NJM Blog
NJM Blog

The Lifespan of a Pothole

February 08, 2019
The Lifespan of a Pothole

Potholes are the scourge of winter. In the states most abused by winter storms, they spread like weeds on every inch of asphalt. After every major storm comes the inevitable question: Which street was most affected? How will your commute need to change? What damage awaits your vehicle?

The Birth of a Pothole

Potholes are most likely to affect roads with poor drainage and high traffic. Four main ingredients help potholes form in a road: water, heat, cold, and traffic.

Step 1: Water seeps into the road.
Step 2: The temperature sinks and the water freezes. As water freezes, it expands. As a result, a layer of ice pushes the pavement up.
Step 3: The temperature rises and the water melts. The road does not sink to its normal position. Instead, a bubble of air separates the pavement from the base.
Step 4: As cars travel the road in its newly fragile state, the asphalt crumbles.

Are potholes inevitable? Not necessarily. Potholes can be prevented by sealing cracks that allow water to seep through the pavement to the layers below. Road crews can also treat aging roads with new surface layers that help prevent water intrusion.

A Pothole's Terrible Twos

Potholes can have serious safety implications for drivers. According to Pothole.info, repairing damage to cars from potholes costs individuals an average of $377 per year. In fact, hitting a pothole can be as serious as getting into a car accident.

After hitting a pothole, inspect your car for damage in five places:

  1. Your suspension and steering wheel
    A pothole can throw off the alignment of your steering wheel. If it seems like your steering wheel is off-center or your car is drifting to one side, you should have your alignment checked.
  2. Your tires
    A pothole can cause bulges, tread separation, or flat tires. All of these symptoms make driving more dangerous and require you to replace the affected tire. Inspect your tires for malformations and keep an eye on your tire pressure.
  3. Your wheels
    When you hit a pothole, you might bend, chip, or crack your wheels or your rims. This can lead to a gap between your tire and wheel. If your steering wheel vibrates while you're driving, it's possible that your wheels are damaged.
  4. Your exhaust pipes
    A pothole can damage your exhaust pipes if the uneven road scrapes against your car's undercarriage. You can tell if your exhaust system is damaged if it makes rumbling or roaring sounds while you drive. Inspect the places you regularly park for signs of fluid leaks. Damages exhaust pipes can allow carbon monoxide to seep into the cabin, so it's essential to get them fixed as soon as possible.
  5. Your car's body
    If your car sits low to the ground, hitting a pothole might cause your undercarriage, bumpers, or side skirts to be damaged.

Prepare for potholes by following these driving practices:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated - not too much or too little air.
  • Maintain a space between your car and the cars ahead of you, so you can see potholes before you're right on top of them.
  • If you see an upcoming pothole, safely switch lanes to avoid it, if possible. Watch for other cars or pedestrians before you swerve.
  • If you can't change lanes, slow down before you hit the pothole. Do not brake directly over a pothole; this can make your tires skid over the pothole, causing more damage to your car.
  • Maintain a firm grip on your steering wheel while driving over a pothole.
  • Be wary of puddles of water, which could be hiding a pothole.

Do you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey?
Get your own personalized auto, auto, home, or renters quote today.

Responding to a Pothole

To report a pothole, you should contact your state Department of Transportation, county Department of Transportation, or Municipal Road Department, depending on what kind of road is damaged.

Potholes in roads are fixed either as an emergency repair or routine road maintenance. Emergency repairs are usually saved for potholes on major roads that could contribute to collisions or congestion.

Workers can repair potholes in one of four ways:

  • Cold-Patch ("Throw-and-roll") is a temporary repair that patches individual potholes.
  • Hot-Path Semi-Permanent uses tack oil, heated asphalt, and vibrating equipment to patch potholes. This relies on good weather and traffic conditions.
  • Spray-Injection Devices blow water and debris from the pothole, spray a tack coat of binder on the sides and bottom, and blow asphalt and aggregate into the pothole. Workers then cover the patch with aggregate.
  • Edge Seal has workers perform a Cold-Patch, and then seal the patch with an asphalt tack after it dries.

If a road is severely damaged, work crews will need to perform base layer repairs when conditions allow.

Handling Pothole Damage

You can file a claim with your insurance company for pothole damage. You'll need to have Collision coverage on the affected car. However, if your deductible is less than the cost to repair the damage, it might not be worth it.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania both provide instructions for filing claims against the government for pothole damage. To do so, you'll need to direct your claim to the local, county, or state government, depending on which road caused the damage. Then, you'll usually need the following materials:

  • An estimate or receipt for repairs;
  • The specific location of the pothole;
  • A copy of the police report, if one was filed; and
  • A copy of your insurance Declaration page.

Reimbursement for pothole damage is not guaranteed and can take up to six months to process.

Potholes might be an inevitability of the roads. But you don't have to live with their damage to your car. NJM provides personalized auto insurance to residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Get your online quote today.