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Pothole Primer: How to avoid and recognize car damage

By March 25, 2015No Comments

To mark the first World Pothole Day (March 25, 2015), shares with readers two important categories of advice: How to prevent pothole damage on vehicles, and to recognize damage that needs to be fixed.

But this is about more than car damage – one-third of the 33,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. each year can be attributed in part to poor road conditions. For those lucky enough to escape without injury, a pothole-related incident can cost hundreds of dollars, sometimes more, to the motorist. It saves money and lives to regard potholes for the deadly and expensive problem they are.


Your goal is to avoid hard hits to your car due to the potholes. The shoulder season of February through May is when most potholes appear and are repaired, so take extra precaution in the following ways:

 Make sure your tires and vehicle suspension are in good shape – When tire air pressure is low, the tire becomes more vulnerable to damage. Similarly, if struts and shock absorbers are in compromised condition, the car’s undercarriage is more vulnerable to damage when the car hits a deep pothole.

 Pay attention to the road – This is no time to text and drive. Be vigilant in watching for potholes and other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians around you, such that you might be able to avoid potholes in your path and causing damage to others when swerving to avoid damage. If you can’t swerve, brake before hitting it but let off on the brakes prior to impact.

 Drive with caution – It makes little sense to speed on pothole-ridden streets and highways. The simple physics of car weight x velocity = greater energy in the impact. Reduce velocity and you reduce the damage.

 Still puddles sometimes run deep – Some puddles are ½ inch deep. Others are a foot deep. You cannot know which it is if all you see is the water on top.

Inspect for damage

Some potholes cannot be avoided. Therefore, the healthy response to a hit is to look for what has been damaged and to address it as soon as possible.

Check the tires for bulges and blisters – Tire blowouts do not necessarily happen at the point of impact. Sometimes the pothole will inflict tire damage that becomes a blowout ten miles down the road – which can lead to catastrophic accidents. If you’ve hit a pothole hard, pull over to do an inspection of all four wheels.

Pay attention to steering control (or lack thereof) – Any change in handling after hitting irregular pavement can lead to a loss of control. Look for swaying and pulling in one direction.

Pay heed to the bounce – If your car’s suspension or control seem to be worse than before, it could be due to a compromise of the shocks and struts, steering knuckle, ball joints, steering rack, bearings, seals and hub units and tie rod ends.

Of course, the repairs will not be free. Plan to spend at least the following amounts of money to get parts fixed: Ball joint, $150-$300; catalytic converter, $1000-$2000; control arm, $200-$400; shock/strut, $200-$400; tie rod, $100-$250; tires, $100-$250; and wheels, $75 for steel, $500 for alloy.

World Pothole Day is nothing to celebrate (other than to arrive at home unscathed at the end of the day). It really is a moment to stop and think about how dangerous potholes can be and how to avoid them whenever possible.

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