Pothole damage in the UK is a menace to society

Potholes can hurt your car and your wallet, particularly in the winter months. In the UK pothole damage is costing motorists an average of £230 per annum. That is £4 Billion spent on pothole damage that could be avoided or better spent elsewhere. Up to 10% of car chassis related failures are as a direct result of damage associated with potholes. This includes components such as:

  • Shock Absorbers
  • Ball Joints
  • Bushings
  • Coil Springs
  • Control Arms
  • Wheel Alignment
  • Tie Rod

In addition wheels, tyres and windscreens can all fall victim to poor quality, unmaintained roads. Later we will review some of the above components and attribute typical costs per component. I am twice shy after being bitten once by an unavoidable pothole on a roundabout in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. That particular episode took a nice chunk out of my alloy wheel as I tried to avoid it. A £60 alloy repair and wheel alignment later made be wiser and more diligent about the road ahead.

Large pothole in Pindar Road, Hoddesdon. A reappearance of a previously repaired hole.

£4 billion spent each year on car repairs due to potholes

According to Helen Coffey from the Independent in her report featuring Green Flag’s Simon Henrick.

What is a pothole?

The term pothole has two meanings according to the Collins English Dictionary:

  1. A hole in the surface of the road
  2. A deep hole in a limestone area
Warning of potential pothole damage
Mock Pothole Warning Triangle

Potholes in the road surface is in effect a depression in a road surface. Some are small and almost insignificant but some grow to be large and dangerous, particularly those in high traffic, hard to reach locations. These can be visible for months before they are repaired by local authorities causing untold damage and misery. Potholes are typically caused by water finding its way into small cracks in the road surface as a result of general wear and tear. Potholes are a real menace on our roads causing physical damage to motor vehicles and providing a real threat to the ever increasing number of cyclists on British roads.

So what is being done to prevent pothole damage?

The Department for Transport are said to be investing £23 million for research for future proofing UK roads. £1.6 million has been earmarked to extend a trial in Cumbria that utilises recycled plastic bottles that are made into pellets to make a new road surface. This new road surface developed by MacRebur should withstand harsh changes in road temperatures, is 60% stronger and 10 x longer lasting that are resistant to potholes. In the November 2019 Budget, the Chancellor announced an additional £420 million for road maintenance. Between 2015 and 2020 the budget for pothole repair and road maintenance has topped £6.6 billion.

MacRebuer plastic roads could help avoid pothole damage
MacRebuer pelletised waste plastic added to asphalt

The new road surface trials under The Live Labs projects will be undertaken in eight local authorities including:

  • Kent
  • Staffordshire
  • Reading
  • Suffolk
  • Solihull
  • Birmingham

If the trials are successful the new road surfaces could be introduced to other local authorities across the UK. To make 1 kilometre of road will require approximately 700,000 plastic bottles or 1.8 million single use plastic bags. Either way if this initiative gets the go ahead it will have a real positive environmental impact as well as significantly improving roads for UK motorists.

Our technology means that we can not only help solve the problem of plastic waste but also produce roads that cope better with changes in the weather, reducing cracks and potholes.

Mr McCartney Chief Executive MacRebur

Potential Component costs you want to avoid

The potential cost of maintenance and repairs as a direct result of pothole damage can run into hundreds of pounds. Those pristine alloy wheels that average £250 per corner to replace are vulnerable during pothole season; and a good alloy wheel repair will set you back an average of £70. Bear in mind that not all damage is immediately apparent. It may be identified during an MOT but it could be some time before the damage manifests itself into a component failure.

The table below provides an example of potential costs associated with components that can be damaged and the range of costs per component. The costs are for a typical road car and therefore excludes performance, super and hyper car examples:

Component Cost Range
Tyres £100 – 250
Tie Rod £100 – 300
Shock Absorbers £100 – 300
Anti-roll bar link £10 – 50
Bushes £5 – 100
Coil springs £60 – 200
Technician repairing shock absorbers

In addition to the components listed in the table above car windscreens can also fall victim to potholes. In fact potholes are one of the leading contributors to damaged car windscreens. Damage can occur from stone chips and made worst from excessive jarring that can occur when cars inadvertently drive over potholes. In 2010 there was a shortage of windscreens in the UK as a result of so much loose gravel flicked up by vehicles onto the windscreen.

What can you do as a Motorist to avoid pothole damage?

As Motorists we need to be aware of potholes in the winter months. The first frosts in the autumn months through to early spring is when you are likely to see an ever increasing number of potholes. During this period you are likely to see an average of seven potholes on your journey. To avoid potholes and the potential damage the can cause to your vehicle take the following steps:

  1. Keep your distance from the car in front to ensure you have as much visibility of the road ahead as possible. Use the 2 second rule to maintain a safe distance at any speed but feel free to increase the time subject to road conditions. Keeping your distance should also ensure that you avoid stone chips to your paint work and windscreen from debris from vehicles in front of you
  2. Use modern advance driving and riding techniques such as IPSGA (Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Acceleration) to maintain control of the vehicle at all times. The emphasis here is to look as far ahead as possible and anticipate the road ahead
  3. Avoid roads that you know to have high volumes of heavy traffic. Lorries, buses and excessive road use by a large number of vehicles will all contribute to wear. As will roads in parts of the country that are subject to flooding and excessive rainfall
  4. Utilise tools such as Waze, which has a neat function that notifies you of potholes along your journey. Fellow drivers contribute to provide real-time useful information about the road ahead including potholes, accidents, hazards and police. Waze is much more than just a navigation app as you are made to feel as part of a community
  5. Word of mouth, listen and share information about local potholes with your neighbours, work colleagues and school run parents
  6. Report potholes to the UK Government (England and Wales only) using the www.gov.uk/report-pothole website. There you will also find information of how to notify the Highways England agency of potholes on major motorways and A roads. Highways England can be contacted via info@highwaysengland.co.uk or on 0300 1235000.

How to make a claim for pothole damage?

In the unfortunate event that you should fall victim to a pothole just remember you have options for recourse to make a claim against local authorities. Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 refers to the legal obligation local authorities have to maintain public highways. The good news is that there are good examples of successful claims paid in full against authorities even after an initial claim has been dismissed. Claims can be made against the local authorities, Highways Agency for motorways and A roads and utility companies who leave the road in a state of disrepair. Technically claims against utility companies will need to be made by the local authorities as they can not relinquish their responsibility.

There are some shades of grey to be aware of. Any claim effectively needs to prove that the authority or Highways Agency was negligent when the incident took place. If a pothole appears as a result of a lightening bolt striking the ground two minutes before you hit the resulting pothole the local authority is rightly unwilling to accept responsibility. Local authorities and the Highways Agency will carry out regular inspection checks of their roads. If the road had no issues when the check was carried out, usually within three months the authority is unlikely to be guilty of negligence.

If you do hit a pothole be sure to take the following actions:

  1. If you have a dashcam fitted download the footage and use it to help make the necessary notes you will need to make the claim
  2. Note the conditions of the road, the time of day and any road signs or bollards that may have been put in place to warn motorists
  3. Take photographs of the scene at the time of the incident if possible. Try to obtain photos from different angles around the vehicle, including from the kerbside and in the road itself to provide perspective
  4. Identify witnesses and capture their contact details
  5. Be sure to report the incident to the authorities. They need to be made aware to have a chance to rectify the pothole
  6. Check your vehicle for any noises that were not present prior the incident. If you have doubts get the vehicle checked at a garage
  7. Put in a fast claim with the authority. Many of the authorities will have a defined procedure on their respective website. You can start with https://www.gov.uk/report-pothole and enter your postcode to locate the local authority
  8. Don’t give up. If you are initially rejected you use the small claims court
  9. Don’t take the Micky. There have been many fraudulent claims, which makes your legitimate claim more difficult. Be mindful that the local authority will have next to know funds to repair the road much less pay out fines. That said legitimate claims must be sought against negligent authorities regardless. After all why should we as law abiding tax payers suffer in silence

The Pothole Claims procedure is detailed on the MoneySavingExpert.com website. This highly regarded source for saving money and making claims for consumers has a detailed procedure, templates and testimonials from the public of how they managed to successfully make a claim.

What have we learnt about pothole damage?

Unfortunately, at present potholes are a part of modern-day motoring. They are seasonal so we need to be prepared for them. As a recommendation have your vehicle checked each year to detect any pending failures. Keep your distance when driving during the pothole season (Autumn through to Spring). This will ensure you have the best visibility to spot unfamiliar potholes, which may occur on familiar roads. It will also reduce the potential for stone chips on paint to the front of your car help prevent cracked windscreens.

Should you need to make a claim against the authorities you have ways and means. The potholes claim procedure as detailed on the MoneySavingExpert.com website should prove to be a useful resource.

The thought leadership of people like Mr McCartney Chief Executive of MacRebur should pave the way for better, pothole resistant roads in the future.

Keep a look out for more informative blog articles from WheelsMatter. Thank you.

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