Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?

Hitting a pothole can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a smallish impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment.

The potential problems can go beyond your wheel-tire assembly. A pothole strike can result in broken shocks or struts, dents or cracks in the body, or harm to other suspension or engine parts.

It’s important to get your vehicle checked after a harsh encounter with a pothole — or any debris — on the road. Some damage will be obvious, like a flat tire, while some may not be visible. Get your car in for a look-see right away, especially if you notice these indicators:

  1. A tire looks low. This could be a slow leak from a bent rim.

  2. You see a bulge on the tire sidewall, a sign the tightly packed cords of steel belts and nylon in the tread have separated.

  3. Your car pulls to the left or right when you’re driving straight. Your wheels are probably out of alignment.

  4. You feel a vibration in the steering, seat or floor, a symptom of imbalanced tires.

  5. You hear a new noise when underway. Something may be rubbing on your suspension.

  6. A dashboard warning light comes on.

Here’s some background on Road Enemy No. 1: the common types of damage, what repairs may cost and whether your auto insurance will pay for them, and how to avoid these expensive hazards.

Yes, There Are LOTS of Potholes

It’s not your imagination. American drivers are putting up with a lot of potholes, and the price tag is steep.

A 2016 AAA study found potholes cost U.S. drivers an estimated $3 billion in repairs annually. Over the last five years, an estimated 16 million drivers have sustained such damage to their tires, wheels or suspension.

Why such high numbers? The nation’s blacktop is aging. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance so much-needed repairs are backlogged. Extreme cold, heat, rain and excess water under roadways also mean more cracks in the road, which is how potholes are born.

How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?

Unless the hole is relatively large or you’re going really fast, the pothole strike probably won’t puncture your tire, or damage part of your suspension or engine. But bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, body damage, and shocks and struts issues are common.

Wheel damage from potholes
Wheel damage from potholes

Tire damage from potholes
Tire damage from potholes

When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask him/her to check for:

  • Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment.
  • Damage to the tire’s steel belts.
  • Intact tire balancing weights.
  • Bent or cracked wheel rim.
  • Damage to the engine or exhaust system.
  • Damage to shocks and struts.
  • Other broken suspension components.

What Will the Repairs Cost Me?

Auto repair costs due to potholes can range anywhere from $50 to $500. American drivers report paying $300, on average, to fix pothole-related vehicle damage, according to AAA.

If a tire is damaged, check your tire warranty. If it’s a good one, repairs or replacement from road impacts may be free.

If your tire isn’t covered by a good warranty and it’s damaged beyond repair, a new tire will cost you on average $128 ($155 for light truck tires) in 2017 prices. Bent wheels can often be fixed but replacing a single rim may cost you between $75 and $500, depending on how fancy it is and whether welding, repainting or refinishing is needed.

Does Auto Insurance Cover Damage from Potholes?

If you don’t have a strong tire warranty or if the impact caused damage to other parts of the vehicle, check your insurance policy. If you have collision coverage, auto insurance may cover the cost of repairs, but there’s usually a high deductible to meet. Because such an incident is considered a collision by your insurer, reporting it may jack up your insurance rate. It may turn out that just paying for repairs will be cheaper than filing a claim.

First, get a repair estimate. Then, talk to your insurance agent about whether it’s smarter to self-pay or file a claim. It depends on your driving record and your insurer.

Check Your Car Dealer Service Warranty

Before shelling out the dough for repairs, also read your vehicle’s service warranty. Some car dealers offer tire/wheel protection plans as options on long-term warranties, in some states and on some vehicles. Such plans may cover damage to tires and wheels caused by potholes, nails, glass and other road hazards, dent repair, windshield fixes, labor and even towing charges.

Tips for Avoiding Hazards

There’s an app for this. Really.

Waze provides driving directions along with real-time alerts on road hazards (including potholes), slowdowns, construction zones and accidents.

In the future, connected car and self-driving car technology will probably assign the work of avoiding potholes to your onboard computer. Technology to detect potholes in real time and share out the info to help motorists avoid them and help authorities prioritize repairs is well along.

In the meantime, here are the best ways to prevent pothole damage and stay safe.

Always drive on tires that are properly inflated and in good condition. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the impact safely.

Drive defensively. Slow down when you’re on an unfamiliar or rough road, and avoid distracted driving. Be alert to what’s ahead, and make sure you keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front so you can see what’s coming.

Be cautious about leaving your lane. Swerving to avoid a pothole is one thing on a country lane, but it’s another at highway speed. Use good judgment and always be conscious of traffic around you. Recognize that though you miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting. It may be safer to just brace yourself and drive straight through the hole.

When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and straighten your steering wheel. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.