Everything You Need to Know About Pothole Damage (And How to Get Reimbursed in Virginia)

dollar sign in the middle of a pothole

Sterling, Virginia – Potholes. Everywhere. In some places potholes are so common they should be considered right up there with the state bird, or the state flower. What is the deal with all the potholes? Where do they come from? Why are there so many? What happens to a car if it runs through one of them? And what can you do if if it happens to you?

Let’s deal with what causes potholes, the damage caused by potholes, and how you might go about getting reimbursed for pothole damages.

What causes potholes?

Nobody likes potholes. Unfortunately, potholes are the result of a natural phenomenon. In areas that experience freezing temperatures, potholes are going to occur.

See, what freezes will eventually thaw. And then freeze again. And thaw again. Those freeze-and-thaw cycles are really hard on pavement.

As a result of normal use, cracks form in the road. Water seeps into the cracks and then freezes when temperatures fall. The water (ice) expands as it freezes and causes the pavement to bulge upward. As the temperature climbs, the ice melts and leaves behind an air pocket beneath the surface. Then the pavement crumbles into the void, leaving behind a new pothole.

The use of salt on the road compounds the problem. Salt allows the water to remain liquid at lower temperatures, which means the freeze-and-thaw cycle can happen over a greater range of temperatures and for longer periods of time. Usually once the ground falls below a certain temperature, the water remains frozen. But salt expands the ability of water to do its damage to the road.

Potholes are usually repaired by cleaning out the debris in the hole and filling it with some form of hot or cold patch material.

What happens when you run over a pothole

So, what happens when your car hits one of these craters? Well it really depends on your vehicle and the size of the hole (a truck with large tires and a heavy-duty suspension is likely to be less affected than a small sedan) but here are some common types of damage that can occur.

First of all, tire damage is common when you hit a pothole. The tire can fail completely and have a blowout. The pothole could cause damage to the outer surface (the tread or sidewalls) or to the belts inside. If you run into a pothole, have your tire inspected for signs of damage: a bulge, tear, gouge, or puncture. A damaged tire usually needs to be replaced.

Wheel or rim damage is also common. A bent wheel may cause the tire to lose air – immediately or later on. It may also lead to poor vehicle handling. In some cases it might be possible to repair a bent rim (usually a steel wheel), but more likely it will be necessary to replace the wheel.

Struts and shock absorbers can also become damaged or experience premature wear. The struts and shocks are part of your vehicle’s suspension system that “suspends” the body over the wheels. These are the components responsible for absorbing the bumps in the road and keeping your vehicle level over those bumps and through turns. Worn struts or shocks decrease ride comfort. More importantly, they inhibit proper performance, especially when you turn or brake.

Other steering and suspension components are susceptible to pothole damage too. The control arms, steering knuckle, tie rods, and even the hub and bearing can be victims. The result of bent or broken steering and suspension parts is poor handling and improper alignment of the components. Sometimes a wheel alignment will address the issues. Frequently, new parts must be installed first.

Believe it or not, even the exhaust system can fall prey to a pothole. If the pit is deep enough, exhaust components (exhaust pipe, catalytic converter, resonator, muffler) can get squashed underneath your car when a wheel falls into the pit.

The engine and transmission mounts are not immune. The engine and transmission are mounted on bushings made of a soft, rubber-like material that prevents torque from the drivetrain from making the whole car shudder. The serious concussion of impact with the edge of a deep pothole can cause those very large, heavy components to shift violently on their soft mounts. Mounts that are designed to absorb vibration, not potholes, so they can tear or break.

If the impact is significant enough, even the engine and related components could suffer.

Who is responsible for pothole damage?

While it may depend on where you live, pothole damage is usually considered an at-fault collision, a one-car accident. That means your insurance company may be responsible for damages if you have certain types of coverage. Check your insurance policy or consult your agent for specifics.

It is also possible to get reimbursed by the government for damage caused by a pothole.

Technically the city or town in which you encountered the problem could be considered liable. But good luck getting reimbursement from that source.

On the other hand, many states have a process for submitting a damage claim should your car be the victim of a pothole or other government mishap that causes damage to your vehicle. That includes the State of Virginia.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, a driver has a “legal right” to submit a damage claim to the state if (s)he hits a pothole and damage results to the vehicle. Claims are “investigated on a case-by-case basis.”

If you would like to submit a claim, VDOT gives a list of necessary documentation, including:

  • Estimate of repair costs or a receipt for repairs
  • Any photos you want to include
  • Supporting documentation you feel is relevant for consideration.

                                                               **Claims up to $5000 can be submitted directly to VDOT.**

Get Reimbursed for Your Pothole Damage Here:

  • VDOT torte claims website
  • Click here to fill-out the Tort Claims Form
  • Pothole information page
  • Click here if you want to report a pothole to have it repaired and be reimbursed in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

You will be taken to an easy navigation page that looks like this:

screenshot of pothole reimbursement form

Unfortunately, the process is probably not a quick one; investigators need to review the circumstances of the incident, the type and location of the actual pothole involved, the history of the case, and whether or not their road crews had a reasonable time to repair the pothole prior to the accident.

The state acknowledges responsibility for repair and maintenance of state-maintained roadways, including pothole repair, and asserts it is “committed to patching potholes as soon as possible”.

And if you are unfortunate enough to encounter one of these seasonal visitors – if you run your car through a pothole – make sure to set an appointment at a trusted repair shop to have your tires, wheels, steering, suspension, and other systems thoroughly inspected to insure safe driving in the future.

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

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