Dealing with pothole season

It’s no secret. This winter set records.

Now comes another big problem – potholes.

This winter’s record snow and cold are to blame for one of Michigan’s worst pothole seasons ever, Michigan Department of Transportation says.

To help, the Michigan Department of Transportation is suggesting some ways that motorists can avoid hitting potholes, and to minimize damage if they can’t miss them.

“Our aging roads, a history of under-investment, and an unusually harsh winter will bring what we expect to be an absolutely horrendous pothole season,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “Potholes form so quickly that crews can’t get all of them right away, and they’re showing up nearly everywhere on state and local roads. If you leave your driveway, you’re almost certainly going to cross some awful potholes this spring.”

Avoiding hitting potholes is best, and driving with extra caution and not tailgating will help drivers see and react to potholes. Potholes are sometimes difficult to spot in the daytime, and even more so at night. Puddles also can conceal potholes, either already formed or beginning to form.

A properly maintained vehicle and tires can help motorists avoid potholes or minimize damage when one is struck. It’s also best to slow down then release the brakes before hitting a pothole. This helps to reduce the speed at impact as well as give a vehicle’s suspension the full range of travel to absorb the impact.

The Michigan Department of Transportation spent roughly $8.8 million on pothole repairs last year, and expects to spend 50 to 100 percent more this year.

“The best way to prevent potholes is to keep roads in better shape to begin with,” Steudle said. “Unfortunately, without the proper investment in roads, MDOT, county road commissions and city public works departments are left little choice but to spend more each year filling potholes – which we all know is not a permanent fix.”

Tips for dealing with potholes

– Be vigilant: Stating the obvious here: it’s best to avoid hitting potholes whenever possible. That’s easier to do if you’re driving cautiously, and not tailgating, so you have more time to see and react to any potholes you’re approaching.

– Potholes aren’t always obvious in the daylight; they’re even harder to spot in the dark. Make sure your headlights are working and your windshield is clear.

– Be extra cautious around puddles; they could be potholes filled with water. Since water is a critical component to forming potholes, that puddle may be at work creating one as you drive through it.

– Keep a firm grip on your steering wheel as potholes can cause your vehicle to change direction suddenly. Don’t swerve into an occupied lane. No one wants pothole damage to escalate to a collision causing further damage or injury.

– Vehicle maintenance helps. Unquestionably, hitting potholes can damage your vehicle. However, there are some things you can do to keep it to a minimum.

– Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Over- or under-inflated tires fare worse when they tangle with a pothole. Tires showing excessive wear or bulges in the sidewalls won’t hold up as well to potholes, either.

– Have your vehicle’s suspension and steering components checked out by a qualified mechanic. Steering that is in good condition and responsive can help you avoid hitting potholes. Remember that shocks, struts and springs in good shape help cushion the blow.

There’s a technique to this.

There are often two schools of thought on driving through potholes: speeding up to “jump” over them and jamming the brakes hard to hit them as slowly as possible. Both might work occasionally but the best way is somewhere in between.

If you see a pothole ahead and can’t safely steer to avoid it, it’s best to slow down, then release the brakes before you hit the pothole. This helps to reduce the speed at impact as well as give your suspension the full range of travel to absorb the impact. If you can’t avoid the pothole, straighten your wheel to hit it squarely and roll through. Hitting a pothole at an angle can transfer the energy of impact in ways more likely to damage your vehicle.

You hit one. Now what?

Tire and wheel damage are common in pothole hits. Look them over for obvious damage. Is your car now pulling one way or the other? You may need to get your steering realigned. Is your vehicle now “bottoming out” or bouncing? That could be damaged suspension. You probably should get your vehicle checked out and repaired, if necessary.

Pothole Hotline

Whether you hit a pothole or you missed it, you can save your fellow motorists the headache and costs of repairs by reporting it. If it’s on a city street or county road, report it to your city public works department or county road commission. If it’s on state trunkline (I, M or US route), submit it to MDOT’s Report a Pothole webpage or call it in to the Pothole Hotline at 888-296-4546.