How to claim for pothole damage

  • Drivers are suffering increasingly from the effects of potholes
  • What can be done to redress the damage - can you claim?
  • Could buying a car with softer suspension be the answer?

Citroen C5 Aircross on a potholed road

According to research commissioned by Kwik Fit, pothole damage costs UK drivers around £915m a year - but it's worth understanding your rights, as more often than not, you have a legitimate right to claim for damages. And although almost one in 10 drivers (9%) admitted that the impact was their own fault, as they were either not paying attention to the road surface or driving too fast to stop in time, the poor upkeep of the roads are still in most cases responsible.

Between 2017-2018, more than 905,000 potholes were reported on UK roads. Overall, around 20% of the road network in England and Wales is in poor condition. In addition, according to the research, around a quarter of drivers who have hit potholes over the last year have suffered costly damage to their car, with the most common repairs being to tyres (4.2 million), wheels (2.7 million), suspension (2.4 million) and bodywork (1.2 million). It doesn't help that cars today sit on such low-profile tyres and buyers like to specify sports suspension when given the choice.

But with so much damage, what can be done to improve the situation? And what is the advice should the worst happen?

You've damaged your car, who is to blame?

1. Ascertain who is responsible for the road's maintenance

As you can imagine, it's not always a straightforward process, but it is possible to claim for pothole damage if you're patient and methodical. The first thing to consider is whether you need to claim against the council or Highways England, as what road it is depends on who is responsible. As a guide, if it's a local B-road or smaller A-road, it's probably the former, whereas larger trunk routes are the responsibility of the latter.

2. Gather as much information as you can

If you think you've damaged your car in a pothole, the first thing to do is stop. Don't think that you'll do it later, because the memory has a nasty habit of playing tricks on you. So, stop, take notes, and also take photos of the pothole. You need to capture what you see at the scene of the incident, but also record any damage done to your car. If someone saw it happen, get their details and record them as a potential witness.

3. Work out what the cost to repair will be

If the damage is bad, then make sure you get a number of quotes in writing before committing to a repair. This serves two purposes - you get the best price, but you also have a written record of the costs when it comes to making a claim.

4. Notify the authorities

You should also notify the authorities about the pothole via the online service (Google the council website for this). Then, write a letter to the council or Highways England (if it's an A-road or motorway) outlining where the damage was caused, how bad the damage is, and what it's going to cost (or has already cost) to get it repaired.

5. What happens next?

You'll then get a response in a couple of weeks which generally is a refusal to pay under Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. Don't worry, this is a default response that says that the authorities took reasonable steps to maintain the road to the best of their ability. This is the legal point that you can appeal against. Because this is your chance to determine whether the authority has fulfilled the Section 58 obligations by asking them to prove when the last inspection took place, and whether it was up to standard or not.

6. Do you have a case?

If the answers provided by the authorities aren't up to scratch and you really do think you have a case, then write back with your points, and outline once again your costs. When it gets to this point, the authority will either pay up, make an offer or leave you with the choice of taking it to small claims court. The good news for you is that this course of action is relatively inexpensive and easy but if you want to pursue the damages that you think you have owing.

How to avoid pothole damage in the first place

Always be alert, read the road ahead, and be particularly vigilant in times of changeable weather. The biggest time of risk is during a thaw following a period of frozen weather, but also when it's extremely warm, when roads are in danger of breaking up. It's always a good idea to look out for any darker patches or puddles that could be concealing hidden dangers.

You could always buy a car with softer suspension. Citroen, for instance will tell you that its C5 Aircross can absorb the worst of these shocks without damage. It recently recruited SUV Brand Ambassador, Austin Healey, and Nu-Phalt Contracting’s Jetpatcher to fill in 200 of Surrey's potholes to give locals a flavour of what driving a softer-riding car would be like.

Citroen wanted to provide the drivers and residents of Surrey, the UK’s worst affected area for potholes, with a glimpse into the level of comfort that you can experience every day in its latest models. This is a clear demonstration of how a softer, more compliant ride can filter out bumps and dips in the roads, providing drivers with a smooth and comfortable drive, even on roads with the worst potholes.

Has your car been damaged by potholes? Get in touch with us to let us know you you got on claiming...