Why pothole damage is booming business for garages

Britain’s drivers may be in a hole due to pothole damage but it’s proving good business for the garage trade.

Official figures point to suspension faults accounting for almost a third of all MOT failures, broken road springs are becoming their most common ailment. Essex-based Bell Corner Test Centre says it sees rusted or broken coils every day and has even had them break during the annual inspection, simply caused by the vehicle being jacked up on the test ramp, for example.

Roads to blame

Britain’s deteriorating roads have become the plague of drivers for far too many years and it took even more of a toll in 2023 with RAC patrols attending nearly 30,000 pothole-related breakdowns, up by 33% compared to 2022 says the outfit. Admiral Insurance puts the figure even higher over the same period; a worrying 40 per cent up from 946 (2022) to 1324 in 2023 while the AA claims that it attended to 362,172 pot-hole related incidents making it the third worse year since 2018 (398,832).

And it’s going to get worse. Almost one fifth (18%) of the UK road network – representing 37,000 miles’ worth – is assessed as having less than five years’ structural life remaining, with the average frequency of resurfacing for all classes of roads now standing at once every 116 years. “Clearly the quality of our roads is worsening – and the impact on our suspension systems is obvious”, stressed LKQ Euro Car Parts.

The cost of pothole damage

According to Kwik-Fit this has cost fleet operators and private motorists alike close to £2bn in repairs. The Kwik Fit’s PIT Report tracks the impact of potholes on an annual basis and research shows that over the past 12 months drivers experiencing pothole problems has risen, with 59% saying they have hit at least one a week over the last year, up from 46% in 2021. Some 13.3 million motorists say their car has suffered damage in the last year as a result of a pothole impact, with the average individual repair bill amounting+ to £132.

Kwik-Fit’s research found that 50% faced damage to their tyres. This was followed by wheel damage in 29% of cases, damaged suspension (also 29%) and steering (18%). For 12% of drivers the impact was severe enough to cause bodywork damage, while for one in ten (10%) were to engine components.

“Although the damage caused by a pothole may be instantly apparent, such as a burst tyre or cracked alloy, in many cases the effect can be hidden,” warned the company, which listed slow punctures, bulging tyres and wheels knocked out of alignment.

This has also been noticed by Tony Leigh, general manager of RFT Group; the firm markets Koni dampers and Apex springs, the later which recently joined the group’s portfolio.

“We have certainly noticed an increase in the amount of broken springs in the last 18 months, not so much with dampers as they do not really break as such, but a hard impact can cause the damper to burst in some cases.”

EVs and advanced safety kit more susceptible

LKQ Euro Car Parts raised another worry – that of heavier EVs: “It’s also important to note that EVs are becoming much more popular – and heavier. The weight of the battery required to power an EV puts much more of a strain on its suspension system compared with a traditional engine. Not only does this leave EVs more susceptible to damage from road irregularities; it can also cause chassis components to wear out more quickly.”

What’s more with vehicles becoming increasingly technologically advanced, it’s also important to consider how road irregularities can affect features like advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). “Even the slightest misalignment in a vehicle’s steering can impact how the system interacts with the ADAS technology and can cause features such as lane assist to operate incorrectly, with the potential to bring significant safety ramifications,” warned the company.

Tyres, wheel and suspension components take the brunt of impacts and consequently are the most damaged items but it can also cause issues for steering and alignment resulting in uneven tread wear, leading to premature replacement. Often suspension damage is only identified at either a service or an MOT because usually only a small section of the coil breaks off (usually at the bottom), which may not be apparent to the driver or even a casual inspection. Like many others, Kwik Fit recommends replacing coil springs in pairs across the same axle for obvious stability reasons although a good percentage of private motorists are reluctant to do so even once explained to them why it makes sense.

Normal in Europe

Pete Dancer, sales manager UK & ROI for Lesjöfors Springs said, unlike the UK, replacing dampers and springs in pairs is common across Europe and, really, our aftermarket is missing a trick as well as doing the end user a disservice.

Apart from causing ride hight and handling issues when replacing springs in isolation, it also places added strain on the other, worn, spring and perhaps accelerates its demise resulting in double the downtime and inconvenience – and maybe ultimately an even bigger bill.

“It’s an old saying but ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is often true, or in the case of vehicle repairs ‘fit cheap, fit twice’,” he said.

“Having the same repair carried out twice, in relatively short succession, is not only inconvenient for the customer, but it also often leads to them questioning the quality and ability of the workshop that carried out the repair, not understanding that it is a component fault. Is it really worth potentially losing a customer for the sake of a £10 – £15 saving on the overall job, especially when the labour element is usually more than the cost of the spring itself?”

The leading Swedish manufacturer – who has making springs since 1852 and has UK manufacturing facility near Penryn, Cornwall – is quite right, of course. However if in the event of making an insurance claim due to pot hole damage (said by Admiral Insurance to have soared by over a third since 2016 with repair costs rising by 16% since 2022) would the provider stand for paying out for the replacement of an undamaged and unrelated component simply on the off chance that it may fail at some point in the future?

Compensation from potholes

According to a regional BBC News programme the average compensation payout by councils is just under £300 which is double the estimated cost of typical repairs says Which? although that’s largely irrelevant as it’s also estimated that just one-in-four claims are accepted by councils. And this is likely to worsen as cash-strapped authorities tighten their belts.

Although pot holes has highlighted the problem, suspension springs have always proved common failures, especially over the winter months where they are susceptible to rust. It’s predominantly the nearside front spring that suffers the worst due to standing water and salt in the road galleys plus springs inherently become brittle over time. It’s not unknown for one to snap at no more than walking place when riding up and down kerbs.

But LKQ Euro Car Parts stresses, it’s not only suspension springs that are the casualties. “For example, even the smallest crack in the rubber boots that protect the precision joints in the steering system can allow dampness, dirt and salt into its moving parts, which can cause corrosion and premature wear. The boots must always be inspected thoroughly and replaced if needed, to ensure they remain flexible and unlikely to crack or tear under stress. For this reason, an increasing number of products are coming to market designed to negate the corrosive impact of cold weather. Our Starline range of coil springs 100% compression-tested and are manufactured using only high-quality 55CrSi spring steel, with an anti-corrosion coating to provide the added benefit of a longer life”.

But the motorists’ misfortune is the aftermarket’s gain and it’s crying out for an infinitive across the trade while the good times last – which some industry experts reckon could be for a decade unless massive expenditure is spent on repairing and improving our roads. Yeah, right.

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