Potholes have always been the nemesis of suspension systems, but today’s vehicles are even more apt to sustain damage when hitting a pothole. Technicians in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) discuss the damage they are seeing in their shops.
Below is the article as it appeared on the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) website.
Where the rubber meets the (hole in the) road
By MARIA ELENA BACA, Star Tribune
Last update: April 4, 2010 – 8:36 PM
Bulging tires, cracked rims, broken springs.
All symbols of the Year of the Pothole, and evidence — albeit unscientific — that this winter didn’t just seem to be extra hard on cars, but really was.
"It’s been ridiculous," said Jim Thomas, president of Lancer Service in St. Paul. "Some days we’ll get half a dozen calls in three hours from people needing tows."
The worst, he said, was when a tow truck driver went to pick up a car on westbound Interstate 94 near Hwy. 280 and found not one but four disabled autos.
"It was total carnage, due to a pothole," Thomas said.
The pocked roads have had Twin Cities drivers rattled and tire service providers running. A January thaw and rain cycle followed by long stretches of frigid weather meant water seeping into cracks froze and stayed there. As spring approached, the asphalt bent, buckled and broke over the subsurface puddles. And potholes were born.
In early winter, Todd Cronin of Shoreview had $1,500 of work done on his ’97 Honda Accord: shocks, struts, realignment, engine mounts. A week later, he hit the mother of all potholes on the same stretch that created the "carnage" the tow truck driver found later.
On Monday, when he went to North Country Tire Service to have his winter tires switched out, he asked to have the alignment checked, not really expecting a problem.
"Wrong," Cronin said. "It was way off. I said to them, ‘Well, I hit some potholes, some pretty big ones, and maybe that’s what it’s from.’"
Three weeks ago, Lisa Clark and her husband were driving their 2006 Mazda 3 from their home in St. Paul to dinner in northeast Minneapolis.
"It was as if we had collided with something," she said, describing their abrupt meeting with a pothole. "We were able to keep moving, but it really felt like we hit something, as opposed to just a bump. It made us both yell."
The next morning, the damage was apparent: a cracked rim. Luckily, Clark had a set of summer tires to switch to, but the repair — replacing all four rims — likely will cost as much as $300, she said.
Bad pothole hits also can mushroom into broken stabilizer links, bent wheels and broken axles, which can cost as much as $700 to repair.
A twist to the problem
Few would argue that roads are in great condition, but there’s a twist.
Newer cars aren’t designed to take potholes well, say several service technicians.
Many newer cars have large rims and low-profile "performance" tires. Compared with standard tires, with 6 to 8 inches of sidewall, these have only 2 to 4 inches, reducing their ability to cushion the wheel from impact, said Mitch Mullenbach, a technician at Paul Williams Tire in Minneapolis, where pothole-related jobs they used to see about once a week are coming nearly every day.
Not following manufacturers’ inflation guidelines doesn’t help either, said John Baadsgaard, owner of North Country in Blaine. Many drivers have overinflated tires to try to maximize gas mileage. On the flip side, those who defer maintenance in a hard economy might have an equally dangerous underinflation problem.
For some, a pothole hit couldn’t come at a worse time. At Andy & George’s Auto Service in Bloomington, repairs are down across the board, except for tire and alignment repairs, said owner Shawn Smith. Whereas in previous years, drivers would come in for slight noises or shakes, now they’re holding out until they feel unsafe.
"Trying to get people coming in the door is difficult nowadays," he said. "If there’s a bulge or bent rim, that is a severe case and they definitely have to come in and have it looked at. But the slight pull or the noise over bumps — if [the car] is getting them from Point A to Point B and it’s not a scary ride, they’re putting it off."
To read this article on the Star Tribune website, visit http://www.startribune.com/local/north/89885612.html?elr=KArksD:aDyaEP:kD:aUq9_b9b_jEkP:QUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU.