Submitting a claim to the government for pothole damage? Good luck with that
HERRIMAN, Utah — From a distance, a pothole might not look like much, but it can do serious and expensive damage to your car.
Your friends might tell you to file a claim with the city or the state to cover the repair bill. Well, good luck with that because payouts for pothole damage in Utah are rare.
For you and me, potholes mean nothing but trouble. But for Salt City Wheels, potholes mean good business. On the day we met them, the mobile wheel repair shop was fixing not one but two Teslas.
“Usually, they’re trying to find a reason as to why their wheel is damaged,” said Salt City Wheels’ owner, Bryan Karsten. “A lot of times with the calls that we have, they say that it’s pothole damage.”
And potholes can cause big damage: Punctured tires. Cracked or bent rims. Ruined exhaust systems on cars that bottom out. Engines crippled by damaged oil pans. And they can wreak havoc on your car’s alignment and suspension.
Karsten said most of their repair jobs cost around $200 to $300, but replacement is much more expensive if a wheel can’t be fixed.
“Anywhere from $400 to $500,” he said. “Some vehicles, even on Ford-150s, can be $2,000 plus to replace the factory wheel.”
According to AAA, drivers spend nearly $3 billion dollars every year to fix damage caused by potholes.
But if you hit a bad spot on a Utah road, do not expect a city or the state to rush in to pay for your repairs.
“People, generally, do not get payouts,” said Karsten, who has seen plenty of ticked-off drivers left high and dry by pothole damage.
“It might end up being a situation where they are unavoidable, and they end up having to hit it, and then in that situation, it is very frustrating for them,” he said. “Especially when they do put in the claim and then find out that it gets denied.”
To find just how often Utah governments payout for pothole damages, Get Gephardt sent records requests to ten cities and the state for claims made in the last four years.
During that time, Sandy City says they have paid out two of the three claims they received for $500 total. From there, payout rates bottom out.
West Valley City had 12 claims and paid $568.04 for two of them, making a 16.6% payout rate.
Of the nine claims Ogden received, they paid out $211 for just one claim – an 11.1% rate.
Salt Lake City says 51 drivers filed claims. The city paid off five of those for a total of $2,455.16, making for a payout rate of 9.8%.
St. George, South Jordan and Orem all reported zero claims during that time.
Provo did not pay anything for the seven complaints it received, and not one of Layton’s three claims was paid.
But the biggest road owner in Utah is the state. Claims go through the Utah Department of Transportation. UDOT told us they have paid $7,114.46 for 12 out of its 268 pothole damage claims, a 4.5% payout rate.
Why the potholes usually prevail
“Potholes are a product of the climate that we live in the extreme weather conditions,” said UDOT’s John Gleason. “It really is an unfortunate thing, but it is an act of nature.”
An act of nature, he said, since they are often caused by water seeping through the asphalt, then freezing and thawing during winter and spring. Still, Gleason insists the agency takes each claim seriously.
“If you have damaged your car, I mean, it’s understandable that people will be upset about that,” Gleason said.
But the reality is the government will prevail unless you can prove the city or state was aware of the pothole beforehand and failed to fix it within a reasonable amount of time. That could mean a few days, depending on the weather.
“We get out there day, night, weekends, especially if it’s a serious issue that we’re concerned with – car damage to vehicles, anything like that,” explained Gleason. “Our crews are going to be out there immediately addressing it.”
UDOT relies on the public to be their eyes and ears for potholes. They even have a special app for it called Click-N-Fix. It allows you to drop a pin on a roadmap where you have come across a pothole. It also allows you to see pins dropped by other drivers reporting potholes.
That could help bolster your claim if you ever wanted to fight a denial from a municipality or the state and you see that pothole had previously been reported.
Public records from UDOT do show a good chunk of taxpayer money is going into fixing potholes. In the last fiscal year, FY 2022, $1,512,062 was spent filling potholes.
So, drive carefully out there because, as the numbers show, if you strike a pothole and pop a tire or damage your car in any way, the repair cost will likely come out of your wallet.
As for insurance, pothole damage will probably be handled under collision coverage, but an insurance claim could mean an increase in your premium. Since deductibles are usually $500 or $1,000, the odds are strong that you might wind up paying out of pocket for repairs.
*This story has been updated to reflect South Jordan received no claims for pothole damage repair.
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