| Car Life
an animated car shows how to avoid pothole damage

Pothole damage can lead to significant vehicle repairs. Hit one, and your vehicle could be in a world of hurt. If you’ve ever wondered what causes potholes, how to avoid them, or how much damage they can cause, we’ve got you covered. We’ll answer these questions (and more) in this handy potholes guide.

What Causes Potholes?

Potholes form when the top level of pavement and the sub-base (the underlying layer) can’t support the weight of vehicles, according to the American Public Works Association (APWA). While several factors can play a role in the formation of potholes, the APWA says water and road traffic are always at the center. Essentially, water squeezes through tiny cracks in the road and works its way into the sub-base, weakening the road’s structural integrity. This trapped water freezes and thaws again as the temperature fluctuates, widening cracks and raising the road’s structure until a large, unseen void forms underneath. Eventually, the pavement above will not support moving vehicles, and the surface level of the road will fall into the gap below, creating a pothole.

How to Avoid Potholes & Pothole Damage

The best way to avoid pothole damage is to avoid driving over one entirely. However, there are times you won’t see them coming, and in those cases, it’s best to have prepared beforehand. Here are some ways you can prepare your car and minimize damage to your vehicle caused by driving on a road with potholes.

Keep your tires inflated properly:

Before you ever hit the road, check on your tires. Driving on under-inflated tires can reduce gas mileage and make it harder to come to a quick stop. That’s reason enough to maintain proper tire pressure, but if you drive over a pothole with an underinflated tire, you’re also more likely to suffer a blowout. Regularly inspect your tires for damage and ensure they remain properly inflated to the PSI listed on the sticker in your car door frame or owner’s manual. Don’t let it linger when your tire pressure is low or your TPMS dashboard light comes on. Some gas stations and service providers offer free or inexpensive tire checks and inflation, making it easy to stay on top of this tip!

Slow down & maintain a proper following distance:

Hitting a pothole at high speeds increases the chance of car damage. Slow down to give yourself time to notice and avoid potholes from the start. If one can’t be avoided, hitting it at a slower speed can help reduce the likelihood that your car is damaged. Leaving space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you can also give you more time to react and avoid a pothole. You’ll see how other drivers are responding to the road ahead and can follow suit if need be.

Avoid puddles:

What could be lurking underneath a puddle? Danger! Puddles of water can disguise a deep pothole. Do your best to avoid driving directly through puddles (This is where driving slower comes in handy, too). If a puddle can’t be avoided, slow your roll and proceed with caution. A simple springtime puddle could be hiding trouble!

Download driving apps:

Some apps, like Waze, allow users to report potholes. Once the hazard is verified, the app will notify drivers of the danger ahead. Download an app that offers similar features and plug in your destination to get alerts of possible potholes in your path.

Report potholes to proper authorities:

You can be an advocate in your city for pothole repair and awareness. Some states have developed free smartphone apps that make it easy for drivers to report potholes. Others have hotlines and online forms. Do a quick internet search for “report a pothole in [city]” to find the best method in your area. If everyone works together to make sure potholes get reported and repaired, we’re all less likely to hit them!

What Damage Can Potholes do to Your Car?

If you’ve never hit a bad pothole, you might wonder how do potholes damage cars. But, even a small pothole can cause serious damage to a vehicle. Potholes can cause:

  • A tire blowout: A jarring blow to your tires can cause a blowout, but even if it doesn’t pop, the tire could be damaged. Reduce your chances of a blowout by making sure your tires are inflated and in good condition.
  • Wheel damage: People sometimes think about wheels and tires interchangeably, but potholes can actually damage the wheel itself, where the metal rim meets the rubber. Any sort of crack, bend, or dent could be dangerous to drive on.
  • Damage to the suspension or steering systems: If a pothole causes either of these elements to bend out of proper alignment, your car might pull to the right or left

Who Pays for Pothole Damage?

Even if you take all the proper precautions, you probably can’t avoid potholes forever. If you hit one and it causes damage to your car, who is at fault? Will insurance cover it? Well, it all depends.

Does car insurance cover pothole damage?

You can file a pothole damage claim if you have collision coverage. Collision insurance pays to repair or replace your vehicle after a covered accident, like if:

  • You’re in an accident with another vehicle
  • Your car hits a fence, guardrail, tree, or another stationary object
  • Your vehicle flips over in a crash
  • Your ride runs over a pothole

Please note, you’ll have to meet your collision insurance deductible before your insurer chips in. And if you only have liability coverage, you will be on your own paying for pothole damage.

Is the state responsible for pothole damage?

State and local governments are responsible for maintaining roads, right? So, shouldn’t they be responsible for pothole damage reimbursement?

In theory, it makes sense, but it’s not so simple, legally speaking. Most states have legislation giving governing bodies “a reasonable amount of time” to find dangerous road conditions and address them, according to Nolo. But reasonable means something different to everyone, so getting the government to reimburse you for vehicle damages isn’t a guarantee. The legal experts at Nolo say you would probably need to prove the relevant governing body had knowledge of the pothole and did nothing to fix it. To do so, you might have to request official records or conduct research and interviews. It doesn’t hurt to pursue reimbursement from the government. However, if you purchase collision insurance, you can still get help with the damages, even if the government denies your reimbursement request.

Prepare With the Proper Coverage

Stay prepared for potholes with Roadside Assistance from Direct Auto. You’ll enjoy 24-hour emergency towing and mechanical help so potholes don’t leave you stranded on the side of the road. Also, be sure to ask about collision coverage to prepare for possible damage. Give us a call, visit us online, or stop by one of our nearby locations to learn more and get a free quote!