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Pothole season alert: Woman hit with $2,600 repair

February is peak pothole season. Today's alloy wheels and low-profile tires mean damage can be much more expensive than you'd expect.
Posted at 7:21 AM, Feb 05, 2024

Rain, snow, and winter weather often leave behind some nasty mementos for drivers this time of year. They're not just another little bump in the road: Every year, potholes cause billions of dollars of damage, and if you aren't careful, you could end up paying thousands to repair your car, which is what one woman is dealing with.

Tanya Shearer was driving on a recent rainy day when she hit an enormous pothole that was filled with rain water, making it virtually invisible.

"All of a sudden, I hit it, and it felt like a gunshot," she said. "Dash lights started going off."

A massive pothole destroyed her right front tire and impacted several other drivers as well.

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"It got two tires on this SUV," she said, showing a video she shot on her phone. "And two tires on this car."

The bigger shock came the next day, however, when she learned she needed not just a new $400 tire but also a new alloy wheel as well.

The grand total, including alignment and other minor repairs?

"It came to $2,608," she said, all because of a pothole that had not been filled.

Why repairs can be so expensive

Jeff Bartlett is the auto managing editor for Consumer Reports. He says potholes damage 1 in 10 cars on the road each year.

And today's alloy rims and low-profile performance tires mean what had been a $200 fix a decade ago can now cost $2,000, as Shearer learned.

"Damage can be caused not only to the tire but also to the wheel and the suspension," Bartlett said.

Since the problems might not be visible right away, he says to watch for other red flags.

"If a new vibration occurs, or if the car starts driving differently," he said, you may have hit a pothole. "You're going to want to have it inspected by a mechanic."

What you can do

To protect your car against potholes, Bartlett says you should first maintain your tire pressure at the recommended levels.

Second, leave space between you and the car in front of you.

"You want to have a chance to see any obstacles," he said.

Third, he says, if you see a pothole, dodge it safely if you can, and slow down if you can’t.

But he cautions whatever you do, don't slam on the brakes.

"That puts extra weight on those front tires and increases the risk that they would be damaged,” he said.

Finally, he says, even if you dodged successfully, file a report to help others.

“Whether you hit a pothole or not, it's going to impact somebody,” he said.

As Shearer learned, these days, the fix isn't cheap.

"I didn't realize a tire was so expensive," she said.

The good news: You may be able to get reimbursed by your county or city for your repair bill if the pothole had been reported but not repaired. File a complaint with the municipality where it happened or with the state's highway department if it was on an interstate highway.

Some cities have dedicated pothole reporting lines.