It’s a moment that all drivers dread. You’ve driven through what you thought was a surface level puddle, only to find that you’re jolting yourself and any unsuspecting passengers, as your car lurches into, and through, a perilous and potentially-damaging pothole!
The problem with potholes is that they can appear on any road at any time, without any warning. They are usually caused by the expansion and contraction of water both in and on the ground, due to varying temperatures. Potholes usually appear during winter and spring, but they can appear at any time. And for those that do appear in the colder months, you may have to wait several weeks for the weather to become mild enough for them to be effectively repaired by highway maintenance teams.
For most people they are a momentary inconvenience and immediately forgotten about, but this fails to take into account just how damaging a descent into a pothole can be. And few people check the key elements of their car after hitting a pothole – and yet it is a vital road safety measure.
For the avoidance of doubt, here are five important elements of your vehicle that can be damaged by an impact with a pothole, and that can affect both the performance and value of your vehicle, and how safe it is to drive.
Of course your tyres are going to bear the brunt of any impact when you hit a pothole. And because the edges of potholes are usually very hard and rough, when the sharp edges make an impact on your tyres, they can cause the treads to separate; the sidewalls can bulge; blisters and dents can be formed; or you may even experience a flat.
Due to the irregular shape of potholes, they can cause your wheel to move in a way that it wasn’t designed to. In some cases this can lead to cracks, or bends in the wheel, as well as those annoying cosmetic chips and scrapes. What this means is that your vehicle will no longer travel smoothly, and you may even notice it “drifting” across the road.
Believe it or not, if the impact is great enough, a pothole can destroy your shock-absorbers, misalign your wheels or even break your ball joints! This can be hard to identify in a visual inspection, but you will certainly notice the damage when you drive your car. Key signs not to ignore are strange vibrations, or new noises or rattles; if your car starts to “pull” against you, or bounce; or if your tyres start to wear unevenly.
Depending on the placement of the exhaust on your vehicle, a deep pothole can cause it to scrape along the ground, which can scratch the exhaust and maybe even lead to a leakage of noxious fumes. If you notice any scraping sounds anywhere on the undercarriage of your vehicle as you pass through the pothole, a visual check for any damage, as soon as it is safe to do so, is a must!
For the smaller, or low-slung vehicle, the risks from a pothole are even greater, as these vehicles are closer to the ground. There is therefore far greater risk of part of the chassis making impact with the road, particularly for low-hanging bumpers and sidings. This can result in inconvenient and possibly expensive cosmetic damage.
So what should you do for pothole safety?
The first thing to do is to keep your eyes on the road, even if it is a road that you know really well, and try to avoid any potholes, safely, if you can. This can be difficult on busy or unfamiliar roads, and even harder in the dark! But if it is safe to do so, pothole avoidance is your best bet.
If you can’t avoid, stay steady
If you do have the misfortune to hit a pothole, try to avoid braking once you are in it, because this can put even greater forward pressure on the tyre that is against the edge of the pothole, risking further impact and damage. Try to keep travelling in a straight line and at a steady speed, avoiding the impulse to swerve once in the pothole. Your best option to minimise any damage is to keep your hands on the steering wheel at 10 to 2, and to move straight forwards, keeping the tyres and the vehicle in their most resilient position.
Find a safe place to check your vehicle
If your tyres are at the correct manufacturers’ recommended pressure to begin with, (this can be found in your driver’s manual or sometimes on the door of the fuel cap), your tyres will be better placed to survive any impact. But once you are in a safe place, you must check your tyres for damage. And at your earliest opportunity check your tyre pressure.
It is also useful to bear in mind that if your tyres have insufficient tread on them to begin with, you could invalidate any insurance claims for any repair work. Checking tyre tread is quick and easy and can be undertaken with a simple tyre gauge.
If you are unsure of how to check any aspect of your vehicle, then you can take advantage of our free visual health check service, where our trained technicians, will examine your vehicle for any signs of damage and give you a free no obligation written quote for any necessary repairs. A written quote will be necessary for any insurance claims.
Collect evidence and report to the local council
Be a good citizen! If you have fallen foul of a pothole, it is highly likely someone else will too. So if, possible, revisit the pothole, and if it is safe to do so, take photographs that demonstrate the extent and depth of the hole (some sort of item to demonstrate scale is very helpful – and vital if you wish to make a claim on your insurance or for compensation). Each council should have a contact system for reporting potholes, so that they can prioritise their workload once temperatures allow.
Swansway Accident Repair Centre Manager, Mark Trevers commented,
“Hitting a pothole may seem really inconsequential, but in addition to the short term dangers such as a tyre blow out or wheel damage, there is a real risk of longer term damage. Some drivers simply aren’t aware that some of the technological safety devices on vehicles such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems or Lane Assist, all depend on the wheels being properly aligned. In the worst case scenario, a vehicle could be rendered unsafe, just as a result of an impact with a pothole.”
Potholes will continue to present drivers and passengers with perils on the road, year after year, but with a bit of care and attention, you can minimise your risks to yourself and others and to the performance and value of your car, and keep it running at its very best for many years to come.
So be sure to take advantage of our free “Health Check” service and keep your vehicle and tyres in tip top condition!