail blasting sideways at 70mph. I think the better option (depending on your vehicle) is to cover each of your windows individually. What do you drive?
 

hduran

EF0
Mar 4, 2011
16
0
0
Tulsa, Ok
Since 2005, I've been chasing in my 2002 Civic. It's not the best, but I've made it work in every sense. I ordered a 2015 Subaru WRX which should be here around May. I wanted to stick with a car, but this time with AWD. I just want to keep it looking good for a while...at least for the first year :D. Anyway, I've been in sideways hail before, and I'm not looking to build a dominator. I fully understand that nothing is gonna give me full coverage other than avoiding hail cores and believe me, I try my best to. But there are times when that isn't always possible.

A few years ago, I got stuck in mud was a sitting duck during golfball+ size hail. Also, as recently as last year, I got stuck in chaser convergence but fortunately, that hail died down by the time it was over my position. And again, when I ran out of road options because of my Civic's limitations and had no choice but to face the incoming hail. Now these are just a few examples, and again, I'm not looking for 100% coverage and I realize this is a high-risk activity that will inevitably end in hail dents at some point in time. Yet, in each of the above situations, had I had something over my car other than the sky, it would've prevented some hail dents.

The plans you mentioned are very similar to mine. PVC piping wrapped in thick pipe insulation. On top of this is a fine mesh wire for the small ones and thick gauge wire for the big ones. I had planned on mounting this to an aftermarket roof rack like Thule or Yakima.
 
Nov 18, 2006
1,231
296
11
Chicago, IL
My advice would not to be to build anything that wide. Not only for legal limits, but for squeezing down narrow dirt roads packed with chasers or lined with trees. I would start from the roof and have something that folds down against the windows.
 
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Feb 27, 2009
447
57
11
Texarkana, AR
I think 8 feet is as wide as you can go. I've found the netting made to stop golfballs at hitting ranges and such to work pretty well. You just build a frame and stretch it over it. You can buy it on the internet cut to different sizes. besides protection out over the windshield, the only other window that is completely covered is the rear window, so my plan is to stop if I have to and face away from the hail if I get into high wind. I realize I might not be able to do that in every situation, but that is my plan anyway.
 
Jun 14, 2009
328
154
11
Altoona, Iowa
toddrector.com
It's nice to know I am not the only chaser with a sunroof :)

For the past several years I have played the odds and lucked out concerning hail, but THIS year I have two windshield spiders already so I am revisiting my position.

Personally I am willing to grit my teeth and take some hail damage to my 7 year old vehicle, much as I accept the risk of an occasional RFD sandblasting.

* Windshields are laminated glass, so it's extremely difficult to punch a hole in them, and they won't break completely out unless it's Armageddon. No worries.
* Side/rear windows broken? A sheet of plastic and some duct tape will get you home, right?

That being said, a broken sunroof plus torrential rain will leave you in a severely crippled condition at minimum, with an undriveable (potentially totalled) vehicle hundreds of miles from home within the realm of possibility. Plastic and duct tape are useless overhead, thanks to gravity and the persistence of water.

To me, it seems prudent to protect the sunroof more than anything else on your vehicle regarding hail.


I am considering a 1/2 inch piece of plexi held in place by 4 large suction cups sticking to the sunroof glass itself, or 3/4 inch expanded aluminum (picture a diamond grill grate) held in place by zip ties to my roof rails, or perhaps over-extending the sunroof glass perimeter and holding the guard in place with repurposed magnetic antenna mounts.

It occurs to me there is no need for the sunroof guard to be transparent, so I could probably get adequate protection using a $20 plastic cutting board rather than expensive plexi.

Thoughts? Anyone else doing anything like this specifically to protect a sunroof?
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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I've been considering some sort of hail guards for next year. I broke a windshield this year and lost a rear window last season. Losing all windows to a high-end hail event would be catastrophic financially (as a matter of principle, I don't claim storm chasing-related hail damage on my insurance) and the cost of guards should be minimal in comparison. I don't have a solid concept down, but it's apparent I'll have to design something unique to do what I want. The specs:

- The guards must be be fully stowable and deployable in two stages:

Stage 1: The guard rig/frame will only be installed on top of the vehicle at the beginning of "chase mode" on a chase day. That is, they will be something I have stored inside the vehicle until the final fuel stop before initiation. This is so I don't negate the fuel economy of my car during driving to/from the target area and to/from the Great Plains.

Stage 2: The actual window guards will "fold down" from the rig on top of the vehicle to cover the windows *only* in advance of an anticipated hail threat. This is so the windows will not be blocked for photography and video when no hail threat exists.

I'm thinking of some sort of aluminum frame that will be held to the vehicle via straps that pass through the doors (I'm also not against drilling through the roof to attach mounting bolts), then having foldable guards that can be quickly deployed if large hail is expected. All of the times I've encountered large hail, I knew the risk was approaching with enough notice I could have stopped to deploy this "Stage 2" long in advance.

This will be a project I'll be working on over the winter.
 
Jun 14, 2009
328
154
11
Altoona, Iowa
toddrector.com
I think many/most people share your principle of not reporting hail damage incurred on a chase. I have been really lucky so far, with the only dents being to my ego on these terrible MCS busts recently.

After getting sandblasted from the side by 70mph sand and rocks in Nebraska, I wonder if the golfball netting or any sort of wire fencing material would be adequate protection. From hail, maybe, but I have a feeling it doesn't take a very big rock at 70+mph to break a window. Plexi seems obvious in this case, but it's SO expensive comparatively and could possibly have such a big wind profile that deploying it in heavy winds might be difficult - I am picturing a $400 piece of plexiglass sailing across a field, photobombing everyone else's video.

If you DO follow through, post pics!
 
Jun 28, 2007
55
18
6
Scottsdale
I've made hailguards for my 2 toyota trucks (Tundra and FJ Cruiser) of expanded metal, and wire mesh more recently. Up until this year I used 4 70lb magnets to hold the guards over the side and back windows and used a bolt-on system for the driver and passenger windows as well as the front windshield; these bolted onto the roof rack on my FJ:
fj.jpg

my truck.jpg

Hail.jpg

This year I had a guy weld nuts to the vehicle body so all guards will be bolted on with 4 bolts each. I am also having the entire FJ line-Xed. I little more extreme but I can remove the hailguards when I'm not chasing and all you see are these small nuts.

The advantage I found with the wire mesh is that wind travels through it as opposed to plexiglass which is a solid surface and would have a better chance of being pulled off. I was in over 100 mph winds in El Reno and the hailguards didn't flinch a bit.
 
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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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I've decided to get cracking on my hail guards for this season. Has anyone has experience with using aluminum box beams as the frames? I see what looks like steel being used on most chasers' rigs, but I'd like something more lightweight.
 
I created a wire mesh hail guard for my sunroof. I avoid the hail cores at all cost, so I never really get anything bigger than a dime (knock on wood). The wire mesh is pretty much 1/4" chicken wire with foam tubing every three inches to create a soft barrier between the mesh and the window. The mesh is removable by using four heavy duty magnets placed in each corner. This whole guard rolls up in a nice tube about the width of a good sleeping bag. I will post a photo after my first deployment this spring. Total cost $12.
 
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Nov 18, 2006
1,231
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Chicago, IL
Dan have you looked into PVC? Also lightweight and very durable. With aluminum I would be concerned with corrosion issues as well as possible deformations as it gets banged around by hail. I went with 1/4" PVC on mine and wrapped them in a foam insulator. The insulator has gradually worn away over the years though.
 
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Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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I'm finally starting on this project this week. I decided I liked @Adam Lucio 's wire shelving idea best for the main shield elements. They are lightweight, have no real wind resistance and are strong enough to withstand significant impacts. I went shopping for materials today and scored 24 feet of aluminum box beam at less than half price, thanks to minor damage at the ends of each piece. That saved me roughly 70 bucks right off the bat. With all of the shelving and hardware, I'm only out $160 so far, and I think I have enough to protect all but the front windshield now (which is a low priority at least initially).

An issue I discovered during my initial brainstorming stage is that my trunk lid opens straight up into the plane where the rear shield needs to be. This means that the rear shield will need to be hinged at the roofline with quick-release rear vertical supports to allow for trunk access. Since I have a huge amount of box beam and I want retractable guards for the side windows, I might try designing something with what I have rather than using fixed PVC frames.

I'll try to get some pictures as I get farther into this.
 
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STexan

EF4
Feb 11, 2012
316
38
11
Athens, TX
The best hail and debris insurance you can get is to hold off on your claim until after NEXT season. Don't ask me how I know.

And don't push your luck if there is any way to avoid it, is my second bit of advice.
 
Mar 15, 2015
40
16
6
44
Wichita Kansas
When I bought my Jeep, my biggest concern was the sunroof, so last year I fabricated a guard for it. I try to avoid hail cores at all costs, so I figured the sunroof would be the only thing I need worry about. Mine is made from 1" steel tubing with 3/16" wall, expanded metal and 4 70lb magnets. Easy to install/remove, doesn't affect mileage and gives me peace of mind. It paid off on my first chase when I heard the unique "TANG" of several 3/4" stones ricocheting off of it.
This idea could easily be expanded to incorporate "fold down sides" I imagine, but not an extent I'm interested in going to.


 
If you can weld, it's not terribly hard to fabricate something to serve as a hail guard. I don't have a sunroof, so I don't need that specifically. Being able to weld is a huge advantage with the kinds of mods we tend to make for chase vehicles. The PVC that Adam has is a great solution as well too.

Dan, it probably would be fairly simple to fabricate a bracket that you could attach hinges to. Probably would not require any welding either. That would be the most simple solution, relatively speaking.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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Here are all of the raw materials.



This is my initial design for the front and rear guards:



The rear section hinging is to allow the trunk to be opened. As of right now, four roof holes and two trunk holes will be required. All of these materials are light enough for me to carry, but a little too heavy for magnet/strap mounting.

As it turns out, the big box beams are long enough to provide not only the base frame, but a foundation for both the rear window and front windshield guards. I'll only need two more pieces of shelving for the front. For the side windows, I discovered I have plenty of room to simply put one row of shelving straight out to the sides from the main frame. This completely protects the side windows from straight-down trajectory hail and does not extend past the car's widest horizontal dimension. If my car will fit, the guards will too. My plan is to attach a second row of the shelving to the side guards with hinges that will allow each to be deployed to provide complete (horizontal) protection from wind-blown hail (similar to the rear window guard "side wings").

This entire assembly can be broken down and stowed in the back seat/trunk of the car for transit to and from chase targets, preserving the MPG of the car. It will only be mounted prior to "chase mode" and only on days in which supercells present a hail risk.
 
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Aug 4, 2008
200
35
11
Nashville, TN
Dan, how you are going to secure it to the roof? I used Adams design exactly to his specs and it worked great. To supplement the tracks on my roof that I secured it with, I also used 100lb magnets using 2 inch bolts through the pvc frame I built. The thing never budged an inch while I had that vehicle.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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Clarence, my plan is to drill straight through the roof and attach four permanent 5-inch mounting bolts. (My car doesn't have a roof rack) The main frame then drops in onto those and is secured with wing nuts, and is removed just as easily.

I'm still hashing out my side guard design. Since I'm drilling the roof, I'd like to avoid also drilling the doors and use the main frame to support the side guards. That of course raises the issue of opening the doors. Right now I'm leaning toward a two-stage side guard solution:

Stage 1 provides only protection from near-vertical trajectory hail, and consists of a horizontal guard attached to the main frame and extending out 8 inches or so over the doors. This allows the doors to be opened, also protects the side mirrors, and doesn't obstruct the view. Stage 2 is for a wind-driven hail threat that protects from hail coming in sideways. These are fold-down guards attached/hinged to the stage 1 guards that will secure with a clip at the bottom of the door windows. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to go about this, however. Stage 2 really needs to be deployable from inside, at least the driver's side one does. They will need to lie flat on top of the stage 1 guards when not deployed, then swing 270 degrees around to lock into place covering the windows.

I'm leaning on having stage 2 semi-permanently deployed on the rear side windows for when I'm chasing alone. They'd only need to be stowed if someone is riding in the back seat, which is almost never. I just need to figure out some mechanical way to deploy stage 2 for the front side windows from inside.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
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I looked into installing a roof rack, but that will add at least another $300-$400 to the cost. There are cheaper options, but some also require drilling and don't appear to be built to hold something of this size.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
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Roof racks *are* expensive, but I would think that would be offset by the versatility (?).
Yes, if I had any other use for one, that is. I don't carry skis, bikes or anything else. I've also read a few posts from owners saying they took a slight hit in MPG from having a permanent roof rack. I don't know if that's true or not, but it makes sense.
 
Jun 14, 2009
328
154
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Altoona, Iowa
toddrector.com
Understandable, then (no roof rack). I have a roof rack on my car which makes for a great place to attach antennas (as long as you don't use antennas that require a ground plane, that is), but I am too chicken to drill holes in my roof (newer vehicle). I look forward to your reporting back how well it works for you this year!
 
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