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Car insurance and potholes

Car insurance claims for potholes

published: 06 July 2022
Read time: 5 minutes

Potholes causing you problems? If your car has been damaged by a pothole, here’s how to report the issue – and how to make a claim

What is a pothole?

A pothole is a hole that can form in the surface of tarmac or asphalt roads. They’re usually only a few centimetres deep, but their width varies – and if they’re not fixed potholes can grow to swallow up a significant portion of the road.

Potholes often mean trouble for motorists. Driving over a pothole can potentially puncture your tyres, warp your wheels, or seriously damage your car’s suspension. Luckily, if this happens to you, there are ways to claim back your expenses. Read our guide to find out more.

Pothole on road

Why are potholes such a problem in the UK?

Potholes are a particular problem for UK drivers, and you can pin most of the blame on the British weather. Potholes are caused by rainwater seeping into tiny cracks in the road’s surface. This loosens the soil underneath and can cause the tarmac to collapse. Potholes are a particular problem in winter – when it gets cold, the water trapped in the road’s surface expands as it freezes, breaking apart the tarmac.

The other factor that causes potholes is traffic. When cars drive over a road that’s been damaged by water and ice, they break apart its surface even more. This means that serious potholes are more likely to form on busy roads.

Can I claim for pothole damage to my car?

Yes – if your car has been damaged by a pothole, you can claim for any extra expenses you had to pay. There are two main ways of doing this: you can make a claim through your car insurance, or you can make a claim against the body responsible for the road, which could be either a local council or a road authority.

How to claim for potholes on your car insurance

If you decide to make a claim on your car insurance for pothole damage, it works just like any other claim – simply contact your insurer to let them know what’s happened and they’ll take it from there. It’s a good idea to have photos of the damage – it could help them process your claim faster.

Just remember that while pothole damage can be a nuisance, the payouts involved aren’t usually that large – so depending on your car insurance excess, you might end up paying for most of the repairs yourself. It’s also worth considering your no claims bonus: if you’ve gone a while without having to claim on your car insurance, making a claim for pothole damage could end up losing you money, since you’ll have to pay higher premiums in the future.

How to make a claim for pothole damage from a council or road authority

Another way to get compensation for pothole damage is to make a claim with the body that’s responsible for maintaining the road – that’ll be either a council or a road authority. Every council or road authority has a slightly different claims system, but the basic steps are the same for all of them. Here’s what to do:

  • Collect evidence

    . Take a photo of any visible damage to your car, and a few photos of the pothole itself – it’s important to know exactly where it was located in the road. If it’s safe to do so, measure the width and depth of the pothole.

  • Report the pothole

    . You can report a pothole through the

    website. With nearly a million potholes on UK roads, it’s hard for the authorities to keep track of them all – so by reporting, you aren’t just helping your claim, you’re helping make the roads safer for everyone.

  • Get repair quotes

    . Talk to a reputable garage or mechanic about how much it would cost to repair the damage – this way, you’ll know how much to claim for. Keep any quotes or receipts and ask for a note confirming that the damage was caused by a pothole.

Once you’ve completed this list, it’s time to make your claim. You’ll be making your claim with whichever body is responsible for the road – unfortunately, there’s no single system. Here’s who you’ll need to get in touch with:

How much might I win?

You can usually expect to receive a maximum of around £500 when you claim for pothole damage. It depends on how much damage your car sustained, and how much it cost to fix it. Some local authorities will pay out to cover all your repair costs, but this isn’t guaranteed – you might only get a part refund.

If you don’t like the first offer, you can always negotiate for a better one. But the process can take months, and you might be asked to submit further evidence. It’s up to you to decide if a better payout is worth the extra inconvenience.

What if my claim gets rejected?

There’s always the chance that a council or road authority might reject your claim, arguing that they could not be reasonably expected to know that the pothole was there. Usually, this is because nobody had reported the pothole – but even if your claim is rejected at first, don’t give up.

If you can prove that the council didn’t maintain the road properly, or that they didn’t perform the proper inspections of their roads to check for damage, your appeal could be upheld. This usually involves making a Freedom of Information Act request with the council to check their inspection logs. Be warned – it’s a lengthy process, and it could well end in a small claims court. But if you’re certain the council hasn’t done its proper duty, it might still be worth your time.

When can’t I claim for pothole damage?

In some cases, it might be impossible to make a successful claim for pothole damage. Here are a few situations in which you might find it hard to claim:

  • If the damaged part of your car was already in poor working order

  • If the damage was caused by road debris rather than the pothole itself

  • If you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • If you could have easily avoided the pothole

In these situations, you might decide to make a claim on your car insurance instead – as long as you have fully comprehensive cover.

Will I be covered if the pothole is on private land?

Councils and road authorities won’t pay out if your car is damaged by a pothole on private land. This is because they’re only legally responsible for public roads. But if the private land belongs to someone else, and you think they’ve failed to keep it in safe condition, then they might be legally liable for your damage.

If you want, you can make a claim against the owner of the land – just remember that the process can be much lengthier than making a claim against a council, and you’ll likely have to pay for legal fees and other expenses.

How can I prevent pothole damage?

It’s impossible to guarantee your car won’t ever get the wrong end of a pothole – but there are a few steps you can take to minimise the risk. Here’s how you can prevent the worst of it:

  • Keep your car in good condition.

    If your suspension’s up to scratch and your tyres are properly filled, you’re less likely to get serious damage from a pothole

  • Stick to the speed limit.

    The faster you hit a pothole, the worse it’ll be. The speed limit’s there to protect you and your vehicle, so it’s best to keep to it

  • Stay alert.

    It’s easy to lose attention while driving – but keeping your eyes on the road can help you avoid a nasty encounter with a pothole. This is particularly important in wet weather, since any puddle could potentially be a hole in the road

What damage can potholes do to my car?

The part of your car that’s most likely to be damaged by a pothole is your wheels and tyres – the tread on your tyre could separate, or the tyre itself could be punctured, while wheels might bend, chip, or crack, detaching them from the tyre and preventing them from rolling smoothly.

But other parts can be damaged too. Your suspension can take a serious knock, and if the body of your car is low to the ground, a pothole could scrape the undercarriage or tear a hole in your exhaust. This can be very dangerous – without a working exhaust pipe, there’s the risk of toxic fumes leaking into your car. If you hit a pothole, it’s always worth getting your car a quick check-up even if you think nothing’s been damaged.

Will I still receive a pay-out if the pothole isn’t reported?

If nobody reported your pothole to the relevant authority, they might argue that they’re not liable since they couldn’t have been reasonably expected to know it was there. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get your payout – you just need to prove that they were negligent in checking their roads for damage.

If you do hit a pothole, though, it’s important to report it as quickly as possible – it’ll help your claim, and it also makes sure other drivers won’t be in the same situation.

How deep does a pothole have to be to claim?

Councils might have slightly different standards, but according to government guidelines a pothole is only worth investigating if it’s more than 4cm deep. Every council has different standards, though – and depending on the level of damage, you might still be able to successfully claim for a smaller pothole.

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