Have you ever wondered why more potholes seem to pop up during the winter months, sometimes even what feels like overnight? There are several explanations as to why this may happen in your area and it can be good to educate yourself so you know what to look out for. Not only are potholes extremely frustrating to navigate, but they can also be damaging to your car. When driven over wrong, potholes can puncture your tire or crack your wheel. They can also damage the underside of your car or knock your vehicle out of alignment. If you ever find yourself in a position where your car has been damaged by a pothole, even if you are not sure how severely, book an appointment with a Wrench mobile mechanic, who can come out to your location and take a look at your car. Our ASE-certified technicians are well accustomed to the areas in which they work and can eradicate your car from any pothole-related issues in no time!
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While it is frustrating to have to strategically avoid potholes, it does keep you focused on the road in order to be as cautious as possible. Especially if you are living somewhere with severe winter weather, it can be helpful to understand why potholes are more likely to form during this time of year so you can be prepared for them to pop up along your normal routes. Although we witness potholes on the road every day, most of us probably do not take the time to stop and think about how they were formed, or why there seem to be more after weeks of snow and rain. The way in which potholes develop is more complicated than you might think, which is why Wrench is here help you understand what is really happening on the road.
How are potholes formed?
Most roads are made up of three layers. The top layer is meant to repel water but can get worn down by traffic, extreme weather, and heavy use. This can cause cracks in the road, which allows water to get in where it would normally be repelled. Water can damage and dislodge the other layers, which can impact the road’s ability to retain its structure. If you feel like a pothole materialized on your road out of nowhere, this is likely because the top layer was so damaged that it eventually just collapsed.
Why are potholes more common in the winter?
Most potholes originate from the freezing and thawing of roads, which is why potholes are more common in places that get a lot of snow and precipitation. The reason that weather like this can be so damaging to the roads is that water naturally expands when it freezes. Therefore, whether it is rain, sleet, or snow that falls into the cracks in the road, if you live in a place that is consistently below freezing at various times, that precipitation will freeze and expand once it has worked its way into the cracks in the road. This will disturb the road’s bottom layers even more than normal rain would, which is why colder locations will often see more potholes on the roads. This often turns into a vicious freeze-thaw cycle in which the water thaws on warmer days, or during the day, and then refreezes when the temperature drops. In places where the roads are salted due to snow, the salt can further contribute to this cycle by lowering the freezing temperature of the water. Snow plows can also contribute to the problem, but it is a common misconception that they are what cause potholes, which is not the case. In a similar way to how heavy traffic wears down the top layer of the road, slow plows can dislodge vulnerable parts of the road but they are not responsible for creating potholes.
Signs of pothole damage
Potholes can damage you car in a variety of different ways, and is important to monitor your car for anything unusual in case you drove over one and did not realize the problems it may have caused.
- Warning light comes on. If you feel your car hit a pothole hard and a warning light comes on in the near future, it is likely that the two are related and the warning should not be ignored. This is the most obvious sign that there is damage to your vehicle and is a sign that you should schedule an appointment with Wrench immediately.
- Bulging tire. Potholes can puncture your tire if hit at the right (or in this case, wrong) spot. If you notice part of your tire protruding, you should stop driving and schedule an appointment with Wrench immediately before you risk any more damage. For more information on whether you need to replace all four tires if one is damaged by a pothole, click here. Check out the Wrench blog to learn more about how cold weather affects your tires, what to do if you get a flat, or whether it is a good idea to get new tires, especially heading into the winter months.
- Steering wheel is vibrating or pulling to one side. Any issues with your steering wheel are extremely important and should not be ignored. This could be anything from a slight vibration or feeling like your wheel wants to pull more heavily in one direction. This is an indication that the pothole impacted the alignment of your vehicle or the steering component.
- Unusual noise. If something was dislodged on the underside of your vehicle, this could cause a noise that you are not familiar with. This is a great reminder to periodically drive your radio or music off so you can listen for any strange sounds that you may not notice when your volume is cranked all the way up.
How to avoid pothole damage
- Drive defensively. This is the most important thing you can do to stay safe on the road, no matter where you are or what time of year it is. However, it is especially important that you are paying extra attention to the road in order to avoid potholes as much as possible. Slow down if you have to, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area and therefore not accustomed to the roads.
- Be safe. Although you want to do your best to avoid potholes, this should not come at the expense of vehicle safety. Do not swerve out of your lane to get around a pothole because you could be putting yourself or others in danger. There are safe ways to drive over potholes, which is always going to be a better alternative to jerking your car around the road.
- Do not brake. If you do find yourself in a situation where driving over a pothole is unavoidable, there are measures you can take to lessen the impact. In the same way that you should handle driving over speed bumps, and take your foot off either the gas or brake pedal, and glide over. Hold onto the steering wheel tightly to maintain control and do not be afraid to slow down - your car will thank you later!
- If there is one pothole, there is probably more. Do not assume that just because you successfully navigated the first one that you are in the clear. Keep your eyes on the road ahead so you do not come up on the next one unexpectedly, forcing you to brake quickly or swerve to avoid it.
The best thing you can do for your car is learning how to take care of it. Whether this means educating yourself on the science behind potholes or scheduling routine maintenance services with Wrench, you are extending the life of your vehicle whenever you take the time to get to know it. The winter months can take a toll on your vehicle, but there are various measures you can take to prepare. For more information on how to protect your car from winter weather, click here. The Wrench blog is a great resource for any of your car-related questions, from whether to put chains on your tires to the best tips for a successful road trip. If you have any more questions about our services or using Wrench in a global pandemic, feel free to contact our customer service team by email, at email@example.com, or by phone, at 844-997-3624.
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