It can be a real shock when one of your tires hits a pothole, and not just to yourself. As much as the unexpected impact can give you and your passengers a nasty jolt, hitting a pothole can also cause damage to the vehicle, most commonly across the tires, wheels, suspension system, and underbody.
Unfortunately, it's not always immediately apparent that anything has gone wrong. Here's how to tell whether one of those areas might have sustained damage.
Are the Tires Damaged?
The tires are obviously going to bear the brunt of any pothole, mainly because the side of a tire will often be pressed up against the hard edge of the hole. When this occurs, the tire can mash against the wheel, causing damage to the rubber. That's usually quite easy to see through a mere visual inspection, but you should also check the condition of the sidewall. If it bulges outwards, it's likely that the tire in question needs to be replaced.
Are the Wheels Damaged?
A wheel may also have been damaged by driving over a pothole. Again, a visual inspection may show signs of damage, but not always. A harsh bump to one of the wheels could have caused it to become misaligned, which will cause it to roll incorrectly when the vehicle is in motion. As such, you may find the vehicle pulling slightly to one side, particularly when you hit the brakes.
Is the Suspension Damaged?
The suspension system is designed to absorb impact, but it can only go so far. A strong jarring strike can easily do damage, and you're very unlikely to be able to tell just by looking that anything is wrong. Suspension problems can cover everything from damaged ball joints to broken shocks. Your vehicle will probably start to emit odd sounds and vibrations, and the ride will feel a little rougher, often swaying more than usual. A jolt can also knock the car's suspension out of alignment; this will affect performance in much the same way as a misaligned wheel.
Is the Underbody Damaged?
The whole car dips down when one wheel goes into a pothole, and it's possible for part of the underbody to strike the road surface. In general, this is going to affect your exhaust system, which can seriously hamper efficiency, performance, and even your own personal safety. If the exhaust system has been damaged, you should find the vehicle losing power and making unpleasant sputtering noises. You may also notice a toxic smell — this should never be ignored, since it may indicate that fumes are leaking into the cabin.
Contact a car service in your area for assistance with any necessary repairs.