Drivers have been warned to be on their guard against the current ‘pothole epidemic’, after a sharp rise in the number of related claims.
The number of insurance claims for pothole-related damage to cars has jumped sharply, according to AA Insurance. It warns that the severe winter weather has resulted in a huge number of potholes on Britain’s roads.
Last year, £47 million was paid out in pothole-related compensation claims.
“With the average repair cost for pothole damage amounting to £240 and some bills as high as £2,710, it is vital that drivers are increasingly vigilant on the roads and take the necessary precautions to avoid being left out in the cold financially,” says Mark Monteiro, insurance expert at uSwitch.com.
What to do if you hit a pothole
Pothole damage to cars is usually confined to tyres and wheels, steering and suspension.
“If you hit a pothole and afterwards you notice vibration, the steering wheel doesn’t ‘centre’ properly or it pulls to one side, get the car checked immediately, as faults such as tracking or steering damage can lead to later expense or even an accident,” says Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance.
He also advises people to keep an eye on their tyres, as damage may not be immediately obvious.
“Watch for development of tell-tale bulges on the tyre walls, indicating serious internal damage. If you see such a defect, change the tyre immediately as a bulge is likely to result in a blow-out which could be catastrophic if you’re travelling a speed.”
Cars with alloy wheels and low-profile tyres are particularly prone to damage, as are motorcyclists and cyclists.
Potholes are a major cause of axle and suspension failure, which account for a third of all mechanical issues on UK roads and cost British motorists an estimated £2.8 billion in repairs every year, says Monteiro.
And some potholes are so huge they cause damage to valances and sills, rupture suspension and steering and even rip off exhaust systems.
In one recent case, a driver hit a serious pothole full of water that was concealed by the wet road surface. The strike punctured the front-near-side low-profile tyre of his BMW, distorted and cracked the aluminium wheel and damaged the steering. His estimated repair bill came to more than £2,200.
There is also a risk that drivers could crash while trying to avoid potholes. In another recent insurance claim, a man’s Skoda Superb slid on an icy road surface as he tried to avoid a pothole.
However, his front offside wheel was caught by the hole causing the back of his car to swing out into the path of an oncoming van. The total estimated repair bill was £3,600.
The local authority’s highways department may be liable for damage caused by potholes, as long as it is aware of them – so it’s important to report such hazards.
Take a photo of the pothole itself, the damage sustained to the car and the surrounding area to prove the absence of warning signs or cones. If there were any witnesses, then ask for their contact details.
You can also share dangerous potholes with other drivers on the AA Pothole Watch website.
Can you claim compensation?
According to Douglas, although many pothole incidents cause damage, the cost of repair doesn’t always justify a claim.
However he adds: “It would take a quarry-like pothole to cause the sort of damage that would justify an insurance claim - but there are certainly some ‘A-list’ holes out there.”
If you do claim on your insurance, then you will also have to pay an excess and risk losing any no claims bonus.
Claiming compensation from the local highways authority might be a better way of re-couping the cash for repairs.
Highways authorities can’t be held liable for defects they don’t know about – which is why it’s so important that drivers report potholes when they spot them. However, they do keep inspection records and they may be liable if they haven’t acted after receiving a defect report.
If you suffer pothole damage, then notify the authorities immediately - many councils have websites and special phone lines to help with this. The website Potholes.co.uk has a useful section where you can find the correct contact for your council.
You should be prepared to supply the exact location of the incident, as well as the shape, size and depth – it’s best to take a photo as evidence of this. If there were any witnesses, then make sure you hand over their contact details.
You’ll also need to get quotes for the necessary repairs. Make sure you keep these quotes, as well as the bill and receipts.
If may be that your claim is rejected under section 58 of the Highways Code – this protects councils if they have taken reasonable measures to ensure that problems such as potholes are dealt with swiftly.
However, according the Potholes.co.uk, all councils should have a system in place to regularly inspect and, where necessary, repair roads. If you can prove the council in question hasn’t followed this system, or that this differs from the recommendations of the national recommended standards for highway maintenance, then you may be able to appeal.
You can download these national standards from Roadscodes.org.
If your claim is rejected and you feel this is unfair, you can ask to see road inspection reports and try again. You could also submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the relevant council or highways agency to find out how often the road is inspected and maintained.
While you could seek legal help, this will cost you, so it might be worth negotiating with the council in question. For example, it may be prepared to cover some of your repair costs.
Remember, if you do make an insurance claim and subsequently decided to make a claim from the highway authority, tell your insurer as it may well be willing to help you – especially if your claim was expensive.
If you are successful and the insurer’s costs are recovered, you will get your excess back and any no claims bonus lost will be restored and the incident will be recorded as a non-fault claim.