Ahh, spring. Or, as some Buffalonians like to call it, pothole season.
I have fond memories of springtime in Western New York. I remember when my grandmother was teaching me how to drive as a teenager. I thundered through about five potholes in a row, not realizing I was supposed to try to avoid them. “Go back,” Mema said, holding onto the dashboard. “You missed one.”
Then there was the time my sister taunted me about the giant crater in the parking lot near our playground. She told me it was so deep and precarious that if you stepped into it, you would fall all the way to China. Then she pushed me in.
And who could forget my very first out-of-pocket car repair? I hit a pothole so hard it blew my tire and bent my rim. Good times.
Today, I’m helping my kids form pothole season memories of their own. We like to cruise down Brighton Road and pretend we’re on the moon.
But pothole season can be expensive. Over the last five years, bad road conditions have cost car owners and their insurance companies $27 billion in damage across the nation, according to a study from Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.
Here are some tips to help you avoid costly car repairs and protect yourself in the event of damage, from the experts at Trusted Choice Insurance.
• Keep your eyes on the road. Watch traffic patterns and look for break lights ahead of you. If a bunch of drivers slow down or switch quickly into another lane, there is probably a big pothole or other road damage in your path.
• Save the swerve for the dance floor. When a pothole takes you by surprise, your first instinct is to swerve quickly. Bad idea. You may clear the pothole, but you could also slam into another car.
• Keep plenty of space between your vehicle and the one ahead of you. You want to spot potholes as early as possible in order to avoid them safely.
• Report potholes to the department of transportation. In the City of Buffalo, you can contact the Call and Resolution Center by dialing 311 or register a pothole online at www.city-buffalo.com/311. The city vows to have a crew on the scene to repair the pothole within 48 hours of the call, not including holidays or weekends.
• If you hit a pothole and suspect it has damaged your car, pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so. Record the details of the incident, describe the damage and photograph it. You’ll be glad you have it if you need to file a claim.
• Any damage to your car from a pothole is generally considered the fault of the driver. In some towns, the municipality can be held liable if the pothole has already been reported and was never addressed.
Unfortunately, many of those claims are rejected. Even when they’re not, towns usually only agree to cover up to half the cost of the repair.
If you want to give it a shot, write a letter to the town clerk or city clerk of the municipality where you sustained damage. You may have to file a Freedom of Information request to find out if anyone reported the pothole prior to your hitting it, in order to show that the town is partly responsible for the damage.
• At least once a year, check in with your insurance broker to make sure you have the right amount and kinds of coverage.