Read This Before You Hit the Road Again

Running over a big pothole can be a bone-rattling, car-crushing and money-draining experience. This past winter’s brutal weather resulted in a 40% or more jump in potholes in many major cities.

Often that means punctured tires, damaged suspensions, broken shock absorbers and/or misaligned wheels, possibly costing hundreds of dollars—or even more—to fix.

Across the US, repair costs from pothole damage have ballooned to an estimated $6.4 billion this year.

But you can take actions to avoid potholes…reduce the possible damage if you hit one…and lower the cost of repairing damage.


What to do to lessen the chances of pothole damage…

Increase your car’s trailing distance behind the car in front of you to at least two car lengths at slower speeds and four car lengths at faster speeds on pothole-prone roads—the heavily trafficked asphalt ones with signs of previous patch repairs. This allows you more time to react and avoid a pothole or at least brake and decrease your speed before you hit it, which can greatly minimize damage.

Wet-weather alert: Brake before you hit puddles because they can conceal deep, sharp-edged potholes that are filled with water.

Don’t keep braking as you roll over a pothole that you can’t avoid—instead, release the brakes the moment before your tires reach the pothole, and let your car roll freely through it.

Reason: Braking, especially braking heavily, tilts the vehicle forward and places added stress on the front suspension. This increases the chance that your suspension will be damaged when you hit the hole.


It’s pretty obvious very quickly if a pothole has punctured your tire, but it might cause more serious damage that is harder to detect and more costly to fix. What to do…

    Have your vehicle inspected if you notice the following signs…

  • The car pulls to one direction instead of maintaining a straight path. Likely problem: The pothole knocked your wheels out of alignment. Cost: $75 to $150 for a realignment.
  • You feel a light-to-moderate vibration in the steering wheel. Likely problem: A wheel balance weight has been knocked off. Cost: $15 to rebalance.
  • You feel a moderate-to-heavy ­vibration from the tire area. Likely problem: Your wheel is bent. Cost: $75 to $500 to replace the wheel.
  • The car sways or rocks during turns and bounces more than normal on rough roads. Likely problem: Broken shock absorber or strut. Cost: $200 to $400 to replace it, plus the cost of an alignment.
  • The steering wheel is no longer centered, and/or there is noise from under the car. Likely problem: Damage to the suspension system on the underside of your vehicle. Cost: $100 and up, plus the cost of an alignment.

Cutting Your Costs

You might be able to lessen the cost of recent and/or future pothole damage in various ways…

Purchase a road-hazard ­warranty from a tire store or repair shop when you buy new tires and wheels. It is not always available, but the warranty typically lasts for at least a year and costs $10 to $20 per tire, although sometimes it’s free. The warranty typically covers the cost to repair the tire/wheel or replace it with a new one for a prorated charge, depending upon how many miles you have driven on the old one.

Contact your insurer to determine what it covers. Most insurers treat pothole damage as an “at-fault” ­accident. That means you are covered for repair costs above your collision ­deductible. You generally do not need to file a police report to submit a claim, but the accident likely will remain on your insurance company’s records for three years and could affect your premium rates. Tire damage is generally excluded in insurance policies, but wheels may be covered.

See whether the state, city or county government will reimburse you for damages. It depends on which government body is responsible for the upkeep of the road that you were driving on. Example: Last year, Chicago paid $181,217 on 754 claims, or about $240 per claim. You typically need to submit substantial evidence, including photos of the pothole, the exact location, witness statements and a police report.

Note: Some government bodies accept responsibility only if they had prior notice of a dangerous roadway condition and had sufficient time to repair the problem. Example: To win a claim against the state of Michigan, there must be a previous record of complaint that is at least 30 days old about the specific pothole you hit.

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