Beware the dangerous potholes winter has left behind

Beware the dangerous potholes winter has left behind

How to survive the rough roads this spring

Last updated: March 13, 2015 08:00 AM

The brutal winter cold has wreaked havoc on our roads, creating the likes of crater-sized potholes that we haven’t seen in years. Your car will probably take some hard shots and bring on mounting car repairs. In fact, a survey conducted by Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that half of car owners from 2009 to 2014 experienced vehicle damage due to potholes. 

Driving into a pothole puts enormous strain on your tires, wheels, and suspension. The shape and depth of the road hole and the speed you travel all play into the severity of potential damage, but there are other considerations as well. A lot of cars, for example, now come with performance tires, which come with short sidewalls that provide responsive cornering but with less area to flex and conform to a pothole edge compared to a taller conventional tire. As a result, performance tires are also more prone to sidewall cutting and blistering.

Any direct hit in a pothole could bring about near instant air loss and will require immediate replacement. Any tire that survives a pothole and has sidewall damage should also be replaced in short order.  Wheels also take a beating; drive into a really deep pothole and you may be replacing the tire and the wheel. And just think of what that pothole shock does to your car’s suspension.

It’s always a good civic duty to report potholes to your local municipality. Many major cities and states now have apps for sharing pothole locations. This time of year, town and city officials should be repairing the holes to thwart any further road degradation and curb vehicle damage and accidents.  

Should the worst happen and you experience pothole damage to your vehicle, most auto insurances will cover the damage, but may not cover normal wear and tear items such as tires. In the Trusted Choice survey, 31 percent of respondents who experienced pothole damage filed an insurance claim. The majority paid out of pocket for repairs.

How to survive pothole-ravaged roads

  1. Slow down and pay attention to the road conditions. Don’t be fooled, thinking that some potholes are small. If they are filled with water they can be more than you bargained for.  Also, keep some distance between you and car you are following—that will give you time to react should there be a pothole hazard up ahead.
  2. Avoiding potholes is the best bet, but if the impact is inevitable, try to at least partly slow down before entering, and drive straight into it. Turning into a pothole exposes more tire sidewall to potential damage. 
  3. Be diligent after a pothole encounter. Any shake or shimmy in your car’s ride can mean something was damaged. Stop the car, check for visible signs of tire and wheel damage. Keep in mind that if the front tire ran over the hole, the rear tire probably did as well—check both. Also, if no damage is visible, it could mean the car threw a balance weight off a wheel or possibly suffered suspension damage.  Have everything checked by your mechanic.
  4. Keeping your tires inflated to the recommended inflation pressure is one of the best guards for minimizing pothole damage to your tires and wheels. Under- or overinflated tires can affect a tires’ or wheel's resistance to pothole damage. Most cars now have a tire pressure monitoring system to alert the driver if a tire is losing air pressure. If your car does not have a tire pressure monitoring system, check the tire pressure when the tire has cooled to ambient temperature to be sure it’s not losing air from the pothole encounter.

See our tire buying advice and tire ratings.

Gene Petersen

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