How to Protect Your Tires from Pothole Damage

Here’s how you can steer clear of potentially costly hazards.

car approaching a pothole on the road Getty

Car tires are important for your vehicle's overall performance. We've put together some tips and preventative maintenace goals to help you avoid costly damage to your vehicle's tires.

Potholes can turn a smooth roadway into an obstacle course. These tips can help you understand, and minimize, the damage potholes can cause, and possibly to avoid them altogether.

How do potholes form?

There are many factors that can create the right conditions for a pothole to form. It doesn't matter if you live in colder climates or in the sunny south, potholes can form from factors like excessive water, freezing temperatures and heavy vehicles, which take their toll on highways and roads.

Potholes can pop up on roads no matter the weather. When it rains, water infiltrates into tiny cracks in the road. Then, if it gets cold and possibly freezes and then expands, making the cracks bigger. When it warms up again, the ice melts, leaving gaps in the road. This cycle happens over and over, weakening the pavement until chunks start to break away, forming potholes.

But it's not just the winter weather causing chaos. All the cars and trucks driving over the road put a lot of pressure on it. As cracks start to form from the weather and repeated use, the weight of vehicles only makes them worse.

The constant pounding from wheels rolling over weak spots can break off chunks of pavement, creating even bigger holes. Sometimes, if the road wasn't built well in the first place or isn't maintained properly, potholes can form faster. 

Here's some visuals on how those external factors of weather, construction and traffic team up to create a pothole:


Water from snow or rain seeps through small holes and cracks in the road, collecting between the top asphalt layer and the roadbed directly below it.


When temperatures drop, the moisture in water freezes over and expands, breaking up the pavement and separating it from the roadbed material.


Rising temperatures then thaw the moisture, sometimes leaving a cavity between the surface of the pavement and standing water on the roadbed directly below it.


When a car or truck drives over the pavement, the pavement begins to break down. Additional driving over the spot causes more chunks of asphalt to break away, expanding the hole.

What car parts can be damaged by potholes?

Your vehicle can sustain serious damage from hitting a pothole. One of the first victims of a pothole encounter is often the tire itself. The sharp, harsh edges of a pothole can lead to punctures or tire sidewall bulges, both of which can make the tire unsafe for driving. But the damage may not stop there; the rim, or more commonly known as the wheel, is also at risk. In severe impacts with a pothole, the rim can get bent or the metal can crack, leading to air loss and sometimes even a hazardous tire blowout.

If your car hits a pothole with a significant force, it may also cause misalignment of the wheels, throwing off the delicate balance of the steering and suspension system. A misaligned vehicle not only handles poorly but also wears tires unevenly, leading to reduced tire life and overall performance issues such as reduced fuel efficiency.

Furthermore, the suspension system, composed of various parts such as the struts, control arms, and bushings, can also take a beating from hitting a pothole. Over time, these critical components can wear down or break, necessitating costly repairs and potentially compromising the safety of your vehicle.

Other systems that may be affected from repeated encounters with a potholes can include the exhaust system, which consists of the muffler, catalytic converter, and pipes. The impact can dent or damage these components, leading to noisy rides and reduced fuel efficiency.

Additionally, as the car's weight shifts during a pothole encounter, the shocks and struts absorb much of this force. Constant exposure to these impacts can wear down the suspension components, reducing their effectiveness and potentially leading to a bumpy ride.

view from under the frame of the car Getty

How to protect yourself—and your vehicle—from potholes

Hitting a pothole—or taking the wrong measures to avoid one—can lead to a crash. A blown tire or broken suspension part can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, as can a split-second decision to stomp on the brakes or swerve out of your lane to avoid a pothole. These tips can help you minimize pothole damage to your vehicle or avoid repairs altogether:

  • Maintain Proper Tire Pressure: Properly inflated tires are less susceptible to damage from potholes. Regularly check your tire pressure and keep it at the recommended level.
  • Maintain Deep Enough tire Tread: Underinflated or worn tires are more likely to become damaged, and they make your suspension and wheels more vulnerable. Here are the key warning signs that you need new tires.
  • Stay Focused: Eliminate distractions, look ahead for roadway hazards and keep a safe distance from other vehicles around you. Pay attention to the road ahead and be on the lookout for potholes, especially after heavy rainfall or during the spring thaw when potholes tend to form or worsen.
  • Maintain a Safe Following Distance: Keep a safe distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you to allow more time to react to potholes.
  • Slow Down: Reduce your speed when approaching areas where potholes are likely to be present, such as poorly maintained roads or construction zones.
  • Avoid Puddles: Potholes are often filled with water, especially after rain. Avoid driving through puddles, as they may conceal deep potholes.
  • Use Turn Signals: If you need to change lanes to avoid a pothole, use your turn signals to alert other drivers of your intentions.
  • Avoid Swerving Abruptly: While it's important to steer around potholes, avoid making sudden or sharp movements that could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Report Potholes: If you encounter a particularly hazardous pothole, report it to your local authorities or transportation department so they can repair it promptly.
  • Drive in the Center Lane: On multi-lane roads, potholes often form in the outer lanes where vehicles drive more frequently. Driving in the center lane can sometimes reduce your exposure to potholes.
  • Use Defensive Driving Techniques: Be prepared for other drivers to swerve or brake suddenly to avoid potholes. Maintain a safe distance and be ready to react accordingly.

By staying alert, reducing speed, and using defensive driving techniques, you can minimize the risk of damage to your car tires and other parts when encountering potholes on the road.

Car tire hitting a pothole in the road Getty

What should you do after hitting a pothole? Assessing the damage

After the jarring shock of hitting a pothole, it's crucial not to let the moment pass you by and be forgotten. Here’s a quick guide to ensure your vehicle survives the perils of pothole season:

  • Inspect Your Vehicle: Like a detective on the trail of a mystery, take a moment to visually inspect your vehicle. Look for any obvious signs of damage. If you have a bent rim or tire damage, you may not notice if you don't look for it.

  • Listen for New Noises or Vibrations: New noises or vibrations usually indicate that something is wrong. If you notice them after hitting a pothole, have a certified technician look over the car.

  • Check Tire Pressure: With a tire pressure gauge as your trusty sidekick, check if your tires are still holding air or if the pothole has created a leak. Proper tire pressure ensures your ride is as smooth amd safe as possible.

  • Have Alignment and Suspension Inspected: If your car pulls to the side after hitting a pothole, a wheel may be out of alignment. Damage to struts, shock absorbers and other parts can also affect the way your car drives. If you suspect problems, have a certified technician inspect the alignment and suspension.

  • Visit a Professional: If your car's performance post-pothole feels unpredictable bring it to a trusted mechanic.

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