Maintenance Tips: Getting Reimbursed for Damage Caused By Road Hazards & Potholes

Cleveland Potholes

Having an high-performance sports car, exotic or modified vehicle usually means that your ride has a reduced height, rolls on low profile tires and maintains a stiff suspension. These factors alone make the conditions of the roads that you traverse pretty important. Potholes are wack, to use common nonspecific vernacular. And if you live on the east coast and parts of the west coast and certain areas in the south, you may have had your life (or at least a few hours) significantly affected by one of these gems. But what do we really know about these pesky road hazards? Where do they come from, what do you do if you are swallowed-up by one and what kind of recourse do you have? These compelling and complex questions are some of the things that we’ll try to tackle here. It won’t be easy, mainly because its super dry and boring, but if you are able to complete this journey (yawn) with us you will be smarter, better prepared and a road hazard rock star.

Potholes begin to form when snow or rain seeps into cracks in the road, where it gets into the ground beneath the surface. When there is a temperature drop, the moisture below freezes, causing expansion which pushes out the pavement. When the temperature goes back up, the ground returns to its original elevation but the roadway often does not. When someone drives over this gap the surface cracks and creates said pothole.

There are many other types of road hazards as well. Cave-ins are like monster potholes with deep voids. Hummocks are bumps and raised grooves that typically form near intersections. These are very common in places like California. Manhole covers are sometimes cracked, missing or set too high or low on the street. Old utility cuts typically have large square or rectangular steel plates covering them which may be misplaced, too short or even missing.

If you encounter a road hazard, never apply your brakes abruptly. This just causes more weight to shift to the front wheels which makes things worse. The best thing to do is actually hit the gas and transfer weight to the back of the vehicle. This is the best course because the majority of the time, damage is done to the front wheels and tires. Often by staying vigilant you can avoid many road hazards. That said, especially when traveling during rush hour and boxed in on all sides, taking evasive action is not viable as Nascar style rubbing is generally discourage during city commuting.

But what happens if you have a blow-out, bend your rim or tear off your ground effects kit due to a large ditch in the road? Who’s liable? Sadly enough, the city is usually not held accountable for negligence. You have to look at your local government code to see if there is some type of liability or whether a law was broken. Thankfully, doing this research is only a Google click away.

One of the first steps you can take is to contact your local Department of Transportation (DOT) to inquire about their claim filing process. Some states actually have special forms and detailed listings of required documentation and getting reimbursed is pretty straightforward. However, more often than not they don’t have an established process and this can become a herculean task.

Here are some general guidelines. Make a claim and file it within 10 days of the incident. There are some statutes that allow municipalities to avoid any liability if the claim falls outside this time frame. Include your name, address, telephone number along with the date, time of day and specific location. As for documenting where the pothole or hazard was located, using intersections for reference along with distance and direction can be helpful or citing a specific address that the hazard is across from is useful as well.

Describe what exactly took place, how your vehicle or your person was affected and whether or not other cars were involved as well. Once this information is submitted, the municipality will typically take a day to a week to have someone determine whether or not any action will be taken to repair the street and more often than not, many weeks to determine if the cost of fixing your ride will be covered.

Interestingly enough, whether or not you get compensated typically depends on whether or not there was a previous claim filed and how the city or state addressed the problem. If the pothole was supposed to be fixed and was not, and the DOT goes through the records and finds this to be the case, you will probably get some kind of reimbursement. Keep you fingers crossed and don’t hold your breath…. If you’ve been reimbursed for damage to your car or have an interesting experience to share, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. We’d love to know how you have fared.

Source: NJ DOT | NYC DOT