This time of year, roadways across America thaw out and reveal pockmarks in road surfaces that resemble the moonscape. The breakdown of road surfaces is a result of the expansion and contraction from heating up and cooling down, coupled with the stress of supporting vehicles day after day. As many of you know, vehicles sustain damage from driving through this rough terrain. How do you know if your vehicle has been damaged by potholes and, if so, what is the cost of repair? Here are some tips to help identify any problems and the expense of repair.
Steering wheel shimmy: This condition is characterized by a quick back and forth motion of the steering wheel at a particular speed or all the time. If shimmy only shows up at a particular speed, chances are that a wheel weight was thrown off from the shock of going through a pothole, resulting in wheel imbalance. If the wheel is shaking at all speeds and intensifies as you go faster, most likely either a wheel is bent or the steering linkage is loose. Approximate costs for repairs:
Wheel balancing: $10-$20 per wheel. Ask if the shop offers lifetime balance. If they do, it's worth having all four wheels balanced so that you can have the tires rotated and rebalanced free of charge every 6,000 miles or six months, whichever comes first. This maintenance practice promotes longer tire life.
Wheel replacement: Wheels vary in cost factor. They can cost anywhere from $50 to $500. Check with your local dealer's parts department for exact pricing.
Worn steering linkage: This repair can run anywhere from $100 per installed tie rod to $700 for a complete steering rack replacement.
Vehicle wanders: Whenever you hit a bump, the vehicle either jumps left or right in an uncontrolled manner. This condition is often caused by worn ball joint/s, bad shocks or struts and/or strut mounts, or a broken swaybar or links. Approximate costs for repairs:
Suspension: Repairs can run anywhere from $120 for replacement of one ball joint to $2,000 for complete suspension rebuild. The best way to determine exact pricing is to get the vehicle up on a lift and have a front-end inspection performed.
Vehicle takes bumps hard: This condition is an indicator of bad shocks or struts, or broken spring/s. Approximate costs for repairs:
Shock/strut replacement: This repair can run anywhere from $150 for four shocks to $1,200 if the system is equipped with an air-ride suspension (air filled struts or springs).
Spring replacement: The cost varies depending on vehicle and system design. Because spring replacement is labor intensive and can take much longer than what the labor guide calls for (due to rust and corrosion), spring replacement is usually priced on a time and material basis. I have seen situations where the labor guide calls for a $200 per axle charge, but the actual cost runs much higher due to frame damage, rust, and other unforeseen complications.
Vehicle pulls to one side or another or the steering wheel is crooked: The vehicle needs a wheel alignment. Most vehicles today have four-wheel alignment capability. If the fix requires only a simple mechanical adjustment of the system, the repair will usually cost $90 to $150. If special kits have to be installed to make mechanical adjustment possible, you can add $30 to $100 per wheel, depending on the cost of the kit and the additional labor required to install it.
Whole vehicle vibrates under acceleration: Drivetrain vibration can usually be attributed to a bent driveshaft, a worn CV joint, or transmission damage. Approximate cost:
Half shaft replacement This repair runs from $200 to $500 per side for parts and labor, which does not include wheel alignment.
CV Joint: If a CV Joint is bad, it's usually cheaper to replace the whole shaft with a rebuilt unit than to replace the CV Joint. Why? Because the parts and labor to rebuild a shaft is higher than a rebuilt replacement, and most rebuilt shafts carry a lifetime warranty.
Transmission replacement: The cost can run anywhere from $2500 for a standard FWD automatic to $7000 or higher for some 4WD vehicles that might have the transfer case attached to them.
On a final note regarding pothole carnage: A recent article from the Insurance Information Institute stated that pothole damage might be covered under your collision or comprehensive insurance. If you have damage due to a severe pothole, check your insurance policy before paying out of pocket for the repairs because they may be covered after you satisfy the deductible (which, in most cases, is much less than the repair cost).
'Til next time ... Keep Rollin'
Find Tom's new book, "How To Make Your Car Last Forever" in local Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Walden booksellers. Find it online at Amazon.com.
For more articles by Tom Torbjornsen, visit AMERICA'S CAR SHOW website: www.americascarshow.com.
Tom Torbjornsen is an automotive expert of 37 years. An automotive journalist in good standing with the IMPA (International Motor Press Association) and MPG (Motor Press Guild), Torbjornsen is the Repair and Maintenance Editor for AOL Autos, At Home Portals, and many other websites. Hear his radio show AMERICA'S CAR SHOW, locally on AM1340 WKSN via the SSI Radio Network Saturdays at noon and on Sirius XM Satellite Radio channel, Stars Too (Sirius 108 and XM 139) Sunday afternoons at 5 p.m. Listen to the show on the live stream during regular show times at americascarshow.com . Send your car questions to his website at americascarshow.com.