We’re all familiar with the resounding thwump! which follows the most ubiquitous of road hazards: the pothole. Your car and heart lurch simultaneously. You wonder if the hazard did any substantial damage?
Don’t worry! We’ll address all your Frequently Asked Questions regarding potholes and similar hazards.
What is a pothole?
A pothole is a naturally-occurring cavity or pit in a roadway, caused by erosion of the asphalt. Potholes range from shallow to deep, small to large, and can wreak all kinds of havoc on your vehicle – especially your tires.
What causes a pothole?
Potholes are a daily annoyance. Groundwater—water held in rock crevices—seeps into the asphalt. Over time, repeated stress from traffic causes asphalt to develop minor wear and tear: cracks, pits, and pocks. Unfortunately, these minor marks can make for major damage under the right conditions.
When water freezes, it expands. When water melts, it contracts. When the temperature drops, the water being held captive (so to speak) inside the asphalt will freeze and occupy more space, stretching, warping, and eventually weakening the asphalt. When the temperature rises again and the water melts, the pavement contracts, breaking down the smooth surface of the roadway. This expansion and contraction results in potholes. This is why potholes are especially common in the springtime, following temperature fluctuations—repeated freezing and thawing—that break down the roadway faster than usual.
What red flags should I look for after hitting a pothole?
According to a 2016 study done by the American Automobile Association (AAA), “pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, or approximately $3 billion annually.” The problems can range from minor—tire punctures and bent wheels—to major, like expensive suspension damage. The vehicle parts most at-risk are: tie rod, control arm, shock/strut, wheels, ball join, wheel alignment, and tires.
Some damage is evident (i.e. a flat tire). Other damages (i.e. misalignment) are subtler and may require a visit to your local mechanic or auto shop. Look for these warning signs:
Bulging tire sidewall
Dented or punctured undercarriage
Vehicle is pulling to the left or the right (not straight)
Unusual noises or vibrations
Can I still drive on my tire(s)?
It depends. First, inspect your tires as soon as possible after hitting a pothole (large or small). Check for sagging or obvious flat tires. Don’t neglect tire sidewalls! If they are bulging, a flat might be in your immediate future. Use a gauge to check tire pressure to ensure optimum levels before resuming your drive. Pay attention to tire pressure indicator lights, which may turn on after impact with a pothole.
Will minor damage impact the mileage I get out of my tires?
Yes. If your tires are old, the tread may already be well worn. At this point, collision with a pothole will more likely result in a flat, shortening the lifespan of your tires. Similarly, if your tires are not filled to optimum pressure, contact with a pothole could also result in tire damage. Continuing to drive on the same pair of tires—even with minor or imperceptible damage—could exacerbate the issue.
How should I prepare for future roadways riddled with potholes?
At Tires-Easy, we recognize that hazards often catch us unawares. Whenever possible, avoid potholes or other potentially damaging road hazards! If you spot an upcoming pothole, drive around it (if you can). Do not swerve into another lane or slam on your brakes! Maintain proper following distance and be wary of puddles during inclement weather, which may conceal deep potholes. If you are unable to avoid a pothole, slow down as much as possible to minimize the damage done to your tires.
Maintain your tires
To minimize damage, make sure your tires are always properly inflated to optimum PSI—pound-force per square inch, a unit of pressure—levels for your vehicle. You can usually find optimum tire pressure for your vehicle on the driver’s side door jamb (hint: you must open the door) or inside your owner’s manual.
Advocate for safe roadways
Tired of potholes? Us too! If you want to be an activist in your community, you can contact your state congressmen and/or congresswomen and lobby for greater infrastructure funding and legislation to build, repair, and maintain safe roadways.
Purchase tires with a warranty
Lastly, Tires-Easy offers Free Road Hazard Warranty with all car and light truck tires purchased from us! The warranty covers road hazard damage: when a tire fails as a result of a puncture, bruise, or impact break incurred during the course of normal driving, on a road maintained by state or local authority. Nails, glass and potholes are the most common examples of road hazards that can cause damage to your tire.