At low speed, hitting a deep pothole can cause damage to tyres, wheels and steering alignment but the cost of repair probably won't justify an insurance claim.
At higher speed, hitting a deep pothole can cause severe damage and also risks loss of control resulting in impact with other vehicles, the kerb or roadside objects.
When safe to do so, stop and check your wheels and tyres after hitting a pothole although damage to tyres may not be immediately apparent.
If you notice a vibration, the steering wheel doesn't 'centre' properly or it pulls to one side, get the car checked at a garage or tyre specialist as faults such as tracking or steering damage can lead to later expense or even an accident.
You might be able to claim for the cost of any repairs required to your vehicle from the Highway Authority. It's important to understand that they do have a statutory defence as they cannot be held liable for a defect they do not know about, either because it has not been reported to them or because it has not been picked up in their own road condition surveys.
System of inspection
Councils must have in place a system of roads inspection and repair. This will cover things like:
the frequency and method of inspection by road type
the type/size of defect that will be repaired, and
the timeframe within which repairs will be completed once the council becomes aware of any defect.
This 'system' is defined at the local level rather than be imposed by regulation at a national level.
Councils must also have in place a system to enable them to receive defect reports from the public, and may be liable if they have not acted after receiving a defect report or observing a defect during one of their own planned inspections.
Whether you intend to make a claim for damage or not, your first priority should be to report the defect to your local Highway Authority which is most likely a County, City or Borough Council so that they can undertake repairs and prevent further incidents.
The council's website will give contact details and may even include an online defect reporting form or special telephone number.
If the defect is on a main trunk road then you will have to contact the Highways Agency as local councils are not responsible for these.
It's a good idea to take notes and make a sketch showing the location of the defect before leaving the scene:
Place (town, village etc.)
Road name and if known road number
Direction of travel
Location of defect relative to kerbside or centre line
Size and depth of defect
Contact details for any witnesses who saw the incident
If it is safe to do so take photographs of the defect too. Both general pictures showing the location of the defect and close-ups showing its size will be useful. Including a familiar object such as a plastic bottle, drinks can or shoe in the picture will help convey scale.
If you have to get repairs done it's a good idea to get several quotes first.
Make sure you keep all quotes, invoices and receipts and take copies to support your claim.
Write to the Council responsible for the road with all the details of the defect, the damage to your car, and the cost of repairs required/carried out.
If your claim is rejected and you feel this is unfair you can ask to see details of the Council's road inspection reports, and try again to claim.
One in eight motorists have suffered damage to their cars from neglected roads and potholes in the past two years, with millions of pounds being paid out in compensation by cash-strapped councils, research has found.
The one in three local authorities that responded to a nationwide survey revealed that they had paid out £4.8million after claims by drivers following two harsh winters and the crumbling state of Britain's patchwork roads.
With data lacking from two out of three councils, this means the compensation bill for this period could well be up to £15million.
If your car has been damaged by a pothole, you could well be able to get the council to cover the costs – skip to the bottom to find out how to do it.
Britannia Rescue issued Freedom of Information requests to 434 city, district, borough and county councils - 143 responded with at least one piece of data, while 291 are either yet to respond, said that they did not keep the data, or that they were not responsible for road maintenance in their area.
Since 2010, more than 54,000 compensation claims have been made to the councils in Britain that supplied figures to the survey.
The claims ranged from potholes ruining wheel rims, to punctured tyres and damaged suspension between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
It found that Surrey County Council alone has spent more than £630,000 since 2010 on 3,650 payouts to motorists for vehicle damage caused by neglected roads and potholes.
The combination of a wet summer and a cold winter has particularly harmed road surfaces, with potholes forming after water seeps down below the road surface and freezes, loosening the asphalt. Experts say the problem is exacerbated by repeated digging up of roads by utility companies, which then simply patch them up rather than resurfacing a full stretch - making them more likely to fall apart.
Among all motorists, three quarters believe road surfaces are now in a worse state than they were five years ago while 49 per cent saying they are much worse.
According to specialist website potholes.co.uk, potholes account for as many as one in five mechanical failures on UK roads and cost motorists an estimated £320million every year.
By bringing the pothole to the Council’s attention, you are not only being a good citizen, but also pressurising them to fill the holes rather than leaving them there to cause damage to bicycles and cars.
As the report says, if the council spent the £50 or so to fix potholes, they would save themselves money and limit the damage to motorists’ vehicles.
It’s worth mentioning that the majority of compensation claims actually get turned down – so if you’re looking to claim and be successful, you will have to remain persistent.
The first step is to take a photograph of the pothole – only if you can do so safely – and take note of any features, such as the rough size and depth of it and if it is on a blind corner. Then report it your council. A full list can be found on the Potholes website.
And if the council doesn’t repair it in good time once you've reported it – some experts suggest about a week is adequate – then your case for compensation will be stronger.
The more evidence you can gather the better. For example you can submit a Freedom of Information Act to the council or highways agency that is responsible for the road to find out how often it is inspected and maintained to strengthen your cause.
When writing a letter or e-mail to the council it is also important to remain professional and calm – it could potentially be read out in court.
Even if you don’t manage to get compensation, alerting the Council to the pothole and bringing it to the attention of other road users, and potentially getting it repaired, could save thousands of motorists from damage to their cars.
For a more in-depth guide onto how to claim, visit the potholes.co.uk website.
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