photo: maudib/iStock

Steering Clear of Potholes

By Craig Moy

For motorists, the arrival of spring generally brings clearer driving conditions. We no longer have to worry about black ice, blowing snow and the other hazards of winter. But there’s one cold-weather holdover that causes no end of grief: Potholes.

A recent CAA study found that 72 percent of Albertans have suffered pothole-related damage to their vehicle at least twice in the last five years. Of those, nearly a quarter reported that the damage cost more than $500 to repair. According to Flaviu Ilovan, chief instructor at AMA Driver Education in Edmonton, the harm is most often done to tires and rims: “The rim can bend, or it can lose one of its wheel-balancing weights, which may introduce a vibration,” he says.

Driving over a pothole can also sometimes damage a tire’s internal steel belts, causing them (and the tire) to go “out of round,” which negatively impacts your ability to drive comfortably and safely. Ilovan notes that hubcap loss is common, too.

“And repeatedly driving over potholes, especially at higher speeds, can have a cumulative effect that results in a bent piece of your vehicle’s suspension or steering parts, and damage to shock absorbers.”

In larger cities, tens of thousands of new potholes crop up every year. Calgary, for example, gets upwards of 40,000 new holes annually, while smaller Red Deer still gets 10,000 to 14,000. Road crews eventually fill most significant potholes, but until that happens, knowing how to safely avoid them—and avoid damage to your car—is an important driving skill. Ilovan offers the following useful tips:

POTHOLE AVOIDANCE 101
• Look farther up the road when driving. You’ll be better able to spot a pothole in advance, and then take action to steer clear of it safely, without leaving your lane, or by safely changing lanes.

• Don’t tailgate. Leaving plenty of space between your car and the vehicle in front of you increases your odds of identifying a pothole with enough distance to avoid it.

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• Never swerve abruptly to avoid a pothole. This could cause an accident. Drivers in other lanes can’t be responsible for road hazards in your lane.

• Be cautious about driving through puddles, as they may be hiding potholes.

• If you aren’t able to safely avoid a pothole, slow down to help mitigate damage. But take your foot off the brake just before you drive through the hole: This gives your suspension more “travel” to absorb the blow. (Braking fully could cause the suspension to bottom out and send a bigger shock to the tires, rims and chassis.)

• Ensure your tires are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. Under- or over-inflated tires can make pothole damage worse.

SEE A POTHOLE? REPORT IT!
You can also help fellow motorists avoid potholes by reporting the annoying pits you spy to city hall. While individual municipalities are responsible for repairing potholes that appear on their streets, it’s impossible for road crews to monitor every road, all the time. Most cities—including Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Grande Prairie—make it easy to report a pothole by phone or online. Alerting city staff to a pothole’s presence means it’s more likely to be fixed in a timely manner.

MAKING A CLAIM FOR POTHOLE DAMAGE?
Pothole damage is common and can be costly to repair, so most insurance companies do offer coverage for it under the “collision” portion of automotive policies. However, pothole coverage is not mandatory; check your policy to find out if you’re covered.

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You’ll also want to consider your options before making a pothole-related claim. In order to make a claim, for example, it must be absolutely clear that the damage to your vehicle was caused by a pothole. (Front-end mechanical issues and general wear and tear are not covered.) And because you’ll be making a collision claim, you’ll be required to pay your collision deductible. Note too that claims made under your collision coverage may affect your overall insurance rate.

For these reasons, it’s important to get a professional estimate to determine the extent of the damage to your car—in order to assess whether or not to make an insurance claim. Then speak to your insurance representative to make sure you fully understand your coverage and your options for getting the damage repaired.

WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED
When your vehicle’s been damaged, it’s critical to take it to a high-quality repair facility, such as an Approved Auto Repair Shop (AARS) that’s been certified to have met AMA’s strict standards and background checks. At AARS facilities, AMA members receive unique benefits, including a 12-month/20,000-kilometre parts-and-labour warranty on repairs.

AARS in Edmonton: Oil Town drivers can trust their vehicles with AMA-approved Bruce Stewart’s Auto Repair Centre and Access Automotive. At both facilities you’ll earn 5% back in reward dollars (up to a maximum of $50).