by: Josh Max, AOL Autos

    Next to an actual fender bender, the sound of your ride making a direct hit on a pothole is one of the most spine-jolting noises you’ll ever hear in your car.

    But if you think your nervous system is rattled by running your 3,000-pound ride into an enormous road abyss, think about your car’s tires, chassis, suspension and rims, all of which can be compromised after a particularly vicious encounter with a pothole. We've recently talked to a few experts about winter's worst car threat and got some pretty interesting -- if unlikely -- advice.

    “Potholes are a big issue, especially at the end of winter  when the ground expands and new craters appear,” said Matt Edmonds, VP of The Tire Rack. 

    He told us that drivers shouldn’t assume they're in the clear if immediate symptoms don’t appear. 

    “A lot of times, a driver will hit a pothole straight on and assume since they didn’t get a flat that there’s been no damage to the tire, rim or suspension,” Edmonds said.

    He recommends getting the car aligned or at least inspected during the next oil change following a severe pothole hit.
    “If something has been damaged in the suspension after smacking a pothole, you need to find that out rather that than waiting for a breakdown when you’ll pay towing fees in addition to having to fix the problem," Edmonds said.

    Rich White, Executive director of the Car Care Council, says drivers should heed warning signs if they’ve recently hit a crater.

    “If your car pulls in one direction instead of maintaining a straight path after you strike a pothole, that indicates an alignment problem,” he says. “You have the get that checked out because your alignment ensures safe handling of the car as well as keeping your tires in good condition over time.   Also, if you feel a loss of control, if you feel the car bottoming out or bouncing excessively on rough roads, those are indicators that the steering and suspension may have been damaged---and that’s something you need to pay attention to, because both are key safety-related systems that determine your car’s ride and handling.”

    Of course, it’s best not to hit a pothole in the first place.

    Here's the advice White provided to help you avoid them, or minimize damage if you strike one.

    Don’t tailgate
    “If the driver in front of you hits a pothole, you’ll have a better chance to take evasive action if you’re not riding their rear bumper,” said White.

    Slow down
    Don't believe in the old wives tale that you could, in theory, "fly" over the pothole if you're going really fast. That might work in a movie but not in the real world. Most potholes are big enough to do damage even if you're traveling at highway speeds.

    “When you hit a pothole at faster speeds, the damage can be far worse,” said White.

    Puddles Contain Hidden Dangers
    Use extreme caution when driving over puddles.

    “They can conceal massive potholes,” said White.

    This one rings especially true for me. Two years ago, one water-concealed pothole on a ramp took out both front and rear tires on the right side of my car.

    The only benefit of the winter weather in this case is that sometimes a puddle can freeze to fill in a pothole temporarily. But don't count on it.

    Hold the steering wheel tightly
    Make sure you're holding the wheel so you don't lose control. A tight, two-handed grip is recommended.

    “Hitting a pothole when you’ve got a loose grip on the wheel can snap the wheel left or right, and you into another car, or off the road,” White says.

    If you’re going to hit a pothole, don’t brake into it
    This is probably the most unorthodox piece of advice we've received about potholes so far, but it stands to reason.

    “It can actually increase damage," said White. "Get off the brakes the moment before you hit and let the car absorb the blow.”

    When you brake heavily, your car tends to nose dive. When you let off the brake, the car rocks back and you have more suspension travel over the front wheels. This is a good thing when you're going to do some crater exploring on your favorite road.

    Alignments, Potholes Or Not
    Tire Rack's Edmonds says it’s a good idea to get your car aligned after a severe winter regardless of whether or not you’ve struck a pothole.

    “This winter has been brutal for drivers in the Midwest and northeast,” said Edmonds. “And your car may look fine at spring thaw. But when you drive faster in summer, that’s when you’ve really got to make sure your car is up to the task and has no post-winter alignment or tire issues.” 

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    1 - 20 of 28 Comments
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    shadynj83 Feb 24, 2010 5:07 PM
    just braked into a pot hole today, i'll never do that again.
    Report This
    chromegirl003 Feb 15, 2010 7:53 PM
    neetstuf is absolutely right in their response-at least here in NY! I believe it takes 3 separate complaints bout the same pothole before they will take responsibility for paying to have it fixed tho. And 'swerving' to avoid hitting 1 is actually a traffic violation-even if you don't hit someone or something else you can get ticketed for various things: unsafe lane change, crossing a double line, unsafe driving, even reckless driving-depends on the officier who witnesses you dong so! It's a no-win situation! And after seeing the portion of my tax bill that is specifially for road maintance/repairs it makes m blood boil!!!
    Report This
    rsmith2847 Feb 15, 2010 7:19 PM
    Quit driving!
    Report This
    sbm54pswf Feb 15, 2010 7:15 PM
    Buy a Toyota, and pave a pothole in Tokyo. Buy a Chevy and you'll pave a pothole in Charlotte.
    Report This
    rlnccorlis Feb 15, 2010 6:09 PM
    flyers411 I don't know about So. Caroline but I do know about the pot holes out here in Calif. they are realy bad even on these freeways they have all over the state. Bad, bad, bad is all I can say and they the state and citys will not fix them they say they don't have the money. Well who in the heck has the money we the people sure don't since the state taxes sucks everyone dry.
    Report This
    flyers411 Feb 15, 2010 5:13 PM
    We have some of the worse roads in the world in South Caroline and the stupidest dmv people in the world. We closed a major road to do some repair work and raise the bridges. Now you ask why raise the briges when they are new. Well they didn't think that it much eaiser to do this then to lower the road when you repave it. Our potholes are so big it's not funny.
    Report This
    farhillsiom Feb 15, 2010 3:18 PM
    rmobley171 - I totally agree with you and that the City should pay for your alignment repairs due to their incompetence to maintain the roads properly. I think in future I will give the mechanic the City’s address and the Mayor as the contact as to where to send the invoice for alignment work.
    Report This
    rmobley171 Feb 14, 2010 10:56 PM
    I say hit them I need the money when you bring it for repairs
    Report This
    jameskerchner Feb 14, 2010 10:20 AM
    They should just put up signs "Welcome to the moon " hahahaha
    Report This
    lhaberstic Feb 12, 2010 2:16 PM
    Here in Trenton, New Jersey we have Big Potholes all year long. The city bought one of those pothole repair machine and it's a piece of ****. They fill the pothole and move on to the next one and ten minutes after they repaired the pothole its back. We are good at avoiding potholes here in Trenton because we have to live with them all year. Thanks to are Mayor and his political crew that run the city.
    Report This
    smsincdirect Feb 12, 2010 2:08 PM
    Minneapolis and St Paul has some of the worst roads I have ever seen. I lived in Chicago for years and nothing compares to the man hole craters in these two cities. Beware.
    Report This
    imaciasjr5 Feb 12, 2010 2:06 PM
    Street potholes, your car's worst enemy? Not even close. Your car's worst enemy is YOU, if you abuse it, don't maintain it properly, or neglect it otherwise.
    Report This
    allykat93a Feb 12, 2010 2:05 PM
    its called drive around it : ) thats what i do! works great!
    Report This
    pstxjeff Feb 12, 2010 1:58 PM
    definately report it to the town. i hit a huge one and broke a rim and ruined a tire on my brand new car. the tire/wheel and alignment were $600 dollars. the town claimed that they werent negligent because it wasnt reported. If its reported, they have to fix it in a "timely manner" or be held responsible. It didnt matter that within two minutes of me hitting that pothole, two other cars went over it an one got one flat tire, and the other one two. i ended up putting a flare out before i changed my tire.
    Report This
    jamesousey77 Feb 12, 2010 1:16 PM
    Does anyone think the guy interviewed for this article has a second agenda? I mean he works for the car care council. I have been driving for 40 years, have hit perhaps thousands of potholes, never got my car checked after winter for "alignment damage" avoided them when possible, never worried much, got any flats fixed and saved thousands ignoring fear mongering advice. Does AOL get paid for this stuff?
    Report This
    rhuff71006 Feb 12, 2010 12:13 PM
    One other thing. After hitting a bad pothole, don not pull over in the immediate vicinity of that pothole to check the damage. Chances are that the next driver approaching the hole is going to take evasive action to miss it. If that driver isn't careful, you could end up eating a fender.
    Report This
    msgraftongirl Feb 12, 2010 11:50 AM
    Did you know that when you hit a pothole and damage your vehicle (or anything on the road pretty much for that matter), it is considered an 'at fault' collision claim? The reasoning is that you are going too fast for the condition of the road and the pothole is not a moving object. Comprehensive losses are for flying objects that typically hit the upper portion of the car. I know a guy who hit a bathtub that someone dropped 2 cars ahead of him, with a higher SUV in front of him that swerved to miss it, but he did not have time to react and avoid the collision. Sounds unfair that this is an at fault collision loss. But the insurance company said if he had kept his distance from the car in front of him as he should have on a freeway, he should have been able to avoid the accident. Basically the condition of the road does not take away your liability.
    Report This
    brucehanderson Feb 12, 2010 11:49 AM
    Another reason not to hit the brakes is that a free-rolling tire can deflect some of the energy from a pothole hit. Some people think that riding the brakes somehow will "tighten up" the suspension, Actually, the brakes will act as a conduit, running the energy through themselves and into the suspension, causing unecessary damage to both.
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    Next to an actual fender bender, the sound of your ride making a direct hit on a pothole is one of the most spine-jolting noises youll ever hear in your car.


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