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A road with a pothole that can damage cars

How do potholes damage cars?


“I just drove through a pothole that was so deep I didn’t think I was going to get out.”

“I hit that pothole so hard I need to visit a chiropractor.”

Corny jokes about potholes may be funny, but the damage potholes do to cars—-and your wallet—is not. While the potholes that pop up (literally) on our Wisconsin roads every winter and spring look innocent, potholes can do a substantial amount of damage to our vehicles. Specifically, driving through a jarring pothole can damage:

  • Vehicle alignment,
  • Suspension parts,
  • Tires and Rims,
  • Exhaust System

Sometimes the signs of pothole damage are immediately evident, such as a missing muffler or a flat tire. But if the problem is under the car, it can be a lot more difficult to notice problems arising from pothole damage. If ignored, these problems can damage other parts and cause costly breakdowns.

So how do you know if your car needs to be seen after running over a pothole? Contact a mechanic if your car shows any signs of common car problems caused by a run-in with a pothole.

Signs of a Misaligned Car

Rough roads and potholes are rough on a car, causing an imbalance the can cause a vibration or shake that worsens as your car accelerates. Usually, the shake starts between 35-45 mph and gets worse as you go faster. A misaligned car also causes the tire tread to wear unevenly. If one part of the tire wears down too far, the tires need to be replaced sooner than normal.

An alignment can also cause problems with steering. A misaligned car can pull to the left or right. The steering wheel may vibrate and does not stay centered when driving straight. While you can drive with these issues, a car with alignment issues costs more to drive over time and can become a safety issue. Driving your car with a shake or pull can also be a safety hazard when roads become slippery, such as in a heavy rain or when there is ice.

If your car shows any signs of a misaligned car, contact a mechanic who can do a complete alignment.

Signs of Suspension Problems

Your car’s suspension takes the brunt of the force from uneven roads, especially potholes. It can be hard to detect signs of suspension problems, but there are signs to look for:

  • Uneven tire wear (this can be noticed when tires are rotated)
  • Rough car ride
  • Car that nose dives after braking
  • Fluid leak
  • A pull to the right or left when driving

If you notice any of these issues, don’t wait. Worn suspension parts can damage other parts and wear tires prematurely. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic.

Signs of Tire and Rim Damage

Car tires and rims are the only part of a car that directly impacts the road, making it a target for pothole damage. The best time to check a tire for damage is immediately after hitting a pothole or when checking the air pressure.

The damage to a tire or rim may be a visible scratch, dent, or a missing part. Other less visible problems, such as a small hole or puncture, can cause tires to lose air slowly. If your tire is low on air pressure frequently, contact a mechanic right away to see if the tire can be fixed. When not fixed, a tire puncture can get worse and mean a total replacement.

Signs of Exhaust System Damage

The most obvious signs of exhaust system damage from a pothole is loud engine noise. If you notice a louder than normal engine, contact a mechanic to get the exhaust system inspected. Other signs of exhaust damage are a hissing or popping, a vibration felt through the gas pedal, or a decrease in gas mileage. In extreme cases, an exhaust leak can lower gas mileage by 3-4 gallons per mile.

Should my car get an alignment? All your Alignment Questions Answered


temporary construction road sign isolated on white backgroundPot holes, uneven pavement, bumps, ruts.  Our Wisconsin winters wreak havoc on our roads, which in turn takes it out on our cars, causing a host of problems.  If your car is showing the tell tale signs of imbalance, it’s time to think about scheduling an alignment for your car.  Here’s why—and everything else you should know about a car alignment.

What are the signs of a car that needs an alignment?

Usually, an unbalanced car has a vibration or shake that worsens as your car goes faster. The speed at which the vibration first becomes apparent varies depending on the size and weight of the tires, wheels and car, steering sensitivity and suspension, and the amount of car imbalance.  Typically, the shake starts at 35 to 45 mph and increases with your speed.  Other signs of a car that needs alignment include:

  • Uneven tire tread wear.
  • Car that pulls to the right or left.
  • Steering wheel that is not centered when driving straight.
  • Steering wheel vibration.

Why does my car need an alignment?

While you can drive with these issues, a car with alignment issues costs more to drive over time and can become a safety issue. A car without regular alignments wears through tires faster and may need suspension part repair and replacement. Driving your car with a shake or pull can also be a safety hazard when roads become slippery, such as in a heavy rain or when there is ice.

How do I choose a mechanic to align my car?

Every model of car needs a different, precise alignment so this is not something that can be done at home. Take your car to shop with a certified alignment technician who can give your car a full alignment:

  • Inspect your steering and suspension.
  • Check the condition and air pressure of your tires.
  • Adjust your camber, caster and toe angles (if adjustable) to the manufacturer’s specifications. (Additional parts and labor may be necessary on some vehicles – see your customer service advisor for details.)
  • Road test your vehicle to insure your alignment is complete.

How often does my car need an alignment?

Often, you can have your car alignment checked as part of regular spring or summer car maintenance. The amount of time between car alignments is dependent upon the amount of miles you put on your car.  In general, your car needs an alignment every 6,000 miles.  If you have more questions, contact your alignment shop or ask your mechanic at your next oil change.