Chaser destroys rental car in hail storm

Warren Faidley

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A well known chaser likely totaled a rental vehicle yesterday near Lubbock from 4-inch hail. Just wondering if anyone has ever had a problem renting a car as a chaser? I’m told by the trusted family attorney (my wife) that deliberately destroying private property (including rentals) could be a felony. This is based on past criminal cases where renters used the vehicles for racing and other destructive purposes, even with the insurance coverage.
 
There have been reports of chasers having to pay for the damage in those situations, even with the LDW. I can't see how that doesn't happen here. It's up to the car rental company to exercise any of a number of available recovery options they have when this happens. As long as the damage gets paid for, I guess I don't have a problem with it.
 
I was thinking the same exact thing. Purposely driving into a situation when you clearly know your rental vehicle is going to be damaged I would think can be interpreted as violation of the rental contract, even if you purchased all the insurance offered.

It's not your property, so you have limits what you can do with it. I am surprised rental companies don't crack down on this. It is a waste really, b/c a significantly hail-dented rental will likely be declared a loss, at least for further rentals, and that means they will need to get a replacement. And just from an ethical standpoint, IMHO, I don't think this a smart thing to do. What kind of message does that give to others watching such a video in the context of renting a vehicle? Be reckless and no respect for property that is not yours?

And don't get me wrong, if you own the vehicle, you are free to do what you want in regards to driving into large hail or the like. For me though, by far my biggest fear storm chasing is getting wrecked by large hail. Not cool when your front windshield is spidered and sagging and you have a long drive back to your hotel, or have to drive through wicked MCS activity late night! Also, it can be quite unnerving in itself, esp. when you encouter a "hurricane hailer" supercell with a furious mix of giant hail and torrential rain driven by sustained hurricane-force winds in the mesocyclone.
 
While I don't feel bad for the insurance companies, I do have an issue with TRYING to destroy the vehicle, then essentially bragging about it. It's stuff like this that ruins it for everyone else who tries their best to avoid damage. I know the conversation has been had before about the morality of renting a vehicle for chasing, but without that option, it makes things logistically harder for those who live on the coast, or out of the country. Definitely frustrating to see.
 
Heck of a way to kill a car. Several years ago, when I was still driving over the road, I was in Laredo, Texas. After I got checked into a motel, I immediately fired up my laptop, to see what was going on with the massive clouds, east of there. It turned out to be a monster of a supercell thunderstorm, located around Falfurrias, Tx......I told my dispatcher I wanted to go chase it, but it would have taken me a good 90 minutes to get there.....not to mention it was also a company vehicle (cargo van with no cajones under the hood). Oh well....some other time, I guess.
 
A well known chaser likely totaled a rental vehicle yesterday near Lubbock from 4-inch hail. Just wondering if anyone has ever had a problem renting a car as a chaser? I’m told by the trusted family attorney (my wife) that deliberately destroying private property (including rentals) could be a felony. This is based on past criminal cases where renters used the vehicles for racing and other destructive purposes, even with the insurance coverage.
There's been more discussion on social media this season about how some chasers are continually able to secure rentals when they consistently have hail damage claims. FWIW I don't know who you are talking about in this case, however, as I haven't seen anything on social media yet. Rumors are circulating that chasers have purportedly been blackballed in prior years due to situations like this, but that probably depends on individual companies rather than being an industry-related ban carte blanche.

I will add that criminal damage offenses are essentially 'mens rea' crimes or ones that require added proof of criminal intent. Therefore, the chaser's intention would be considered and given considerable weight at trial. While it's highly likely that the act of storm chasing would be taken into account for compensatory liability, i.e., you could still possibly be held civilly liable if the rental company chose to pursue civil litigation even if you took out the rental company's insurance policy, accidental property damage is generally not criminal and the state would still have the burden of proving actual criminal intent or malice. In that case, while context and circumstances always impact the outcome of individual cases, the state would likely have to prove that the chaser maliciously intended to damage or destroy the rental vehicle versus being held criminally liable for a happenstance situation during a rather risky endeavor. I think a conviction for criminal property damage would be a higher hurdle unless there was evidence the vehicle was rented with the explicit intent to destroy or damage it by deliberately getting into large hail.

With that being said, those renting should closely read the rental car insurance liability contracts (or your personal coverage if you choose to waive the rental company's coverage) as it is possible that damage sustained while chasing would be subject to coverage exemptions and thus you may find yourself dealing with a personal liability that the insurance company refuses to cover.
 
About ten years ago me and my chase partner had our chase car in the shop and so we rented one. The rental agency definitely was suspicious and hesitant when we said we would be traveling in KS and NE (they ask where you will be traveling during the checkout and we naively told them without mentioning weather). They were kind of a pain about it but we told them further info about our trip was our business. We deliberately avoided hail that trip and brought the car back in perfect condition. The avoidance of hail did alter our chase strategy and success a bit.

Even with my personal vehicles I almost always have avoided hail and still seen what I want to see, it just takes a bit more planning and is much safer. The one time I did not, I came upon a closed road and had a radar data outage at once, and I got clipped by a 2 inch hail core that did a lot of damage in just over a minute. I had to fix that damage as the car still had a loan, and my rates went up. It was very unintentional, but the insurer did not care after the claim and regarded me as a higher risk. I don't ever feel the need to tuck into an HP notch to see some un photogenic low contrast piece of junk anyway, and I have adjusted my strategy to not end up ever getting hit by hail again if I can help it. Probably less odds than the average unaware motorist of getting hit, and I have escaped hail in town multiple times because of the skills of a chaser.

All that said about the choice to drive into hail or not, rental or not - I find regarding anyone's property including rental car companies as there to be abused is immoral and extremely immature and makes us all look bad and high risk to insure. There is a strong attitude, particularly in many younger people and immature older people that 'that's what insurance is for' or 'those greedy corps deserve it'. I saw comments all over social media about how there is nothing wrong and 'sticking it to the man' is some type of justice in their small minds. Most of these people have no idea that all this behavior is why most things like service and options and quality degrade over time and prices for all of us skyrocket; they are helping cause a portion of the corporate problems they despise. Sure there are other factors to why insurance and rental companies suck, but rampant abuse is also a big part of cost increases. For profit industries have to be able to cover their financial risk to stay viable. If payouts or costs increase, so do costs for everyone.

Anyone intentionally chasing storms who damages a car that bad is easily over the line of intent. In the recent instance being referenced here, the chasers were deliberately chasing 'gorilla hail', exclaiming about it like kids or some Jackass movie (what a stupid movie) and deliberately kept driving until glass was exploding in their faces. They did this on live video, for profit. Even if their stream is demonetized (uncertain because google loves ad revenue) they have a billion patreon fools to pay them. Hardly the first time either - probably in the dozens of instances now where rentals were damaged or totaled. The chaser even spoke in their own comments that it was 'getting harder to rent' when someone brought up the question of how they are able to. Intent to deceive and destroy these cars on someone else's dime is evident unless someone comes forward and confirms they buyout these totaled cars with their streaming money or something later.

It would be different if someone rented, intended to stay out of hail, made a mistake or broke down and got into it - but that would still be borderline their financial responsibility if they deliberately drove to close proximity to hail.

I agree with Dan that the fine print in most rental contracts easily bypasses a LDW or any insurance if you show any intent at all to put the rental car in a risk situation. I have heard about people taking a rental on flat dirt roads and being held accountable for all damage even if they did nothing crazy and something just went wrong with the car by coincidence, just because the company had no dirt roads in fine print. The fine print gives rental agencies a lot of power over collecting money for damage even if people think it doesn't. Just because many rental employees could care less or some agencies probably deliberately allow certain cars to be damaged without protest does not mean the risk to an individual renter to be held liable is low. Honestly I would love to see some of these people hit with a 'car totaled' bill for how they treat others' property. I am sure Hertz would love to rent out all their Teslas and have them destroyed for the payout, so the rental car companies could be part of the problem too. They seem to allow some of this dishonesty to game the system themselves for optimizing their fleet. That is a bit of speculation on my part, but there must be a reason why they haven't cracked down severely before this.

I am not going to judge a whole person by this type of action, but the repeated immaturity of stuff like this, and indirect disregard for others makes it harder not to. Driving into any damaging hail on purpose is an activity that already may put yourself and others at risk if something goes wrong, but if one is going to do it it should be a personal choice in a personal vehicle at the least.
 
I have been renting vehicles to chase for 25 years. It is pretty much the only option for most chase vacationers. I never purposely drove into large hail. Of course, getting into some small hail, and the occasional half dollar or ping pong ball size, is unavoidable, especially over that many years.

There was only one time I got into hail larger than that, in Missouri in 2009. It was not purposeful, although I should have realized it was possible in that particular region of the storm (but as anyone who reads this forum knows, I make plenty of stupid mistakes to my detriment all the time).I got a crack in the lower righthand corner of the windshield and was charged by the rental car company about $600 (remember this is 2009 dollars). I submitted a claim to my credit card company, which included rental car damage coverage. After that, I stopped renting from that company. To be honest I felt it was a bit petty to charge for something like that, which could happen to anyone (not just chasers) or even to their cars sitting on the lot. Moreover, their own insurance should have covered it. I am only speculating, but I’ll bet this is a separate, profitable revenue stream for rental car companies - damage is covered by their insurance, and then they probably pocket whatever they charge to their customers.

I switched to another rental company and have been using them ever since. In 2013 I ended up with a couple of hail dents. We also ended up stuck in a drainage ditch on a muddy dirt road, so the car was filthy. If I remember correctly, we did not incur any extra charges at all! However, they did charge me an “excess cleaning” amount last year. Just taking the car to a car wash for interior and exterior cleaning may have avoided that.

In Texas this past Tuesday 5/28 we did get into an area that had those stray, sporadic large hailstones that come down like individual meteorites, but fortunately none hit us before we bailed south. I think we got one or two small dings from an earlier chase.

I don’t condone trying to “stick it” to rental car companies, but I do think many of their terms and conditions are ridiculous - if anyone really read the fine print, they would probably be too afraid to ever rent a car for anything. The add-on charges are outrageous, especially having to pay additional for a second driver. They are charging for the use of their vehicle and getting a certain amount of revenue per day for the use of that resource. What is the justification for saying it costs more to add a driver? It costs them nothing additional. I never include a second driver when I rent.
 
The add-on charges are outrageous, especially having to pay additional for a second driver. They are charging for the use of their vehicle and getting a certain amount of revenue per day for the use of that resource. What is the justification for saying it costs more to add a driver? It costs them nothing additional. I never include a second driver when I rent.

I've had different reasons given to me for the additional driver surcharge. I don't work in the industry so I can only share what I've been told. I'm told that it's a combination of recouping the presumably nominal cost of entering another driver's information (i.e., literally a paperwork fee) but also one primarily of offsetting a foreseen liability associated with the primary renter having multiple additional drivers. From an actuarial perspective car rental companies take on an added risk of loss if more than one person drives the vehicle. They view additional drivers as an increased chance of an accident or claim in much the same way that auto insurance companies increase your premiums when you have additional licensed drivers at your address on your car insurance policy, e.g., premiums go up when you add your kids to your auto insurance.
 
I've had different reasons given to me for the additional driver surcharge. I don't work in the industry so I can only share what I've been told. I'm told that it's a combination of recouping the presumably nominal cost of entering another driver's information (i.e., literally a paperwork fee) but also one primarily of offsetting a foreseen liability associated with the primary renter having multiple additional drivers. From an actuarial perspective car rental companies take on an added risk of loss if more than one person drives the vehicle. They view additional drivers as an increased chance of an accident or claim in much the same way that auto insurance companies increase your premiums when you have additional licensed drivers at your address on your car insurance policy, e.g., premiums go up when you add your kids to your auto insurance.

The “cost of entering another driver’s info” is a funny one, kind of circular - “tell us you have an additional driver so we can charge you for entering the info”. If don’t tell them there’s an additional driver then they don’t have that additional cost LOL

Just joking of course, it’s probably the other reason that’s primary, and then the cost of entering the info follows that… In some ways the analogy to personal insurance / additional drivers makes sense, and that probably is why they do it. But to me it’s illogical, because only one person can be driving the car at a time anyway, so the risk is not doubled by having two drivers. If they rented the vehicle on two different days to two different people, they would get two daily fees. So it doesn’t make sense to charge incremental for two different people to drive the car at different times on the same day… Not arguing your point, I’m sure you’re correct that’s why they do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s right! All businesses look for ways to optimize revenue that aren’t necessarily customer-friendly, such as when an airline sells you a ticket at a price of $X and then when you go to select seats you find that the only seats available have added premiums! Or they charge you to check a bag even though you’d much rather carry it on but they tell you they don’t have enough space! Or charge $100 because the bag is 2 pounds overweight!!! But I digress…
 
If the Reddit thread is correct, the rental agency has been made aware of the video and may pursue a claim of some sort against our "Overly Enthusiastic Storm-chasing Hero." Hopefully, their complaint sticks. The utter disregard for the rented vehicle displayed in the video is, IMO, disgusting. It could be argued that the entire point of the video was... to destroy the truck.
 
Yeah I had a look at Reddit and saw the images. What an idiot move. It won't just affect him going forward, it'll end up making things harder for everyone. Le sigh. Still, I'm sure the clicks, likes, and small amount of $$$ it'll bring it were worth it.
 
A well known chaser likely totaled a rental vehicle yesterday near Lubbock from 4-inch hail. Just wondering if anyone has ever had a problem renting a car as a chaser? I’m told by the trusted family attorney (my wife) that deliberately destroying private property (including rentals) could be a felony. This is based on past criminal cases where renters used the vehicles for racing and other destructive purposes, even with the insurance coverage.
Reed Timmer has posted numerous videos of intercepting tornadoes in rental vehicles. So if charges are ever filed, the videos he has posted to social media. This should be proliferated throughout the storm chasing community! Do not risk you career, and end up incarcerated and chasing soap in the shower! Bwahahaha
 
After Tim Samaras' passing, I feel like storm chasing as become the "Wild West" and how far people are willing to go for social media attention by taking unnecessary risks and further fueling the ego.

Rather than Tim's death being a warning of the dangers in storm chasing, it's had almost the opposite effect.
 
I don't know who it is or if they have a following or not, but "bad" behavior is rewarded in the form of cash these days. All one has to do is watch a live YT stream (especially with a substantial following) of someone driving in baseball sized hail and getting their windshield smashed and you'll see the Super Chats and other donations roll in to not only replace said windshield, but they make quite a tidy profit from it. I can easily see a rental car being the tool that drives the views and the cash donations from viewers.

As for rental companies, if they haven't caught on by now I have a hard time seeing them ever doing anything about it. As long as someone's insurance is paying, there's no reason for them to blink an eye.
 
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