Spangler Subaru Blog

Spring is almost here, and that means we look forward to the Pennsylvania truths: birds chirping, fisherman populating the rivers, endless rain storms, orange signs signaling impending road work, and our favorite- unabated crater-sized potholes. Some of these appear without any scientific explanation (like orange cones reducing traffic to one lane when literally nothing is being done to the other), while others have been studied and have a verifiable reason for their occurrence. In this blog we will understand why potholes pockmark our roadways in the spring.

It’s actually a simple process, but it manifests by means of a vicious cycle. When pavement is initially laid, the top level is sealed so, in theory, water should drain off the sides of the road. However, stress from constant traffic causes tiny tears in the top layer, enough for a little water to soak in. When this happens during warm weather, there is really no concern. It is not until the air temperatures begin to cool when the damage begins.

As we know, water expands when it freezes. On the first night of below freezing temperatures, the water in that crack expands slightly, likely creating a tiny bit more of space. If that water stays frozen, once again it is likely no big deal and the road remains intact. Nonetheless, we know that the air temperatures (especially this year) fluctuate drastically during the season. Each time the water warms, more space is created and filled by snow melt and rain, thus starting the cycle over again. Couple that in with the continued stress of vehicles over a weak spot, eventually it will wear away enough that a vehicle or a plow will catch that bit and pull it out, leaving that crater we learn to swerve and avoid every spring.

Salt on roadways adds an additional stress, because it can melt the ice at below freezing temperatures during the day and refreeze at night. I have heard some people claim that this year has been worse than recent years. While it may be hard to measure that claim, the frequent warming and cooling cycles tied with bad snowstorms followed by daily rains probably adds significant stress to the roadways.

What does this mean to you? There is an obvious danger to running over a pothole. Some are tiny etchings in the pavement, so much that an average vehicle will not notice it. Others are deep and can cause extensive damage including bent wheels, damaged tires, offset alignments, and even bodywork damage. Fortunately the average repair is only $306, although some repairs can cost thousands. A study released in 2016 also showed that Americans spend $3 billion on average for repairs on vehicles caused by potholes.

Sealing potholes adds another concern. To the average person, it may seem logical to simply throw some pavement in the hole and be done with it. Ostensibly it is not quite that easy. The repair must ensure a perfect seal to keep moisture out in a weak area that is already susceptible. This is why, as a motorist, you may recognize a troublesome spot that appears every spring.

To keep yourself and other motorists safe, Pennsylvania has a hotline you can call to report potholes on state roads. This number is 1-800-FIXROAD. Individual city/township/borough owned roads would need that local government entity to be notified directly.

Is there any recourse? In Pennsylvania, on state owned roads, property damage is at the expense of the motorist. Bodily injury may be awarded if the state was notified of the pothole and did not make repairs in a timely manner. Local governments may be sued for both property damage and bodily injury, but compensation for property damage will likely result in little help, generally not more than your insurance deductible.

Stay safe out on those spring roads and remain vigilant for any potholes!

Categories: Parts, Body Shop, Other


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