With temperatures rising and falling daily, Canadian winters can be unpredictable. Not only can fluctuating temperatures cause confusion when dressing for the day, but they wreak havoc on the roads. Chances are you’re seeing an outbreak of potholes in your community and they can be much more than just a nuisance.
Potholes are formed when warmer temperatures and heavy traffic cause small cracks in the asphalt surface of the road. These cracks allow rainwater and melting snow to get underneath the asphalt. This water freezes and expands when the temperatures cool at night, loosening the dirt and gravel that supports the asphalt. When the water melts again, the supporting layer has been weakened and now contains holes. Drivers continue to drive over these unseen holes, putting more stress on the thin asphalt layer which eventually collapses and leaves a crater in the roadway.
Although it seems like potholes pop up overnight, in reality they are the result of weeks and months of fluctuating temperatures. That’s why you’re likely dodging more potholes at this time of year than at the start of winter or during times when temperatures are warmer and more consistent.
While you may consider them more bothersome than anything else, they could also be causing serious damage to your vehicle. Hitting those holes can affect your vehicle’s suspension, misalign your steering, bend tire rims and even crack your windshield.
Here are some safety tips from the Insurance Bureau of Canada to help protect your car when coming across potholes:
• Inflate your tires: The best way to protect your tires is to maintain proper air pressure. Tires with low pressure could pop if the wheel rim pinches against the jagged edge of a pothole. Check your vehicle owner’s guide for further guidance.
• Leave space: Keep a safe distance between your car and those around you. This allows you to see the road ahead and avoid upcoming potholes. If you see one up ahead, try to safely change lanes to avoid if possible.
• Lay off your brakes: Your car tilts forward when you suddenly brake. This places stress on the front suspension which is the first part of the vehicle to hit the pothole. A damaged suspension leads to premature tire wear, steering misalignment and poor handling of the vehicle.
• Slow down: Slow down as much as possible before hitting the pothole. Let off the brakes entirely just before reaching the pothole. This minimizes potential damage to your car since it is allowed to absorb the blow.
• Don’t swerve: Your car could hit the pothole at an odd angle, causing more damage to the tire, wheel rim and alignment. Instead, hold the steering wheel tightly to maintain control of your vehicle.
• Avoid puddles: Larger potholes can be lurking underneath puddles and can cause major damage to your car.
If you do hit a pothole, assess the damage to your car as soon as possible. Take your car to a mechanic if you notice bends or dents in your wheel rims, frequent loss of air pressure in your tires, unusual vibrations, or your car is pulling to one side.
You may be able to file a claim for damage to the vehicle if your auto insurance policy includes collision coverage. Consider your deductible and the cost of repairs, and contact your insurance broker if you aren’t sure whether your insurance will cover repairs. If you do file a claim, gather as much information as possible including photos of the damage and, if possible, the pothole. Photos can help speed up the claims process. Keep in mind that filing a collision claim may result in higher premiums since it could be considered an at-fault accident.
You should also report the pothole and any damage to your city. Some cities have claims programs in place to cover the cost of repairs to your vehicle if you can prove the city failed to maintain the condition of the road. Check your local city’s website for more information.
As potholes pop up this time of year, so can the problems for your vehicle. Slow down, keep your eyes on the road and make sure your auto insurance is up to date. If you have any concerns about what’s covered by your policy, call your insurance broker.
Jewel Mornings with Denyse Sibley