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Pothole Patrol: Where are the worst potholes?

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 5:42pm  ET

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Eleven hubcaps litter the ground before a home on Connecticut Avenue, just after a pothole on the street. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

Drivers swerve, brake to avoid pitfalls of potholes

Andrew Mollenbeck, WTOP

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How much potholes can cost and whether to file with your insurance

Kristi King, WTOP

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Kelley Vlahos, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The holidays are over and with them an entire season of over-taxed bank accounts. Then the potholes arrive and bring thousands of dollars in potential car repair expenses.

Department of transportation officials in Maryland, D.C and Virginia are scrambling to address old potholes that are getting worse, and new ones seemingly popping up everywhere.

"When we have had such extreme 5 degree weather one day and 60 degrees the next, that is a recipe for a pothole," says Charlie Gischlar, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

"We do start to see them typically form after any major snow or winter weather event, and also in the spring as well," he adds.

And that can do a real bang-up job on your car.

Potholes and your car

"Generally, you're going to see the tire- and wheel-type repairs right now," says Robbie Gunther, owner of D&V Auto Service Center in Arlington, Va. Replacing those, depending on the make and model of the car, can carry a big price tag -- especially if you have to replace more than one at a time.

"If you have a fancy, really nice car, you're going to spend over $1,000 for these wheels," he says.

Monday morning brought fresh driving frustration to commuters as they encountered these small- to large-sized concaves through the metropolitan area's busiest roads. WTOP asked its listeners and readers to send pictures or locations of the worst potholes they encounter.

Punish is definitely a good word for it, says Gunther. Potholes, which, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, are a frequent occurrence after a season of "heavy snow or rain and several freeze-thaw cycles," can damage car in a few critical ways.

First, it kills the alignment, he says. "That's the most common problem people are going to have. You hit a pothole and your steering wheel, which normally runs at 12 o'clock, is now at 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock."

If the alignment is off, it can wear down different components of the car, typically the wheels and tires over time. So a pothole today, can cost a whole lot in unexpected expenses down the road.

More immediate damage is on the wheels and tires. Hitting a pothole, especially at top speed, can blow out a tire and bend the bead on the car's aluminum wheels. This lets out air too. All of this is dangerous when driving on busy roads.

Meanwhile, potholes can ruin shock absorbers, or struts on newer cars. These are usually replaced in pairs and can run the owner of a vehicle about $800.

What causes potholes? And how do you fix them?

When moisture seeps into the cracks of the pavement, freezes and expands, then thaws. This creates air pockets that weaken the pavement, making it easier to break. Tons and tons of weight from cars driving over these cracks only loosens the pavement, eventually crumbling at the weak spots.

Typically, a pothole is fixed by jackhammering around the edges and the asphalt inside removed. An adhesive is applied and new asphalt added in layers. In some counties, VDOT uses "pothole killers," machines that fix potholes quickly without closing the roads, according to the VDOT website.

VDOT shows you how "pothole killers" work:

Maryland officials say they will put temporary "cold patch" on cracks before it gets warm enough to resurface. The patch works as an adhesive, holding the weakened pavement together.

DDOT hosts an annual "Potholepalooza" every spring to tackle the Districts' road craters. According to officials, crews have filled in almost 21,011 potholes since 2009. The city says that normal response time for addressing identified potholes in 72 hours. During Potholepalooza, it was 48 hours. Drivers who encounter potholes in D.C can find a variety of channels to report them at the DDOT website.

Here's how you can report potholes to some cities and counties in the area:

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