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How to look out for pothole damage to your car

Don’t be put off by the topic of this week’s column. While we’re all aware that many stretches of Lincoln’s asphalt ribbon are pockmarked and rutted, this isn’t a rant demanding an increase in funds for those who tend to our highways.

Yes, we know other countries with more extreme climates seem to have roads in better states of repair, but I’ll leave politicised discourse for those with a hand on these matters.

Few of us drive gargantuan 4x4s with tyres so chunky they could easily demolish a small bungalow, while barely creating a ripple in the froth of the driver’s latte, consequently potholes remain an ever-present hazard for the majority.

So does a pothole excursion automatically mean a trip to a garage or should you ignore what just happened and hope everything will be okay?

Photo: Alan Stanton
Photo: Alan Stanton

Having just ploughed through a pothole, the first thing to do is to find somewhere to pull off safely and survey the damage.

Have a good look at the tyre, feeling the sidewalls as you do. If they are gouged or have an egg-shaped lump in them then put your spare wheel on and replace the tyre as soon as possible.

While you’re down there, inspect the wheels too. Are there signs than the rim itself is out of shape or cracked? Again, if so, then replace immediately with your spare wheel. Lighter surface scratches are likely to be cosmetic only and will typically cost between £50 and £100 to refurbish by a specialist.

If the affected tyre and wheel seem okay, there may still be damage to the suspension components, so be vigilant. Walk around the car to check its stance – does it look as though it’s sitting lower at one corner? Check for further damage by lifting the bonnet. In extreme circumstances the top of the suspension can be broken from its mounting, resulting in visible damage in the engine bay. If there’s a visual sign the suspension’s damaged then don’t move the car.

Assuming everything so far seems fine, begin driving the car again, building up speed slowly. Ensure the radio and ventilation fans are turned off as you need to listen for unusual noises. Unfortunately these vary from car to car, but essentially you’re listening for knocks, clunks, squeaks or any other sounds that the car didn’t make before. If there is something new then it’s safest to stop and arrange for the car to be towed to a repair centre.

Finally, loosen your grip on the steering wheel as you drive along, without completely letting go. Does the car feel like it wants to steer itself away from a straight line? If it pulls either left or right then the chances are the wheel alignment is out and you’ll need to visit a tyre retailer or garage to get it corrected.

If it continues to drive straight ahead then it’s likely you’ve had a lucky escape.

Overall, there’s a greater chance there’ll be no damage at all, but by spending a few minutes giving your car a post-pothole once over, you may save yourself from an unnecessary yet still potentially expensive visit to a garage.