Homeowners insurance blog

Swerve, Brake, or Brace for Impact? How to Handle Potholes

Seems like it was only yesterday that we were worried about snow and ice on the roads. With that threat over, you’d think it would be clear driving. But there’s a lingering problem from all that snow and ice (and rain, for that matter): potholes.

Potholes form when water seeps into the soil and sub-base below pavement. During winter, that water freezes and expands, pushing the pavement up. When the frozen water melts during spring, it leaves the hollow space raised until a car drives over it, crushing the pavement and forming a pothole. Potholes aren’t just a small annoyance; they can cause serious damage to your car’s alignment, wheels, and suspension.

Between 2009 and 2014, half of all car owners reported damage due to potholes, according to a survey conducted by Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Of course, damage varies due to the size of the pothole and the speed at which a motorist hits it, but according to a 2014 press release from AAA, potholes are responsible for about $6.4 million of damage per year.

Following are a few tips to help you protect your car from potholes until your city patches them:

Keep your eyes on the road

The first tip is self-explanatory, but make sure you’re keeping your eyes peeled when on the road. If you see a pothole, try to avoid it, unless doing so would put you at risk of colliding with another driver.  In that case, reduce your speed – hit the brakes, but let your foot off of the pedal when driving over the pothole itself – and try to go over the pothole as slowly as possible.

Reducing your speed when hitting a pothole could greatly decrease the amount of damage done to your vehicle. Auto damage from potholes can range from $100 for a new tire up to thousands of dollars to correct more serious damage to correct steering system misalignment and/or suspension damage such as broken components. If you hit a pothole at full speed, make sure to have your car inspected as soon as possible so as not to add to the damage.

Be a cautious driver

In addition to driving over potholes at a reduced speed, be sure not to tailgate. Following too closely will cut the time you have to react to a pothole, so give yourself ample distance and opportunity to prepare for impact.

Another thing to be cautious of? Puddles. A seemingly innocent puddle can turn out to be quite misleading. Since water plays a crucial role in the formation process, any puddles you come across could mask large potholes. And since potholes can be difficult enough to spot in the daylight, you’ll want to make sure your headlights are working properly to improve your chances of spotting them in the dark.

Keep your hands firmly at 10 and 2

That’s right, do as your drivers ed teacher taught you. Potholes can cause your wheels to turn in a new direction. If you don’t keep a tight grip on the wheel, you could put yourself at risk of swerving into another lane and colliding with another vehicle. Keeping control of the steering wheel will help you stay on a straight path and avoid escalating pothole damage to collision damage.

The aftermath

As mentioned before, if you hit a monster pothole, have a mechanic inspect your vehicle and repair any damage as soon as possible. If you choose to wait, be wary of any shaking, veering in one direction, or other oddities that may signal damage.

Be a good citizen and report potholes to your city’s Public Works department or the state Department of Transportation. In some cities, you can be reimbursed for damage potholes cause your car. At the very least, getting a pothole on the city’s radar can save fellow motorists the trouble and costs associated with hitting it.