Spring is Pothole Season in the Pothole State
By Kenny "the "Car Guy" Walters
Ah, the melody of spring. Like a time-lapse nature film of old, the rivers resume their tuneful trickling, the bugs start buzzing again and people whistle absently for reasons they can't quite explain.
Then, amid the birdsong and jubilee, you hear the other spring tune: the jarring CRACK of your tire hitting that pond-sized pothole. The crescendo of curse words shouted at impact. Finally, the mournful cries when you get the repair bill.
This spring, think "springs," as in your car's suspension system, made up of the shock absorbers and spring coils that keep your car riding smoothly over life's peaks, valleys and the occasional pothole.
Sure, you can try to avoid potholes. But it isn't easy in this state.
Not only is spring the season of potholes, Michigan could be considered the "Pothole State." Southeastern Michigan has the dubious distinction of being hardest hit due to the frequency of thaw-freeze cycles.
Potholes happen when moisture gets into the road's surface. Just a teeny crack is all that's needed. Moisture expands and contracts with the weather. This stresses the blacktop, weakening and thinning it. This comes to a head in spring, as frost works its way out.
Vehicles drive on stressed roads, and bits of blacktop begin to chip off, causing a hole. Heavy vehicles or heavy traffic equal faster-forming, bigger potholes.
Conditions in Michigan are exceptionally poor as years of barebones funding have left our roads in bad shape. Old roads mean stressed roads. Our roads also carry a heavy load, with a weight limit of 164,000 pounds, the heaviest in the country. Lawmakers may debate blame, but almost all agree that Michigan's road conditions cost everyone.
With Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) workers hand-shoveling more than eight million pounds of patching material into potholes, fixing potholes in Oakland County alone costs $5 million. Outside of taxes, the average Michigan driver shells out an additional $120 a year for "road-caused damage," usually from potholes, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Beyond your wallet, your steering and suspension take the hit. Hitting a pothole sends the impact through the tire to the shock absorber. If it's a big hit, it bottoms out, transferring the energy to the springs.
Other car parts, like control arms, ball joints, tie rods, idler arms, pitman arms, sway bar and sway bar links, center and drag links, wheel bearings and axle shafts can break, too, as well as tires and rims.
What can you do? Be mindful of road conditions and report potholes to the road commission. Every call or email helps.
Then, have your suspension and shock absorbers inspected at regular intervals (usually three to five years). Check your power steering fluid. Make sure your car is getting "lubed" at least four times a year when you get an oil change.
If you do hit a big pothole and your car steers differently, check your alignment as soon as possible.
After a long, rough winter, spring is usually music to our ears. Let's keep that song sweet and the swearing to a minimum.
Kenny the Car Guy Walters owns the auto shop Mufflers and More at 490 N. Pontiac Trail in Walled Lake, 248.668.1200
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