Don't let potholes damage your car

Published by Rachel Lacey on 10 January 2011.
Last updated on 20 February 2012


Drivers are being warned to watch out for more potholes on the road as conditions on UK roads continue to worsen. The AA claims many roads are now on "borrowed time", with snow, ice and rain conspiring to create "the worst imaginable driving conditions".

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance says: "Our claims staff are bracing themselves for a steep rise in reports of cars damaged by potholes. Last winter there were three times as many claims between January and March compared with the same period in 2010 and we expect the pothole problem to be significantly worse this year because of three successive bad winters and the growing backlog of road renewal".

Potholes form after water seeps down below the road surface and freezes, loosening the asphalt. The inevitable thaw, rain and passing traffic then exacerbates the problem.

The average pot-hole claim costs £1,300, says AA, but the insurer's most costly claim last year hit £14,000 when a pot-hole caused a driver to lose control of the car and crash. Douglas adds: "We are expecting a big surge in claims once again for damage to wheels, suspension and bodywork such as wings and sills."

"Cuts in road maintenance budgets of 20% mean that local authorities face very difficult choices on the roads they prioritise for repair. Whilst they may fix the dangerous potholes many are likely to go unrepaired."

Motorists can protect themselves by keeping a sharp watch for potholes and keeping speeds down - particularly in wet weather when holes may be filled by rainwater. The holes are most likely to form on worn out roads, around old repairs and iron works.

Be aware of deep potholes

Douglas adds that hitting a deep pothole can cause serious damage to your car and increase the risk of you losing control of your car. Even at low speeds damage to tyres, especially low-profile tyres, wheels and tracking is likely. However the cost of repair might not necessarily justify a claim on your insurance policy.

"When safe to do so it's really important to stop and check your wheels and tyres after hitting a pothole. Pay attention to any unusual steering or other driving characteristics – if necessary get the vehicle checked at a garage or tyre specialist," advises Douglas.

He continues: "Damage to tyre walls for example may not be immediately obvious and could result in a later blow-out while damaged tracking will lead to excessive wear to tyres and compromise cornering and braking."

If you damage your car on a known pothole it may be possible to make a claim from the highway authority so motorists are being urged to report all potholes to their local or county council (or the Highways Agency in the case of motorways). Council websites should publish guidance on pothole reporting and may even list known problem areas.

Five-minute guide to car insurance

How to beat potholes: Top Tips from the AA

  • Keep you eyes open for potholes – take extra care especially on secondary roads and when the road is wet, which might conceal water-filled potholes. Debris such as grit and stones on the road surface might indicate presence of a pothole.
  •  If you hit a pothole, make a note of where it is, its approximate size and depth, take a picture with your mobile phone if safe to do so.
  •  Report potholes to the relevant highway authority (usually county or local council).
  •  If you hit a pothole stop as soon as possible in a safe place for a visual check of your car, especially tyres and wheels.
  •  Tell-tale signs of damage include 'clonking' sounds from the steering/suspension; a slight 'pull' in the steering; or the steering wheel not centring properly when the car is travelling in a straight line; braking feeling 'uneven'.
  •  If you are concerned about damage from hitting a pothole, get your car's tyres, wheels and tracking professionally checked as soon as possible.
  •  Keep all receipts from damage repair to support any subsequent claim.

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