We all know how aggravating it can be to navigate over a pothole; the shocking jolt that spills your coffee on the way to work or evokes shrill screams from children in the back seat. If these were the most severe consequences, potholes would be relatively minimal road annoyances, perhaps more on par with an obnoxious bumper sticker or the kid that pulls up next to you listening to his music a little too loud. This, however, is not the case. Damages to vehicles from potholes are not only a more severe outcome, but also they are hardly unlikely. The types of damage that a pothole can inflict on a vehicle are both varied and expensive. As nearly a half a million insurance claims are filed every year for damage related to potholes, drivers need to be aware that this is a serious concern.
The damage occurs when the tire exits the pothole. With a disproportionate amount of weight on the submerged tire, the force of impact it has exiting the pothole is severe.
The most obvious pothole damage affects a vehicle’s tires. As the tires of a vehicle are always in contact with the road, it puts them in the front lines of a pothole’s attack. When an automobile’s tire enters a pothole, the force on the tires, which is relatively balanced on a level surface, is no longer evenly distributed. As the tire drops into a pothole, the vehicle is no longer level, and the weight begins to shift more heavily on to the tire that is relatively lower than the tires on the regular road surface. The damage occurs when the tire exits the pothole. With a disproportionate amount of weight on the submerged tire, the force of impact it has exiting the pothole is severe. As it hits the edge of the pothole, a massive, concentrated force strikes the tire directly. This force, if severe enough, misshape the tire, rupture it, or even bend its rim. As most modern rims are made out of aluminum instead of steel, the endurance is reduced, leaving the tire even more vulnerable. While it is suggested that maintaining optimal air pressure in tires can help prevent these types of problems, as it cushions the impact, the fact remains that hitting the right pothole in the right spot can leave a driver stranded regardless.
Other immediate damages that can occur from a pothole include scratches, dents, and leaks. The tires of a vehicle are made to keep it a certain distance above the ground. The bottom of an automobile is not made to come into contact with the road’s surface, but when a larger pothole is run over, this can often be the case. While a tire is in a pothole, the entire vehicle moves lower to the ground, and the abrupt movement can cause the suspension to compress, dropping it even closer to the road’s surface. If the vehicle makes contact, the result can be anything from scratches to damaged mechanical components.
Even though a scratch on the bottom of a vehicle’s body may not seem much of a concern, it can lead to a certain long term issue: rust. The vehicles body is rust proofed on the exterior, but if some of that rust proofing is scraped away, the vehicle is now vulnerable to the oxidation process that produces rust. Despite the area around the scrape still being protected, rust can still spread, becoming an exponentially larger concern.
Little needs to be said to express the potential severity of damaging components on the undercarriage of a vehicle. Leaking hoses, which usually occurs after excessive use and wear, can be induced from a bad pothole. While leaking fluid isn’t in itself a dire situation, the components the fluid is circulated through can cease to work, or even worse, become irreparably damaged. Essential intake and exhaust components also lie on the bottom of a vehicle. Should a muffler or exhaust be dislodged, for example, it is not only detrimental to the vehicle, but also creates an additional, dangerous hazard for other drivers to avoid.
Not all damage from potholes is immediate, certain vehicle components can be gradually destroyed over time from repeated pothole abuse. A vehicle’s suspension system, which essentially works as a shock absorber, is made up of springs. These springs, under normal duress, will wear out after several tens of thousands of miles, but prolonged exposure to pothole ridden roads significantly decreases their lifespan. The jolt of force discussed earlier on a tire entering and exiting a pothole is transferred from the tire to the suspension system, thus causing the expedited wear. Sometimes it is hard to notice this wear, because of the gradual degeneration over an extended period of time, but despite the subtle nature, it is still a serious concern. As the suspension system deteriorates, the vehicle no longer absorbs bumps and begins to bounce unstably. If this isn’t enough of a reason for concern, the excessive bouncing means leaving the vehicle even more exposed to a future pothole encounter.
Additionally, a vehicle’s alignment is in jeopardy from repeated pothole damage. The alignment, which essentially makes the vehicle drive straight, is important for even tire wear and handling. A bad alignment will cause tires to wear out unevenly and faster, or the driver to not be able to handle the vehicle effectively, particularly in emergency maneuvers. Similar to the suspension system, alignment will need to be addressed regardless of pothole exposure, but is significantly affected and damaged from running over potholes frequently. Even though pothole damages to an alignment or suspension system is usually gradual, it’s important to note that a big enough pothole hit at just the right angle can violently alter these components instantly.
So what can drivers do to combat these adverse effects? Well, from a driving standpoint, not much. Things like avoiding potholes and maintaining a safe vehicle are good preventative techniques, but aren’t always effective or possible. Some people suggest that whoever is responsible for the road should hold the burden of paying for repairs, but depending on local legislation, this may or may not be the case; not to mention, addressing a problem after the fact can still leave a driver stranded, if not utterly inconvenienced. The best idea is this: repair the potholes. By patching potholes, these sorts of problems can be avoided entirely. Make sure that your driveway or privately owned roads are patched up and safe for you and your visitors. If you own a business, see that your parking lot and entrance potholes are first marked, then filled as soon as possible; patching a pothole consumes significantly less time and money than a litigation battle over a customer’s damage claim. Also, while you’re probably not going to be patching a municipal road yourself, (unless you work for the city, of course) you should report unmarked potholes to the local Department of Transportation so that they can address it. In fact, many cities that do reimburse drivers for pothole damage will not do so unless the pothole was reported first, so by making a simple phone call you can protect both yourself and your fellow commuters. Once potholes are repaired, the roads become a safer place for both commuters and their vehicles. It doesn’t take too much cost or effort, and the benefits are of high value: promoting and contributing to public safety.