Potholes: The $3 Billion Roadway Menace


Nothing’s more annoying than hitting a pothole. Your morning coffee might spill, the impact might wake your baby from her nap and your car might bottom out a bit. But the real problem with potholes is the $3 billion of damages they do annually.

A new study from AAA estimates that potholes have racked up over $15 billion in repair bills over the past five years in the United States. Over two-thirds of American drivers are cited as being nervous about potholes, with the majority of respondents being middle to lower income individuals who are hit the hardest by repair costs.

What type of damages might you expect? And how should you handle pothole damages if they do happen? Will your insurance cover it? Better yet: how can you avoid being one of the 16 million drivers suffering from pothole damage?

Typical Pothole Damage

Billions of dollars of damage certainly sound steep, but what does that really equate to in a daily driver’s life? According to the same AAA study, each pothole-related incident costs on average $300, with repeat damages happening three times within five years. That’s a lot of money to shell out over a hole in the road.

Pothole damage includes punctured tires, suspension damage, steering misalignment, exhaust system damage and engine problems. Tires are not only at-risk of becoming flat, but the sidewall might begin to bulge, which will need immediate attention. The undercarriage of the car might scrape, which could also cause a leak.

You’ve done all you could to avoid hitting a pothole, but things didn’t turn out in your favor today. You hit the pothole at a good speed and – pop – there goes your tire. Now what?

Will insurance cover pothole damages?

Generally speaking, yes, your insurance policy likely covers pothole damages as long as you have collision coverage (think: collision with a pothole). You will need to pay for your deductible first, but then your insurance will likely kick in. Collision coverage is an optional portion of insurance though, so be sure to check your policy to see what your current policy includes.

You might also consider contacting your city representatives, as many cities allow drivers to submit claims about pothole damages. However, most cities have a depressingly low pay-out rate, with Colorado Springs leading the way with an estimated 98 percent rejection rate.

How to Avoid Pothole Damage

The easiest way to avoid potholes is by keeping your distance from the car in front. Tailgating cars will obstruct your view of potential potholes. If you can see you’re approaching a pothole and can safely maneuver your car so that your tires do not go into the pothole, that should be your first option.

If there is nothing you can do to avoid the pothole, slow down and drive straight through it. CNET’s Roadshow suggests braking before the pothole, because if you brake in the pothole, you’ll actually do more damage to your car from the added stress on your wheels and suspension. Also, if you turn too late to avoid it and turn your tire while you’re in the hole, you’ll expose weaker parts of your tire to the impact.

Preparing your car beforehand will help alleviate some of the risk of damages. Ensuring that your tires are well inflated and treaded will help protect from damaging your car when you hit a pothole.

Potholes: What Else Can You Do?

pothole repairPotholes might seem like a daily occurrence, especially if you live in a city. Complaining about potholes to your coworkers won’t do you much good, except maybe make you feel a bit better. Reporting potholes to your local Public Works department, however, might result in getting it filled.

Richmond, Virginia encourages everyone to report potholes through a quick online contact form. The city receives on average 25 pothole reports per day, and has fixed nearly 70,000 potholes since 2011. Most cities will have their own contact form like Richmond, but you can also report all potholes on pothole.info.

Potholes might be inevitable, but ruining your car in them doesn’t have to be. Use these tips to drive safely over them, and make sure you report them as you see them to help out your fellow drivers!

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