Winter snows are melting and the sounds of spring begin to multiply. You know: “what the beep was that?” and “where the beep did that beeping pot beeping hole come from?” (thank you censors). If this sounds like your commute, know that you’re not alone.
Potholes can happen anywhere and are caused by water seeping into cracks in pavement. When the water erodes the ground beneath, pavement can cave in. Areas with severe winters see even more damage as road salts and frequent plowing make the process worse.
The problem is those teeth-grinding thuds that announce potholes may also mean significant damage to your car. Some of the problems that hitting a pothole can cause are:
- Tire and rim damage–tires can blow or be blistered so that they later go flat. Wheel rims can also be bent, leading to alignment issues.
- Undercarriage damage–hitting a pothole at high enough speed can cause the undercarriage of your car to scrape the road. Perhaps the most likely culprit is damage to your exhaust system.
- Wheel alignment: Bent steering components from the impact of hitting a pothole can cause wheel alignment issues that affect steering.
- Body or frame damage: Yes, if you hit a pothole hard enough, you can actually do damage to the frame or body of your car.
What to Do If You Hit a Pothole
Hitting a pothole doesn’t automatically mean damage, but it does mean you should monitor your vehicle for possible problems, particularly if the impact was hard (at high speed). After hitting a pothole, when you can safely stop, you should:
- Examine your tires and rims: Besides the obvious flat, you’ll want to look for bulges or bubbles in your tires. Some tire dealers actually offer low cost tire insurance that will replace blown tires at no cost. You should also check for cracks or bends in your rims.
- Look for scrapes and leaks: check the structural areas around the wheel that hit the pothole.
- Monitor Changes: Even if you don’t find anything, it’s important to pay attention to changes in the way your car sounds or drives. Listen for any new noises that might indicate damage; be alert to changes in the way the car drives, such as pulling to one side which might indicate alignment issues (uneven wear on tires can also be a sign); and look for any new leaks that occur.
- Report the pothole: Many areas have report systems where you can fill out a webform or make a call to report the location of a pothole so that it can be repaired.
How to Avoid Pothole Damage
As with most things, prevention is better than the cursing and muttering that follows hitting a pothole. Here are some ways to keep pothole damage from ever happening:
Assume a puddle is a pothole and avoid it.
Slow down in pothole ridden streets. The faster the hit, usually the worse the damage will be.
Keep your tires properly inflated.
Maintain safe following distances to give yourself time to see and react to a pothole.
Keep a good driving grip. Hitting a pothole can cause you to veer.
Ivan Young is a writer in partnership with steel piping distributors, Fed Steel.