Potholes...A Sign It’s Spring
Nobody needs to remind you this has been an especially harsh winter.
Winter is not just hard on vehicles and the people who drive them -- it’s hard on roads, too. With fluctuations in temperature and freeze/thaw cycles, pavement materials expand and contract, leaving streets with cracks and potholes. Add in the effect of washouts from heavy rain, caustic de-icing chemicals and damage from vehicles with studs or tire chains, and you can end up with springtime road surfaces which are a real mess.
Unfortunately, you can’t wait for the highway department to repair damaged pavement...you’ve got to get where you’re going, and your car’s tires, suspension and alignment are likely to pay the price. A hard impact on a pothole can be enough to tweak your front end alignment out of spec, bend a rim or even damage your tires badly enough to cause a blowout.
What can you do about damage from potholes and rough roads?
“Forewarned is forearmed,” as the old adage goes...and just as you prepare your car for Winter and Summer driving, it’s not a bad idea to put a car up on a rack for a little inspection at the beginning of Spring.
● Regular tire rotations is probably the single best measure you can take to prolong your tires’ longevity. If you haven’t had a rotation done all winter, definitely have them rotated in the spring. You’ll notice a difference in drivability, handling and ride quality (as well as adding up to 20,000 miles to the life of your tires).
● While the car is in the air, make sure a technician gets a good look at the frame, exhaust, floor pan and suspension parts for any signs of corrosion due to road salt and chemicals.
● Check your tires’ inflation. This one goes without saying, really, but tire inflation levels can fluctuate in cold weather too, and over- or under-inflated tires can affect control, traction, tire wear and your safety.
● Inspect your tires carefully. Look for any “flutter” or feathering in the tread surface, and don’t be afraid to run your hands along the tread to feel for irregularities or damage. Check the sidewalls for severe weather cracks, bulges or gouges from potholes and curbs -- if you spot any of those, the tire is on borrowed time and you need to think about new tires right away. Look for irregular wear patterns along the inside or outside edge of a tire’s tread -- those are sure signs of a front end that’s out of alignment. Which brings us to our next point…
● It’s a good idea to have alignment checked once a year at least, and spring is as good a time as any to do it. Along with the above-mentioned tire problems, other signs of a front end which is out of spec can include a pull to one side at highway speed, steering which feels “heavy” and clumsy (especially in one direction more than the other), a pull to one side while braking or vibration at highway speeds. Vibration can also indicate…
● ...a tire that’s out of balance. Hard hits on potholes and other pavement irregularities can easily jolt a tire and wheel out of balance, which can not only cause vibration but can set up other problems, particularly on a front-wheel-drive vehicle where the wheels are tied in much more closely to the drivetrain itself.
● Have your mechanic also inspect all components of your vehicle’s ABS system -- corrosion can cause damage there as well.
It’s never fun spending money on a vehicle, but remember it’s always cheaper to spot a problem and head it off at Stage A than at stage D or F. Preventive maintenance pays off in vehicle lifespan, so you’re a lot better off spending a little money now than a lot of money later!