Navigating Pothole SeasonLast Updated February 5, 2020
America’s road system is designed to be replaced every 20 years, but in reality, roads are often neglected for far longer. Rather than building better roads, motorists are subjected to the consequences when weather conditions erode and damage roads. If you’ve ever hit a pothole, you know exactly what this is like.
Potholes occur when road materials erode and leave deep openings in an otherwise level road structure. While you might be able to drive over a small pothole without much drama, expect to feel larger potholes when you come upon them. The impacts can even cause significant damage to your car.
While some locations don’t suffer from road erosion, potholes can spring up seemingly overnight in parts of the country with consistently cold and wet weather. So what can drivers do to minimize damage from potholes?
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What Causes Potholes?
Potholes occur when the pressure from moisture that collects on the road surface forces small cracks to expand. This happens over time, as temperatures change. In areas where roads often freeze, potholes are often worse, because of the expansion that occurs when water freezes. Once the road surface is exposed, weather erosion happens at a much quicker rate.
The Threat to Your Car
Depending on how deep a pothole is, it could cause serious damage to your car. A moderate impact could upset your car’s alignment. A forceful impact with a pothole could damage suspension components on vehicles with shorter suspension travel, such as sports cars, and might even cause damage to wheels, tires or bodywork.
Part of the reason drivers need to be careful to avoid potholes is that insurance companies won’t cover damage from potholes. Potholes are acts of nature, and are therefore not included in the insurance coverage included in most policies.
There are more than half a million insurance claims filed every year over impacts with potholes, and for good reason. A single repair for a major impact with a pothole can ring up a tab of $2,000 or more. This amounts to an estimated $4.8 billion in repairs every year.
Driving in Pothole Season
Many good driving practices to avoid hitting potholes are just good driving practices in general. That doesn’t mean reviewing them isn’t helpful if you live somewhere where roads are pockmarked.
Remember to keep your eyes on the road ahead, rather than looking over the steering wheel to the pavement you’re literally driving on. Give yourself time to plan for changes in road conditions you’ll face in 30 seconds or a minute. If you’re driving in traffic, pay attention to the way cars are moving to get hints about road conditions ahead. This will give you a chance to anticipate potholes.
Don’t follow others closely in inclement weather. When it’s wet outside, you can’t stop as quickly as you can in dry conditions. When there is standing water on the road, it could fill a pothole you would otherwise see, so manage your speed in areas where standing water is high.
Keep both hands on the wheel and avoid jerks or sharp turns that might upset the car in bad weather. Don’t drive on poorly maintained tires, and make sure there is enough air in your tires.
If you drive regularly, it’s nearly impossible to avoid ever suffering an impact with a pothole. You should report bad potholes on interstates to your state department of transportation, and those on city streets to your city’s public works department. If you suffer an impact, find a safe place to evaluate any damage to your car. If there is suspension damage, you should avoid driving the car until you can get the damage repaired. The poor condition of our roads can pose a challenge for people who live in wet areas. Drive smart and pay attention to your car’s behavior, and you should make it out of pothole season unscathed.
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