New figures by the RAC reveal a 63% rise in pot-hole related breakdowns, culminating in £683 million in repair costs for motorists. 

These damages are preventable, and include things like broken suspension springs, damaged shock absorbers and bent wheels. 

The figures are particularly surprising, as the number of pothole-related breakdowns was expected to fall as a result of the relatively dry winter.

David Bizley chief engineer at the RAC, said: “Our figures sadly show a surprising and unwelcome first quarter rise in the number of breakdowns where the poor quality of the road surface was a major factor.

"It is very concerning that the roads, strangely, appear to have deteriorated in a mild, comparatively dry winter.

“Local authorities still have a huge funding gap in their roads budget and until central government is willing to ring-fence sufficient funding to bring local roads back into a state that is fit for purpose, their condition will be subject to the whims of the weather and they will continue to be the poor relation in the nation’s transport infrastructure."

With the General Election coming up next month, the RAC is calling on the next government to ring-fence a portion of the income from motoring tax to guarantee the quality of local roads. 

In the meantime, you might be able to make a claim for damages to your motor. Read on to find out more.

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'Underfunded' roads

Despite paying through the nose, local councils are allowing our roads to deteriorate year on year. It has been reported that road maintenance in England and Wales is underfunded by around £1 billion every year (55%), according to potholes.co.uk.

Why are the roads so bad?

Water seeps down below our road surfaces and then freezes in the winter. This pushes up the asphalt and causes holes.

But it is not just the weather that is causing such havoc. Other contributing factors are vastly increased traffic flow, which is putting pressure on roads of all sizes throughout the UK, and the constant digging up of our roads by utility companies.

When electricity and water companies perform repairs to their cables and pipes, they tend to simply patch up the road rather than resurfacing it, and this makes them more susceptible to damage.

With the vast profits that these companies make perhaps they should be forced to make proper repairs in future! 

What damage is being done?

Our vehicles are suffering from these uneven surfaces. The most obvious damage is to our wheels, with both wheel rims and punctured tyres being major complaints.

Driving on a consistently uneven surface can also take its toll on our suspension, steering mechanisms, exhausts and roll bars, which can rattle free with the constant abuse.

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How to claim

Each county council will have a specific procedure for compensation claims, so make sure you check your local council’s website for specific information. Remember, you can claim for damage to bikes and motorcycles as well as cars.

As a general rule of thumb, if you aim to follow the steps below you won’t go far wrong.

  • Take a photograph of the pothole and note down its rough size and depth as well as its precise location (make a sketch of the area if you can).
  • Report it to your council using the reporting procedure specified on your council’s website.
  • If the council has not repaired it within a reasonable time (some say around a week is enough time to give) then this should strengthen your case.
  • Consider submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the council or Highways Agency to find out as much as you can about the road and its maintenance history, as this could also strengthen your case.
  • Put all your complaints in writing and ensure that all contact with the council is done via letter or email (a phone call can always be denied). In your letter include: a full description of the accident, where and when it was (date and time), your photographs and your sketch plan of the area. Also include a copy of your repair bill for the damage caused and keep copies of all your letters!
  • Consider Twitter too. Tweeting will put pressure on your local council as its other followers are likely to see the tweet.
  • The free RAC Report Pothole app uses GPS to quickly identify where you are and can send a report to your local council automatically. You can send up to three photos of the pothole as well as signange problems, street light problems and more. It's available on iOS and Android.
  • If the council makes you an offer you should give it proper consideration even if you are not entirely happy. If you wish to fight on, your next option will be to take court action. Provided your claim is for under £5,000 you can take action in the Small Claims court. You won’t need a solicitor and you can issue proceedings online via their MoneyClaim Online system. 

Am I likely to get a payout?

It won’t be easy! The council will vigorously defend itself under section 58 of the Highways Act (which basically states they just have to prove they have taken ‘reasonable’ care of the road).

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. While evidence suggests that the vast majority of claims are automatically turned down in the first instance, persistence is key.

Authorities currently pay out more than £30 million in compensation for potholes so it's worth your time.

Start a revolution

Each individual pothole costs on average around £53 to repair, but records show that a compensation payout can be anywhere up to £3,000. With councils paying out hundreds of thousands each year in compensation, why isn't the money being earmarked for repairing the roads instead?

If you are successful in your compensation claim, and are feeling particularly altruistic, you could consider returning your payout to the council on the proviso that they repair your neighbourhood roads.

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