Potholes are as inevitable as death and taxes

If you damage your car in one, your options are limited

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

MasterColLogoIf you’re one of the many folks who’ve hit pot holes and seen damage to your car in recent weeks, I feel your pain — literally.

Both my wife and I have suffered pot hole damage this year — although mine was much more serious and is climbing past $3,000 in costs without being fully resolved.

While driving my beloved 2012 Ford Mustang GT (“Big Red”), I encountered a small canyon on Creek Road in Chadds Ford township on Jan. 31, just north of the Chadds Ford Historical Society. Although subsequently briefly patched, it’s bigger and better than ever — word on the street is instead of repairing it, the township plans on offering mule tours down to its bottom and maybe canoeing and kayaking trips.

I was faced with the choice between hitting the crevasse — or crashing head on into traffic. At 25 MPH, I hit the crater.

The result: a bent rear axle, a bent axle housing, a wrecked tire and a damaged rim. I think the shock failed on that side, as well — as subsequent repairs to the car (a special adventure in itself — read below) having not totally returned the car to fighting trim.

And yes, I have insurance — and it paid for most of the repairs, less my deductible —  and the extent of the damage made it worthwhile to file a claim. Many others with just tire and wheel damage might find themselves just below their deductibles and have to eat it out of pocket.

So — can you file a claim or sue? Well, of course, you can sue for virtually anything, but the odds of it getting anywhere in Pennsylvania are somewhere between none and well, less than none. If it is a state road maintained by PennDOT, you’re totally out of luck — you can’t file against them under state law. Local entities? Pretty much the same deal.

Beyond public complaining, which might you feel better and get a few headlines in local news publications, there’s not much we can do. It’s a bit like losing the lottery.

Is there anything you can do to avoid potholes? Beyond driving slowly – going slower reduces all of the impact forces — and sharing info on new potholes with local officials and friends and neighbors via Facebook and the like, these asphalt divots are becoming a bit like death and taxes: unavoidable.

In a number of smaller local municipalities, the brutal winters of the last couple of years spiked costs on salt and snow removal. In some cases, that money came from road repair/repaving budgets, leaving road projects delayed or patched to be “good enough.” This past winter’s extreme temperatures (and the salt — which eats through pavement) have just left roadways, especially those paved with chip and stone, brittle, pothole strewn messes.

As there continues to be resistance to raising local taxes to cover services as costs outpace revenues, this is an issue that will likely get worse, not better, in the years to come.


* * *

Before hitting a pothole — or God forbid, having some other sort of accident — you may want to check the terms of your car insurance. Many require repairs to be done with “Like Kind & Quality” parts, or used rather than new parts.

I learned the hard way — getting a used rear end (there’s too many possible jokes there, so…) instead of a new one. Adding a rider to my policy would have cost somewhere between $35 and $40 per six months on a late model car (which I’ve since done) and removes any potential headaches. You’ll want to check to see if it applies in your case.

Even if you get that right, managing the repair process can seem like a full-time job at times.

As noted above — more than two months after the fact and my car still isn’t right, unfortunately.

I used a Blue Ribbon Authorized shop as part of my Nationwide Insurance, Keenan South in Chadds Ford. Unfortunately, the car is still not completely repaired.

After the second visit to the shop — when the worn stabilizer links were replaced (they didn’t ask for permission, but just went ahead with the work — and I paid for it, as I acknowledged the need for the work – and there’s whole other story about Garnet Ford blowing off warranty work for another day. Technically, that’s a big no-no in the car repair world these days and it might be something Nationwide frowns upon were they to learn about it. Ooops. Or the 100 miles my car was driven while in captivity. Ooops, again.), the car still had a very evident “clunk” sound coming from the right rear (dismissed as a loose jack — which it wasn’t), where the original pothole damage happened.

I performed a basic visual and physical inspection — nothing obvious appears to be broken or loose, making me suspect that the right rear shock failed. Initially, I thought the used replacement rear end was the culprit — but more extensive test driving and pushing the car through roads I know well is leading me to think it’s a bad shock. Once on a lift, the issue should be more obvious.

This also would explain why I’ve felt the car wasn’t putting power down evenly. The Mustang will visit a local mechanic next week I trust to check out my theory. If I’m right, it will mean installing two shocks — it’s always best to do them in pairs, left and right.

When it comes to your insurance and repair shops — the best plan is as President Ronald Reagan put it, “trust, but verify.” Uh, well, mostly verify.

If something sounds goofy, or if someone is telling you something that doesn’t seem to make sense, ask questions. I’ve pulled cars out of many shops over the years because a mechanic told me something that was an outright lie with the intent of doing bogus or unneeded work.

Thanks to the Internet and massive data sharing (Yelp, Angie’s List and such) today, it’s a lot harder for shops to pull this stunt — but don’t hesitate to ask questions, look stuff up on your smart phone and check into the complaint history of any shop working on your car before approving work that sounds fishy. You may be surprised.


* * *

A surprise — a nice one, this time — is the impressive rebuild of the David Dodge dealership in Chadds Ford. Not long ago, the dealership’s owner, David Kelliher, walked me around his new facility, which offers the sort of amenities one usually only finds at end-end, premium marque dealerships.

The building — on US-202 — was totally gutted a redesigned with state of the art video screens in the sales area, nice for marketing and such, but offers impressive customer amenities and the much desired drive-in service area. There are also separate bays for detailing and oil changes — allowing for speedier appointments for either service.

Thanks to the Internet and price comparison, a lot of buying decisions come down to service after the fact. It’s clear that the user experience varies immensely and it pays to check into your options before buying.

From here, it looks like David Dodge has built a winner.


* * *

For local gearheads, this weekend marks the start of local, in-person racing. Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville (about halfway between Pottstown and Allentown on Route 100) opens its 2015 season this weekend with NASCAR Modified, Sportsmen and Late Model racing tonight, with gates opening at 5 p.m. A number of local Chester County racers run at the track and they put on a good evening of racing, pretty much every Saturday night from now through the fall.

If you’ve never seen dirt racing in person, it’s something to see. Here’s a tip: sit high, as dirt flies off the track and bring ear and eye protection, especially for kids.

Another local venue, Maple Grove Raceway, just outside of Reading, doesn’t really get cranked up for the 2015 drag racing season until May, but does hold it’s annual flea market next weekend. The track’s marquee event — the NHRA Keystone Nationals are in early October.

And of course, NASCAR Sprint Cup series returns to the area, first at Dover (the final weekend in May)— where I was lucky enough to turn a few laps myself last summer — and then up at Pocono (the first weekend in June).

We’re always looking for local racing news and notes, so if I’ve missed a track or event — or local rally/SCCA events, drop me a line and let me know.

That’s it for this month. If there’s an automotive topic you’d like to see me tackle — or a question you’d like to get answered, drop me a line at mike@chescotimes.com.

Mike McGann, the mild-mannered (right…) editor of The Times, has driven everything from rally cars to open-wheel formula cars and attended various driving and racing schools, including Bertil Roos week-long racing school at Pocono Raceway. He competed in national and international rally events back in the 1990s, as well in SCCA autocross. In addition, he covered NASCAR, NHRA and IndyCar racing during the 1980s. In addition, before the era of computer controlled cars, he spent much of his free time as a shade tree mechanic.

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