/ Motoring

Do potholes drive you potty?

Large pothole

It’s that time of the year again. The freezing weather is damaging our roads yet further, leaving many of them looking like the surface of the moon. Has your car ever been damaged as the result of a pothole?

A couple of years ago, I hit a massive pothole while driving back from work. I was doing around 50mph on a B-road in Bedfordshire when I saw a large crater just ahead. Unfortunately I hit it head-on, causing the car to swerve sharply. But thankfully I managed to bring the car safely to a stop.

Once I got out, I found that my offside front wheel was badly buckled and the tyre was completely flat. I jacked-up the car and changed the wheel, then walked back to the road to inspect the pothole. It was huge.

Clearly it had been there for a while, and I was pretty angry that a pothole that large and dangerous had been allowed to develop. Judging by the number of discarded hubcaps lying around, I can’t have been the only one to have hit it!

Dig yourself out of a hole

Thankfully I’d been in a car, but had I been on a motorbike, the consequences could have been dreadful. I knew I wanted to claim compensation for the damage to my car and that I’d need evidence. So I took photos of both the pothole and the damage it had caused to my wheel before gingerly driving home, as I wasn’t sure if there was any damage to my suspension too.

I contacted my local garage the next day, which ordered my car a new wheel and tyre for £120. I then wrote to the council to claim compensation, and included hard copies of the photos, an explanation of what had happened, a map of where the hole was and copies of garage receipts. I also urged them to fix the pothole as soon as possible, as it clearly represented a danger to other road users.

To give credit where it’s due, the council wrote back fairly swiftly to say they had passed my letter on to their insurers and, when I drove along the same road a few weeks later, the pothole had been repaired. About two months after that, I received a cheque for the full £120.

The pothole problem – £22m in pothole compensation

Infographic on how much it will cost to repair the UK's potholesWe’ve just conducted an investigation into the state of our roads in different parts of the country. Using data provided by local councils, we found there’s something of a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of your local roads. Across England and Wales as a whole, we found that councils paid road users a huge £22.8m in compensation for damage caused by potholes in 2012.

However, we also found that the backlog of road repairs in England is only getting bigger. Since 2009, the backlog of pothole repairs alone has grown from £53.2m to £61.3m on average per local authority.

On top of this, it’s estimated that it would cost an enormous £12.9bn to clear the entire road maintenance backlog in the UK. Find out how your part of the country is fairing using our infographic above (click to enlarge).

So the pothole situation is getting worse. But what state are the local roads in where you live? Have you ever damaged your vehicle on a pothole and, if so, did you manage to claim compensation?


I am a fairly cautious driver and have never damaged a wheel or tyre, but failing to spot a water-filled pothole was probably the reason why I had to buy a new catalytic converter.

I have sympathy with councils because potholes can form and enlarge very quickly, but there is no excuse for potholes that receive no attention for months. Perhaps there should be a ‘pothole phone’ to report problems, so that warning notices can be put up promptly even if it is not practical to effect an immediate repair.

I think I can understand why Dave, the Which? Technology Team Leader, has chosen this Conversation topic and it might not just be because he was victim of a pothole and was successful in getting compensation. 🙂

I was thinking that too, Wavechange – good job his parents avoided the first name Philip.

Anyway, thank you Dave for the article which highlights not just the financial cost of potholes to the insurance industry and ultimately to every local highway authority and every vehicle owner but also the safety risks that unrepaired potholes represent. The risks of sudden swerves, losing control, unnoticed damage to suspensions, tyres and brakes, having to stop on an exposed section of road in flowing traffic, and the difficulty of maintaining effective concentration on the driving following an impact, all add up to the potential for injuries or worse including to other road users.

The New Scientist frequently mentions cases of ‘nominative determinism’, whereby people take up careers appropriate to their names. If Which? decides to have a campaign about the state of our roads, Dave Holes could be the man for the job. Perhaps there is scope to incorporate technology. How about a pothole app?

Just like Josh Green and his energy work on the Green Deal. Anyway, back to potholes. The roads are great near me in London, but back in the New Forest they tend to be a bit patchy. Then again, not all the roads are made of tarmac.

I’ve driven down dirt tracks on little Greek islands and they’ve been in better condition than some of the roads in Surrey.

Short answer is yes. 2 years ago I lost a hub cap and almost needed a new wheel, not tyre , wheel. Was very surreal watching the garage hammer it back into shape. I emailed the council and the hole was filled in within 24 hours, so I just missed taking a photo 🙁

I just wish it was easier to report things like this took a fair amount of time trying to find how to report it.

There should be a central website/phone number to ring to log these things. It shouldn’t be down to you or I to know this road is Council A , the next road is some other body that can’t be bothered to spend money on the roads.

G L Attaway says:
19 January 2013

£1250 cost of repairs for my claim for tyres and wheel damage! ( from insurance as Council said it would take up to 12 months to claim from them) My insurance company did not bother to process my claim against the Council either, which resulted in an increased premium being requested for my cover on my wife’s car.

On country roads the edge of the road often breaks up because vehicles often drive on to the grass verge to provide room to pass. I have noticed that drivers of 4WD vehicles often do this when it is unnecessary. Once the damage has started, it can progress quickly.

The problem is exacerbated by increasing traffic, larger and heavier vehicles, and the number of people who prefer to pass at high speed rather than drive at low speed and attempt to pass without going off the road.

I am not sure what the solution is, but it is not surprising that our roads cost so much to maintain.

steve gilbert says:
19 January 2013

i live in surrey and am covered by tandridge district council, i have lost count of the reported potholes, the last one was the lane leading down to where i live. My inital report stated it was hoped to be dealt with within 28 days but as over 6000 potholes are reported eac week in surrey, they are dealt on a prioity issue. It was 8 weeks before they were repaired and i watched as the ‘Gang’ came to repair them as i was travelling home. They didn’t bother clearing the standing water, just chucked in the tar then bedded it down. Not the snow and ice have arrived wonder how long, before they re-appear. Have thought about not paying council tax, as these delays in potholes is really getting to me, and the extra stress on my car. It’s not just surrey, i travel through west sussex and hampshire alot and they are all the same. Think a ‘Health’ warning should be issued when we are about to drive on the uk roads.

The inability of councils to repair roads properly, due to lack of money, inevitably leads to a reactive policy – repair rather than prevent. How should your council spread its limited resources around? Our council, a couple of years ago, spent getting on for £10000 moving a 30 mph speed limit a
couple of hundred yards – that would have paid for around 120 pothole repairs.
Perhaps if we made our councils limit expensive wage bills on senior employees, used sensible contracts without large payoffs for redundancy or underperformance, etc we might see a more prudent use of your money.

I still haven’t forgiven my council for spending £19.5m in 2006 on new offices for THEMSELVES!! Just cos times were “good” back then, I could never see why they “wasted” the money.

And only recently they’ve had the road maintenance team ( they’ve sub contracted out to), put in a new junction ( that took them 3 months ). The old junction ( a roundabout ) always worked well for me, and now with traffic lights I always get delayed.

I think councils would have the funds if they just thought about what they’re spending the money a bit more.

When I am riding about on my motorcycle at night I just hope that I don’t hit a pot hole. During the day I usually have my wits about me. I have been very lucky in my 35 years of motorcycling that I have been able to avoid the majority of the ones I have seen on the road during the day. I am hoping my luck doesn’t run out at night. For a motorcyclist a pot hole is a potential killer.

I wonder how many councils get the rubbish collection teams to notify their works department of any pot holes. I’m thinking none. All it needs is some joined up thinking, who am I kidding, that’ll never happen.

I realised that as I’m sitting here wondering what lame exercises the council will give for not collecting the recycling last Friday. The teams managed the fortnightly wheelie bin pick up but never came back for the recycling. I’m expecting they’ll blame the council for not gritting the roads adequately. Left hand, right hand springs to mind.

Our district Council has also blamed the state of the roads [county council] for not collecting our fortnightly recycling last Wednesday. The bin was already full to bursting with an extra box alongside – we have been told to take this back again until the end of January in the hope that things get better! Luckily it’s all stuck in the ice now so it will have to stay out the front. The potholes are no longer visible through the impacted snow and ice so people will not report them unless they hit them, and the repair teams will be idle because you can’t make lasting repairs to roads in this weather.

Many councils have websites for the public to report potholes. Once reported they are liable for subsequebt damage if not repaired within a reasonable time.

Millefiori says:
22 January 2013

To be cynical, £22m in compensation against £12930m in road repairs looks like a good deal for the taxpayer.

I had to have two springs changed on my car this year due to (I suspect) pot hole damage but as it was not just the effect of one mighty pot hole I wasn’t able to claim against the council. Annoying but…

Car springs are apparently not the quality they used to be. I’ve had two replaced. Anyone know why? I don’t think I can blame potholes.

John Robles says:
18 April 2015

What about the thousands of miles of highways that are not adopted here in the UK? You cannot claim off the Local Authority and successive Governments have allowed local Authorities and Developers to build homes either on unadopted roads or requiring access via them, without amending the Highways Act which allows this situation to prevail.

They can please themselves as to the roads being made up to adoptable standards. What is happening all over our country is that Developers are merely making up the roads to minimum standards thereby escaping paying out the extra money and Local Authorities gladly accept this because they too gain the addition Council Tax that people still have to pay regardless of whether their road is adopted or not!

This problem is not going away for any Government or local Authority, it can only get worse and did you know whilst the majority of people that live on adopted roads have their highway maintained at public expense, the minority who have to endure living in their homes on unadopted roads still have to pay the same Council Tax as everyone else with no relief/rebate given whatsoever; a very unfair situation indeed.

John Robles Saturday 18th April 2015.