What you should do next after hitting a pothole that damages your car

It’s a scenario South African drivers know all too well: You’re driving home through the suburbs one day after some particularly heavy rain and you notice a new, yawning pothole too late to avoid it or slow down. You flinch as you hit the pothole, grit your teeth and hope that your car hasn’t been hurt by the impact.

Sumarie Greybe, co-founder of digital insurance platform Naked, walks you through your next steps if you suspect that the pothole has done some serious damage to your vehicle.

STEP 1 — Evaluate the potential damage

Sometimes, it will be obvious that your car has suffered internal harm. The steering wheel might shake, you may struggle to control your car, or you might hear some funny noises. In this instance, you’ll want to slow down and pull over in the first safe place, so that you can call emergency assistance.

Even if the car feels okay, you’ll want to stop as soon as it’s safe to check for visible damage, such as a tear in your tyre or buckled rims.

If there’s visible damage and the car is clearly not safe to drive, call your insurer’s emergency helpline. You should also call your insurer if you suspect that the car has sustained internal damage of a nature that you’d further damage the axel or suspension by continuing to drive.

Bear in mind your insurer will not pay for subsequent damage if you drive on in a vehicle that has sustained serious damage going through a pothole.

If the car seems okay or only has some surface-level scratches and dents, you can safely proceed. If necessary, you can contact your insurer to claim when you get home. It might still be worth going to the nearest tyre centre for a check-up before doing too much more driving. Rebalancing your wheels might be required.

STEP 2 — Call for help

If you’ve detected internal or external damage to the vehicle, it’s best not to drive for your safety. If you’re insured, you can arrange for your insurer to dispatch a tow truck. Ask for a flatbed to put the vehicle on to avoid further damage to your car.

Ask for your car to be taken to the nearest repair shop that is accredited with your insurer. Most insurers offer free towing for 30-50km per trip.

If the tow truck driver goes over that limit, you will pay for additional towing costs. If you’re not insured, you can turn to the AA for help. If you’re not a member, you will need to pay for the tow.

STEP 3 — Document the damage

To make it easier to claim from insurance or the municipality, take photos of the pothole and damage to your car.

Take note of the exact location of the pothole with a location pin on your phone. If there are any witnesses, ask them for their contact information and their account of the incident.

STEP 4 — Report the accident to the police

As with any motor accident, you’ll need a case number from the police to claim from your insurer. You can file an accident report at the nearest police station or online (as long as no one was hurt) via the Natis website.

STEP 5 — Claim

The next step is to claim from your insurer. Your insurer will need the following info:

  • The exact location of the incident (the location pin you saved will come in handy)
  • A few pics of the pothole
  • A few pics of the damage caused to your car
  • Contact details of any witnesses
  • A photo of the police incident report

If your claim is approved, your insurer will use the police case number to approach the municipality and attempt to reclaim your excess and the costs of the damages.

You can also claim directly from the municipality or from Sanral if the pothole was on a national road.

It makes sense to do this if the repair is likely to cost less than your excess — you don’t want to have the claim on your claims history for the sake of a couple of hundred bucks.

You can also claim from your municipality if you don’t have insurance. The process varies between different municipal authorities, but they will usually ask for the following:

  • The exact location of the incident (again, the location pin you saved will come in handy)
  • A few pics of the pothole
  •  A few pics of the damage caused to your car
  • Contact details of any witnesses
  • A photo of the police incident report
  • Copy of your driver’s licence
  • Vehicle registration documents
  • Copy of your ID
  • Three quotes for the damages
  • A letter from your insurance company confirming that you are not claiming from them as well

Avoiding potholes

Here are some tips for avoiding potholes and minimising damage when you can’t:

  • Drive carefully and don’t exceed the speed limit.
  • Be doubly careful in the rain and assume that any puddles on the road could be disguising potholes.
  • Watch other drivers — if they’re swerving, there might be a pothole.
  • Keep your tyres inflated at their correct pressure levels to minimise the damage to your vehicle from driving through a pothole.
  • If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow down before you hit it. But don’t brake while you’re driving through it.

Read: There is still good news for home buyers in South Africa

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