Potholes and Car Insurance 101
Those gaping holes in the road that vary in size and shape can cause a lot of damage to cars. Drivers aren’t always able to get around them, which can translate into damage to tires, wheels, steering and shock absorbers—and you can add to that list.
This opens the door to important questions: if they can't be avoided, does car insurance cover the damage? Is there any recourse against the parties at fault?
One thing’s a given, potholes are a real nuisance and cost a pretty penny. In Canada, drivers are reportedly spending $3 billion a year in higher vehicle operating costs due to poor road infrastructure.
How are potholes formed?
Spring is prime pothole season, as snowmelt and temperature changes cause road surfaces to shift and erode.
This can mean:
- swelling of the asphalt due to freezing
- softening of the asphalt due to thawing
In addition, vehicles on these roads create even more potholes, the size of which vary depending on several factors… and driving over one of them could damage your car.
Limiting the risk of damage
Driving speed, pothole size and tire dimension all influence the risk of damage.
According to a survey by the polling firm Leger, 78% of drivers use the wrong techniques with potholes.
Here are some tips to better adapt your driving:
- Reduce your speed.
- Look far and wide to spot a hole and avoid it in time.
- Keep a good distance from the vehicle in front of you to give yourself some leeway to react safely.
- Have your tire pressure checked in spring. If they are too inflated, they can burst during impact. If they are too soft, they can get stuck between the wheel and the hole.
If there’s no way around a pothole:
- Get a firm grip on the steering wheel.
- Don’t hit the brakes, a locked wheel is more likely to be damaged than a moving one.
- Keep control without swerving as this could lead to a collision with another vehicle.
After driving over a pothole, check for damage to your car, look for signs the wheels are misaligned, and listen for any abnormal noise. Have your car inspected at the garage if you notice something amiss.
Does car insurance cover damage?
Damage from potholes is only covered if your policy includes Protection 2: perils of collision.
Also bear in mind that you’ll have to pay a deductible if it applies.
Can you claim compensation?
For over a decade now, cities and the Ministère des Transports have not been liable for pothole-related damage to a vehicle’s suspension and tires.
You may, however, be able to claim for damage to the body, paint, wheels or bumpers if you can prove gross negligence.
For a claim against a city/municipality
What if you drive into a pothole and damage your car? You must send a written notice stating your intent to claim damages within 15 days of the accident. A claim for financial compensation must be filed within the next 6 months or you will lose your right of recourse.
You can also do other drivers a favour and report a pothole. Simply complete the service request form on the city's website or give them a call. Check if a hotline for these requests is available in your area.
For claims against the Ministère des Transports
The procedure to file a complaint (French only) is posted on the government website. Report what happened within a reasonable time and file your claim within three years following the damage.
Report the pothole that caused the damage as soon as possible. Depending on its location, either the city or the Ministry will have to fill the hole within a reasonable time period.
If Legal assistance is included in your contract, use it to get valuable advice for your claim.
In any case, caution is your safest bet to avoid repair costs and energy-consuming procedures. If you have any questions about your car insurance coverage, contact your insurance company.