CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Late winter is prime time for potholes on the nation's roadways, so AAA offers some tips to aid motorists in protecting their vehicles from pothole damage.
Inspect tires: The tire is the most important cushion between a car and a pothole. Make sure tires have enough tread and are properly inflated.
To check the tread depth, insert a quarter into the tread groove with Washington's head upside-down. The tread should cover part of Washington's head. If it doesn't, then it's time to start shopping for new tires.
When checking tire pressures, ensure they are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended levels, which can be found in the owner's manual or on a sticker on the driver's door jamb. Do not use the pressure levels stamped on the sidewall of the tire.
Inspect suspension: Make certain struts and shock absorbers are in good condition. Changes in vehicle handling, excessive vibration or uneven tire wear can indicate bad shocks or struts. If you suspect problems, have the suspension inspected by a certified technician.
Look ahead: As you drive, make a point to watch the road ahead for potholes. An alert driver might have time to avoid potholes, so it's important to stay focused on the road and not any distractions inside or outside the vehicle. Before swerving to avoid a pothole, check surrounding traffic to ensure this will not cause a collision or endanger nearby pedestrians or cyclists.
Slow down: If a pothole cannot be avoided, reduce speed safely, being sure to check the rearview mirror before any abrupt braking. Hitting a pothole at higher speeds greatly increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels and suspension components.
Beware of puddles: A puddle of water can disguise a deep pothole. Use care when driving through puddles and treat them as though they may be hiding potholes.
Check alignment: Hitting a pothole can knock a car's wheels out of alignment and affect the steering. If a vehicle pulls to the left or right, have the wheel alignment checked by a qualified technician.
Recognize noises/vibrations: A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components. Any new or unusual noises or vibrations that appear after hitting a pothole should be inspected immediately by a certified technician.