When the first El Nino rainstorms rumbled through Southern California followed by cold temperatures, crumbling roadways began to emerge. A new study from AAA reveals that pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, or approximately $3 billion annually. With two-thirds of Americans concerned about potholes on local roadways, AAA cautions drivers to remain alert to avoid pothole damage, and urges state and local governments to fully fund and prioritize road maintenance to reduce vehicle damage, repair costs and driver frustration.
“In the last five years, 16 million drivers across the country have suffered pothole damage to their vehicles, including 15 percent of drivers in the West,” said Dave Skaien, program manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California AAA Approved Auto Repair Program. “The problems range from tire punctures and bent wheels, to more expensive suspension damage.”
According to AAA’s survey, middle- and lower-income individuals are the most worried about potholes, with the majority of respondents in households having annual incomes under $75,000 expressing the highest levels of concern over damaged roadways. This is likely due in part to the financial impact, as pothole damage can lead to expensive and extensive vehicle repairs. About 57 percent of drivers in the West said they are concerned about potholes on local roadways.
Pothole Repair Costs
“On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage,” continued Skaien. “Adding to the financial frustration, those whose vehicles incurred this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in the last five years.”
To minimize vehicle damage, AAA urges drivers to ensure tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread depth, as they are the only cushion between a pothole and the vehicle. If a pothole strike is inevitable, it is also critical that drivers slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before making contact with the pothole. To avoid potholes in the roadway, drivers should remain alert, scan the road and increase following distances behind the vehicle ahead.
AAA’s members are paying a steep price for bad road conditions, and those costs are expected to rise even higher in the years ahead. Americans rely on our nation’s roads and bridges every day, and more funding is desperately needed to prevent potholes, other unsafe conditions and longer commutes. Congress increased transportation funding in 2015 to help pay for road repair, but as much as $170 billion in additional funding is needed per year to significantly improve America’s roads and bridges. California can take the next step by ensuring that all motorist and highway user taxes and fees go to needed road repairs and improvements, which is not the case today.
Every year, AAA responds to more than four million calls for flat tire assistance, many the result of damage caused by potholes. Spare tires, an important feature missing from one-third of 2015 model year vehicles sold, are critical for drivers affected by pothole damage. Tire inflator kits have replaced the spare tire in millions of vehicles over the last 10 model years and, due to their limited functionality, cannot provide even a temporary fix for pothole damage. AAA has called on automakers to put consumer interests first and halt the elimination of spare tires in new models.
Tips to Avoid Hitting Potholes:
Skaien recommends the following tips to help protect vehicles – and drivers – from the jarring experience of hitting an asphalt crater on Southland roadways:
- Maintain proper air pressure in all tires to provide as much cushion as possible between the pothole and tire rim. Consult the vehicle owner’s manual or the sticker on the driver’s side door jamb, inner glove box, or inside of the fuel filler flap for the tire manufacturer’s correct pressure.
- Watch for potholes by leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Alert drivers have plenty of time to avoid potholes. Before swerving around a pothole, be sure to check surrounding traffic and lanes to determine if it’s safe to move over.
- Maintain a safe speed for weather conditions. If a pothole can’t be avoided, slow down, if possible. Hitting a pothole at high-speed increases the chance of tire damage as well as harm to wheels, shocks, struts, steering or suspension. High speed also increases chances of losing control of the vehicle, especially if a series of potholes occurs on a curved or uneven roadway.
- When driving over more than one pothole, reduce vehicle speed and hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.
- If possible, don’t brake directly over a pothole. Applying brakes causes the car’s weight to shift to the front of the vehicle and can increase damage from the impact.
“Hitting even one severe pothole could alter the alignment of a wheel from suspension damage resulting in uneven tire wear. Uneven and premature tire wear means the tire will need replacement sooner than necessary and can increase fuel consumption at needless expense,” said Skaien.
“A broken shock or strut from hitting a pothole could alter the steering and handling of a vehicle, and create dangers when driving at higher speeds or in tight corners,” Skaien said. Motorists who suspect their vehicle’s suspension components were damaged or broken by a pothole should have their vehicle towed to a high-quality repair facility such as a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility where it can be inspected and serviced, if necessary, the Auto Club recommends.
There are more than 7,500 AAA AAR facilities in North America. Information about the more than 400 Southern California AAA-Approved shops can be located at www.AAA.com or by calling your local AAA branch. AAA members receive unique benefits, including priority service, a 24-month/24,000-mile warranty, special discounts, free inspections, dispute resolution assistance and more.