As an auto insurance damage adjuster, I have written thousands of estimates for insurance companies. Many of my estimates occur in cold weather climates, where potholes create a great deal of insurance claims.
So, does car insurance cover pothole damage and bent rims? If you have collision coverage on your car insurance policy, then pothole damage will be covered. Your deductible will still apply, and your insurance will rate this as an at fault accident. Pothole damage can include bent wheels, popped tires, suspension damage, and can require an alignment.
We have all felt the unexpected thump from a surprise pothole in the road. It always makes you wonder, did that cause any damage to my vehicle? Modern cars can withstand much of these jolts but deeper potholes can cause serious damage to any vehicle.
Let me explain how to make a claim for a pothole impact, what damage to look for on your vehicle and how to deal with the insurance company’s damage adjuster.
Should I make a Claim for Pothole Damage?
One you realize that your vehicle sustained damage from a pothole, I recommend having the damage assessed by a mechanic before making an insurance claim. Minor pothole damage such as a tire replacement and alignment can cost less than a $500 deductible. Moderate pothole damage which would include tires, wheels, suspension components, and alignment can also be below a $1000 deductible.
By checking with a mechanic first, you can avoid having an insurance claim on your record especially since this would count as an at fault one party collision claim. I know it seems unfair, but that is how most insurance companies flag these damages. It could be rated similarly to an unforced error like driving over a curb or crashing into a tree.
How to Make a Claim for Pothole Damage with your Auto Insurance
If you realize your damage is significant, or if you have a low deductible, then you should:
- Call your insurance, confirm you have a collision coverage and your deductible.
- Report the claim, provide the time, date, and location of the pothole collision.
- Explain the damages in detail.
- Set up an inspection, either at your home, work, repair shop, or tow yard.
- Meet with the adjuster, if you can, to review the damages and estimate.
- Choose a repair shop.
Common Damages from Potholes
When your vehicle drives through a pothole, it is similar to driving straight over a curb at high speed. Your front suspension is pushed backwards and upwards in a fraction of a second. Suspensions, wheels, and tires are not designed for such sudden impacts. As a result, suspension parts can bend, crack, and misalign the geometry of your vehicle’s alignment.
I will include Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) dealer part prices for a 2017 Toyota Camry as an example of part costs.
Tires are the first component of your suspension. Besides providing traction, they absorb many of the shocks and vibrations from the road surface. This is accomplished by the flexing of the tire’s sidewall in conjunction with the pneumatic cushion from a properly inflated tire. When the tire impacts a deep ledge from a large pothole, the tire deforms beyond its design limits.
Your chances of tire damage increase if you have low profile tires on your vehicle. Low profile tires have a shorter sidewall than a regular tire. This low profile affords less cushioning during an impact, making the vehicle more vulnerable to pothole damage.
A low profile tire is categorized as having an aspect ratio below 50. The aspect ratio is the number after the slash in a tire size which represents the percentage of the tires height as compared to the tire’s width. For example, the tire size 215/45 R17 will have a sidewall height of 45% of the tire width of 215mm, making this a low profile tire.
Damages to a tire from a pothole can include: tears and cuts, a bubble or bulge in the sidewall, and the dismounting of the tire due to a sudden loss of air pressure. Not all tires become flat from a pothole impact, they can still hold air but can have structural damage as evident by a bubble in the sidewall or tread deformation.
A tire with these damages must be replaced. Even if the tire appears fine, and will hold air after being re-inflated, it should still be replaced. This is because when you drive on a flat tire, the carcass becomes warped and distorted from the lack of sidewall support. This compromises the integrity of the tire and opens the possibility of additional future failures.
2017 Toyota Camry tire: Michelin Energy Saver P205/65R16 $139.80
Wheels a.k.a Rims, and Wheel Covers
When a tire deforms to the point where it no longer provides cushioning, the wheel will come in contact with the road surface.
Damages to a wheel from a pothole collision can include: dents on the inside and outside of the wheel, scraping and chips on the wheel edge, cracks in the wheel drum or the wheel drum completely separating from the wheel hub, and spokes. Both aluminum and steel wheels are prone to this damage, although aluminum is more likely to crack.
Most of the damage to a wheel will happen on the inside where you cannot see it unless the vehicle is raised on a lift.
2017 Toyota Camry alloy wheel price: $437.21
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Tire pressure monitoring sensors also know as TPMS sensors became a mandatory feature on vehicles after 2007. These sensors are located inside a wheel drum or valve stem where they monitor the vehicle’s tire pressure. The driver is alerted of this problem as reduced tire pressure can increase chances of an accident such as a rollover.
These sensors can be damaged during a pothole impact, completely crushing or disabling them. They will have to be replaced and reprogrammed when installed as the tire pressure warning light on the dashboard will stay illuminated until done so.
2017 Toyota Camry TPMS sensor price: $85.41
When a pothole collision is severe, the impact force from the damage can travel through the tire, the wheel, and into the vehicle suspension. The front suspension is made up of various components such as control arms, knuckle, hub & bearing assembly, strut, tie rod, steering rack, and subframe.
These parts all work together to keep the vehicle driving straight and predictably. Even slight deformation will cause a noticeable misalignment. Here is how each damaged component can appear and cause your vehicle to behave.
Control arms are among the first components to bend in a moderate pothole impact. You can tell an arm is bent when the tire is sitting further back than previously. You can compare the distance between the tire and fender on the damaged side with the undamaged suspension on the other side of the vehicle. Additionally your alignment will be off.
2017 Toyota Camry lower control arm price: $207.38
A suspension knuckle is the part that sits between the lower control arm and strut, the wheel is mounted to the hub and bearing assembly which is installed into the knuckle. The most common damage knuckles sustain is a slight bend which is not usually obvious. The knuckle would have to be measured and inspected closely by a mechanic and an adjuster. Unless completely cracked or broken, making the vehicle undrivable, your alignment would be off with a bent knuckle.
2017 Toyota Camry knuckle price: $302.84
Hub and Bearing Assembly:
The rotation of your wheel is provided by the hub and bearing assembly. This is a precision component where the hub is surrounded by ball or roller bearings and packed with grease for lubrication. This assembly allows the hub to spin, and the wheel is mounted to the hub. During a strong impact the bearings can be crushed and the hub can be bent. Damage will result in a grinding sound and or misalignment.
2017 Toyota Camry hub and bearing assembly price: $441.39
The strut is connected to the knuckle and the vehicle’s structure. It has a spring and strut built into it and turns in conjunction with the direction of steering. Struts can be bent when the knuckle is pushed hard enough. Bending can cause a visible oil leak and cause the suspension to sag on the damaged side. Your alignment would be affected by this damage and your vehicle will bounce when driving as the shock absorbing capacity of the strut has been reduced.
2017 Toyota Camry strut price: $182.68
Tie rods are the components of your steering assembly that connect the knuckle to the steering gear, which is connected to your steering wheel. Tie rods are the most commonly damaged steering gear component in a pothole impact. When it is bent, it will either shorten or lengthen and cause a misalignment. If the damage is enough to break the rod, then that wheel cannot be steered and the vehicle is undrivable.
2017 Toyota Camry tie rod price: $109.05
The steering wheel is connected to the steering rack which is connected to the suspension allowing the wheels to steer. If a pothole impact is strong enough to damage a steering gear, then the alignment would be off or you can loose steering all together. It is possible that your steering wheel could spin without turning the wheels as the connection inside the rack is broken.
2017 Toyota Camry steering rack price: $1053.92
The subframe of your vehicle is mounted to the underside of the front frame and sits below the engine. All of the aforementioned suspension components are mounted onto and connected to this assembly. This is one of the strongest parts of the vehicle so for the subframe to be damaged, your vehicle would have to have sustained a significant impact. Your alignment would be off if this component was bent.
2017 Toyota Camry subframe: $1721.00
If any of the above components have been replaced, an alignment to factory settings will be required. The tie rods, knuckle, and strut are the main suspension components that are adjusted. Most alignments cost anywhere from $89 to $200. Some are even more expensive because new features such as turning headlights and various other safety features require sensor calibration to occur with the alignment.
Your vehicle can also sustain damages to body panels such as the front bumper, under-body shields, and fender. If your front suspension bent to the point where the wheel was pushed back far enough into the fender, a replacement or repair could be needed.
Scrapes to the underside of the front bumper would need to be repaired. Cuts and tears would require a replacement. Under-body shields, mudguards, and fender liner splash shields are also commonly bent and torn from contact with the road surface.
2017 Toyota Camry front bumper price: $240.56
2017 Toyota Camry fender price: $226.46
2017 Toyota Camry splash shield price: $102.45
How to Prevent the Insurance Adjuster from Writing a Low Estimate
Auto damage adjusters are incentivised to write “cost effective” estimates by using recycled (used), remanufactured, and aftermarket parts. Check out these articles on how to dispute the usage of these parts, their pros and cons, and how to deal with an adversarial auto damage adjuster.
Many suspension components are eligible for a betterment which is the proration of a part based on wear and tear as compared to a new part, which makes your car better than it was before. This betterment cost is added towards your deductible and increased by the amount an adjuster determines it to have improved the car. Betterments are negotiable and their methodology can be negotiated.
Check out this article on how to dispute a betterment. Adjusters also are incentivised to use minimal repair and refinishing labor time to keep these metrics within company guidelines. I have even seen adjusters overlook some damages to avoid writing a high estimate.
Here are Questions You Should Ask Your Adjuster Before they Inspect Your Vehicle for Pothole Damage:
1. If your vehicle is already at a repair shop, ask if the adjuster is omitting or not approving any part of the repair shop estimate. Adjusters do this as they are questioning the shop for the necessity of any parts or repairs. They think the vehicle can be correctly repaired omitting some components, because they are not completely convinced they are damaged.
Suspension components are difficult to diagnose and for safety’s sake, because of the heavy impact in the area of damage, it is best to replace the requested parts. Many times the adjuster finds out that after the shop completes the repairs according to the adjuster’s lower estimate, that the parts the repair shop requested are needed.
This delays the repair as the adjuster will have to go back to the shop, (usually a 2-3 day delay) reinspect the failed alignment and pay for another alignment.
2. Ask adjuster if they will have vehicle placed on a lift if possible for better and more thorough inspection. Adjusters are often in a hurry and might not wait for a repair shop to put a vehicle on a lift for a thorough inspection. Seeing the damage on a lift will avoid additional return trips to rewrite the estimate.
3. Will the adjuster write for anything other than new parts from the dealership? Most manufacturers do not approve of recycled parts, even though they can be magnafluxed (checked for cracks with a special dye) and certified by the recycler. Recycled parts can still not be completely vetted for safety due to limits of magnafluxing for internal cracks.
Aftermarket parts might be made from a lower quality material and may not appear the same as the OEM part. Reconditioned parts such as wheels have their surfaces machined to remove old damage which slightly change the profile of the wheel.
For more information on how to negotiate and prevent the usage of non-OEM parts, check out this article:
4. Ask if the adjuster will be replacing the tire in the area of damage and if not why. Indicate damage is not always visible and this is a safety issue, have the repair shop check the tire closely if the adjuster still denies a new tire. Adjusters will often write to patch a damaged tire instead of replacement or might consider cosmetic scratches to be allowable.
6. Ask the adjuster if they will check the TPMS sensor for damage, as this is a commonly missed component.
5. Ask the adjuster for pictures of all the damages and surrounding areas of impact. Most insurance companies post all pictures on their website, but you want to be sure of this as proof of damages and to ensure that nothing was missed. This will indicate to the adjuster that you will be detailed when reviewing his or her estimate.
6. Make sure to ask adjusters to search for body damage. Even a scratch on a fender, just deep enough to catch your finger nail, can cost $250 to repair. You can use this $250 as credit towards your deductible, if you are fine with a small scratch.
7. Ask for a copy of the before and after alignment sheet as proof the alignment was correct.
How to Reduce or Eliminate Your Deductible for a Pothole Damage Claim.
Since you cannot recoup your deductible for a pothole damage claim, you can ask the adjuster which components are being replaced for cosmetic purposes. The most common cosmetic damages happen to the underside of bumpers, splash shields, mudguards, and fender liners. Your vehicle would operate just fine with minor scratching.
Tell your repair shop not to repair or replace these cosmetic damages and to credit their amount towards the deductible. If the cosmetic repairs total $458 and your deductible is $500, you just have to pay the repair shop $42.
Your insurance adjuster will offer you an appearance allowance for these cosmetic damages, but do not accept it, as the calculations most companies use for appearance allowances is below the actual cash value of the part repair or replacement. For more information on how to negotiate an appearance allowance check out this article.
Can the city pay for my pothole damage or reimburse my deductible? If your vehicle sustained pothole damage, you will have to contact the jurisdiction which is responsible for maintenance of that road. Ask what their claim policy is and check if you are eligible as some jurisdictions make it very difficult if not impossible to file a claim. Make sure to have proof of your damage with photos and an estimate, the time and date of the incident. If you already filed a claim with your insurance company and had the vehicle repaired, then you can use this documentation as evidence as well.