Pothole season has arrived earlier than usual this year, putting drivers at greater risk of a breakdown, the need for a tow and potentially costly repairs. A 2021 survey by AAA indicates that Americans spend billions of dollars every year to repair damages caused by potholes, with an average price tag of almost $600 per repair.
Drivers can blame the weather for their premature roadway woes, as extreme fluctuations in temperature cause potholes.
“When a cold spell is followed by a warming trend, water in the pavement expands and contracts, leaving it cracked and vulnerable to the wear and tear of traffic,” says Kara Hitchens, AAA spokesperson. “This is a weather pattern we typically see in the spring, but this year, we’re already getting calls from Members with tire troubles related to potholes.”
Unfortunately, a flat tire is not always a quick fix.
AAA Emergency Rescue data indicates that last year in Ohio, almost 60,000 calls were tire-related and 20% of those calls resulted in the need for a tow – mostly because there was no useable spare. In fact, had a spare been available, nearly 6,000 AAA Members could have avoided the time and possible expense of a tow.
“Many new cars do not come with a spare, so the one thing drivers can do to minimize the need for a tow is to check their trunk right now,” Hitchens adds.
In addition to tire troubles, damage caused by potholes may include dented rims, damaged wheels, dislodged wheel weights, displaced struts, dislocated shock absorbers, damaged exhaust systems, misaligned steering systems and ruptured ball joints.
Are Your Tow and Pothole Damage Both Covered by Insurance?
Typically, insurance doesn’t cover a flat tire because it is considered basic wear and tear. But, if a blowout is caused by a pothole, the tow and additional damages to your vehicle may be covered, depending on your level of coverage.
“Drivers who opt for minimum coverage may find themselves paying a steep price when it comes to potholes,” says Dan Scroggins, spokesperson for the Insurance Agency at AAA. “You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to learn this costly lesson.”
The AAA survey found that one in 10 drivers sustained vehicle damage significant enough to warrant a repair after hitting a pothole. AAA urges all vehicle owners to talk to their insurance advisors in advance of a pothole problem to ensure they are adequately covered, should the need arise. Drivers may also seek compensation from municipalities but that is not always guaranteed.
Of course, the best way to prevent pothole damage or tire troubles that might require a tow is avoiding potholes altogether.
AAA offers the following tips for avoiding potholes/minimizing damage:
- Beware of Puddles – Puddles are often potholes in disguise.
- Look Ahead – Make a point of scanning the road ahead for potholes. An alert driver is more likely to have time to avoid a pothole.
- Increase Following Distance – This will give you additional time to avoid potholes otherwise hidden by the vehicle in front of you.
- Limit Distractions – Avoiding a pothole is much easier if you pay attention to the road ahead.
- Slow Down – Slowing down will increase the chance of avoiding a pothole, and if you can’t avoid a pothole, reduced speed will likely mean reduced damage.
- Inspect Tires – Make sure tires are properly inflated and have a healthy tread. Tires that are not road-ready are at greater risk of a blowout or flat.
- Take Care of Your Spare – Check your trunk. Many newer cars do not have spare tires or the spare is unusable, causing greater inconvenience to drivers and their passengers in the event of a flat.
- Don’t Ignore Noises/Vibrations – A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage the tire or wheel and even break suspension components. Any unusual noises after a pothole hit should be inspected immediately.
In an effort to encourage basic car care and avoid the need for Emergency Roadside Service, most AAA Car Care, Insurance and Travel Centers are running tire specials at this time. Find the nearest AAA Car Care or AAA Approved Auto Repair facility here.
Why don’t most new cars come with a spare tire? Read more at AAA.com/TheExtraMile.