Are the UK’s ailing roads failing our cars?

How would you rate the UK’s roads - an uber-efficient network of highways and byways, or a ramshackle jumble of crumbling roads? Your answer will probably depend on where you do your driving, but the sad truth is that the UK’s roads are falling into an ever-worsening state of disrepair, and could be doing your car all sorts of damage.

A recent World Economic Forum report outlines how the UK’s roads currently rank 28th in the world, falling from 24th in 2012/13, and still way below that of other major European countries such as France (7), Netherlands (9), Germany (10) and Spain (12). So why are the UK’s roads in such a state? What damage are these crumbling carriageways doing to our vehicles? And, more importantly, is there anything we do about it?

The state of things

There are a number of reasons why the UK’s roads are in such a bad way, ranging from a lack of investment to the sheer volume of traffic, and it’s estimated that it would take at least £10.5billion worth of investment just to bring them back up speed. If that seems like a lot, you have to consider that Great Britain alone has an estimated 245,000 miles of carriageway (that’s enough to go around the world 10 times) servicing the needs of the 35million registered vehicles. And over the last year alone £99million has been spent filling in some two million potholes. So there’s a lot of road to repair and those repairs don’t come cheap. However, this £10.5billion would only go as far as funding a simple ‘mend and make-do’ strategy.

By no means would it represent a long-term solution. In fact, to get our roads up to the consistently high standards of those enjoyed by our nearest and dearest in Europe, the figure would be nearer the £50billion mark. It seems the weather is also to blame – isn’t it always? – and right now we’re currently at the start of pothole season. The wet weather and freezing temperatures we witness at this time of year mean more potholes appear between January and April than at any other time of the year. For more on just how bad the UK’s pothole problem is, read Jess Bown’s article: Gone to pot – the parlous state of British roads.

The damage done

It’s estimated that over the past year, motorists have forked out around £730million in repair bills for damage caused by pothole-related incidents. And because rain water can compromise the road’s structure, this year’s figure is set to be even higher given the wet winter we’ve had. Damaged road surfaces create greater stress on vehicle suspension and steering parts and this accelerates wear and tear and means components will have to be replaced more often. Hitting a pothole can dramatically alter a vehicle’s wheel alignment and lead to a number of problems including premature, uneven tyre wear and increased fuel consumption.

And then there’s the safety aspect to consider, as Kathryn Beaurain from AlignMyCar explains: “Misalignment can also cause the car to handle differently or become unstable in some circumstances. Proper car care, including regular wheel alignment checks, will help keep costs down in the long run and keep you safe on the road.” As ever though, prevention is the best cure, so take extra care on the roads, stick to the advertised speed limits and keep a look out for any hazards, particularly potholes – and if you do hit one, be sure to get your car checked out as soon as possible.

Do you drive along a particularly patchy road? Or has your car suffered serious damage as a direct result of road conditions? Let us know...

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