Beware the Dreaded Pothole


Caution sign
Credit: CarCare.org

Itís a potential road hazard we face every time we hit the road. One that doesnít just pose a threat to our vehicles, but our own safety and that of other drivers as well. Iím talking about the dreaded pothole. Winter and spring are considered prime pothole season, but theyíre a problem in both cold and warm climates. The city of Houston even has a pothole tracker.

Big or small, potholes can cause big headaches. Trying to avoid them can lead to crashes and potential injuries. According to the Michigan DOT, if you canít safely avoid a pothole (no swerving into an occupied lane), the best thing to do is to keep your wheel straight, slow down, then release the brakes before you hit the pothole to reduce the impact.

Hitting a pothole can damage a laundry list of your carís components: your vehicleís tires, wheels, steering and suspension as well as its alignment. The repair bill could be hefty. According to the American Automobile Association, the average repair cost of pothole-related repairs is $306, although sometimes repair costs can soar to over $1,000.

If youíve hit a pothole, itís a good idea to get your vehicle inspected by a professional to see if itís been damaged in any of the ways listed above. Itís especially critical to do if you notice these warning signs, as shared by the Car Care Council:

  • Loss of control, swaying when making routine turns, bottoming out on city streets or bouncing excessively on rough roads are indicators that the steering and suspension may have been damaged. The steering and suspension are key safety-related systems. Together, they largely determine a vehicle's ride and handling.
  • Pulling in one direction, instead of maintaining a straight path, and uneven tire wear, are symptoms of an alignment problem. Proper wheel alignment is important for the lifespan of tires and helps ensure safe handling.
  • Low tire pressure, bulges or blisters on the sidewalls, or dents in the wheel rim will be visible and should be checked out as soon as possible, as tires are the critical connection between the vehicle and the road.

You donít want to be driving your vehicle in any of these situations as it can be unsafe and also cause even more damage.

Potholes form when moisture gets underneath the pavement where it shouldnít. They can form in both colder and warmer climates, but winter and spring are considered the prime pothole season due to freeze-thaw cycles. Groundwater that seeps through cracks in the road freezes as it expands, causing the pavement to buckle. When it melts, it can leave a gap in its place. In warmer climates, heat can create large cracks in the pavement, allowing water to seep through and soften the soil enough to cause trouble as well. In both cases, the weight of traffic over the compromised pavement exacerbates the problem.

If you come across a pothole, itís a great idea to report it to your city or municipality, so repairs can be made.

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