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AAA: Wintry weather leads to pothole pitfalls as spring approaches

aaaWith the brief warm spell, many drivers are learning the hard way that it is pothole season in Virginia – and it can be a costly lesson.

Previous research from AAA indicates that American drivers spend $3 billion a year repairing damage caused by potholes. In some cases, the impact of poor road conditions on vehicles can leave a car owner with repair bills ranging from under $250 to more than $1000 depending on the extent of the damage, the make of the vehicle and the make of the tires.

“Hitting a pothole can damage much more than just your tires,” says Brent Stegner, manager of the AAA Car Care at Swift Creek. “And, in addition to the cost of extensive repairs, many vehicles these days don’t have a spare tire, so those without AAA have the added expense of a tow as well.”

It’s been a brutal winter in Virginia where drivers have seen numerous storms loaded with snow, ice, sleet and rain and many days where the temperature rose just above the freezing mark during the daytime and fell back below it overnight. Typically, potholes form when moisture collects in small holes and cracks in the road surface. As temperatures rise and fall, the moisture expands and contracts due to freezing and thawing. This breaks up the pavement and, combined with the weight of passing cars, eventually results in the formation of potholes.

This all comes just a year after Virginia saw one of its mildest winters in years. On top of that, the pandemic lockdown that went into effect last March left many cars idle for weeks or months on end. Even today, many drivers are spending less time in their cars because of continued restrictions, the ability to work from home and many school activities cancelled or postponed. AAA is concerned drivers may have overlooked necessary maintenance checks and perhaps unseen problems because they’re putting fewer miles on their cars. If tires haven’t been rotated or are in poor condition and the alignment is out, hitting a pothole can cause even more damage to a vehicle.

Blown tires, dented rims, damaged wheels, dislodged wheel weights, displaced struts, dislocated shock absorbers, and damaged exhaust systems are all are costly common automotive issues caused by pothole run‐ins. Other telltale signs include misaligned steering systems, and ruptured ball joints.

According to a AAA study on pothole damage:

  • Americans spend $3 billion per year on average to repair pothole-related damages to their vehicles.
  • American drivers paid an average of $300each to repair pothole-related damages to their vehicles in 2017, AAA estimated.

“It is critical for drivers to be proactive and have their vehicle inspected whenever they suspect damage,” Stegner says. “Ignoring the problem could be a costly mistake.  For drivers who delayed maintenance because they drove fewer miles last year, now is the time to get things checked out.”

AAA urges drivers to avoid driving through puddles which could be ‘potholes in disguise’.

To aid drivers in protecting their vehicles from pothole damage, AAA recommends the following:

  • Inspect Tires: The tire is the most important cushion between a car and a pothole. Make sure tires have enough tread and are properly inflated. To check the tread depth, insert a quarter into the tread groove with Washington’s head upside down. The tread should cover part of Washington’s head. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to start shopping for new tires. When checking tire pressures, ensure they are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended levels, which can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s door jamb. Do not use the pressure levels stamped on the sidewall of the tire.
  • Look Ahead: Make a point of checking the road ahead for potholes. An alert driver may have time to avoid potholes, so it’s important to stay focused on the road and not any distractions inside or outside the vehicle. Before swerving to avoid a pothole, check surrounding traffic to ensure this will not cause a collision or endanger nearby pedestrians or cyclists.
  • Slow Down: If a pothole cannot be avoided, reduce speed safely being sure to check the rearview mirror before any abrupt braking. Hitting a pothole at higher speeds greatly increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels and suspension components.
  • Beware of Puddles: A puddle of water can disguise a deep pothole. Use care when driving through puddles and treat them as though they may be hiding potholes.
  • Check Alignment: Hitting a pothole can knock a car’s wheels out of alignment and affect the steering. If a vehicle pulls to the left of right, have the wheel alignment checked by a qualified technician.
  • Recognize Noises/Vibrations: A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components. Any new or unusual noises or vibrations that appear after hitting a pothole should be inspected immediately by a certified technician.

For more on how to prevent serious vehicle damage from potholes, drivers can visit  For questions about getting pothole damage repaired, drivers can search for a AAA  Approved Auto Repair Shop here.

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