You’re driving down the road, nice as can be, when suddenly KABOOM! Your vehicle shudders, your coffee spills, the CD skips, and the steering wheel nearly jumps out of your hands.
Was it an earthquake? An asteroid hitting the Earth? No. You just hit a pothole, or, as one dictionary defines it, “a cave opening vertically from the ground surface.” While not all are that dramatic, one thing’s for sure: they have mouths like sharks and can do great damage to your vehicle.
Potholes can appear at any time of year, but they’re particularly abundant when winter brings repetitive cycles of freezing and thawing of snow, ice and water on roadways. They’re so common, every driver is bound to hit at least one a year, if not more.
The damage potholes wreak
The shock of the impact is the least of your worries. Potholes can cause blowouts that make vehicles to go out of control. Even if your tire remains visibly intact, its internal steel belts can break, resulting in bulges that create noise and degrade your ability to make emergency maneuvers.
Worse, the force of an impact with a pothole can bend or crack your wheels, damage your suspension and throw your wheels out of alignment. Apart from costing hundreds of dollars to repair, this kind of damage makes your car instantly less safe to drive.
Potholes are sneaky, because they’re often difficult to see before you’re right on top of them. And the faster you’re going, the worse it is: you have less time to react and the impact is all the more forceful. So what can you do to reduce the risk that your next encounter with a pothole will be one you regret?
Defense is the best offense
The following steps offer protection against potholes and minimize the damage they cause. Leave room ahead. The more room you leave between you and the vehicle ahead, the more likely it is that you’ll see a pothole in time to take some defensive action and avoid vehicle damage.
Don’t swerve to avoid them. This could cause a collision with a vehicle alongside you. What’s more, if you wind up hitting the pothole anyway, driving over it at an angle can cause more damage than hitting it straight on. Slow down if you can, but have your foot off the brakes before impact. If you can reduce your speed before you hit a pothole, you can lessen the damage. But you increase the force of the impact if your vehicle is lurching forward because of your braking action. Experts say if you can’t avoid a hit, it’s better to have your tires rolling and your vehicle’s weight spread evenly among all four tires.
Keep your tires properly inflated. Underinflated tires are more likely to blow out or transmit more damaging force to your wheels and suspension, while overinflated tires are more likely to be damaged themselves.
Make mental notes of potholes on roads you travel frequently. This will enable you to avoid them on your next trip.
Check for reported potholes. Many cities have a hotline or web site where you can report potholes to be repaired, or check on where the worst of them are located. After a big pothole impact, be alert for damage. A vibration or other disturbance could indicate a major problem. If you feel the vehicle is unsafe to drive, slow down until you can safely get off the road and call a towing service. Sometimes the damage isn’t evident right away: if the vehicle begins “pulling” to either side later on, chances are it’s out of alignment, and that spells danger.