Pothole Damage Costs U.S. Drivers $3 Billion Annually

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Drivers have paid $15 billion to repair pothole damage in the past five years.pot hole graphic aaa 1k

This cost to repair our cars may seem shocking, but it is old news to anyone that lives where it snows.

Spring is a horrorshow for paved surfaces. In the month of March in New England, we saw temperature fluctuation from below zero, all the way into the 60s. This freeze, plow, melt, plow again cycle wrecks even properly designed roads.

Those roadways with a hill on one side and improper drainage to keep snow-melt and heavy rain from getting under the pavement fare the worst. That’s why most wheel bearing and shock/strut repairs are to the passenger side of cars, which are closer to the shoulder where water under the road freezes, expands and pops up the asphalt to then be taken away by the next plow.

Related: Why Do I Need Four Snow Tires For My Two-Wheel-Drive Vehicle?

More common than wheel bearing and suspension damage is a ruined tire or damaged rim.  According to John Paul, AAA Northeast Senior Manager of Traffic Safety and occasional BestRide contributor, “On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage.”

And they do it pretty regularly according to Mr. Paul, who added: “Those whose vehicles incurred this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in the last five years.” We can attest to that rate here based on the number of tires, rims, and other car parts the BestRide staff has destroyed in normal on-road testing.

volvo damaged tire

Making a bad situation worse, AAA says fully a third of new vehicles don’t have spares.

Run-flat tires and puncture kits are also not a solution to sidewall damage caused by potholes leaving many drivers without a choice but to be towed.  AAA reports that it responds to four million tire-related requests for emergency assistance per year.

Our friends at Michelin have provided a number of tips to help you avoid costly damage this pothole season:

Maintain Proper Tire Pressure

Ensure your tires are properly inflated according to your vehicle manufacturer (found on the inside of driver’s doorjamb). Properly inflated tires help protect your vehicle from pothole damage.

Practice Safe Following Distance

Give yourself enough time to react to the road ahead. An alert driver with a safe following distance will have more time to avoid potholes or adjust speed to minimize impact.

Focus On The Road and Beware of Puddles

Pay close attention to the road ahead and watch out for puddles. What may look like a harmless puddle might actually be a dangerous pothole and there’s no telling how deep that crater might be!

Know the Signs of Trouble

If you do hit a pothole, pay attention to your car for signs of trouble. Hitting a pothole can knock a vehicle’s wheel out of alignment, causing it to pull let or right and also causing uneven wear on the tires over time. Check your tires for any severe cracks or bulges and consult a tire professional to see if they indicate a problem.

Slow Down and Grip The Wheel

If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow your speed to minimize impact, and grip the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control. Warning: never brake over a pothole, which could cause more damage to your car.

Spot a pothole?

Report it to your local Department of Transportation to ensure it’s fixed in a timely manner.

RELATED: Why Winter Tires May Be A Better Investment Than AWD

Most people assume that road repair is funded only by the federal government since a higher gas tax is frequently raised as a possible solution to the bad roadways we endure.

However, most roads are maintained by states with contributions from state gas taxes, property excise tax revenue, state income taxes, and even sales taxes.  The revenue streams are large and come in from many different forms of taxation.

The problem may be one of priorities.  States can and do fund non-road related projects with gasoline tax revenue.  Massachusetts, for example, says that part of its gas tax “is credited” to its Inland Fish and Game Fund.  When Massachusetts most recently passed an increase to its gasoline tax much of the new revenue was eyed by lawmakers for a bailout of the MBTA train system.

In the Commonwealth, no source of funding can be earmarked for any specific purpose, according to the Massachusetts constitution.  This was one reason voters overturned an automatic gas tax increase law in that pothole-infested state via a ballot initiative.  Many voters simply did not trust that the gas tax money would go towards road improvement.

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John Goreham

John Goreham