Asphalt Paving, Potholes and Tire Damage

A crevice in the path of cars is the inspiration for driver rage from coast to coast. The roads are aging, repaired infrequently – and costly to drivers.

Where it comes to roads and driving, America has a split personality. It would be easy to say that “personality” is based in a specific aggregation commonly known as “asphalt,” but really it’s a little more complicated than that.

Every day across the country tired are damaged by poorly maintained roads. The powers that be know it’s simpler for a driver to repair or replace their tire than to contact an asphalt contractor to fix the broken highway or street. You think a tire is expensive? Residential and commercial asphalt repair can be a sizeable but necessary – even vital – investment.

Asphalt is really the heart of the discussion. Because asphalt gives and it receives. It’s what the vast majority of our roads are made of (concrete is a distant second). Composed of gravel, sand, and bitumen, a crude oil byproduct, asphalt enabled the massive expansion of the interstate highway system since the 1950s, as well as the outward sprawl of cities that enabled middle class families to own homes with lawns, pools and gardens and, of course, driveways.

But time, traffic, temperature fluctuations, and precipitation all take their toll on asphalt – leading to the potholes that afflict motorists of all stripes. Corrugated roads slow traffic, cost money to repair and replace (although to be fair, asphalt is 100% recyclable), and are responsible for accidents when vehicles swerve out of their lane to avoid a pothole hit.

Another type of accident due to potholes is when a tire suffers internal damage or the car’s alignment is thrown off. Several miles after hitting a pothole a compromised tire might blow out at high speed, or the car’s alignment issues could impair steering while passing. In those cases the results could be catastrophic.

Short of life-threatening consequences from potholes, they are expensive to everyone who drives as well as to businesses that depend on ground transport. According to TRIP, a national transportation research group, one third of urban roads in the US are in “substandard condition” that cost individual drivers about $600 per year in repairs. 

If that number sounds high, consider the types of vehicular damage that routinely happens when a car, truck or van hits a pothole:

  • Flat tires

  • Damage to steel belts inside the tire (will require a tire replacement eventually)

  • Cracked or bent wheel rims

  • Damaged shocks and struts or other suspension components

  • Wheels and steering knocked out of alignment

  • Cracked catalytic converter

The repair/replacement cost of that last item alone can run $1500, and larger vehicles such as SUVs have two.

So why are our asphalt (and concrete) roads in such bad shape? The biggest problem is time: Roads that were built to last 25-40 years, constructed as long as 70 years ago, are not uncommon. States and municipalities are allocating fewer dollars to repair work due to tight budgets. Traffic loads have concurrently increased as well, with more vehicle deliveries to residences by heavy vans. Areas subject to winter freeze-thaw cycles suffer the most damage, but precipitation in Southern California and extremely high temperatures in places like Arizona, Texas and are factors that can diminish pavement integrity.

Words to the wise: pay heed while driving, and examine your vehicle after you’ve hit a pothole. The damage may already be done and danger lurks until you get it repaired.