Potholes Cost Drivers Millions in Car Repairs

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It's the middle of pothole season, when extreme weather and relentless freezing and thawing weakens U.S. roads.

Potholes are no doubt annoying, but the damage they do to your car may be much more serious — and expensive — than most drivers think.

Mike Smith, an engineer with Crossbow Technology, a company that makes wireless sensors for the automotive and aviation industries, says this little device will measure the amount of force, or Gs, on car wheels every time a car hits a pothole. Gs are what you feel when riding a roller coaster.

According to a report by national transportation research group Trip Net, San Jose, Calif., has the roughest roads in the country.

The 10 major urban areas with the highest percentage of major streets and highways that provide poor ride quality are: San Jose; Los Angeles; San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.; Kansas City; New Orleans (pre-Katrina); San Diego; Sacramento; St. Louis; Omaha, Neb.; and New York City.

ABC News traveled with Smith as he drove around San Jose documenting the damage potholes do to a vehicle.

A particularly bad pothole registered at 55 Gs. "That's more than you would see in a 35-mile-an-hour car crash," Smith said.

But he added, "You don't feel it in the car because your suspension is absorbing it."

Sometimes, though, your vehicle just can't protect you from serious accidents when hitting a nasty pothole.

An Indiana woman suffered severe head injuries after her motorcycle hit a pothole. New York City settled a case for more than $1 million with a woman who claimed permanent injuries after her car hit a gaping pothole in Brooklyn. And the state of California paid $1 million to the family of a San Francisco motorcyclist who died after hitting a pothole.

Gary Richards, a transportation reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, said readers complain all the time that potholes drive them nuts.

"I'm always surprised with the lack of rain that we have, just how bad our roads can get," Richards said.

Heavy road traffic coupled with lack of funding to fix roads are at the root of San Jose's pothole problems.

Hitting potholes have "a very large and harsh impact on your car, and over time it's really going to do some damage," Smith said.

Experts say damaged roads lead to damaged cars, so motorists collectively end up paying millions of dollars to repair their cars, all because some cities aren't spending the money to repair their roads.

You should, of course, avoid potholes if you can, or at the very least, slow down. Maintaining the proper pressure in your tires can lessen the impact on your car.

If you hit a pothole and damage your car, you may have some recourse by filing a claim with your city, county or state. It's a tough battle, but could be worth a try, especially if you can prove that the municipality ignored earlier complaints.

Click here to read Trip Net's full report on potholes.

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