If your car is damaged by a hole in the road, you could be entitled to compensation; our guide tells you what you need to know
The UK is plagued by potholes. They caused an estimated £1.2 billion in damage to vehicles in 2021, while a survey by Kwik Fit found 59% of drivers had hit a pothole in the previous week.
Potholes are formed via a number of methods, but the most common is when water gets into cracks in the road surface, then freezes and expands during winter months, creating gaps that are then broken down by traffic over time.
There are a number of ways potholes can damage your car, with tyres, but punctures, cracked alloy wheels and damaged suspension components are most likely to suffer damage if you hit a pothole.
If your car is damaged by a pothole, however, you may be able to claim for the damage against the local council or traffic agency responsible for the road. There are certain conditions that will need to be met for this to happen, while what action you take can have a bearing on how likely you are to receive compensation.
The steps you should take are:
- Gather evidence
- Get a quote for repairs
- Report the pothole
- Make a claim
1. Gather evidence
Even if your car is driving normally, it’s a good idea to stop safely and inspect the tyres and wheels if you hit a big pothole. But if you notice any vibration, wobbling from the steering wheel, strange noises from the wheels or if your car starts pulling to the left or right after you have run over a pothole, it’s imperative that you stop as soon as you can.
If your car is damaged, it’s likely you will have been forced to stop close to the offending pothole. Take photographs of the pothole if it is safe to do so, and also take photographs of the damage to your car, assuming this is externally visible.
Depending on the time of day and how busy the road is, you may need to return to the scene of the incident at a different time. If it is possible to do so safely, measure the size of the pothole, including its depth, while if the damage to your car is suspension related, you may need to ask your garage to take photographic evidence.
Either way, you should take notes of the precise details of the incident as soon as you can so that things are fresh in your mind.
2. Get a quote for repairs
You may need to get the car repaired immediately/as soon as possible in order to continue with your journey or not be seriously inconvenienced but, if possible, get a selection of quotes to repair the damage; this may make it more likely that any claim for pothole damage is honoured, as you will be able to show that you got the best-value repair you could. Don’t forget to keep all quotes and invoices, as you may need these if your claim is successful.
3. Report the pothole
There is an official Government website that will direct you to the correct authority for reporting a pothole, although bear in mind that if it’s on a motorway or major A road, National Highways rather than the local council will have responsibility for the road, while if it’s a ‘red route’ in London, the road will fall under Transport for London’s remit.
Either way, reporting the pothole will increase the chances of it being fixed, this hopefully reducing the chances of the same fate befalling another driver. Claiming for pothole damage is a separate step.
4. Make a claim
Compile the evidence you have gathered, determine the correct contact details for the authority responsible for maintaining the road in question, and submit your claim, including any quotes or invoices for the damage your vehicle sustained. Detail specifically what the damage was, too, and what the time and date of the pothole strike was.
Motorways and major A roads are managed by National Highways, with whom you can lodge a pothole claim, while red routes in London are managed by Transport for London.
If it was on a more minor road, find out what the postcode is where the pothole is located using the Royal Mail’s postcode finder, and enter the postcode into this Government tool to determine which local council you should contact.
What happens next?
You may find that your claim is refused, with the authority citing Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. This details various reasons why a responsible authority can be held not liable for any damage caused by a pothole.
Such reasons include whether the authority took reasonable steps to maintain the road, and ensure it was in a reasonable standard of repair; whether the authority was aware of the pothole that damaged your vehicle; and whether they could reasonably have been expected to repair it between being notified about it, and the damage to your vehicle arising.
Councils should respond to your claim within 28 days, or keep you informed if it is going to take longer than this.
Can I make an appeal?
You may consider it worth appealing any refusal from the authority. It may be possible to determine how often the road was surveyed, and whether the authority had been previously informed of the pothole in question, simply by asking questions using the appeals process that should be offered as part of the claim process.
You may, however, need to turn to the Freedom of Information Act to ascertain the answers you require, and this requires patience, as authorities have 20 working days to answer requests.
As a final step, you could consider taking the responsible authority to the Small Claims Court, though this can be a time consuming process.
How can I avoid pothole damage when driving?
Observation is the most important tool to use for avoiding potholes in the first place, as being able to drive around a pothole will clearly save you from striking it. This is not always possible, though, possibly because you would risk colliding with oncoming traffic were you to swerve. Potholes filled with water on a dark night can be very difficult to spot, too.
But do bear in mind that potholes are more likely to emerge after cold weather or heavy rain, with the latter potentially washing away old or substandard road repairs. Look out for grains of tarmac or gravel on the road. Keeping your speed down in general will also help you spot potholes, while cars with low-profile tyres and large alloy wheels tend to be more prone to pothole damage as this is less rubber and air to absorb the impact.
Claim for pothole damage FAQs
Will my claim be successful if the pothole hasn’t been reported?
Not necessarily: if the authority in charge of the road can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps have been taken to keep the road in good repair – IE planned inspections and repairs have been carried out, they can use Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 to defend the case.
Will I be covered if the pothole is on private land?
If you are driving on a private road and strike a pothole, you could see if the owner has public liability insurance and try to claim against this.
Should I make a claim on my insurance?
You can certainly consider doing so, and if there is significant damage to your vehicle it may be worth claiming. Do bear in mind, though, that you will likely need to pay any excess towards an insurance claim, while if you don’t have a protected no-claims bonus you will lose any NCB you have built up, and may well pay more for your policy next year. You will also have to declare that you made a claim when next renewing your insurance, and providers ask about claims within the past five years.
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