How to avoid and address car problems due to potholes

February 26, 2014 12:00 AM

Drivers face a variety of potential problems on the road, many of which can not only pose a risk to their safety, but can also negatively impact their cars. Naturally, regular vehicle maintenance is essential for preparing an automobile for any number of possible problems, especially in the colder months when weather is more severe. One of the major issues faced by motorists, particularly in winter, is potholes. These ditches form when water weakens the soil underneath the road, and then traffic puts additional pressure on the pavement, causing it to cave in. Due to the especially harsh conditions this winter, the road was constantly freezing and thawing, meaning that potholes were even more common. This is because when frozen layers of the pavement thaw, they may saturate the soil. So why are they so detrimental for drivers and their automobiles?

The trouble with potholes
While they may seem harmless, Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council, pointed out that potholes can cause substantial damage to your car's tires, steering, suspension and alignment systems. As a result, drivers that fall victim to them often get hit with expensive repairs. In fact, a recent report by WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., revealed that car owners will spend nearly $5 billion on auto repair due to potholes. Even more concerning is the fact that they can also lead to accidents on the road, particularly when the speed limit is higher.

Tips for avoiding issues
There are many ways that drivers can minimize the damage a pothole does to their car. Anthony Royer, president of Allstate Roadside Services, explained that one of the best ways people can prevent problems is by ensuring that their tires are inflated enough, because this will help to cushion the rims. Additionally, Allstate recommended leaving an adequate amount of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you so that you can circumvent potholes without risking a collision. While your instinct may be to hit the brakes, this can actually increase the damage that's done. So if you see a pothole ahead, Allstate suggested simply slowing down and gripping the steering wheel firmly to maintain control. As snow and puddles can conceal potholes, motorists should be especially careful and reduce their speed when facing these road conditions. Additionally, Royer urged drivers to contact their city if they identify a dangerous pothole so that road crews are informed of the issue.

How to deal with damage
There is a right and a wrong way to handle the aftermath of hitting a pothole. According to the Car Care Council, it's important to be aware of any warning signs that suggest damage was done. For example, if your vehicle sways on a turn, bounces more than normal on rough roads, or you feel as if you are losing control over your car, your steering and suspension may have been negatively impacted. As these components are largely responsible for your vehicle's handling and ride, it's crucial not to ignore any potential problems with them. You also may observe uneven tire wear or notice that your automobile pulls in one direction as opposed to staying on a straight path, which suggests an alignment issue. The lifespan of your tires and overall safety of your vehicle depend on proper wheel alignment, so this is another problem that you should pay close attention to. Other issues caused by potholes that are visually detectable include low tire pressure, dents in the rim or bulges and blisters in the sidewalls. Once you identify these indicators, the Car Care Council advised having a professional technician take a look at your vehicle as soon as possible.

Fortunately, some cities may reimburse motorists for car problems caused by potholes. If you observe any damage, it's best to get in touch with your insurance agent to find out if you should file a claim.

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