A large pothole on a road by the side of a drain

How to avoid potholes and other insurance claim causes

3 minutes

UK roads are pockmarked with pesky potholes. They're a hazard for drivers and potentially damaging for vehicles – so what can you do to keep out of their way? 

  • Over 1.5 million potholes have been repaired in the UK in the past year
  • Watch other traffic for clues to where the worst potholes are
  • Why you need to be careful where you park, as well as where you drive

Our varying seasons leave their mark on road surfaces across the country.

What can drivers do to guard against the risk of damage to wheels, tyres and suspension that can be caused by pothole encounters – and the car insurance claims that could follow? Local councils in England and Wales have fixed 1,534,175 potholes in the past year, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), but it takes time and money to tackle such widespread damage. Next year, meanwhile, the AIA is predicting that over 24,000 miles of local road will need repairing. And that’s before we even think about avoiding other potential hazards while driving or parking the car.                        

Motoring journalist Sue Baker (@carscribe) discusses the challenges with driving expert Peter Rodger, who is head of driving advice at IAMRoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart) and former deputy head of driver training at the Metropolitan Police. 

What causes a pothole and which roads are most affected?

‘We’ve seen a series of harsh winters, compounded by about a decade of government spending restraint,’ Peter explains. ‘A pothole is caused when damp gets into cracks and joints in the road surface, and then freezes, exerting monumental pressure. It is less common on motorways, where there’s a constant repair regime, than on other roads.’

How should you drive in potholed areas?

‘If you make a regular journey, the big pothole that was there yesterday will still be there today – so expect it,’ says Peter. ‘Give yourself some space behind a vehicle ahead so you don’t see a pothole at the last minute and swerve around it. ‘Watch other traffic, especially motorcyclists, because they can give you a big clue where the potholes are. Go around the pothole if you can do so safely, rather than going over it. If you have to go into a pothole, reduce your speed on the approach, but go through at a constant speed rather than braking hard,’ he adds. ‘Hold the steering wheel firmly and expect the car to wriggle and twist.’

Where are the potholes in your area, or somewhere else you’re planning to drive?

Check out dedicated websites such as potholes.co.uk and fillthathole.org.uk, where you can also report any especially bad potholes you encounter.

Should you report a pothole?

Yes, says Peter.

‘If you see a particularly big pothole, you need to tell the local authority responsible for the area, either direct or via their website,’ Peter says. ‘Reporting it quickly is important, especially if it's a relatively lightly used road where you can really help by being the eyes and ears of the council.’

You can also report potholes via a government website and others such as fixmystreet.com and mysociety.org.

What other hazards should you try to avoid on the roads?

‘Think about the weather and anticipate possible problems,’ Peter advises. ‘If it's a windy day, be alert in areas where there are trees, with the possibility of bits falling off them. In autumn, it's advisable not to park under trees that may have fruit or conkers falling off them – and car paintwork can potentially be damaged by bird or squirrel droppings. It's also not a good idea to park near building works or construction sites in case something falls on the car.’

How should you drive over speed bumps?

‘They are there to slow you down,’ Peter urges. ‘If you drive over them faster than they’re designed for, they could potentially cause damage to your vehicle. It's best not to brake ahead of them, then accelerate up to the next one, either. If you go at a steady and suitable speed it balances the vehicle over the bump and is also better for your fuel consumption.’

How much of a danger is flood water to your car?

It can be very hazardous, says Peter.

‘Driving through deep water risks flooding the engine,’ he explains. ‘If water gets into an air intake, that could really damage the engine. There's also a safety risk, because flood water is usually murky and you can't see what's under it. If you can see how deep the water is, can see the end of it, and can go through steadily without stopping, then use the centre of the road where the surface is highest and the water will be shallowest.’

Hitting a pothole could cause damage to your car’s wheels, suspension or even its chassis, so taking extra caution on the road – especially after a frosty winter – will help you from a costly claim. But potholes aren’t the only potential hazard so, whether you’re driving or parking, take precautions – and watch out for those squirrels.