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POTHOLE CATASTROPHES: SURVIVORS’ TALES

Ah, spring. It’s the season of flowers, showers... and potholes.

Here, three drivers from different pothole-pocked regions of the country relate their encounters with those evil craters. So fasten your seat belts—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


Pothole Location: Cos Cob, Connecticut

The Damage (over a year): Faulty alignment, broken rim, ripped tire

Writer Scotty Reiss of Cos Cob has experienced some major pothole bad luck over the past 12 months: She’s had to replace a busted rim and fix her front-end alignment—twice! Her most recent run-in happened on 1-95, not far from her home. She was tooling along at around 70 mph when she hit a monster crater. “I was in the center lane, which tends to have more damage—that’s the lane the trucks use,” recalls Scotty, who is co-founder of the SheBuysCars website. “I hit a three-foot-by-three-foot pothole. The tire pressure monitor light came on, and the car was driving oddly. I thought it was the alignment again.”

Throughout much of the country, winter weather can wreak havoc on roads as the con-stant freeze and thaw erodes dirt under the pavement and weakens the blacktop, creating potholes. Salt, sanding and snowplows can add to the wear and tear, turning roadways into obstacle courses. Even the most experienced drivers have trouble avoiding them.

When Scotty got home, she discovered a two-inch rip in one of her tires. “The sidewall was just blown out,” she says. “I was very lucky. I had run-flat tires, so the car didn’t shake or jolt or veer off course.” Run-flat tires are specially designed to allow you to keep driving for 50 miles or more after a tire puncture.

The next day Scotty was able to drive her car to a local tire shop, where the mechanic checked the alignment, suspension and rim. Scotty was relieved when she heard that all she needed was a new tire. (Ford ESP TireCARE—available through your dealer—offers 100% coverage on tire damage due to potholes and other road hazards.) “As much as you try to dodge potholes,” Scotty says, “you can’t dodge them all.”



Pothole Location: Los Angeles

The Damage: Broken radiator

“I darn near chipped a tooth,” says Patti Peck, recalling a recent incident with a pothole. The longtime Los Angeles chef—she was a 2014 Chopped champion—and owner of the Beachwood Cafe was on her way to work one morning. “I was driving on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, coming down into Hollywood. I knew there was a pothole on the passenger side of the road, and swerved to avoid it, but it turned out the hole was the size of Texas, and my car nose-dived in.” Cha-chunk! The vehicle made a loud noise, and Patti felt a jolt. “I limped on in to work with a bloody lip and a busted radiator.”

As in many parts of the country, budget woes in California have meant deferred maintenance of roadways. And motorists are paying a hefty price: an extra $955 per year in vehicle operating costs for the average L.A. driver, according to a 2014 report from Trip, a national nonprofit that researches transportation issues. Trip found that nearly 90% of L.A.’s major roads—some of the most heavily travelled in the U.S.—rate from mediocre to poor. Potholes are so pervasive in the Southland that there’s even a website dedicated to the pits.

Patti shelled out almost $2,000 to get her car running again. “The radiator fan got jammed into some other stuff, and that all had to be replaced, as well as the radiator and some belts.” And to top it off, she was carless for almost two weeks.

This wasn’t the first time a pothole cost her. Like many L.A. drivers, she has ruined tires and bent wheels from hitting these often hidden hazards. “Our roads have become more and more treacherous,” says Patti. “You have to drive defensively here—between steering clear of people on their cell phones and the random holes from Hades.”

Read the Pothole Survival Guide here.



Pothole Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Damage: Tire bulge

Kate Sochacki, an account manager for Google AdWords, normally enjoys zipping around downtown Ann Arbor in her 2012 Ford Focus. “It’s the perfect car for city driving,” she says. But recently, as she exited the I-94 freeway, she suddenly felt her car lurch as she drove through a hidden pothole. “It was a wet day, and the hole was filled with water, so I didn’t notice it until I’d hit it,” Kate says. A couple of days later she discovered a lump in her tire. “I knew the pothole must be the culprit.” Tires and wheels are the parts most commonly damaged by potholes, and a bulge or lump can indicate a potential weak spot that could lead to tire failure. Yet, as is often the case, her car didn’t seem to be driving any differently after she had run over the pothole.

Kate and her husband usually get their servicing done at their local dealership, Varsity Ford, but they thought a new tire would be more expensive there. They shopped around online, but couldn’t find the right tire available immediately. That’s when Kate checked Varsity’s web-site and discovered that the dealer would match the lowest price she found. (Ford also offers various coupons and rebates on tires and more for dealer-installed purchases at owner.ford.com.) She called the dealer the next morning. “They had the tire in stock and could fit us in that day,” Kate says.

The dealer’s factory-trained technicians then conducted a multipoint inspection using state-of-the-art equipment, which included checking rims, alignment and suspension—other common victims of potholes. Fortunately, only the tire was damaged.

“We were really happy with our service experience! And they were able to get us in right away on a busy Saturday morning,” says Kate, “so I had my car back by Saturday afternoon.”

If you’ve hit a pothole, check out Pothole Pain Points—then watch the related video to help protect your vehicle and your wallet.

By K. Butler