Potholes are something every driver learns to avoid early on in their road warrior career. The big ones can actually snap an axle. The smaller ones can throw up a shower of rocks and road debris that can scratch your car (and the ones around you). But apart from being annoying, potholes are incredibly expensive. In fact, they’re costing U.S. drivers around $3 billion a year in repairs.
According to a 2016 survey from the American Automobile Association, this massive cost to U.S. drivers has been consistent for the last five years. When you break down the total cost, that turns out to be an average repair bill of over $300. And 15 percent of drivers surveyed reported sustaining enough damage to require visiting an auto repair shop.
And some earlier studies have estimated that the cost is actually more than double what AAA found—as high as $6.4 billion yearly. This discrepancy could be due to where these surveys were conducted (perhaps in a state where roads are in poorer condition), but the point remains: potholes are pricey.
But what is a pothole, actually? And how do they occur? And why do there seem to be so many lately?
A pothole is created when water infiltrates the ground and the road base, eventually compromising the actual pavement. When the temperatures drop, that water freezes. When water freezes, it expands, and that pushes the pavement upward.
As the weather gets warmer, that ice melts and contracts back into water. This leaves behind a bubble in the pavement where the ice once was. Add to the mix a heavy car driving over those pockets of air, and you get a pothole as the thin layer of pavement crumbles into the space beneath it.
The United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money annually on fixing potholes. Though it’s difficult to outline a concrete cost due to statewide jurisdiction of road repairs, the point remains that it’s an incredibly expensive business for everyone involved.
So what can you do? Make sure your tires are fully inflated, and slow down if you can’t avoid hitting the pothole. And then maybe call your representative and ask when it will be fixed.