Every February, Ottawa streets become a minefield of potholes, turning a simple daily commute into an emotional – and literal – roller coaster.
Most drivers know that sinking feeling that comes with the initial loud bang that’s a sure sign you’ve hit a pothole. Next, there’s a period of suspense when you’re waiting to see if the car is OK. If you’re lucky, the ride finishes in a flood of relief if the car continues to drive normally.
This year has been particularly bad for potholes, thanks to the weather. There have been several potholes that almost qualify as sinkholes this year.
Potholes are caused by wide temperature variations. Because water expands when it freezes, the ground below the asphalt will expand as well, warping and cracking the asphalt. When the temperature warms up again, the ground settles, leaving cracks and even holes in the road.
Some potholes are smaller, get filled quickly, and don’t cause damage to cars. Sometimes, however, massive potholes can form almost overnight, leading to multiple accidents.
Try as it might, the City of Ottawa is having a hard time keeping up, even though it has filled almost 30,000 potholes since winter began (about 25% more than usual). They mostly reacts to complaints sent in by people, so if you spot a pothole, do everyone a favour and contact the City about it.
Here’s what to expect if you hit a pothole.
Potential Pothole Damages and Costs
If you notice anything strange with your car after hitting a pothole, signal and pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.
Here are some of the issues you may be facing, depending on how bad the pothole was and how fast you were going.
1. Your Tire Can Blow Out
If you’re lucky, the damage is confined to a tire blow out. As a general rule, it’s better to replace the tire than just patch it, especially if you drive long distances.
Depending on what kind of car you drive and the tire quality, expect to pay $50 to $300 per tire for replacement and balancing. Generally, tires are replaced in pairs for even performance.
2. Your Rim Can Get Damaged
Any time you have a flat tire, you should have also have the rim and alignment checked as part of the replacement. Sometimes rims can develop cracks or dents that can become bigger problems later on.
Again, depending on size, quality and material (steel or aluminum) rims will start at around $60 each to buy for an economy brand, plus installation. As with all car items, you’ll pay much more for better quality or for bigger and more expensive cars.
3. Suspension and Steering Can Be Damaged
After hitting a pothole, look out for any changes to how the car drives. Does it pull to one side? Are there any new noises, or does the car “feel strange”, for example, grindy or sluggish?
Report any of these problems to your mechanic, as your car may be unsafe to drive.
The cost for a serious fix like this can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Will the City Pay for the Damage to Your Car?
While the City’s website offers information for people making a claim for damages caused by potholes, it actually pays for less than 10% of claims.
In some cases, the City denies responsibility due to the subcontracting of road maintenance work. Most people don’t want to spend the time battling it out in small claims court, especially for “smaller” repair bills (under a thousand dollars).
How to Avoid Pothole Damage and Expense
As with many things to do with cars, your best defense is, well, defense.
1. Reduce Your Speed
The faster you’re going, the greater the force of impact when your wheel drops into a pothole. Reduce your speed to lessen the chance of serious damage.
During rush hour, you’re often compelled to go as fast as everyone else to avoid being that “one slow driver” that holds up everyone else. If you really don’t want to pay to fix your car, consider commuting early to give you more leeway.
2. Stick to Familiar Routes
While potholes can crop up overnight or over the weekend, you’re more likely to be able to anticipate them if you know the road.
3. Keep an Eye Out
While everyone theoretically is watching in front of them, many of us fall victim to distractions like music or phones.
Really keep on alert and keep your attention in front. Watch out not only for how close the car in front of you is, but how it behaves. If they swerve suddenly, that’s a sure sign they’ve seen a pothole.
If you need to swerve around a pothole, keep it within reason. Swerving can scare other drivers even if you stay in your own lane, potentially leading to accidents.
4. Keep Your Distance
The more space there is between you and the car in front of you, the more you can see of the road. You’ll be able to spot trouble and still have time to react.
5. Be Extra Vigilant in Wet Weather
If a pothole is full of water, it can be impossible to tell how deep it is. If there’s been a lot of rain or extra runoff from melting snow, take extra care.
Pothole Damage? Bring it to Bemac!
While Bemac is famous for collision repair, we also have a full selection of tires available. Our licensed, expert mechanics can quickly tell you how your car is doing.
Need towing? We serve the entire Ottawa area. Call 613-728-1908