Now that winter is over, it’s time to fear the potholes

Along with warmer weather and the first flowers, spring also brings potholes. Not only are they annoying when you’re driving, but if they’re large enough, they have the potential to do serious damage to your vehicle.

“It depends on how you hit it, and how fast you’re going,” says Teresa Kostick, owner of All Line CARSTAR Auto Body, near Chicago. “And even though you’re hitting it with your front wheel first, you may have a problem with the rear wheel too, because it will go into the same pothole.”

Potholes happen when water seeps through cracks in the asphalt to the ground below. When it freezes, it pushes the pavement up and also creates an indentation under it. When warmer weather arrives and the ice melts, cars driving over the asphalt break it apart, and a pothole is born.

The wheel initially takes the blow, and a hard bump can bend a rim or even blow out a tire. Even if the tire stays in place, a bent rim can cause it to gradually lose air, eventually leaving you with a flat tire. Hitting the pothole can also dislodge the wheel weights, leaving the wheel unbalanced.

A hard hit can potentially damage steering or suspension components, affect your brakes, crack the air dam or front fascia, or in severe conditions, even damage a wheel well or fender.

Warning signs of damage can include clunking or grinding noises when you’re steering or using the brakes, vibration when you’re driving, the vehicle pulls to one side, or the steering wheel is off-centre. All of these can be safety issues, and you should get the vehicle checked as soon as possible.

Even if nothing’s broken, you may still need an alignment, which should be done promptly. If you keep driving it like that, it can cause uneven tire wear. The car could also steer or brake erratically if you need to make an emergency manoeuvre.

If you see a pothole, slow down before you get to it, not when you’re about to hit it. Jamming on the brakes causes your vehicle to nosedive, which can potentially cause even more damage.

“Leave enough distance between you and the vehicle ahead so you can see potholes,” Kostick says. “Lower your speed, and if you can’t avoid the pothole, go over it as slowly as you can.”

Take note

  • Eyes peeled. Watch for puddles when the rest of the road is dry; there could be deep potholes under the water.

  • Check just in case. Depending on circumstances, you may be able to make a claim to the municipality or your insurance company for pothole damage.

  • Warm weather mending. Potholes can only be properly repaired when the weather is warm and dry.

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