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The problem with potholes: Your pothole questions answered

Wet winter weather means potholes aplenty, so here's what you can do when potholes terrorize your daily commute.

Potholes are a headache and a half. They pop up in winter along your commute in the worst places, and can seriously damage your vehicle if a large one catches you unaware.

Here are your most common pothole-related questions answered.

►Why are there so many potholes this time of year?

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, potholes are caused when moisture sinks into the ground, freezes and thaws out leaving a gap in pavement. When the ice melts, traffic grinds down and eventually cracks the gap left in the road. Basically, East Tennessee's up-and-down climate is a perfect breeding ground for potholes.

►Why do the same potholes keep popping up around my neighborhood?

In the winter, asphalt companies do not operate. According to TDOT, the cold only allows for temporary solutions. That means a crew might fill your neighborhood pothole one day, then have to fill it again when the temporary solution breaks or wears down. Permanent solutions aren't possible until the weather warms up. If you need to report a pothole on the interstate or highways operated by TDOT, you can find more information on what to do at this link.

►If a pothole damages my car, how much will it cost me?

At Fisher Tire Co., mechanics see customers for pothole damage frequently. According to Dan McCarty of Fisher Tire, the cost of pothole damage will depend on what part of the car is damaged and how expensive the car and its parts are.

"If they're lucky, they just damage the tire. That can be between $200 and $225 a tire. If they damage a wheel, you're looking at anywhere between $250 to about $500 dollars depending on wheel damage," he said.

►Can I file an insurance claim?

You can file an insurance claim to cover the damage, but experts say that's not always the right decision. Melissa Welch of Greenway Insurance says first, you need to be covered for collision insurance to consider filing a claim. After that, the difference between the cost of your damage and your deductible should drive the decision whether or not to file a claim.

"If you have a very expensive tire, $500 if they make them, and your deductible is $100 or $250, it might behoove you to file a claim. If you can get your tire fixed or replaced for cheaper than your deductible, there's no reason to file a claim," she said.

►Can I ask TDOT to foot the costs of fixing my car?

TDOT does not directly accept or process claims, but people can file a written claim with Tennessee's Division of Claims Administration and depending on the circumstances they may reimburse costs associated with damage if they are covered by the Tennessee Claims Commission Act.

It comes down to whether the pothole hit has already been reported and how much time has passed since it was patched.

From TDOT's website:

"If drivers hit a pothole and experience damage to their vehicle, they may submit a damage claim. Claims are investigated on a case-by-case basis through the Division of Claims Administration, an agency not associated with TDOT. Investigators review the circumstances, the type and location of the pothole, determine if TDOT had been previously notified of the issue, and if crews had been given a reasonable amount of time to repair the pothole."

According to Tennessee State Code § 9-8-307, the state is liable for "dangerous conditions on state maintained highways. The claimant under this subdivision must establish the foreseeability of the risk and notice given to the proper state officials at a time sufficiently prior to the injury for the state to have taken appropriate measures."

The first step to take is to file a written claim and mail or fax it to the Division of Claims Administration.

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