Is tire damage from a pothole covered by car insurance?

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Dec 21, 2020

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Illustration showing perils covered by car insurance policy

Winters can be really hard on roads. The constant freezing and thawing combined with heavy snowplow equipment can result in a minefield of potholes on any road, especially in the states with the worst rural roads.

As hard as you try, sometimes it’s just not possible to avoid hitting a pothole at high speed, resulting in major damage to not only your tire and wheel, but also possibly your suspension, steering components, and exhaust.

So the question is if you hit one of these potholes and sustain damage to your car, will your car insurance policy pay for the damages?

It’s kind of a tricky question because of the way some insurance companies word their policy. First, you need to have collision coverage on the affected vehicle. If you do not have that, end of the story. You do not have coverage.

If you do have collision coverage, then we can dig into the policy and see if pothole damage is a valid claim or not.

In a standard auto policy, the insuring agreement for Part D coverage (Coverage for Damage to your Auto) reads:

We will pay for direct and accidental loss to “your covered auto” or any “non-owned auto”, including their equipment, minus any applicable deductible shown in the Declarations.

“Collision” means the upset of “your covered auto” or a “non-owned auto” or their impact with another vehicle or object.

So you were driving your own car (or someone else’s that you do not have regular access to), it is insured with collision coverage, the damage was direct and accidental (assuming you did not intentionally destroy your car), and the pothole is an “object”. Sounds like a covered claim, right?

If we keep reading the policy, there is a section for coverage exclusions that goes and takes coverage away for certain things like wear and tear, mechanical issues, and really vague stuff like civil war and insurrection.

One of the exclusions reads:

We will not pay for damage due and confined to:

  1. Wear and tear
  2. Freezing
  3. Mechanical or electrical breakdown or failure
  4. Road damage to tires

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Now we know what you’re thinking: “Dang, I don’t have a claim”. But there is a twist to this scenario. If the damage extends beyond just your tire, then you have coverage under your collision coverage. Nowadays, vehicle wheels cost more than a new tire, so if the wheel is scratched or bent, that will be covered, as well as any damage to other components of your vehicle.

claim paid

If the damage is just to your tire, your company may opt to provide coverage, but the problem is you have a deductible to pay before any payment is made. So unless you have ultra-high-performance tires or massive off-road mudslingers, along with with a super-low deductible, chances are that your deductible is higher than the cost of a new tire anyway.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you want to file a claim anyway. Collision claims are frowned upon by insurance companies, unlike comprehensive claims. A collision claim is usually considered a ‘chargeable’ claim, which means you would lose any claim-free discounts you might be receiving on your policy. It’s kind of like your driving record and having a chargeable speeding ticket.

So if the damage is extensive, go ahead and file that claim. That’s what insurance is for. But if filing a claim will only get you a few hundred bucks from your company after paying your collision deductible, you might want to reconsider the claim and just pay for the damages out-of-pocket.

Tire damage may be covered if you purchased a road hazard warranty the last time you bought new tires. So if it’s just a blown sidewall with no other damage to your vehicle, and you do have a tire warranty, that should be covered and you can replace the tire at no cost.

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