The problem with potholes

Our roads take a pounding throughout a year’s exposure to the British weather. Local authorities fight a constant battle against the lumps, bumps and holes that tear up the tarmac after heavy rain, ice and snow and (the rare) particularly hot days. We all know they make driving difficult but what damage could they actually do to your car?
potholes are driving me crazy

How do potholes form?

The main causes of potholes are:
  • Rain
  • Cold weather
  • Moving vehicles

Potholes formed by cold weather are caused by the effect of a freeze followed by thaw. Over time, rain causes the road to become cracked and water can seep through the gaps in the surface which, when it gets cold, will form ice. When the water turns into ice it expands and makes the gaps bigger, causing larger gaps and even holes.

Are they really that dangerous?

They certainly can be; as the president of the AA found out, when his suspension system failed after driving over too many potholes.

Potholes can cause instant damage to your car. Burst tyres and windscreen damage (which may not be covered by your insurance policy) can be both dangerous and expensive to repair.

The costs can, in fact, be enormous. Damaged tyres can add a huge amount on to a vehicle’s annual maintenance bill, so if you know there is a pothole in the road ahead, keep your speed down and try to avoid it without putting other road users at risk.

The roads around here are terrible – what can I do?

To report a pothole you can use fixmystreet or go through the official Government website. The authorities need to know that the road is damaged otherwise it won’t get fixed. Make sure they are aware of the potholes and that they are on the ‘to fix’ list.

You also have stay alert while you are driving, and try to make a note of where the worst potholes are. Slowing down will also prevent severe damage to your car, as hitting a pothole at a slow speed will not affect your car as much as if you were to hit it at high speed. Keep your distance from the car in front of you while driving on a bumpy road.

What should I do if I hit a pothole?

  • If the damage occurs instantly and you need to pull over, do so quickly, calmly and safely.
  • Check if anything has fallen off your car, it could pose a risk to traffic – if something has, either pick it up or alert the authorities. Don’t endanger yourself or other motorists if you decide to pick it up yourself, and obviously don’t wander into motorways or other fast roads.
  • Take notes of the damage and the circumstances in which your car sustained it. Record details of the pothole – where it is, how big it is, how deep it is and what shape it is.
  • Take photos of it. Get phone numbers of any witnesses. To make a claim, you’ll need to produce the repair bill. Keep all receipts. If your claim is rejected by the council, you can consider the small claims court.

What if potholes are unavoidable on my journey?

If you are finding it hard to avoid potholes which you drive over regularly here are some key areas of damage which you should check before you set off.
  • The tyres are one area that may be heavily affected. Check that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure and that the tread depth is at least 1.6mm in a band of at least ¾ of the tyre width. Driving with poorly maintained or damaged tyres could invalidate your insurance. Find out what advice the RAC give on tyre maintenance.
  • Damage to wheels. Cracks and chips may not be obvious but car wheels, although tough, can be dented by particularly hard jolts. If you hear rubbing noises whilst driving or notice feedback in the steering wheel, slow down or pull over and get your wheels checked by a professional at the earliest opportunity.
  • Cracks in windows, particularly windscreens, can be made much worse by bumps and jolts caused by potholes. These are usually easy to repair if caught early enough. So if you do see damage on your windscreen, get in touch with a professional repairer sooner rather than later.
  • Another area which can be damaged is the tracking. This system keeps both front wheels pointing in the same direction. The knock-on effect of damage to this system is reduced control of the vehicle, lower fuel efficiency and much faster and uneven tyre wear.

The future

The condition of Britain’s roads is very likely to continue to be talked about subject for some time, while local councils struggle to keep to their budgets for road maintenance.
So, in the meantime, keep informed about the risks of potholes and remember to be wary while driving. Cutting your speed while on bad roads is going to be very beneficial and could end up saving you a huge maintenance bill.

(Originally published on 08/07/2013)

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