While it’s true that “April showers bring May flowers,” it’s also worth noting that spring is a pothole-heavy season for the Midwest. As the seasons change, we have to adapt and prepare for inclement weather and all of the conditions this brings. Let’s dive into the cause of potholes, how to avoid them, and how to navigate encountering them.
WHY POTHOLES OCCUR
Potholes don’t just appear out of nowhere—even though it seems like they might. Potholes form as a result of the expansion and contraction of water during freeze-thaw water cycles that occur during the winter months. Each time there is moisture on the pavement, and the temperatures drop to freezing, ice forms and expands between the smallest cracks. The continued freezing and thawing weaken the pavement time and time again, which causes the material to break down from the weight of traffic, creating a pothole.
Now that you understand how our state acquires these impediments, let’s focus on how to navigate them and any potential car damages caused by them.
WAYS TO AVOID POTHOLES
First and foremost, regardless of the seasons, you should always ensure your tires are properly inflated. This is your first line of defense against these pesky road obstacles. Under- and over-inflated tires are more likely to cause damage to your vehicle if you hit a pothole. Make sure you know the proper pressure for your tires. Typically, you can find your recommended tire pressure on the sticker inside your driver’s side door. It’s best practice to check your tire inflation on a monthly basis. Remember, if it’s freezing out, you likely won’t be able to increase the air pressure in your tires, as it’s too cold to implement.
Next, you will want to put into play all of the safe driving practices you have learned. Don’t tailgate the vehicle in front of you. If you are following too closely, you may not see an upcoming pothole, leaving yourself no time to avert your car to dodge it. Try leaving more than the typical 3-4 second space cushion between you and the vehicle in front of you; this will allow you to spot the pothole and adjust your speed—or even merge into a different lane safely.
Remember those April showers? This spring, you’ll especially want to avoid the potholes disguised as puddles on the road! Often, you cannot judge the depth of a puddle, especially at night. Meanwhile, in the winter months, these puddles could be concealing some very major potholes, and by assuming it’s just standing water, you could unintentionally do serious damage to your vehicle. Although it’s not always possible to dodge puddles, the slower you cross them, the better the outcome for you and your vehicle.
Last but not least, we’ve all heard this one before: SLOW DOWN. When you reduce your speed, you can likely spot that gnarly pothole much sooner. Did you know that hitting a pothole can equate to the force of a 35 mph car crash? Wouldn’t it just make sense to slow down if that means protecting your vehicle and any passengers inside?
To be a smart driver, you must think strategically about your routes and practice defensive driving. If you know an alternative route to take that involves fewer potholes, that may be the best way to prevent potential damage to your car.
ONCE THE DAMAGE IS DONE, IT’S TIME TO INVESTIGATE
So, what happens when you’ve done your best but still encountered a humongous pothole? How do you determine if you have damage, and to what extent? Here are some common signs of damage from potholes:
Flat Tire – This will be the easiest sign of damage. Make sure your spare tire is handy and inflated, so you can get the flat off your vehicle as soon as possible and prevent further damage to the tire, the rim, and ultimately your vehicle.
Alignment – Does your steering wheel seem to be off-center? If this is the case, it’s very likely hitting the pothole has affected your alignment and will need to be readjusted. An extreme result could be damage to a steering component. An obvious sign of misalignment is when your car pulls to one side when attempting to drive straight.
Shaky Steering Wheel – This is likely indicative of a flat tire, bent rim, or now your wheels need to be balanced. Regardless, safely pull over, check the wheels, and assess if you can continue to travel on them until you can get the vehicle serviced.
Strange Noises – After encountering a pothole, if you start to experience unfamiliar noises, you might have done damage to the underbody of your vehicle or exhaust system. This type of damage will require getting your vehicle in for an inspection immediately.
These are just some of the more common signs of damage that could have been a result of hitting a pothole. Being aware of how your vehicle typically handles and sounds is the basis of recognizing if you might have damage after hitting a pothole.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
The City of Indianapolis and The Indiana Department of Transportation take the problem of potholes seriously. Depending on the damage incurred from a pothole encounter, you can file a claim for reimbursement. The city of Indianapolis also has a system to report potholes, so they can identify and repair them quickly.
You can report a pothole and file a claim here. Remember that when you report potholes, you are also helping other drivers become aware of some surprising and damaging spots. So, do your part to help other drivers and the city to keep all drivers safe.