Torrential rainstorms, severe flooding and the prospect of freezing weather mean that 2014 is threatening to create the perfect storm to deliver the UK’s most damaging pothole season yet. Read The Crawley Down Group’s guide to find out all you’ll need to know about the motorists’ blight we all love to hate.
We’ll look at just how dangerous and damaging these Tarmac terrors can be for you and your vehicle. We’ll also explain what to do if your car falls victim to one of the many potholes scarring the streets of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
Reporting a pothole
If you spot a pothole, you should always take time to report it. This will force the responsible council to deal with it and you could save vulnerable road users – such as cyclists and motorcyclists – from far worse than a dented alloy wheel. Simply head to Google and type in ‘report’ pothole’, or download a smartphone app such as the Government backed application Fill That Hole.
Possible damage: Striking a pothole is most likely to damage wheels and tyres. The impact can cause tears, bumps and blowouts in the tyre, while the wheel can be left buckled, cracked or completely shattered. Other issues include damage to suspension, tracking and wheel balancing.
Trip to the garage: If you hit a pothole and think your car might be damaged, keep calm and pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so. Then, check tyres for bulges, cuts and signs of puncture. Also look for damage to the wheel itself – a cracked or buckled wheel could lead to loss of control or sudden deflation of the tyre.
Inspect the underside of the car for any escaping fluids. Striking a deep pothole could result in oil, brake fluid, or hydraulic leaks – all of which make it dangerous to continue driving.
If you’ve lost any parts – such as wheel covers – only recover them from the road if it’s safe to do so.
If your wheels, tyres and fluids look okay, it should be safe to proceed and check whether the car’s steering and suspension systems have been damaged. If the car’s handling seems ‘different’ than before, then it’s likely you’ve damaged part of the suspension system. Ask yourself; do you feel an increased amount of swaying whenever you make simple turns? Does the car plunge forward during braking? Also, check for changes to the steering; does it pull to one side, fail to centre properly, or feel heavier than before? Are there vibrations through the steering wheel. If you answer yes to any of these questions, park your vehicle in a safe place and call your garage or breakdown service for further advice.
Additionally, many months of driving on pothole-scarred roads can result in cumulative damage to your car’s steering and suspension. You might not notice this gradual deterioration, but it doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Regular checks at your local dealer of tyre centre will help to pick up any problems.
Can you claim for pothole damage?
Yes, but there’s no guarantee that your claim will be successful. The amount of payments made to motorists in 2012 ranged from £8 million in North West England to a paltry £0.1 million in the East Midlands. Councils in the South East paid out £2.7m, which equates to an average of £207,692 for each of the region’s 13 councils – a mid-table figure on a national basis.
Making a claim
Here’s what to do if your car is damaged by a pothole…
Supporting evidence: It’s important to record as much supporting evidence as possible. Along with basics such as time, date and location, use your smartphone to take video and photos of the pothole – if it’s safe to do so – and visible damage to your car. Take a wider photo of the general scene showing the pothole and surrounding area. Note the approximate depth and width of the crater, too.
You might be in an unfamiliar location, or on an unmarked rural road when a pothole strikes, so download a smartphone app such as GPS Data, which will let you record the exact location of the pothole – you can then enter this in sites such as Google maps to find the address.
Also collect names and addresses of any witnesses if the pothole caused more serious damage.
Who to claim from: Next, find out who’s responsible for the road where damage occurred. To find out which council maintains the road, you can head to this council finder.
However, there are exceptions where the local authority (LA) will not be responsible for the road. Motorways and major trunk roads are maintained by the Highways Agency, while red routes in London are looked after by Transport for London. Contact the relevant body for your claim.
Contact the local authority or responsible body: Now, it’s time to make the claim. Compile a dossier – including all your additional evidence – and send it via post or email to the body responsible for the pothole. Don’t forget to include reports, quotes, or bills for any damage.
Expect the claim to be rejected by the LA or responsible body, this will be a standard procedure for many councils. They will usually cite the statutory defence that it was unaware of the pothole and that it had regularly inspected the road in question.
However, if you believe this to be untrue, cite the Freedom of Information Act 2000, to obtain details of the Council’s road inspection reports for the road where the pothole was located. This will detail inspections, works carried out and reports of defects – such as potholes. This will reveal if the council was aware of the pothole, or had breached its own regulations for regular inspections of the road in question. If so – repeat your claim.
Top tip: Find out how to submit a freedom of information request by opening Google and typing in ‘West Sussex County Council freedom of information request’ (replace WSCC with the appropriate council) and you’ll be provided with a direct link to all the information you need.
Wait for a response from and be prepared to negotiate a settlement – avoiding expensive legal battles.
Send us your pothole pics
PS. If you’re driving around the South East, it’s worth avoiding Holly Lane in Banstead, Surrey – it’s been revealed as one of UK’s worst roads for potholes.