How to prepare for pothole season

Mary Lou Jay

Spring is the season for warm breezes in the air, beautiful flowers in the garden -- and potholes in the road.

Potholes develop when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, freezes and then expands, creating small pockets in the road's subsurface. As the process happens again and again, and as traffic travels over the pocket, the space eventually collapses. Heavy vehicles like buses and trucks also contribute to the pothole problem because their weight can damage the road's subsurface over time, according to the City of San Diego's website.

Potholes most often appear in the spring because the season's combination of rain, melting snow and below-freezing nighttime temperatures provide the optimum conditions for their formation.

Insurance coverage

Hitting a pothole can be a jarring experience for both the driver and car. But while the driver and passengers don't usually suffer any long term injury, a vehicle may. Its tires, steering, suspension and alignment can all be damaged if the pothole is deep or a driver simply hits it the wrong way, according to AAA.

Repairing pothole damage can be expensive, but you may have help if you carry collision coverage on your vehicle. Collision insurance is optional, and it will raise your auto insurance premium -- but it usually covers damage that results from colliding with a pothole, according to the Insurance Information Institute. However, before your insurance kicks in, you will be responsible for paying any policy deductibles, which usually range from $250 to $1,000.

Steering clear

AAA advises motorists that the best way to avoid the damage is to look ahead and scan roadways to check for possible potholes. When you do spot a pothole, AAA recommends driving around it if you can do so safely. If you can't avoid a pothole, then slow down as you approach it. AAA also warns drivers to avoid puddles because they may hide deep potholes.

Ford Motor Co. takes a slightly different approach, saying that it's usually better to hit a pothole straight on rather than risk hitting it at an odd angle, which can cause even more damage to your tire. Ford also advises drivers not to brake hard at the pothole, since that compresses a vehicle's front suspension and actually forces the car further into the pothole.

Because your vehicle's tires will serve as the first line of defense against potholes, always be sure that they have sufficient tread and that they're properly inflated, AAA advises. You'll also want to make sure your vehicle's struts and shock absorbers are in good condition.

If you do hit a pothole, watch for warning signs of damage. According to AAA, you should get your car checked out right away if the steering is pulling to one side (meaning the car is out of alignment) or if you experience any new or unusual noises or vibrations.

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