Fleet operators have paid out more than £215 million on vehicle repairs over the past year to rectify damage caused by potholes and poorly maintained road surfaces.
The figures from Halfords Autocentres reveal almost 1.5 million vehicles a year suffer steering and suspension damage as a result of potholes.
Over the past 12 months the figures show that one driver every 30 seconds has an encounter with a pothole – leaving fleet companies facing an average bill of £147 to get their cars back on the road.
Some regions had far higher incidences of pothole damage than others, with drivers from the Midlands being hit hardest with a £33 million bill, closely followed by motorists in the North East who pay out around £31 million for repairs.
Those areas where drivers are least likely to encounter costly problems are Wales and the East of England where the repair bills for pothole-related damage are £10 million and £12 million respectively – though lower traffic density, rather than better quality of road surface, may be masking the true underlying threat.
Rectifying the damage caused by potholes can be unexpectedly costly as well as inconvenient as Halfords Autocentres business development director Andrew Huntly explained: “Even hitting a small pothole can easily damage wheels, tyres and affect steering alignment.
“With the cost of modern alloy wheels and high performance tyres, such seemingly minor damage can quickly lead to a bill of around £500.
“However, serious steering and suspension problems are becoming an increasingly common occurrence.
"From buckled anti-roll bars to smashed shock absorbers the pothole pandemic is exacerbated by two main factors – the inability of local authorities to keep pace with highway maintenance and the componentry of modern cars which often requires the replacement of several inter-related parts and drives up the cost of each individual repair.”
The cost of repairs is borne by the fleet company and their insurer in the majority of cases because even where a local authority is believed to be at fault, the procedure for proving a case and making a claim is both time consuming and far from straight-forward.
Typically in order to recoup repair costs evidence must be gathered by the claimant – for example photographing both the offending hole and the resulting damage, then checking whether the local authority responsible is adhering to the national code of good practice for highway maintenance.
Having done this, if the council's inspection policy follows the guidelines laid down by the national code and they have done what they are supposed to, the claim is unlikely to succeed, suggests Halfords.