In the UK, it is a well-known fact that there is a pothole epidemic on our roads. A combination of traffic, wet weather and cold temperatures are the main cause of the craters on the tarmac, which means that the winter months are when potholes become worse and much more common. In last October’s budget, the government promised that £420million would be given to local councils in England to deal with “potholes, repair damaged roads, and invest in keeping bridges open and safe” however many are saying that this is not an adequate sum of money, with the estimated repair cost for all of the potholes in England, being well into the billions. To make matters worse, it is not just our roads that are being damaged; an estimated 1 in 10 mechanical faults in cars are caused by potholes and it is costing motorists around £730 million every year in repairs. In this article, we will be looking at
- What kind of problems potholes can cause your car
- What you can do to minimise the damage
- How to report a pothole and make a claim for damage as a result of a pothole.
What kind of problems can potholes cause your car?
As the main point of contact between the road and your vehicle, your car’s tires will take on much of the impact felt as your car drives over an uneven patch of the road. As your tire enters into a pothole, the distribution of the car’s weight is shifted slightly and more pressure is placed onto the one tire that makes direct contact with the pothole. The same thing happens again when the tire leaves the pothole and as the edge of the crater strikes your tire on exit, the force can cause a rupture, bulges or bubbles, misshape your tire or even cause your tires rims to bend. The depth and severity of the pothole as well as the angle and speed at which your car hits it, will all affect the degree of damage to your tires. However, it goes without saying that the more times you drive over a pothole, the more likely you are to experience tire problems.
Suspension and Wheel Alignment
Your car’s suspension is designed to absorb the impact of driving and increase the smoothness of your ride however potholes can cause your cars tracking to become disrupted and your wheels alignment to be knocked off kilter. The result of this can be uneven tire wear, car drifting to one side, a skewed steering wheel and vibration or a screeching or squeaking noise coming from your tires. What’s more, your car will become less fuel-efficient and you could end up paying more to get your tires replaced more often. Correct wheel alignment is not only necessary for the condition of your tires, but it is essential for safety on the roads – you do not want to be veering into oncoming traffic, experience a blowout in one of your tires as you are driving along or be unable to move swiftly out of the way of an emergency.
In the majority of cars, exhaust pipes will run along the underside of the car putting them in prime position for contact with pothole edges. Particularly severe potholes can cause the undercarriage of your car to scrape along the tarmac, which can result in denting or holes in exhaust pipes, mufflers or catalytic converters. A hole in your cars exhausts system may produce noticeable noises, reduce the power of the car or even allow harmful exhaust fumes to enter into the cabin and expose you and your passengers to a dangerous health hazard. A damaged catalytic converter can also mean that your cars exhaust fumes have not been filtered properly and your car is pumping excessive amounts of harmful pollution into the atmosphere.
Cars that are particularly low on the ground such as performance and sports cars are also at risk of experience body damage as a result of potholes. Low placed bumpers can scrape against pothole craters, paintwork can be scratched more easily and dents are another risk. Though this kind of damage won’t necessarily affect the safety or performance of your car, it can decrease the value of your vehicle as well as increase your cosmetic repair bill.
What you can do to minimise the damage:
With approximately one pothole for every one mile of road in the UK, it is impossible to completely avoid driving over them however there are a couple of things you can do to mitigate the impact on your car.
- Be aware of potholes and slow down as you approach it – the faster you are driving when you hit one, the more damaging it will be to your vehicle.
- Leave a good amount of space between you and the driver in front to give yourself time to react and prepare to slow down.
- Puddles in the middle of the road are a sign of potholes, so drive through them with caution.
- Do not brake as you hit a pothole as this can actually cause more damage.
- Keep your tires properly inflated to the recommended pressure.
How to report a pothole and make a claim:
The first thing to do before you report or make a claim on pothole damage is to collect evidence of the pothole in question and the damage caused. The best kind of evidence is photographs, so ensure that you take pictures of the pothole from different angles and try to indicate the depth of it by including an object like the nearest lamppost or tree to show the scale. You should also take pictures of the damage to your vehicle. Note down the name of the road and whereabouts on the road the pothole is situated i.e. near to a junction.
Reporting a pothole is very simple as all councils in England have a service to report potholes on their website. To find out which council maintains the road with the pothole on, you can enter the road name, town or postcode into the Gov.uk website. If the pothole is on a motorway or major A-road, it is best to go directly to Highways England who is responsible for maintaining these roads.
Before making a claim, it is important to bear in mind that your chances of success are reliant on whether the council is already aware of the pothole in question, i.e. if it has already been reported to them. If the pothole has not been reported, councils are likely to argue that they cannot be held responsible for a pothole that they are not aware of. Therefore, you should always report a pothole if you come across one.
If your car needs to be repaired as a result of the damage caused by a pothole, get some quotes and keep all quotes, invoices and payment receipts safe. It is also a good idea to make copies of them to include in your claim.
Next, you should write to the relevant authorities, either the council responsible for the road or Highways England, outlining the reason for your claim, what occurred, the damage incurred to your vehicle and all evidence including photographs, quotes, invoices and receipts. If the authority believes that you have a valid claim, they will usually send you a damage report form that you will be required to fill out and send back. In addition to the form and your own evidence, you could also be asked to provide quotes and invoices of the repairs, an up to date MOT certificate and photos of the damage.
Remember that if the relevant authority has not previously recorded the pothole, and they can prove that they have a regular inspection and repair system for roads in place, your chances of making a successful claim are slim and so you should prepare yourself for this possibility. If your claim is rejected, it might be worth going to the small claims court, although bear in mind that you could end up with additional legal costs by doing this so it is important to weigh up the various costs against what there is to gain.