Did you know that pothole damage accounts for nearly half a million insurance claims every year? In fact, potholes have become so abundant in America’s aging infrastructure that over 240,000 have been repaired in New York City this winter maintenance season alone.
But how do these pesky craters end up on the road? Well, potholes require 2 main ingredients: water and traffic.
How water creates a pothole
Weather is the most significant contributor to the severity of the pothole, as water drips through cracks in the roadway. During the colder winter months, that water freezes, expands, and pushes upward (like water expanding in an ice cube tray when it freezes). As that water-turned-ice expands, the pavement above the water also begins to expand, bend, and crack.
When the weather gets warmer, the water melts and the pavement rescinds, splits, and gapes. This process typically happens time and time again before a serious pothole is formed.
Traffic makes potholes worse
While the water freezes beneath the roadway, pressure from increased car and truck traffic adds additional stress to the pavement. At first, potholes develop as “crocodile cracks,” or small fissures, in the roadway. Then the pavement begins to collapse, eventually leading to a tire-deflating, wheel-misaligning headache.
7 ways to avoid springtime potholes
1. Utilize the Waze app
Modern technology has made avoiding serious potholes a thing of the past. Use Waze to check your route before you get in the car since serious potholes might’ve already been reported in your area. The ahead-of-time warning should give you ample notice before encountering a serious mess on the road.
And if you just encountered one that hasn’t been reported yet, do your community a favor and report it yourself.
2. Slow down
If steering clear isn’t your safest alternative, try to slow down as much as possible before the moment of impact — hitting potholes at a slower speed could greatly reduce damage to your tires, wheels, alignment, and suspension. Be sure to check your rearview mirror before any abrupt braking, though. A fender bender could be more expensive to fix than pothole damage.
3. Leave space
When driving on long stretches of highway, be sure to leave enough room between your car and the vehicle in front of you. Sometimes, an inanimate object on the road can help you calculate a safe driving distance. A good rule of thumb often used in driving handbooks: when the car in front of you passes the object, count out 3 seconds. It should take about that long for your car to pass the object too, giving you ample braking time to avoid a serious pothole.
4. Keep your eyes on the road
If you’re looking straight ahead and pay attention, you’ll have a higher chance of seeing a pothole coming and a greater probability of steering clear of it and/or slowing down.
5. Beware of puddles
Driving in rainy weather (or even shortly after rain has subsided) can increase your chances of hitting a pothole. Pay special attention to areas of the road that are filled with water. These indicate some sort of pothole formation, and since there’s no way of knowing how deep these puddles could be, you should avoid them at all cost.
6. Check your tires
Your tires are the most important cushion between your car and a pothole. Make sure they have enough tread and are properly inflated. To check the tread depth, insert a quarter into the tire’s groove with George Washington’s head upside down. The tread should cover part of Washington’s head. If it doesn’t, that may be your indication to start shopping for new tires.
7. Check your alignment and suspension
After hitting a pothole, be diligent about checking critical components of your car. Any shake or shimmy in your once-smooth ride could mean something was damaged. If you’ve checked your tires and no damage is visible, you may want to take your car to a mechanic to have your wheel balance, alignment, and suspension checked.
Potholes might be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean they need to cramp your style. Remember these 7 tips the next time you encounter spring showers or a pothole.