Pot­holes can deal scary, hidden dam­age to your car’s en­gine parts

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Phoebe Wall Howard

Driv­ers who have re­placed blown tires and cracked rims af­ter hit­ting a pot­hole may ex­pe­ri­ence loss of steer­ing or brak­ing con­trol in the com­ing months if their ve­hi­cles aren’t ex­am­ined for hidden dam­age, safety of­fi­cials warn.

Auto tech­ni­cians say en­gine parts are shift­ing and break­ing in response to driv­ing dam­aged roads dur­ing the win­ter. If cars are not re­paired, the hidden dam­age will lead to ac­ci­dents and pedes­trian in­jury as driv­ing in­creases with warmer tem­per­a­tures.

This year was one of the worst for pot­holes in Michi­gan in par­tic­u­lar. But the street craters are found just about ev­ery­where.

“Dam­age done to cars in Michi­gan is def­i­nitely a safety is­sue,” said Su­san Hiltz, pub­lic af­fairs di­rec­tor for AAA Michi­gan. “We rec­om­mend that all driv­ers visit a lo­cal cer­ti­fied me­chanic to avoid po­ten­tially se­ri­ous dan­gers, es­pe­cially with the sum­mer­time driv­ing sea­son ap­proach­ing.”

In­cred­i­bly, emer­gency road ser­vice for AAA Michi­gan saw a 36% spike in calls this year for Fe­bru­ary and March com­pared with a year ago.

The calls for help con­tinue.

Ken Wil­son, ser­vice man­ager at Wet­more Tire & Auto in Fern­dale, Mich., said pot­hole dam­age has been some of the worst he has seen in 32 years. One cus­tomer just had $1,400 worth of re­pairs to bent wheels and bro­ken components not seen by the naked eye that can di­rectly af­fect steer­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

Auto safety ex­perts, though, say peo­ple are wor­ried about costly re­pair bills and avoid go­ing for ve­hi­cle in­spec­tions.

Me­chan­ics say pot­hole re­pairs gen­er­ally range from $80 to $1,000, and peo­ple re­act to crisis rather than crash pre­ven­tion. High-per­for­mance ve­hi­cles with so-called low-profile tires, cred­ited with bet­ter han­dling at high speeds, are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst pot­hole dam­age.

Doug Ran­dall, store man­ager at Belle Tire in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., said he’s still see­ing cus­tomers come in with bent and cracked rims af­ter feel­ing vi­bra­tion while driv­ing, plus side­wall bub­bles that in­di­cate air is es­cap­ing the tire. That can lead to a blowout if not re­paired or re­placed.

In Fern­dale, driv­ers are go­ing into the shop with wheels shaped like eggs or foot­balls, said Chris Lynch, owner of Wet­more. Bent wheels are a ma­jor is­sue at his shop.

Many driv­ers feel some­thing un­usual and shrug it off, and that’s dan­ger­ous, said John Lat­ner, man­ager of tech­ni­cal train­ing for ACDelco.

“There are too many components hidden from view,” he said. “Vi­bra­tions, clunks, knocks, rat­tles, squeaks? Don’t ig­nore noises. It could re­sult in a crash be­cause you chose to ig­nore warn­ing signs.”

The most fre­quently frac­tured and bro­ken ve­hi­cle frame parts are steer­ing and sus­pen­sion, such as bush­ings, con­trol arms, ball joints, tie rods, shock ab­sorbers and struts.

Get­ting ve­hi­cles re­aligned af­ter a rough sea­son like the 2017-18 win­ter is es­sen­tial, Lat­ner said. “Peo­ple will say, ‘Well, all you did was re­place a ball joint or put a tie rod on. Why do I need an align­ment?’ Some­times there’s dam­age even a tech­ni­cian can’t see. Get the car aligned.”

Matthew McAl­lis­ter, store man­ager at Goodyear Auto Ser­vice in Royal Oak, said the sea­son is the worst he has seen in 25 years.

Peo­ple come into his shop sus­pect­ing a flat tire, and it’s a bent rim.

“They think they picked up a nail or it’s just a flat,” McAl­lis­ter said. “We had a man come in with two dam­aged wheels, and he was sur­prised by the sus­pen­sion dam­age.”

While some peo­ple think the worst passed with the ar­rival of spring, me­chan­ics say cus­tomer vis­its in­di­cate pot­holes aren’t any­where near be­ing fixed.


Veli Taly­bov, a tire tech­ni­cian, works on balanc­ing a tire at Wet­more’s Tire and Auto in Fern­dale, Mich., on April 4.

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