Potholes, punctures and plug-in repair jobs – put safety first
Vishal Premlall, national director of TEPA

Potholes have become the bane of our lives in South Africa. The reality is that they are here to stay as heavy traffic, rain and lack of maintenance continue to gnaw away at road infrastructure.

It’s a proven fact that potholes can damage your car – even if you react in time to partially avoid them. And, while some damage is immediately visible, it might take you a while to notice that your car isn’t handling as well as it used to. It may be a slow accumulation of many small bumps before it amounts to a discernible affect.

Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI), explains the most likely types of damage a pothole can do to your car.

“When a wheel hits a pothole, it drops into the hole and has to roll out of it. The damage is almost never due to the wheel entering the pothole, but rather the impact of it exiting the hole,” he says.

“The extent of the damage depends on a few things, such as the diameter of the tyre, the speed of the vehicle and the depth and length of the pothole. The smaller the wheel diameter, the more severe the impact – especially if the depth of the pothole is the same as the diameter of the wheel.

“But damage is often not only confined to tyres. Other components of the car also absorb the impact. Commonly, potholes lead to damage like the loss of a hubcap, a bulge in the tyre sidewall or even a punctured tyre, bent or broken rim, wheels knocked out of alignment, damaged suspension, bent steering parts and damaged shocks.

So, what should you do if you hit a pothole?

Les Richardson, TEPA Vice Chairman explains:

1.            Depending on where you are and provided that it is safe to do so, get out of the car and assess the damage. Even if it’s not immediately felt that there is damage, it is recommended you pull over and check for visible signs of impact, like a bulging or torn tyre, or a cracked or dented wheel rim. Obvious signs of damage are things like the steering wheel shaking or strange noises and skewed steering due to the wheel alignment being out.

2.            If you believe the car to be unsafe, you must call your insurer or repairer to arrange to have the car recovered. If you are insured, please note that insurance companies will most likely not pay for consequential damage that may occur if you choose to drive the car after hitting a pothole.

3.            Even if there are no obvious signs of damage and the car feels fine to drive, it is advisable to take it to an accredited fitment centre or workshop to be checked out as soon as possible after the event.

About puncture repairs

Richardson notes that apart from potholes, nails and screws are common culprits when it comes to punctures.

“This is often because of construction vehicles dropping screws and nails onto roads. The most common areas to pick these up are on the extreme left-hand area of the road and the right shoulder of the highway, which is often littered with debris. This is the emergency lane so one should not be driving there anyway,” he says.

When it comes to punctures caused by a pothole, nails or screws, a push-in plug repair is not the ideal solution, Richardson warns. In fact, there was a move for safety reasons, to ban these products a few years ago, but the idea was abandoned.

“Push-in plugs should only be seen as an emergency measure to allow you to get to an accredited fitment centre or workshop so that the correct tyre repair can be performed.

“The problem with the push-in plug is that it can flex when cornering, braking and accelerating. This seal could be broken and air could escape, leading to a drop in pressure. This difference in pressure can result in uneven handling and compromised safety,” he says. Reduced pressure often leads to excessive heat build-up in the tyre which results in the failure of the tyre. So keep an eye on your tyre pressures, he advises.

“A ‘mushroom plug’, like the name suggests, has a larger cap, which is bonded to the interior of the tyre and results in a much more stable and secure repair. This is appropriate to the tread area of the tyre only and should not be applied to the sidewall of the tyre, for safety reasons.

“Most sidewall damage to the tyre is considered irreparable due to the extreme flexing and pressures exerted on that part of the tyre when cornering or braking.”

Richardson highlights that the cost of repairing a puncture with a mushroom plug versus a push-in plug is around double the price (R100 to R150 versus R200 to 250).

“The reason for this is that when repairing with a mushroom plug, the tyre is removed from the rim and cleaned with a scouring disk before the inner mushroom and inside of the tyre are bonded together. This is then refitted to the rim, the wheel balanced and you are good to go.

Premlall concludes, “If you have no other choice a push in plug is advised but then ensure you visit an accredited fitment centre or workshop as soon as possible and replace this with the more stable mushroom plug. This has an airtight seal and will be good for many years,” he explains.”