South Africa is a wonderful one-of-a-kind country with its own unique risks. One of the biggest irritations for motorists - and one of the most damaging to cars - is the dreaded pothole. The South African Automobile Association estimates that about 60% of South Africa's roads are potholed or are in need of maintenance. This means that for every 100km you drive, about 60 of those kilometres will be on a road that puts your car at risk.
A pothole is formed when water seeps down below the road surface and freezes, loosening the asphalt. When the water thaws and more rain falls on the weak spot - plus heavy traffic - the asphalt eventually cracks. Just like that, a big hole awaits your poor car.
Here are our safety tips for preventing damage to your car, wheels and tyres.
How to steer clear of potholes:
- If you can, try to avoid potholes completely by slowing down while carefully swerving, especially if you drive on the same road every day and know where they are situated. Always be on the lookout for new potholes - what was a perfect road last week could be a pothole-ridden drive this week! Make sure to check for oncoming vehicles before you swerve.
- Make sure your tyres are properly inflated according to your car manufacturer's recommendation. This will mean an adequate cushion between the road and your tyres.
- Be vigilant when the road is wet and keep your eyes open for holes. It can be difficult to spot a water-filled pothole.
- Watch out for sand and grit - this could indicate the presence of a pothole.
- Drive with a clean windshield as your field of vision is critical.
- Follow the lead of other cars: If you see a car swerving for no apparent reason, it may well be to miss a pothole.
- Drive carefully: if there was ever a reason not to speed and to keep a safe following distance, it should be to avoid hitting a pothole or another car braking in front of you.
- Always switch on your headlights when driving in bad weather.
- Avoid driving on gravel roads, especially at night.
How potholes can cause damage and the warning signs to watch out for
Potholes are not just unkind to your tyres but could have an affect on various parts of your vehicle:
- Steering wheel: It will 'pull' which indicates misalignment. Your steering wheel should always point the same way as your tyres. Proper wheel alignment is crucial for handling and tyre function so visit an alignment centre to have this problem attended to.
- Suspension damage: The car might feel 'out-of-control' - bottoming out or bouncing erratically. You may feel swaying, especially on turns. It could mean that your suspension has been damaged, which could negatively affect shocks, struts, ball joints, steering rack, bearings, seals and tie rods - all crucial car components.
- Tyre puncture, damage or wear: Regularly inspect your tyres for cuts or bulges.
- Wheel rim damage: Aluminium-based rims are especially vulnerable to dents or even being bent.
- Exhaust system damage: If strange sounds are coming from your exhaust, have it inspected by a mechanic.
- Undercarriage: Hitting a pothole can dent or puncture the undercarriage of your car, which could mean leaking fluids and rust forming over time.
You've hit a pothole - now what?
- Don't brake too hard because you will force the weight of your car forward and into the pothole, causing even more damage.
- Pull over in a safe spot and do a proper visual inspection of your car, especially the wheels and tyres.
- If possible, take a photo of the pothole and make a note of where it is.
- Make sure you are adequately insured for this kind of damage. You can request a quote from us here.
- Report potholes to the authorities: Depending on whether you were driving on a municipal or national road, you may be able to submit a claim for damages (but don't hold your breath). National roads are identified as N1, N2 etc and are the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL). Municipal roads fall under the authority of the various municipal districts or the Department of Public Works where those roads are located. Here's how the process works, according to the AA.
- Keep all receipts from damage repair to support your insurance claim.
So to sum up - potholes will never go away but adequate short-term insurance will provide peace of mind and the absolute certainty of cover in all events. No matter how carefully you drive, sadly the chances are very good that you will hit a hole at some stage.
Visit our car advice page for more useful tips.