Potholes: my car is damaged, what can I do?

ABOVE: There’s been a recent spike in cars damaged by potholes. Mark McAllister reports. 

TORONTO – We’ve all been there – merrily driving along when all of a sudden, it sounds like your tire fell off.

You’ve hit a pothole.

And no matter where you go in the city these days, you’re bound to hit one as the recent fluctuations in temperature, from extreme cold to mild, have expanded the cracks in the road into what feel like craters, big and small.

To date, city crews have fixed over 66,000 potholes since January 1.

Aside from vigilantly trying to avoid potholes while driving, there’s not much drivers can do to protect themselves or their cars.

However, if you do lose a tire or your car is otherwise damaged, you can make a claim against the city or province in which the damage occurs.

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Can I get the city to pay for the damage?

If you do want to make a claim against the city of Toronto for damages caused to your car by a pothole, you can do so through an online form on the city’s website.

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For the damage to be considered, the city will have to have failed to meet minimum maintenance levels set by the province.  Those minimum maintenance levels differ by type of road.

The plaintiff also has to prove the city knew, or should have known, about the pothole.

On a main road, city policy is that a pothole must be repaired within four days of having been reported.  On a side street, the city has 30 days to repair potholes.

Many complaints however, don’t get very far.  A 2011 city ombudsman report noted the city denies approximately 96 per cent of the claims related to potholes.

Moreover, in a random sample of 50 claims, 56 per cent were denied “automatically without an investigation” and “inadequate information or reasons were given for a decision.”

My car is new and it’s damaged.  What happened?!

Don’t believe the hype. A new car can still be damaged by a crater in the ground.

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Regardless of age, “one high speed impact will damage your tire and your rim,” Randy McCallum, service manager at the Lakeshore Canadian Tire said.

In fact, McCallum said, his employees put new tires and rims on a 2013 Honda Civic in January. An hour later, the driver came back with a bent rim after he hit a pothole.

“[I’ve] seen a couple of vehicles, brand new vehicles with bent rims, tires have been blown out, suspensions being chopped over those deep holes, parts breaking,” Peter Sanakidis, a Canadian Tire foreman said. “It’s a big shock on the front-end suspension. If there are any loose components, they will separate. Or rims that are mostly made out of aluminum tend to bend easier than steel. Tires tend to burst or get a leak in them.”

While Canadian Tire does offer 5-year warranties for any manufacturer defects, a pothole is not covered.

My car was damaged by a pothole.  What do I do?

Well, you have two options.

You may file a claim with your insurance company or pay for it yourself. Pete Karageorgos a manager of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada said people absolutely need collision insurance to make a claim. But even if they do, they could be better off not filing a claim.

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“You also have to take into consideration that your deductible applies, so if you do have $500, $1000 collision deductible and a few hundred dollars worth of damage than it doesn’t make any sense to make a claim.”

But if you do file a claim, he suggested getting as much information as possible, including taking photos of the damage and pothole. Those photos could help your claim, he said.

Another advantage of going through your insurance broker?  Your claim will likely be processed far more quickly than a claim made to the city, he said.

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