Four easy ways to avoid pothole damage

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When you’re tooling down the highway (or even an Overland Park thruway like 87th Street near New Concept Auto Service) and suddenly see a pothole looming up ahead, what do you do? Do you hit the brakes? Do you swerve? Do you brace yourself? Do you curse? Do you pray?

Here are four easy ways to avoid hitting those dastardly holes and creating a need for costly repairs to your vehicle.

Be an eagle eye. The best way to spot a pothole is to watch the cars in front of you (like you are supposed to be doing). Cars will dip, swerve, and/or brake. In spring in Kansas City, if you see cars hitting their brake lights, or everyone is making the same move at the same spot, there’s likely a pothole ahead.

Go full speed ahead. If the impact is inevitable, resist the urge to hit your brakes. When you apply your brakes the front of your car will dip and the car experiences what’s called weight transfer. This means if your car weighs 4,000 pounds when you are driving at a steady speed the front wheels will carry roughly half the weight and the rear will carry the other half. When you apply the brakes, causing the car to nosedive slightly, the front carries more weight than the rear. And the harder you brake, the larger the force with which you strike the pothole. This force is transferred through your tire, to the wheel, to the wheel bearing, into the control arm, and finally the frame of the car. Not to mention, the front shock or strut takes quite a jolt. It seems counterintuitive, but if you don’t slow down you should do less damage to your car.

Don’t get NASCAR’d. Should you swerve? Of course the answer to that split-second decision hinges on what’s going on around you. Just last week on I-35 in Overland Park I was watching a few cars swerving around a pothole. Suddenly a pickup (not paying attention) jerked the wheel at the last second only to kiss the fender of the car to the right of him, all around 70 mph. (In the south they call this “getting NASCAR’d.”) Luckily nobody wrecked and they both pulled off the next exit, but it could have had a tragic ending. So don’t panic and don’t swerve unless you feel it is perfectly safe to perform what my driver’s ed teacher called a “controlled maneuver.”

Follow the five-second rule. I am one of those guys who counts to five watching the car in front of me as it passes a fixed object. I just like the comfort of the distance and the increased reaction time. I call tailgaters “one second wonders.” Funny thing, if you leave some space between you and the car ahead, someone will inevitably fill it up during rush hour. I also have found, if you are driving slightly slower than the pack, your one second wonder is more likely to just pass you. And I am OK with that. I just think maybe he really has a legitimate emergency, or his accelerator is stuck and he can’t turn the key off. I just wave.

And remember to be nice to road crews who repair these menacing pits in the highway. They have a hard job, working sunup to sundown from early spring to fall, some days in unbearable heat. The reason you don’t see them in the winter is because hot tar does not flow well in the snow. Don’t honk at them, just wave and think about the car maintenance dollars you will save avoiding potholes.