Potholes and Road Hazard Insurance: What’s Covered?

Posted by in potholes

Tire warranties and comprehensive/collision insurance might cover your pothole-related car damage costs. But each has limits – read the fine print, and alert your DOT when you see a serious pothole.

The statistics on damage to cars from potholes across the US are staggering: a 2016 study from the AAA auto club found that American motorists shell out $3 billion each year to repair tires and vehicles that hit rough pavement.

That works out to an average cost of $300 per repair. But what’s worse, AAA says that car drivers have three incidents of pothole damage per year. Those costs add up.

Of course, exactly what gets damaged affects how much it costs: a flat tire might be repaired for $50, but a cracked catalytic converter will cost $1000 or more to replace.

Then comes the question over who pays for it. Some cars are covered by road hazard insurance, and some car parts might have a warranty that covers those particular parts. Drivers with a little bit of good luck (to outweigh their bad pothole luck) and a requisite degree of tenaciousness might be able to recoup their losses from the municipality in charge of maintaining the roads. But more often than not, the repair expenses fall entirely on the driver – who no doubt is unhappy with the whole experience.

The two forms of prevention for individual motorists are skillful driving, which sometimes works, and lobbying the powers that be to fix the roads.

The types of car damage range from low-hanging bumpers and side skirts to parts of the exhaust system (pipes, mufflers, catalytic converters), the suspension system (misalignment, broken ball joints, damaged shocks and struts), and wheel rim damage. Primarily it’s tires, which are the only part of the car that should have road contact, that take the brunt of the damage. When a wheel goes into a pothole, say at 40 miles per hour, the hard edge of the wheel rim may hit the edge of the pavement, slicing the rubber or snapping the belts in the tire construction.

The damage isn’t always evident at the point of impact. Flats can happen in an instant, or 50 miles later when sidewall bulges or tread separation leads to a catastrophic failure. Beyond simply damaging the tire, this might result in a deadly, destructive accident when the blown tire causes the vehicle to veer out of control.

So after the dust settles and you take your car in for repairs, who is going to pay for it? Culled from the Internet, here are important points to consider:

Road hazard insurance is available for tires: Consumer Reports describes this as “a warranty you can purchase with your tires that will repair or replace tires damaged on the road.” The magazine’s tire program manager advises that not all tire retailers offer this, “So shop around, and be sure to ask if there are mileage or time limits.”

Know the definition of “road hazards:” StreetDirectory.com says “road hazards are potholes, debris, nails, wood and other hazards found in the road. Curbs, sidewalks and stone walls are not road hazards.” Tire insurance coverage is contingent on how the tire was damaged (and by implication, your driving skills).

…But consider the costs against your pothole experience: Edmunds.com, the automotive review and advice service, presents a mixed review of tire warranties. “If you’re considering whether to buy a road hazard warranty, think about how many times you’ve had a puncture in your tire in the last few years. Was the amount you spent on repair or replacement enough to justify the warranty? Do you drive in an area where there is a lot of debris on the road?” The site adds that tire manufacturers Continental, Dunlop, and Kumho provide road hazard warranties, but they are “typically limited to one year of coverage.”

Does a comprehensive or collision damage policy cover it? Yes, say insurance brokers, but there is always the question of does the damage exceed the deductible to a sufficient degree to warrant making a claim. The rule of thumb is the cost of damages should be twice your deductible before filing for damage recovery. In states where fault is considered in assessing the validity of a claim, a single-car incident involving a pothole places fault on the driver. Unfair as that may seem, it is justified by saying drivers should drive more carefully considering the conditions.

Filing a claim with the city, county or state might work: But the key word is “might.” As reported previously on Pothole.info, drivers with vehicles damaged by potholes can be compensated by the municipality, but their success varies widely from place to place. Each city sets its own rules, but the general approach is the municipality is more likely to honor a claim if the pothole was reported to the local department of transportation at least once, and by at least several days before your damage incident. Best advice: report a pavement problem (most cities now have website tools for this, or use SeeClickFix.com)

Which gets to the heart of the problem. Smooth, well-maintained roads prevent many accidents and a lot of expensive damage – and when it’s your $300 or $1000 or $5000 repair, a pothole-free drive is all you can wish for.