If you hit a deep pothole – even at quite a slow speed – you could damage your tyres, wheels and steering alignment.
The repairs may not be worth an insurance claim but you might be able to get compensation from the local council, even if you have breakdown cover. Read on to find out how.
What is a pothole?
A pothole is a noticeably large hole or depression that forms on a road's surface. It’s usually caused by a combination of water under the asphalt and traffic constantly travelling over it. Potholes typically start as a small crack or worn-away part of the road, which is worsened over time by the tyres of passing vehicles.
Can I claim for damage caused by potholes?
Yes, you can claim for pothole damage, but you’ll need to make a note of the road it happened on, as well as what the damage was and the date and time it occurred. It’s best recommended to make a note of your whereabouts on the road you were driving on (using a nearby marker post or landmark/feature). If you were on a motorway, it’ll help to know how far along the road you were, and the direction you were travelling in. Alternatively, you can use what3words for a precise marking of a location.
Who is responsible for potholes in the road?
It depends on the type of road you were on, but in order to make a claim, you’ll need to contact the organisation that’s responsible for maintaining the road. If you were travelling on a motorway, for example, you could contact National Highways to see if they are responsible for it. On most normal roads in England, you can report a pothole to find out which council is responsible.
Find out more about how to claim for pothole damage on various roads.
Will the council pay for pothole damage?
On roads where a local council is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the road, they may be liable to pay for pothole damage to your car. If you’re claiming for pothole damage from a council, make sure to keep as many details as possible about where and when the damage occurred, and the cost of repairs.
If you’re unlucky enough to hit a pothole, here’s what you need to do:
1. Check for damage
Pothole damage to your car can even occur at low speeds, but at high speeds it can be much worse.
- Pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so
- Look for any visible damage to your wheels and tyres
- Check for any vibrations while you're driving
- Check if your steering wheel doesn't centre properly or if the car pulls to one side
If you see any damage or the steering doesn't seem right, get your car checked by a garage or tyre specialist as soon as possible. It can be costly and dangerous to ignore tracking or steering damage.
Learn about the reasons why your steering wheel might be shaking.
We provide 24/7 roadside assistance.
2. Take some notes
If you want to make a pothole claim either on your insurance or from the council, you'll need some information to back it up. You'll also need the info so you can report the pothole and help make the road safer for other drivers.
Don’t rely on your memory - it's best to take some notes.
- Return to the scene, take notes or make sketches
- If safe to do so, take photographs of the pothole
- Include a familiar object in your photo, like a shoe or drink can, to give a sense of scale
- Make a note of exactly where the pothole was, including the road name, town and its position on the road (you can also use what3words to mark a precise location)
- Take down the contact details of anyone who saw what happened
3. Report the pothole
Whether you think you'll claim for damage or not, the first thing you do should is report the pothole. A hit at high speed could make a driver lose control or even crash, so it's important that they're fixed.
- Let your local county, city or borough council know so they can fix the hole
- In England and Wales, you can find the right authority using this postcode checker
- Motorways and A roads in England are managed by National Highways
- In Wales, roads are managed by Traffic Wales
- You can report potholes in Scotland online to My Gov Scotland
- Report a pothole in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website
4. Repair your car
If your car is damaged and you have to get repairs done it's a good idea to get several quotes first. That way, you can shop around for the best deal.
- Get a few different quotes so you can compare prices
- Keep copies of all quotes, invoices and receipts to support your claim
5. Make your claim
You might be able to claim compensation from the council for the cost of any repairs to your car.
- Write to the council responsible for the road with the pothole on
- Include all the details you’ve collected, like copies of your quotes, invoices and receipts
Remember that the local highway authority can’t be held responsible for a pothole they didn’t know about. They might not have known about it if it hadn’t been reported to them, or because it wasn’t spotted by them during their regular checks.
But councils do have a responsibility to fix large potholes if they know about them. And they're supposed to keep the roads safe, so you'll need to argue that they've failed in this.
How do you make a successful pothole claim?
Anyone can make a claim for pothole damage, but the best way to be successful with your claim is to include as much detail as possible. If the pothole that damaged your car is on a quiet road, for example, then you may be able to take photos of it (as well as photos of the damage sustained to your car). Other details you should note down are the name of the road and your specific location on it, and the date and time.
You may also be able to get a quote from a mechanic/garage confirming that the pothole caused the damage and the cost of any repairs.
Can you claim for wheel damage from a pothole?
Yes, if you can prove that a pothole is responsible for the damage to your car (whatever damage that may be) then you can make a claim.
6. Make an appeal
By law, councils must have a system to inspect and repair roads. The system will say how often roads are inspected, how big any road damage needs to be before it's repaired, and how quickly repairs should happen. Claiming pothole damage from the council is a function that is available to everyone.
If your claim is rejected and you feel it's unfair, you can appeal it.
- Ask to see the council's road inspection reports and try a reclaim
- If the damage is very expensive, speak to your insurance company or seek legal advice
How long will claiming for pothole damage take?
There is no set period that a claim needs to be resolved by, but it’s known that pothole damage cases can take months to unfold. Our best advice is to be prepared to wait for a bit, and be persistent.
How likely is it my pothole claim will be successful?
The more evidence you can provide with your pothole claim, the more likely it is to be successful. Make sure to follow the advice above on this page to increase your chances of getting a payout.
How big a problem are potholes?
Between April 2018 and December 2019, potholes have cost the UK's councils more than £3.7million in compensation. But to repair a pothole only costs around £39.80 on average. We think local authorities could have filled in around 93,923 potholes for that money.1
Edmund King, AA President, said: "In the context of pothole compensation it's a case of throwing money down a hole."
In 2023, potholes are still a major contributor to vehicle damage, with over 300,000 steering, suspension and tyre breakdown cases between January-July alone.
What causes potholes?
Potholes are usually caused by a natural deterioration over time – through a combination of water in the soil under the asphalt and traffic passing overhead. The weight of vehicles passing over can lead to small cracks, which over time can become deeper holes.
Sometimes, accidents can lead to potholes, like a car crash or a vehicle that accidentally drops something heavy onto the road.
What damage do potholes do to your car?
Potholes can cause damage to your car’s suspension, steering, wheel rims and tyres – likely causing at least superficial damage (scrapes and marks). In worse cases, your suspension or steering can become bent out of shape, causing your car to veer off-centre when driving.
It’s also possible to sustain damage to your exhaust pipe if the pothole is deep enough. A hole in your exhaust pipe can lead to loss of power and strange noises when driving – which will need to be repaired ASAP.
What is the most common pothole damage?
As tyres are the main point of contact between your car and a pothole, they are often the most likely to sustain damage (whether it’s a minor scrape or cut, or more serious damage like wheel misalignment).
It also depends on the speed you’re driving at. Higher speeds are likely to lead to more serious damage to the suspension.
Advice to drivers when encountering potholes
Follow our advice to minimise damage from potholes, our avoid it altogether:
- Look out for potholes – try to scan the road in front of you for potholes and keep your speed low if possible. This will give you time to avoid hitting them, but make sure to be aware of your surroundings (including pedestrians and other vehicles) before manoeuvring.
- Keep two hands on the wheel – this will allow you to have the maximum control over your vehicle when navigating around potholes.
- Keep a safe distance – Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the car in front. This will allow you to spot any upcoming potholes more easily.
- Don’t panic – if you can’t avoid hitting a pothole, don’t swerve at the last second as this could lead to an accident. Find a safe place to pull over and inspect any damage and take notes about the location.
- Check your tyres and tyre pressure – Making sure your tyre pressures are at the recommended level can be a good way to prevent more serious damage from potholes. A weakened, slightly flat, or already damaged tyre will likely lead to issues when driving over potholes.
- Collecting debris – If you hit a pothole and lose a part of your car, make sure you can stop in a safe place before collecting any parts. Don’t do this if you’re on a motorway – instead, make sure to report the incident to National Highways.
1As reported by Stephen Hayward in The People on 8 December 2019
Published: 22 November 2016 | Updated: 20 September 2023 | Author: The AA