Let’s start today off with a fourth-grade geology lesson.
There are a lot of ways that nature shapes its own landscape, but two of those ways include weathering and erosion. Weathering is the process of different kinds of weather (rain, ice, wind, fluctuating temperatures, etc.) breaking things like rocks down into smaller pieces, while erosion is when said weather or outside force actually moves those pieces to a different location via a windstorm, rainstorm, what have you.
One particular kind of weathering is called frost wedging, and it has an incredible ability to break apart even the most impressive rocks. As you know, water expands when it freezes and settles back down to its original volume when it thaws. When rocks have little holes or cracks in them, the water can seep down into these crevices, and over time, the freezing, thawing, and refreezing of the water gradually creates larger cracks which can break the rock apart entirely.
Even though roads are manmade infrastructure, they are still a compound of materials that are susceptible to weathering, though the process is a little different. While water can seep into the cracks in the asphalt and weaken the structure, most of the problem actually happens below the road. Water finds the cracks and leaks down below the road, or it can wick its way over from the side of the road if there is a lot of standing water.
Either way, the water saturates the ground below the road, and when the temperatures drop and then raise repeatedly, the increased volume of ice puts strain on the road itself. Couple that with the pounding, pounding, pounding of the vehicles making their way through town, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. The wheels gradually carry away (erode) small pieces of the road, and what’s left is a jagged pothole that can cause a huge headache.
What can potholes do to my vehicle?
Even the most careful drivers will inevitably run over a pothole at some point in their driving experience, but it’s best to avoid them altogether if possible. The smallest of potholes over time can cause problems with steering, tires, and undercarriage hoses, not to mention creating an uncomfortable ride.
One problem you may run into if you hit a large pothole while traveling at a fast speed is a bent rim on one or more of your tires. It might not sound like a big deal, but bent rims can cause a vibration in your steering wheel, leaky tires, poor fuel economy, and difficulty in maneuvering.
Another steering problem you might have is due to the pothole affecting your car’s alignment. This can cause inconsistent wear on your tires, and your vehicle might feel like it’s pulling to one side or the other.
Of course, the most immediate threat to your safety is to lose control of the vehicle altogether after you hit the pothole. Overcorrecting or having to compensate for a popped tire or bent rim can be dangerous for you and others on the road.
Though hitting a large pothole at fast speeds is most likely to cause a blowout immediately, hitting smaller potholes more frequently can weaken your tires. When you hit those small holes often, you can wear down the inner cords and structure that helps your tires keep their shape, which could lead to a bigger blowout down the road.
Depending on how deep and wide the pothole is, you could run the risk of scraping up the undercarriage of your car. There are a lot of hoses and tubes that run along the undercarriage, so damage to this part of your vehicle could lead to holes in your hoses.
Hitting potholes of any size can eventually wear down your shocks and struts. Once you’ve damaged your suspension system, you’ll feel jostled around, even on the smoothest road. You may notice a change with how your vehicle handles, especially when going over bumps or uneven terrain.
If you notice a lot of potholes on the roads you travel, you don’t have to sit idly by. Contact your local transportation office or Department of Motor Vehicles and report the hole. They should then fix the hole using a hot or cold patch of asphalt. Being proactive about trying to get potholes fixed can save you a lot of money and wear and tear on your car—and do the same for others.