How to make a claim for pothole damage
Find out how to report potholes and how to make a claim if you are injured or suffer damage to your car or property because of them.
Potholes can mean a bumpy ride. But it’s possible to claim for damages.
What is a pothole claim?
Whether it’s a large crater or a smaller divot in the road, if your car hits a pothole it could cause real problems.
Damage from potholes can happen even if you’re driving at a low speed.
And while the effects of hitting one can be immediate, sometimes it only becomes obvious as you continue to use your car. Either way, if costly repairs are needed to fix the issue, it makes sense that you’d want help to cover the expense.
It’s possible to make a claim if you’ve got enough evidence that a pothole was the cause.
You may be able to claim compensation for damages or injuries from either the local council, relevant road authority, or your car insurance provider.
- Driving over a pothole could cause significant damage to your car and can even cause an accident
- You can try claiming compensation from your local council, but you’ll need to prove they were at fault
- You can also claim on your car insurance, but you’ll need to pay an excess and it’s likely to affect your no-claims bonus
- Always report potholes to the local council to help prevent damage to your car and others
When can you make a claim?
Before you make a pothole claim, you’ll need to check whether your situation qualifies.
Generally, this means that the pothole involved needs to be at least 40mm deep.
You’ll also need to prove that the pothole was the cause of the damage. So you might need a mechanic or evidence from another source to confirm this.
Who can make a pothole claim?
If your car shows signs of damage as a result of driving over a pothole (like a puncture or damaged suspension) you can make a claim.
You can also make a claim if your car was involved in an accident after hitting a pothole - for example, if it caused you to lose control of your car and collide with another vehicle.
But first, the dip or hollow in the road surface will need to be large enough for it to be considered a pothole by the local authority.
And if you want to claim on your car insurance, you’ll only usually be able to do this if you have fully comprehensive cover.
What causes potholes in the UK?
The cold and wet weather in the UK is largely to blame for why our country has so many potholes, particularly in winter and spring.
Usually, they start out as small cracks in the road surface. These are caused when the asphalt expands, either when water under the ground freezes or simply from the heat and friction of traffic travelling on the road.
Once a crack forms it causes a weak spot. In wet conditions, water gets into the crack and causes more damage, particularly if it’s cold enough to freeze.
Then, as the weight of traffic passes over this weak spot, it starts to break down the road surface even further, eventually causing a pothole.
But despite local councils repairing a pothole every 19 seconds, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance in 2021, they can’t keep up with the number that are appearing. So the backlog of repairs is growing, which increases the likelihood of driving across one.
Areas most affected:
|Councils||Number of reported potholes (2020-2022) |
|Derbyshire County Council||215,787|
|Durham County Council||189,821|
|Lancashire County Council||189,461|
|Surrey County Council||142,564|
|Northumberland Country Council||132,319|
|Oxfordshire County Council||79,795|
|Somerset Country Council||59,185|
|Staffordshire County Council||58,689|
|Kent County Council||58,284|
The impact of potholes on vehicles and road safety
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), the road environment - which includes the state of the road surface and potholes - is a factor in around 12% of road accidents.
There’s no escaping the fact that the jarring impact of hitting a pothole can be hard on both you and your car. In fact, we found that 48% of motorists named potholes as their biggest worry.
However, the effects you might experience will largely depend on the depth of the pothole and how fast the car was travelling at the time.
In some cases, the damage might be a result of drivers swerving at the last minute to avoid the pothole or losing control of their car once they’ve hit it.
But the types of car damage hitting a pothole might typically cause include:
- Suspension or steering alignment issues
- Blown tyres or punctures
- Bulge in the tyre sidewall
- Damaged wheel rims
- Exhaust damage
- Fluid leaks
What should you do if you hit a pothole?
If you’ve driven over a pothole, check your car as soon as possible. When it’s safe to do so, pull over and look for any obvious visible damage, like cracked alloys or a hanging exhaust.
Take photos or sketch the scene to show the location of the pothole and make note of its size and exact location. If there are any witnesses, ask for their contact details.
However, the damage might not always be visible. For example, you may only find out afterwards that the steering is pulling to one side or that strange noises are coming from the car.
So, if you’ve got any concerns, get your car checked by a mechanic. And get quotes if repairs are needed - you’ll need these if you want to make a claim.
Make sure you report the pothole to the local authority so they can get the road surface repaired to prevent other drivers from being affected.
Who’s responsible for repairing UK potholes?
The local authority is responsible for repairing all the roads in their area. And if the pothole is on a motorway or major A-road in England, National Highways will be responsible.
Under the Highways Act 1980, local authorities must maintain their roads so that they’re safe to use. This means they should regularly inspect their road network. But how often this happens depends on whether it’s a busy main road or a quieter route.
However, at any point, members of the public can report a pothole. To do this, you can enter your postcode at gov.uk to find out which authority you need to contact.
If a pothole causes someone to have an accident or damages their car, they can make a claim for compensation through their local council. The council can be held responsible if it can be proved they didn’t fix a pothole they were aware of from their inspection or that was reported to them.
How to make a pothole claim
There are two main ways you can claim for compensation if your car is damaged by a pothole:
From the local council
Contact your local council or relevant road authority and tell them what damage was caused by the pothole and provide details about its size and specific location.
You’ll need to explain why you think they’re responsible. To make a claim, you’ll usually need to complete a damage report form and provide quotes for the vehicle repairs as well as photos and details of the incident and the damage.
From your insurer
If you don’t claim through the council, you could claim for damage on your car insurance policy. To do this you’ll need to follow your insurer’s claims process.
This usually involves providing details about the incident, like the date, time, and location. Plus, evidence like photos, as well as receipts or quotes for the repairs. Be aware that you’ll only have a limited time to make a claim after an incident.
It may not be worth claiming on your car insurance if the costs of repairs aren’t much more than the excess. And claiming could affect your no-claims discount (NCD) and make your premiums more expensive when it’s time to renew.
Bear in mind that you can only claim once for pothole damage, you can’t be reimbursed from both the local authority and your car insurer.
What might affect your pothole claim
Pothole claims aren’t always straightforward and a successful outcome isn’t always guaranteed.
The council or road authority may reject your claim if the pothole wasn’t previously reported to them or picked up during their inspection of the road. Equally, you won’t be able to claim if the pothole’s dimensions aren’t large enough to be considered.
Your claim may also be rejected if they found that you were negligent. For example, if you were speeding when the accident happened or if your tyres were in poor condition.
If your claim is rejected, you can appeal this. Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000, you can ask to see details of the council’s relevant inspection report and any reports that were made to them about the pothole.
If the road hadn’t been inspected for a long time, or the council hadn’t repaired the pothole after it was reported, this can make your case stronger.
To give your claim the best chance of success though, gather as much evidence as you can. This includes photos of the car damage and the pothole, witness statements and contact details, and at least two quotes for the repairs. And check if any CCTV cameras from nearby shops or businesses might have captured your accident.
If things don’t go your way
If you’re not happy with the response from the council or your claim is rejected, you have the option to negotiate or appeal.
The council may make you an offer of compensation, but not one that you feel is enough. If this happens, you have the option of negotiating - but you may not be able to get any money back for extra travel expenses or lost income.
To appeal a rejected claim, it’s best to use information from an FOI request to support your argument as to why the council’s negligence is responsible for the damage to your car.
If your claim is rejected after you’ve appealed, you could take the matter to small claims court. But this can be very time consuming. And your case would need to be a strong one otherwise you’d lose any fees involved. However, a 'no win no fee’ legal service will often provide free advice on whether it’s worth taking the case to court.
The other option is claim through your car insurance provider to cover the cost of the damage. Just be aware that you’ll need to pay the excess before you get any payout and claiming is likely to affect your NCD.
Tips for preventing pothole damage
You can’t always avoid potholes on the road, but there are things you can do to help minimise the damage they might cause:
Check your pressure - The right tyre pressure will help you maintain control of your car and reduce the chance of a blowout after hitting a pothole.
Drive defensively - Stay alert, keep an eye on the road as well as other cars and pedestrians, so you can anticipate dangers ahead and have enough time to react.
Watch your speed - The slower you drive over a pothole, the less damage it will cause to your car.
Replace worn tyres - Tyres in good condition will be less likely to puncture or get damaged when travelling over poor road surfaces.
Keep your distance - Leaving at least a car’s length in front of you, or a two-second gap, will help you to spot and avoid obstacles on the road.
Use the right grip - Keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel and in the right position.
Report a pothole - If you see a pothole, report it to the local authority so it can be repaired before it causes any further damage to cars.
Know the signs - Noise from the exhaust, a bulge in the tyre, fluid leaks, bouncing, and steering issues are all signs your car might have pothole damage. Getting repairs sorted quickly reduces the chance of them becoming serious and expensive problems in the future.
How to report a pothole
Note the location and size of the pothole
Visit your local council’s website or the relevant road authority
If there’s an immediate public safety risk, call the helpline
Otherwise, use the ‘report a pothole’ page
Add any details - some councils provide an interactive map for this