Drivers Beware: It's Pothole Season

Written by: Sara Dennis

Spring is in the air! You can see brilliant flowers and blossoming trees and... potholes?! As winter comes to an end (hopefully?) you might have noticed this increase in potholes on the roads. But why is spring the season for potholes?

Potholes are formed when two conditions are present on a road – water and traffic. This is worsened in areas like Ohio where the temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing temperature throughout the winter. When water gets into the soil below the pavement and freezes, it expands (like ice cubes in the freezer) putting pressure on and damaging the pavement above. Then, when it thaws, it shrinks, and the weakened pavement is left even more vulnerable.  The weight of cars and trucks passing over this weakened spot in the road, can cause the pavement to break, creating potholes and cracks. Hitting these potholes can result in damage to your vehicle, such as bent wheels, punctured tires and broken suspension systems, in addition to increasing the risk of an accident. In fact, the American Automobile Association found that pothole damage costs US drivers approximately $3 billion annually.

There are a number of ways that potholes are repaired, depending on the time of year and resources available to the city. During the winter it is common to use a temporary fix, called the “throw-and-roll” method, which involves placing a patching material into the pothole then compacting the patch, often with the weight of a vehicle. One of the main disadvantages of this method is that it is usually just a temporary fix that will have to be repaired again within the year. Various other methods can be used in warmer weather but require more specialized equipment and time.

Throw-and-roll method (compaction step)

Because potholes are nuisance around the world, ways to prevent them and better repair them are constantly being explored. Several new methods are exploring the use of magnetite, a type of iron ore found in Minnesota that easily absorbs microwaves and heats up very quickly. One pothole repair method first heats up the pothole and surrounding pavement, then fills it with an asphalt patch mixture containing 1-2% magnetite. The patch and surrounding area are then microwaved to 100°C, using portable microwave technology, which allows the patch and surrounding pavement to better mix together, creating a stronger bond and longer-lasting fix.

We’re excited to see what the future has to hold regarding pothole prevention and repair! In the meantime, make sure your tires have the proper air pressure in them and slow down if you see a pothole in front of you that you can’t avoid. 

1. “The Hole Story.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 11 June 2016.
2. Lindeman, Tracey. “Scientists Are Working on a Permanent Pothole Fix.” Motherboard, Vice, 10 Mar. 2018.
3. “Pothole Damage Costs U.S. Drivers $3 Billion Annually.” AAA News, AAA Northern New England, 17 Feb. 2016