How Do Potholes Damage Cars?

by Jody L. Campbell

The Damage Potholes Do

Potholes cause premature damage to suspension and steering components.

Potholes cause premature damage to suspension and steering components. Tires and rims can also be damaged by potholes. Shocks and struts take the biggest brunt of the damage to start with. They compress and expand using hydraulic oil to alleviate the effects of driving on uneven surfaces. The bump is transferred to the vehicle; the extent of the bump travels from the tire and wheel directly to the shock absorber. Large potholes can cause the shock or strut to bottom out within itself. The shock is then transferred to the coil or leaf spring of the vehicle. In addition to these suspension components, control arms, ball joints, tie rods, idler arms, pitman arms, sway bar and sway bar links, center and drag links, wheel bearings and axle shafts are all susceptible to pothole damage. Because the steering and suspension components are compromised under duress, potholes are a leading contributor to a vehicle needing an alignment. Under- or over-inflated tires can be more easily damaged than one with proper inflation. Rims can dent or crack from severe pothole strikes. Long-term effects of damaged suspension or steering components can lead to premature tire wear and poor handling of the vehicle. In severe cases of pothole damage, even lower engine damage and undercarriage components such as the exhaust system can be compromised.

How Potholes Form

Potholes form when moisture seeps below the surface of the roads.

Potholes form when moisture seeps below the surface of the roads. The moisture freezes and expands or heats up and contracts, applying stress to the blacktop. As the weight of vehicles continuously drive over these areas, small pieces of the blacktop start to chip away from the road. The more traffic traveling on the road, including the types of vehicles, the more blacktop that chips away and then the larger the pothole becomes. Road crews battle potholes in areas that experience severe winter months by patching the holes with cold patch. This fills the hole temporarily until weather permits road crews to repair the damage to the roads.

Avoiding Potholes

Try to avoid potholes if you can.

Leave enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. This allows you to see the oncoming pothole before striking it. Be aware of other traffic or pedestrians on the roads before swerving to avoid a pothole. Lower your speed on pothole filled roads. More damage can be incurred to a vehicle striking potholes at higher speeds, including compromised handling of the vehicle. Water-filled potholes do not allow you to see how large they are until you strike them. Don't apply the brakes when driving over a pothole. This tilts the vehicle forward and places the amount of stress on the front suspension, which is the first part of the vehicle to strike the pothole.

About the Author

Jody L. Campbell spent over 15 years as both a manager and an under-car specialist in the automotive repair industry. Prior to that, he managed two different restaurants for over 15 years. Campbell began his professional writing career in 2004 with the publication of his first book.