While many of us have come across a pothole, we still ask questions like, what causes potholes; how do I avoid them once they appear; who should I report a pothole to for repair; or, if the vehicle is damaged by a pothole, can I recover the repair costs?
A pothole is caused by the failure of the road due to fatigue, or failure of the surface caused by age or overloading. The surface begins to crack and break up as vehicles continue to pound it, eventually forming a hole as chunks of the pavement are thrown out of the damaged area. Potholes are also created when the roadway is stressed by trucks and buses, which can cause a movement of the road’s subsurface resulting in surface failure. Water penetrating the failed pavement accelerates the process and further weakens the area which is why more potholes appear after it rains. Additionally, freezing weather accelerates the process since water expands when it changes to ice and breaks away even more of the surface.
Tiny potholes grow into larger ones that can damage your vehicle’s tires as they hit the edges of the hole and force the sidewall against the rim and damage it. Vehicle alignment can be knocked out of kilter and suspension parts can be damaged or broken when you hit a pothole hard enough. Some manufacturers warn that you can actually trigger your vehicle’s airbags if you hit a very large pothole with enough force. Please refer to your owner’s manual.
Simple everyday maintenance of your tires and safe driving habits will help you avoid or reduce the damage to your vehicle if you’re unable to avoid a pothole or have a jarring encounter with one.
- Maintain proper air pressure in all tires to provide the proper cushion between the pothole and the rim of the tire. Don’t over-inflate your tires as this makes the tire too stiff and can make suspension damage from a pothole impact more likely.
- Check your owner’s manual or look at the placard on the driver’s door jam, inside the glove box door, or on the fuel filler door for the correct tire inflation pressure (don’t use the rating on the side of the tire as this is the maximum inflation pressure, not the manufacturer’s recommended pressure).
- Watch for potholes by leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Before swerving to avoid a pothole, check surrounding traffic to determine if it is safe to change lanes.
- Maintain a safe speed for the weather conditions. If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow down, if possible, and avoid braking directly over a pothole since that will shift weight forward and place additional loading on the front suspension and tires, increasing the potential for damage.
- Hitting a pothole at high-speed increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels, and suspension components. High speed also increases the chance of losing control of your vehicle, especially if a series of potholes occurs on a curve or badly-weathered roadway. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel to help maintain control.
- Beware of, and avoid standing water that may conceal a deep pothole.