Winter brings a number of driving hazards, but one of the most dreaded is the pothole. An encounter with one can leave damaged tires, wheels and suspension components in its wake.
The average damage can put a big dent in drivers' pocketbooks - costing anywhere from $300 to $700, according to figures from State Farm Insurance.
Potholes can occur in any region or climate, but at this time of year, they're especially prominent in areas known for ice, snow and below-freezing temperatures, such as the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.
Freezing and thawing cycles allow moisture to seep into the road surface, which causes the road to crumble.
There's not much that can prevent the deterioration of the driving surface, but there are some things drivers can do to protect themselves and their wallets:
- Try to limit your travel to roads you know very well. That knowledge could keep you from hitting a pothole and seriously damaging your car.
- When driving at night, travel on well-lit roads.
- Slow down. Give yourself a chance to see the pothole and avoid it.
- If you hit a pothole, carefully inspect your tires and wheels for possible damage. Note how your car handles in the aftermath. If it "pulls" in a particular direction or you feel a wobble in the steering, have a mechanic check it out.
- If you can't avoid a pothole, do your braking before impact. There's less damage to a tire when it's rolling than when it is skidding over a pothole during braking. Also, braking causes the car's weight to shift to the front of the wheel and can increase damage from the impact.
Additionally, Wisconsin traffic safety experts offer the following safety tips:
- Maintain full air pressure in tires to provide as much cushion as possible between the pothole and the rim of the tire.
- Watch for potholes by leaving space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Before swerving around a pothole, check surrounding traffic.
- When driving over a pothole-filled road, hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.
- Beware of water that may be concealing a deep pothole.
Indications that a vehicle has poor wheel alignment or suspension damage caused by potholes include:
- Uneven wear or lumps on the tire.
- Recurring loss of tire pressure.
- Vehicle pulling to one side.
- Off-center or cocked steering wheel.
- Vibrations from the wheel area.
A broken shock or strut from a pothole encounter could alter the steering and handling of a vehicle and create dangers when driving at high speeds or in tight corners, and should be examined by a qualified technician immediately.
To help you determine if hitting a pothole has damaged your vehicle, Car Care Council lists additional warning signs.
- Loss of control, swaying when making routine turns, bottoming-out on city streets or bouncing excessively on rough roads. These are indicators that the steering and suspension may have been damaged. The steering and suspension are key safety-related systems. Together, they largely determine your car's ride and handling. Key components are shocks and/or struts, the steering knuckle, ball joints, the steering rack/box, bearings, seals and hub units and tie rod ends.
- Pulling in one direction, instead of maintaining a straight path, and uneven tire wear. These symptoms mean there's an alignment problem. Proper wheel alignment is important for the lifespan of tires and helps ensure safe handling.
- Low tire pressure, bulges or blisters on the sidewalls, or dents in the rim. These problems will be visible and should be checked out as soon as possible as tires are the critical connection between your car and the road.