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Pothole RX: Which Parts of Your Vehicle Could Be Damaged

March 6th, 2019

Every year when the snow starts to melt, West Michigan drivers welcome the more agreeable weather but know it comes with a cost: potholes will soon be everywhere. We might subconsciously memorize and avoid ones on our daily commutes, but there’s a chance that sooner or later you’re going to drive through one. There are steps you can take to minimize the damage they cause to your vehicle, but it’s important to understand what could be affected.

Knowing, identifying, and repairing pothole damage to your vehicle early keeps your repair bills down, so in this “Borgman How To,” we’re going to cover which parts are vulnerable and what function they serve – so you can sense when they need attention.

How Potholes Can Damage Your Tires

The reason your vehicles have air-inflated rubber tires is (generally speaking) because they deform to the road surface. This gives you better traction and absorbs a good portion of the road noise and bumps by acting as a cushion. Making sure your tires are properly inflated to the correct pressure goes a long way toward lessening the impact of hitting a pothole. However, if your tires aren’t filled correctly, you run over a larger pothole, run over one at high speeds, or if you hit one on an angle, it is possible to damage your tire.

If the tire is struck hard enough head on, both the compression and shock could create tears in the inner lining. This is known as a sidewall breach, and you can often feel the bulge of air with your hands. If the tire is struck like that again, it could very well blow out.

If you run over a pothole on an angle, these are impacts the tire was not designed for and it could do more immediate and severe damage. This includes taking chunks out at the tread, splitting, cracking, or in severe cases blowing them entirely. If you hit a pothole hard enough that it spills your coffee, the best thing to do is safely pull over and check your wheels for damage. Your rims could be damaged by a nasty pothole too, we’ll cover that next:

How Potholes Can Damage Your Rims

Unlike tires, rims are not supposed to be flexible and if they take a big enough hit, they will bend, crack, or in some cases shatter. The most extreme cases come from vehicles with low-profile tires or tires that are under-inflated. If a rim takes damage from a pothole, there’s a good chance it has been compromised and will not be able to hold air.

How Potholes Can Damage Your Suspension

Your suspension’s job is to distribute the weight of your vehicle and absorb shocks or vibration from the wheels. When the impact from a pothole is more than they can handle, parts can become bent or fail altogether. In most setups, the front suspension consists of a MacPherson Strut which is connected to the body/frame at the top and bottom, the wheel, and to the steering control arms. The strut has a shock-absorbing cylinder within it that uses compressed oil or air to control the speed of the wheel moving up and down. A large spring coiled around this shock holds the body of the vehicle up off the ground.

Pothole impacts can damage that shock absorber, damage steering components like control arms, knock your wheels out of alignment, or bend/break other front-end parts. You can usually “sense” this has happened because the vehicle will make new noises when going over bumps, pull to one side, the steering wheel could be crooked, or it could be bumpier or louder than usual in the cabin.

Severe pothole damage to your suspension is less common, but when it does happen it can be expensive. Depending on your auto insurance policy though, you may be able to claim the repair as a collision. We can certainly help you navigate this, but it’s important to check your policy beforehand to clear up any assumptions.

Potholes Can Damage Other Parts Too

While the wheels and suspension often get the worst of it, low-stance vehicles like sporty sedans can “bottom out” if the pothole is deep enough. This can result in dragging exhaust parts like the muffler, catalytic converter, or exhaust pipe on the pavement. Parts of the body can be damaged too, but usually, it’s just the plastic plate protecting the bottom of the engine. These are easily replaced, and we often have them in stock.

Where Do Potholes Come From?

During the warmer days, the ice on the road melts and seeps down into the cracks in the asphalt. After nightfall, when the temperature drops back below freezing, the water turns back into ice and expands with more than enough force to shatter the pavement, which then allows more water into the cracks. This cycle repeats until enough water can get in to wash away the earth below, and then the pavement collapses into a crater. From there, a pothole only gets wider and deeper until it’s repaired.

How Do You Prevent Pothole Damage?

Since there has been a lot of freezing and thawing going on all winter, you’re likely to see more than a few potholes while out and about. While running over a pothole isn’t ideal, sometimes it’s unavoidable. The best thing you can do to prevent severe damage is to make sure your tires are properly inflated – especially since the changing temperatures will affect the pressure in your tires. The rule of thumb is for every 10ºF change in temperature, the pressure in your tires changes by 1 psi, but your mileage may vary so check them often.

If you absolutely cannot avoid a pothole, slow down as much as possible and release the brake just before impact. Make sure you drive straight through because as we mentioned above, hitting them on an angle can wreak havoc on your tires. Wait for the rear wheels to clear before getting back up to speed. If the impact made you cringe, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and inspect your wheels for damage.

Hit A Big Pothole? Have Your Vehicle Inspected at the Borgman Service Center in Grand Rapids, MI

Pothole season has been an unfortunate fact of life in West Michigan for decades. If you’ve run over one recently and it’s causing some concern, Schedule an Inspection today at the Borgman Service Center and put your mind at ease. Our highly-trained and friendly staff will inspect your vehicle for signs of damage and will make honest recommendations based on what they find. If you have any questions about your vehicle, our advisors will be happy to sit down during your appointment and answer them for you. Come see why we’re the Best in the West!


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