Potholes are a dreadful reality in the United States. States like West Virginia and Pennsylvania are known for having some of the worst potholes around. Many parts of northern West Virginia are particularly bad because they seem to leave them in a continual state of disrepair. Nevertheless, you can hit a pothole just about anywhere without even spotting it to slow down or avoid it. And when you do hit those potholes, some serious damage can result.
If your tires are relatively new, you have steel rims, and you maintain recommended air pressures, a pothole may have less impact on your vehicle’s wheels. But, if you have a vehicle that has low clearance, you may suffer damage to the undercarriage. If your vehicle has aging suspension and steering parts, the rubber in control arms can tear and other parts can seize up. In any case, there is always the chance of damage to the exhaust and other components.
What to Check
If you hit a pothole at some serious speeds, you should first check to see whether your car still tracks straight. It is very easy for a pothole to knock your front-end alignment out of tune. Simply let your hands off the wheel for a few seconds when you are driving straight. If the vehicle tracks slightly to the left or right, the alignment or wheels may be out of whack.
The next thing to check is the wheels. Check the tire pressure to make sure that they aren’t leaking air. If the rims bend, they can rupture the tire seal and slowly flatten. You will typically notice a kink in aluminum racing rims but may see them in any type of allow wheel and less often in steel wheels unless the impact was pretty serious.
Finally, you should check for any fluid leaks. It is not uncommon for a pothole to rupture a hole in aluminum engine pans. If you do not pull over when the oil light illuminates or the low oil pressure warning buzzes, you will quickly burn out your engine. You may only have seconds to spare if this is the case because the oil is under such immense pressures and will shoot out the hole.
You should also check your control arm bushings, engine mounts, and other suspension and steering parts for any subtle or obvious damage. The front engine mount is usually hydraulic and can separate in the center when the mount is damaged. If you don’t replace it immediately, you will suffer hard shifts and reduce the lifespan of your transmission and axles.
Exhaust leaks are pretty obvious because they are loud. If you hear any audible noise when you start your engine, you probably have an exhaust leak somewhere. The engine may make a soft humming noise but nothing beyond that unless there is a problem, or a performance exhaust system installed. Most of the noise is related to engine backpressure and is the result of exhaust damage.