When you are thrown by a frost heave or slammed into a pothole, does it ever make you wonder if your car is OK? So many key components are destroyed when vehicles encounter road damage as extreme as the frost boils and potholes that routinely surface on roadways every summer in Alaska. None of these components are designed with this abuse in mind – brakes, suspension, rims, drivelines, engine, transmission, front end alignment, just to name a few. We’ll discuss how to identify when your car is damaged from a pothole or frost heave and provide tips to ensure your safety.
How harmful are potholes and frost heaves to vehicles?
The answer – extremely. One of the most common types of summertime vehicle repairs occur due to potholes and frost heaves. Pothole damage tends to affect front end suspension parts and alignment. Frost heave damage typically affects larger repairs such as oil-pan distortion, transmission mount, or motor mount displacement.
Possible Damage From a Pothole
Brakes: Potholes often form when pavement gives way to moisture in the roadbed beneath. This creates a sharp edge of hard tarmac on the road surface. Wheels and rims strike this edge, which sends forces throughout the vehicle suspension, including brake rotors, calipers, wheel lugs, ball joints, and wheel bearings.
Suspension System: High-speed entry to a pothole can shear bolts or most commonly, bend steel parts that form the steering system in vehicles.
Engine or Transmission: Vehicle engines consist of hundreds of moving parts that ironically, depend on the engine itself staying still. Motor mounts, not to mention many auxiliary engine component mounts, can shear off or become loose due to pothole encounters. Alternator belts, power steering belts, and air conditioning systems loosen and function poorly, eventually causing expensive damage within the engine compartment.
Wheels: Vehicle rims and wheels take most of the shock from hitting a pothole. Rims become dented or misshapen in a way that will no longer accept enough weight to balance. The resulting imbalance produces a chatter in the vehicle that rattles it into expensive repairs.
Tips for Preventing Damage from Potholes and Frost Heaves
- Look far ahead for discoloration on the road surface. These are often potholes.
- If you cannot avoid a pothole, be certain your foot is not on the brake when you hit it.
- Always let the wheel roll through the pothole.
- On roads with “washboard” or cord wood roads, travel slowly without depressing the brakes.
If you have hit a pothole and think it may have caused damage to your vehicle, here are some things to look for.
How to Inspect Your Car for Damage
- Check wheel alignment and tire pressure. If the car is leaning to one side or if there are bubbles in the tire sidewall, there is damage that needs to be inspected and assessed professionally.
- Look for damage on the suspension system, such as leaks from shock absorbers or broken springs.
-Check the steering column, axle shafts, and tie rods for bending or breakage, and CV joint boots for any tears.
After going over a pothole or frost heave, if you’re concerned your vehicle may have damage, call our office and speak to one of our expert mechanics. We’ll be happy to help.