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Pothole ‘scandal’ sees 10,000 car breakdowns this year alone: How to claim for damage

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

More than 10,000 drivers were rescued by the RAC in the first three months of 2023 after suffering pothole-related damage to their cars. Here’s how you may be able to claim compensation.

Pothole-related breakdowns attended by the RAC have risen 39% (2,811) compared to the same period a year ago.

They have also more than doubled from the 4,915 seen in the previous quarter (Q4 2022).

The motoring group said it attended more call-outs than any other three-month period since January to March 2021, as it witnessed damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels from the “poor road surfaces”.

As such, it reported a 14% spike in roadside wheel changes compared to the same time period last year.

“While some of these jobs were no doubt due to punctures from objects such as nails and screws, the increase points towards further deterioration of the UK’s road surfaces caused by December’s extreme freezing conditions”, the RAC said.

According to its Pothole Index which has tracked pothole call-outs since 2006, drivers are now 1.6 times more likely to breakdown “due to the repeated wear caused by potholes than they were 17 years ago”.

‘Enormous increase in call-outs is scandalous’

RAC roads spokesman, Simon Williams, said: “The high number of call-outs our patrols have attended in the first three months of the year – and the enormous increase compared to a year ago – is nothing short of scandalous. Drivers are telling us that the UK’s local roads are in a worse state than ever and it’s hard to disagree looking at some of the craters that litter so many of our carriageways.

“It’s not right that drivers who are struggling to make ends meet are having to fork out for new tyres, wheels, suspension springs and shock absorbers simply because our roads have been allowed to fall into such a dire state of repair.”

Williams explained that local councils are not obliged to pay compensation to drivers who have suffered damage to their vehicles after hitting a pothole. They will only consider doing so if the pothole has been picked up in their routine inspections or has been reported by a member of the public.

“This is why we urge everyone who spots a nasty hole in the road to report it via the RAC website or to the local authority directly.

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, an estimated £14bn needs to be ploughed into UK roads to make them “fit for purpose”.

The RAC urged the Government to “think differently to end the pothole plague once and for all”.

It suggests the Government ringfences a proportion of fuel duty for the maintenance and repair of roads.

Williams added: “Because, as it stands, the £28bn collected from drivers is currently just another form of general taxation.

“Drivers contribute billions in tax every year and it is ridiculous that the roads remain in such an awful state.”

How to claim for pothole damage to your car

Potholes and other defects on local roads come under the responsibility of the local council so you can report an issue via FixMyStreet by entering the location or postcode.

If the pothole is on a main road such as a motorway or A-road in England, you should report it via National Highways or call 0300 123 5000. In Scotland, visit MyGov or Traffic Scotland while for those in NI, use NIDirect.

When it comes to claiming for pothole damage, success depends on whether the pothole has already been reported, according to the RAC.

This is because councils have a statutory defence that they can’t be held liable if they don’t know about an issue.

You may be able to make a claim if you have comprehensive car insurance.

Otherwise, before making a claim, the RAC said motorists should take these 10 steps:

1) Take notes

Jot down all the key details including: location of the pothole, its size, shape and depth. If it is safe to do so, make a simple sketch of the area showing the position of the pothole including any surrounding features. It is also worth taking a photograph of the offending pothole.

2) Any witnesses?

Where possible, get details of any witnesses as it may help your claim.

3) Get quotes

Make sure you get quotes for all repairs. Keep all quotes, bills and garage receipts and make copies of them to support your claim.

4) Make your claim

In England, contact National Highways and tell it about the issue. If it believes you have a valid claim, it will send a damage report. Once you have this, you will need to send copies of estimates or invoices for the repairs, a current MOT certificate and photos of the damage if you have them.

5) Prepare for rejection

You will get a decision about your claim within 90 days. The council or local authority may defend the claim under section 58 of the Highways Act and its right to statutory defence. If it can prove it has a regular inspection and repair system in place, it may be able to reject your claim.

6) Do your research

Before going back to the council to discuss the claim further, review the guidance provided on its website, check what the council is liable for and verify if it’s carrying out a reasonable system of inspection and repair.

7) Be willing to negotiate

If the council or local authority makes you an offer, you should seriously consider it. You may be able to negotiate but, according to consumer group Which?, while you can claim the cost of repairs, you won’t necessarily be compensated for additional travel expenses or the inconvenience caused.

8) Consider the Small Claims Court

If your claim is rejected, you may be able to go to the Small Claims Court. However, if you choose to seek legal advice you could end up incurring legal costs.

9) Weigh up the pros and cons

It may not actually be worthwhile making a claim for compensation, if the amount is below a certain level. Before attempting to make a claim, do your research first as it could be a costly, time-consuming process.

10) Keep calm

Always try to remain calm and professional when dealing with the council or local authority. Keep copies of all the letters and emails you send and receive – if you do go to court, you will have to provide a record of all your correspondence.