Australian roads provide a mixed bag when it comes to their driving condition. Some are excellent, like our major arterials – others, especially on some lesser travelled country roads, are terribly unsafe and troublesome.
A contributing factor is that a lot of our cars here are made for European roads and long-stretch autobahns, not so much for the harsher Australian driving conditions, where hitting a small pothole could render you stranded on the side of a desolate country road, on a tar-melting dry heat kind of day.
Two-thirds of small cars are now sold with neither a spare wheel nor a space-saver in the boot – having now been replaced by a puncture sealant repair kit – which, speaking from experience, is absolutely useless when you’re stranded on the side of a dark road with a blown-out tyre.
Potholes can wreak some serious damage to your car, and they don’t need to be large to do so. Hit a small one in just the right way, and you could be off the road in moments.
If you’re concerned a pothole may have caused you damage, check these five areas to make sure it didn’t cause a problem that needs to be fixed:
Tyres are supposed to be the only part of your car that touches the road, so they’re most susceptible to pothole damage like bulging in the sidewall, tread separation, or a flat. These can happen because potholes often have a hard edge that compresses the tire against the wheel on impact, slicing the rubber or snapping the belts that hold it together. Driving on a flat tyre isn’t safe and can further damage your wheels, but depending on how bad the puncture, you may be able to repair it.
A tyre with a sidewall bubble/bulge or separated tread needs to be replaced immediately. Cars with low-profile tyres are particularly prone to pothole damage.
Not much can damage a wheel like a pothole can. Hard angles in potholes apply impact force to wheels in ways they weren’t designed to handle, leading to bends, chips, or cracks. A bent wheel won’t roll smoothly and may not be able to form an airtight seal with the tyre. Chips are usually easy to notice since they look like a chunk missing from the rim where it meets the tire.
Cracks can be subtle hairline fractures along the wheel circumference or in one of the spokes. Bent wheels can sometimes be repaired, but chipped or cracked wheels can fail catastrophically and must be replaced entirely.
Car suspension is designed to absorb impacts and provide a smooth ride, but sudden, jarring hits against potholes can cause a variety of suspension problems like misalignment, broken ball joints, and damaged shocks or struts. Suspension bent out of alignment can usually be put back into place by a qualified mechanic, but until it’s fixed you may notice your steering wheel is off centre, your car pulls in one direction, the handling feels loose, and your tyres wear unevenly.
Exhausts run along the car’s undercarriage so they can often bear the brunt of pothole damage. Deep potholes can cause a car to bottom out and scrape the undercarriage along the bitumen, potentially denting or ripping a hole in the exhaust or muffler. You may experience a loss of power or unpleasant noises if there’s a hole in your exhaust system, but perhaps worse is the fact that your car will spew out harmful pollution.
Generally speaking, the lower a car is to the ground, the better it handles, but the lower your car is to the ground, the more likely it is to be damaged by potholes. Potholes can scrape against and damage low-hanging bumpers or side skirts. While this type of damage is usually cosmetic and doesn’t affect safety or performance, it can be very costly to repair.
The good news is that most potholes are avoidable if you’ve got your eyes on the road, and not too many are big or deep enough to pose too much of a threat to your car.
However, as seasons change, and especially after heavy bouts of rain, which can disrupt the soil under the road and cause potholes to form or deepen, you need to stay alert and avoid them as best you can. If you don’t, you risk expensive car part repairs and replacements.
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