We all know the feeling – you just drove over a pothole that was deeper than you expected and your tires made that tell-tale noise that makes you cringe and panic wondering if you now have a flat. With non-stop traffic on old roads, crazy weather, and a city foundation built on clay sediment, it is no wonder Houston is plagued with potholes that cause tire damage every day. Drivers in Houston are, unfortunately, used to seeing a new crop of potholes in the roads pop up after every rainstorm or winter freeze. While the Mayor’s office has promised to fix the issue and make it easier to report potholes as they appear in your area, the city still takes its time repairing the street. Houston area drivers can call 311 to report a pothole or use the 311 help app from iTunes or Google.
If your tire, wheel, or vehicle was damaged by a Houston pothole, collecting on those damages is almost impossible. You can file a claim on the Texas Department of Transportation’s website; however, the city is not required to pay for damages caused by potholes. Even if the government is responsible for maintaining safe roads – including fixing any potholes – Texas law states that cities are not responsible for damage done to a vehicle that was caused by street debris or potholes. The city is not technically liable for the condition of the roads, and even when claims are filed, they are often denied. This is an incredibly common problem as the number one listed reason for filing a claim is pothole damage. Even if city laws vary across the state, they all have one thing in common – a lengthy claims process that almost never pays out. If you are going to file a claim for damages in Houston, you have 90 days from the date your vehicle was damaged to do so. Be prepared to provide ample evidence to support your claim.
Pothole damage can be extensive. A direct hit to a pothole can ruin a tire, require an immediately tire change, and likely require a replacement tire. Even if the tire does not go flat immediately, there may be significant damage to the sidewalls that make it dangerous to keep the tire or tires on your vehicle. Having a spare tire on board will be crucial to keeping you safe on the road and allow you to get to a repair shop while avoiding costly tow truck fees. Potholes can also damage the rim of your wheels, your vehicle’s suspension, or other parts of the vehicle that are underneath the car. If you have experienced damage to your vehicle from a pothole, your auto insurance may cover part of the damage; however, auto insurance does not typically cover wear-and-tear including for tires. If you have purchased extra tire protection in your auto insurance policy, it may cover replacement tires. Ultimately, the best protection against pothole damage is driver awareness.
Surviving Houston’s streets that are filled with potholes takes preventative action and situational awareness. The following tips can help you stay safe while driving through Houston:
1. Be Aware of Road Conditions
Always scan the road in front of you for any sort of pothole or debris. Look ahead a few hundred feet so you know what is ahead of and around your vehicle. If you have a car in front of you, give yourself a bit of space so you can see the road ahead and have time to react to a pothole. If you see a pothole and it looks small, do not assume you can drive over it safely. Some potholes may not look like a threat but can cause serious damage. Potholes will fill with water after a rainstorm, so take care when driving through a puddle as it may be much deeper than expected.
2. Slow Down
If you see a pothole ahead on the road and cannot avoid it safely, slow down as much as possible before you hit it. Do not slam on your brakes, as that may result in someone rear-ending you. Similar to a speedbump, slow down and go through the pothole safely.
3. Check All Mirrors
If you are going to try to avoid a pothole ahead, make sure to check all of your mirrors before moving in and out of your lane. Randomly swerving into another lane may cause a serious accident. If you can stay in your lane and avoid the pothole, that would be ideal.
4. Listen to Your Car
If you have hit a pothole, pay attention to how your car drives immediately after. You may hear an odd noise, feel the car pulling in one direction, or the car may be shaking. These all indicate that there may be damage from the pothole. Air loss from a blistered sidewall can take time to appear but a popped tired will be loud and be felt immediately. If there are any signs of a problem, find a safe spot to pull over and check your vehicle. Even if you do not see any visible signs of damage, it is always a good idea to get your car checked out by a mechanic after hitting a deep pothole.
5. Keep Your Car Well Maintained
By keeping your tires inflated to the recommended pressure and keeping your car well-tuned, you may be able to minimize pothole damage. Tires that are over- or under-inflated can affect the tire or wheel’s resistance to damage from a pothole. Check the tire pressure every so often, especially when the temperature outside changes with a cold front or heatwave to make sure your vehicle’s tires are at the right pressure.
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