Potholes cause headaches for many drivers in every state, as they can make travel a bit bumpy or even cause an accident. The type of damage a pothole causes ranges from flat tires and minor scratches to severe vehicle body damage. AAA reports that pothole damage is a concern for many U.S. drivers, causing an average of $3 billion a year in damages.
Unfortunately, not every insurance claim resulting from pothole damage will be approved. Massachusetts drivers, in particular, are finding it difficult to get their pothole claims approved. They must submit a letter addressing a list of items outlined the the state. Massachusetts law says the driver must prove the state was negligent in repairing and maintaining road conditions. And because it's nearly impossible to prove the state knew about a pothole and failed to do anything about it in a timely manner, the majority of claims are denied.
What Causes Potholes?
Potholes are most common in areas that experience seasonal temperature changes, like the Northeast. Water from rain and melted snow leaks into small road cracks directly under the asphalt. When the water freezes, it expands and forces the asphalt to move with it. When the temperature rises, the asphalt shrivels as the ice thaws. This constant pressure causes the cracks to grow, and the asphalt breaks away and leaves a pothole in its place. As vehicles continue to drive over the damaged area, the potholes grow even more.
Types of Damage
The type of damage potholes cause to your car depends on how fast you're driving and whether you hit the pothole directly. Here are a few of the most common types of vehicle damage.
- Flat tires are a common type of damage and can cost drivers anywhere from $20 to patch up to $200 for a tire replacement.
- Fixing wheel rim damage ranges from $75 to $200 depending on the body shop and the rim type.
- The undercarriage of your car or truck is highly susceptible to damage when you drive over a pothole. The suspension or exhaust may break, and the cost to fix the car depends on the severity of the damage and the style of your vehicle.
- A pothole may also damage your car's alignment, which may cost between $75 and $150 to fix.
The best way to avoid paying for damage to your vehicle is to pay attention when driving. Make sure you follow speed limit postings, and leave enough distance between you and other cars so you can check for upcoming potholes. If you are driving at night, it can be difficult to see potholes ahead of you. Stay focused on the road and drive carefully in areas with minimal lighting.
Pothole Damage vs Other Types of Damage
Most of us would believe that since we have auto insurance, we have protection for pothole damage to our cars. Unfortunately, that is not always the case depending on your auto insurance and the damage. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), sudden pothole damage is covered under collision coverage, but it does not include wear and tear due to bad road conditions, which may include potholes if you’ve driven over them regularly.
If you hit a pothole and it causes a flat tire, your collision insurance should cover the repairs; simply file a claim with your insurer. A policy that only carries the state required liability insurance won't offer any protection. But if you drive on the same roads daily and the constant bumpy commute causes damage over time, your insurer won't cover any damage because it's considered normal wear and tear. Ask your carrier whether your policy has an exclusion that would prevent coverage due to wear and tear over time.
Drivers will also need to consider their insurance deductibles before filing a pothole claim. Depending on the deductible amount, the claim for pothole damage could fall beneath or relatively close to the deductible. If that's the case, it may not be worth the time and potential rate increase to file a claim.
Some states offer to reimburse drivers for vehicle damage caused by potholes. You'll need to invest a little work upfront, but getting reimbursed makes it worth it. Make sure you take a picture of the pothole and damage to your vehicle. Then contact the state or local municipalities to determine which entity is responsible for the road, and ask about the procedures to file a claim. Last, request estimates from local auto repair shops and submit your claim for approval.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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