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Avoiding Potholes and Performing a Post-Impact Inspection


Potholes are depressions or hollows in road surfaces that are made worse by seasonal wear or settling. You’ll find potholes on roads and bridges and in tunnels — wherever asphalt is present. Avoiding potholes will keep your car out of the repair shop, as they can do a number on your steering, suspension and alignment systems. When pothole contact is unavoidable, conducting a post-impact inspection will help you correctly assess the extent of the damage.

Potholes Defined

Most of us are familiar with potholes. They’re shallow indentations on roads where the soil underneath the asphalt has frozen and thawed, contributing to the road upheaval that causes them. Common wherever wintry conditions prevail, you’ll also find them on roads in warm places, including Florida, southern California and even tropical Hawaii.

The weight of vehicles riding over damaged asphalt only exacerbates the situation, causing parts of the road to loosen. Avoiding potholes can save your tires from a blowout and your suspension, alignment and steering systems from being damaged. In some cases, your insurance company will not pay for any damage, unless the pothole contributed to an accident, such as hitting a guardrail, a light stanchion pole or another vehicle. Check your insurance policy to determine what’s covered and what’s excluded.

Pothole Avoidance

filling a pothole Avoiding potholes may be as easy as steering around them, provided the traffic conditions allow for such maneuvering with little warning. You have a better chance of seeing a pothole if you allow sufficient room between you and the vehicle you’re following. Avoid puddles, as these may represent potholes filled with water.

If you encounter a pothole and can’t avoid it, then slow your speed, release the brakes just before you pass over it and keep your steering wheel straight as you roll through it. Slamming on the brakes or picking up your speed may only make things worse.

Inspect Your Car

If the pothole was especially jarring, pull off the road when it is safe to do so. On a busy highway, that means moving to the far right side of the shoulder. Better yet, if you’re able, exit the highway and pull into a parking lot to safely inspect your car.

If more than one tire is damaged, then call for assistance. Otherwise, you should be able to swap out one damaged tire with your spare, if necessary. If your car bottomed out while passing over the pothole, look for damage to the exhaust pipe, muffler or catalytic converter. If your car pulls to one side while driving in a straight line, then alignment is necessary. Replacing a strut or a shock may be necessary. For serious damage, contact your roadside assistance club or call for a tow truck.

Pothole Reporting

Many jurisdictions will quickly repair potholes once reported. For instance, the North Carolina Department of Transportation commits to repairing potholes within two business days of notification. Further, you may be able to recoup the costs of your damages if you can prove negligence by the road authority. You can do your part to keep our roads safe by reporting potholes promptly. Also, always keep your tires properly inflated and ensure that all other key components are in top condition.

Potholes can be a headache, but being proactive about inspecting your vehicle after hitting one can save you a lot of trouble down the line.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on avoiding potholes or making repairs, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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