Pothole perils: how to claim for damage

Can Brits afford to pay dearly for dire roads?

With the news that pothole damage is at a record high, it’s clear that Britain’s roads are not up to scratch. Pothole damage to vehicles cost a staggering £474 million in the past year. That’s 631,852 pothole-related incidents; the highest for five years, with tyre, wheel, steering, and suspension all reportedly damaged by poor road surfaces.

Local authorities have been under tremendous pressure to repair roads, but their stretched budgets mean roads are crumbling beneath our wheels. And unfortunately, it’s translating into strife for drivers, when their vehicles are inevitably damaged.

The cost-of-living crisis means that we’re all making money-conscious choices, such as opting for poorer quality yet cheaper tyres. Still, with so many potholes out there, your chances of hitting one and it damaging your vehicle are higher.

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It can be tough to know what to do if you do hit a pothole. So here’s how to keep yourself, and your vehicle safe, and even make a claim, via your insurance, but also against your council if necessary.

Steps to take if you hit a pothole:

1. Don’t slam on your breaks

Slowly reduce your speed before getting out in a safe place to assess your vehicle.

It’s a natural reaction to hit the breaks as soon as you hit a pothole, but this can cause even more damage. Slamming on the brakes puts more strain and compression onto your vehicle’s suspension, which could cause misalignment, tyre and wheel damage and body or exhaust scrapes. 

2. Check for damage

It is crucial that you pull over when it is safe to do so and check your vehicle for any damage. Look out for any dents, scrapes or visible damages to your wheels or tyres.

If you’re confident that you’ve avoided any cosmetic damage, keep an eye and ear out for any changes in the way your vehicle drives – for example, any vibrations or if your car pulls to one side. 

3. Report the pothole

You might want to take it upon yourself to report the pothole. The outcome depends on what type of road the pothole is on or if the pothole has already been reported.

If you were driving on the motorway when you hit the pothole, you should contact National Highways. If you weren’t on the motorway, you should find out who the local council is as they are responsible for fixing the road. 

4. Making a claim

You are well within your rights to make a claim for damage caused by a pothole.

You will need to take note of the road on which you hit the pothole, as well as the date, time, and weather conditions. If you are on a motorway and you hit a pothole, there are markings to the left of where you were and the direction you were driving in.  

How to make a claim for pothole damage

Did you know that there’s no explicit legal requisite that covers pothole claims?

Instead, there are laws that require authorities ensure that roads are safe. That’s what you can claim they have failed to do. If you want to try and claim compensation for the cost of any repairs to your vehicle, caused by a pothole, here are the steps to take.

Once you have identified the responsible body, i.e. the appropriate council, you need to write to it. In your correspondence, include all the information and evidence, such as:

  • Where the pothole is located
  • When you hit it (date/time)
  • Weather conditions
  • Quotes or invoices showing the extent of the damage and cost of any repairs

You may want your mechanic to put in writing that the damage was caused by the pothole, to bolster your claim. And to take things even further, you can submit a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the authority about the road’s repair history.

This is important to note, as the authority can’t be held responsible for a pothole it didn’t know about. So if it hasn’t been reported to the council, or spotted during its own road checks, you may find your claim hampered.

You can only have a successful claim if the local authority was at fault. So if the authority was negligent in not conducting the proper checks it should have, or repairing the road after it has been reported. In some cases, they will still blame the driver for not spotting a pothole, even when it’s buried under a puddle.

How does insurance deal with potholes?

As well as considering compensation, you should also inform your insurer – even if you don’t claim, or only have third-party cover. Otherwise, if you have an accident but don’t tell your insurer, you risk invalidating your police. Claiming via your car insurance is no doubt a simpler process, but you need to factor in the cost of the repairs, your excess and the effect on any no-claims bonus you might have.

Your best bet is to have a motor legal policy that offers assistance in pursuing the relevant local authority. This type of policy would account for the cost of the legal claim for pothole damage. It really could save you money, and the headache, of sorting the compensation yourself. And having a broker, such as Howden, look after you, could make the process even smoother. 

Talk to your local Howden branch

Pothole damage hurts financially, no matter what vehicle you drive, and how much you’ve invested. But, in the current economic landscape, if we’re forced to choose the budget-friendly parts and repairs as a driver, we could find ourselves backed into a false economy. Especially as poor road conditions mean constant repairs, claims and potentially increased insurance premiums.

Ultimately, just patching up potholes won’t be sufficient if we want our roads to last. Our infrastructure needs to be fit for long-term use, so that we can travel around the country sustainably. And that can only come from investment into building and rebuilding durable roads.

But in the meantime, if you are concerned about potholes and how your motor is covered, your local Howden branch is here to help. Find your nearest team of friendly insurance experts, and stop by or give them a call.

Sources: CityAm, Fleet News, Independent, MSE

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