The Cost of Car Damages from Potholes

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The average motorist shells out $300 per year due to pothole damages. But not all potholes and their aftereffects are created equal. Those costs can be much higher.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), pothole damages to U.S. motorists total about $3 billion per year. On a per-pothole-incident basis, that works out to about $300 per driver.

But depending on what part of your car was damaged those costs can vary quite a bit. Tires, wheels, suspension systems, exhaust systems, and car bodies are the most common casualties. So never mind the averages, what matters to most individual drivers is what will their pothole hit cost them.

Here are average U.S. costs for the most frequent damages that result from highway potholes:

Tire punctures – Tires are the first point of contact, even if something else hits pavement as well. Single tires range from about $75 each to about $300 each, adding another 15-18% for wheel balancing, scrap recycling, and labor.

Bent wheels – Wheels come in all types and prices. Some are aluminum, some steel and then of course there is magnesium (“mags”), each of which can be damaged by a pothole. While visible to the naked eye, the first clue might nonetheless be vibrations in the steering wheel at higher speeds. A bent rim can also lead to rapid tire wear that is unmatched by the other tires on the undamaged wheels. Because of the variety of types of wheels – and the degree of damage that might be incurred – expect to pay between $50 and $500 for the repairs.

Suspension damage – A full replacement of a suspension system can set a motorist back $5,000. But suspension systems are made of many parts: to replace the following expect these ranges of cost:

  • Strut/shock absorber $500-$600
  • Wheel alignment $125-$300
  • Ball joint replacement $225-$285

Exhaust systems (pipes, mufflers, catalytic converters) – Because the undercarriage includes exhaust pipes, mufflers, and catalytic converters, each of these is vulnerable to scrapes and bumps that can come from egregiously bad potholes. These are not only bad for pollution emissions, but sometimes exhaust fumes can circulate inside vehicle and pose serious health concerns for the driver and passengers.

Parts and labor to replace a catalytic converter range from $250 to $2500 (rule of thumb: the pricier the car, the pricier the parts). Muffler or pipe damage might be as little as $20 (to replace a broken strap) or as much as $1000 for a full muffler replacement.

Car body bumpers – We think of bumpers as subject to rear-end collisions, which they are, but they can also succumb to a pothole, particularly on low-riding sports cars. Even a workhorse such as a Toyota Camry can suffer pothole damage and cost up to $450 for a replacement, in part because of the sensors that, ironically, are there to help prevent damage in parallel parking situations.

Those are the kinds of damages that are generally evident to the naked eye. Another set of damages is more likely to be diagnosed by the car’s performance: alignment, off-centered steering and, perhaps the most dangerous, a tear in the tire that will fail many miles later. As a general practice, drivers should inspect their vehicles immediate after hitting a pothole. Even if there is no visible damage, pay attention to handling and in particular steering issues to see if anything feels different. When in doubt, have it checked out.

And if potholed roads are common in your daily travels, be sure to let the appropriate municipality know about it. In some cases and some places, if a pothole was reported to the county or city prior to a damage incident the motorist may be able to file a claim and successfully be reimbursed for damages. For more on how insurance works, see the previously published article, Potholes and Road Hazard Insurance: What’s Covered