What Causes Potholes

One big issue homeowners and business owners often experienced is the formation of potholes on their pavement. Overtime, potholes naturally form on driveways, parking lots, and roadways. If you fail to have them filled, they can be frustrating and can damage your vehicle. They will also continue to cause severe damages to the surrounding surface if you neglect to fix them on time.

Vehicles usually depend on a smooth, flat surface when they travel on city streets and highways to move comfortably, quickly, and safely. Potholes provide a bumpy and possibly dangerous trip, as they can be damaging to vehicle tires and even impact the alignment of a vehicle’s wheels.

What are potholes?

Potholes are sections of road surface that have developed cracks, worn away, and ultimately created a hole. In fact, potholes begin as tiny cracks and can expand from just a few inches deep and wide to be anywhere (few feet wide and many inches deep) if they are not repaired on time.

Potholes are tiny, bowl-shaped pavement surface depressions that penetrate the Hot Mix Asphalt layer down to the base course. Generally, they have sharp/rough edges and vertical sides close to the top of the hole.

Potholes show up on all roads, irrespective of the region. Your pavements can not avoid potholes even if you reside in a region where it is always warm. Water has a way of eroding road surfaces under any climatic conditions. Even without freezing and thawing cycles, water can still penetrate through the pavement’s surface to its underneath, creating divots by weakening the materials, including loose gravel, forming the roadbed.

A cracks and dirt on the asphalt driveway.

What causes potholes?

Potholes form naturally due to many elemental forces in action. Typically, potholes develop when moisture permeates a paved surface or when the groundwater beneath the pavement penetrates the paved surface. The heating up and cooling down of water triggers the surface to expand and contract, causing weakness to the pavement with the added pressure. 

Also, when a pavement surface already has a weak spot, as a car or truck moves over it, the vehicle’s weight causes the surface to disintegrate further, leaving potholes to form.

The seasonal freezing and thawing cycle experienced by most countries every year is one of the main causes of potholes. 

Water often enters under the pavement through the pavement surface; as the groundwater expands and contracts, it causes potholes to form on the pavement. You should think of when making ice cubes – a water-filled tray is placed in the freezer, and when the tray is removed from the freezer, you will observe that the water has expanded. This similar effect occurs when water penetrates the ground beneath the pavement. 

If it tends to freeze, it will occupy more space beneath the pavement, leading to expansion, bending, and cracking of the pavement, which weakens the pavement material. After then, when the frozen water melts, the pavement will contract, leaving voids or gaps in the surface beneath the pavement, where water can enter and get trapped. As the water freezes and thaws repeatedly, the pavement will wear out and begin cracking.

When the weight of cars and trucks moves over the driveway’s weak area, it weakens pieces of the driveway material, causing the material to be displaced or deteriorate from the weight, which creates the pothole.

What time of the year are potholes most likely to occur?

Are you always curious to know the season of potholes? Sometimes, it seems like it is all the time, but it’s actually not.

Potholes often appear in late winter and early spring due to changing temperatures. The frequent freeze/thaw cycles of melting snow, coupled with spring rain, erodes the pavement, and that is what causes potholes and cracks formation. 

Winter is the peak period for asphalt pavement damage, particularly in cases of frequent melting and freezing. This can rapidly cause the occurrence of eggshell cracks or potholes. 

Also, we have noticed lots of potholes form during the early spring because that is when we get daytime temperatures above freezing due to the longer daylight hours and nighttime temperatures below freezing.

This change of temperature leads to many freeze/thaw cycles that cause potholes. Therefore, early spring can also be regarded as the season where potholes most likely occur.

A worker repairs the potholes in the asphalt driveway.

How are potholes repaired?

If your pavement has already developed potholes and you are curious to know how to get it fixed, the following steps show how to repair potholes on pavement effectively;

  1. Get the pothole cleaned. It is vital to have dirt, dust, and other debris that can get inside and beneath the pavement removed. Because if there is a piece of broken pavement in the hole, and new pavement is mixed with it, it can weaken the repair.
  1. Heat the pothole. The pothole heating ensures that any extra moisture that may be present in the current pavement is removed. The heating also softens the area so that it is possible to add the new asphalt. Once the pothole is softened, it can also be reshaped, and existing asphalt can be extracted or rejuvenated. 
  1. Apply the new asphalt. A hot asphalt mix is usually used for this fix. After application, the asphalt needs to be compressed to ensure that water penetration is minimized and improves its resistance. Because primarily, water is what causes potholes to form. Compacting the asphalt allows the formation of bonds between the new and old asphalt pavement.
  1. Give the new asphalt time to cool. Any debris remaining around the repair will be cleared. It is possible to drive on most pothole repairs immediately.
A newly installed asphalt and paint guides on parking lot.

How can the formation of potholes be avoided?

 Here are the ways you can avoid the formation of potholes: 

  • Cracks filling
  • Regular seal coating
  • Do not allow standing water.

Constructing your pavement correctly in the first place is one of the most critical measures in pothole prevention. A well-laid driveway has a remarkable ability to stand against damage.

Crack filling

The most important thing you can do to avoid pothole formation once your driveway is set is to address any cracks that show up immediately.

Regular seal coating

It’s a smart idea to have your driveway and other pavement seal coated every few years. This is a preventive intervention intended to keep harm at a distance. Sealcoating also ensures that tiny cracks are filled in. While you might not be able to see these very tiny breaks in the pavement surface, They are a concern since they are likely to get bigger over time.

Do not allow standing water.

When rainwater runs through a driveway or other pavement, it poses a serious threat to the surface. It is bad enough when water remains on the pavement’s surface. Standing water causes the pavement’s protective layer to wear away and speeds up degradation. This and some other external factors are what causes potholes to form. But water is the main cause.

A newly residential asphalt driveway surrounded by trees

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How to avoid potholes and prevent vehicle damage

  • Always concentrate while driving to scan the road so as to spot what is in front of you.
  • Ensure you keep a safe following distance to know when the driver in front of you react to seeing a pothole so you can be able to brake safely and have a clear view of what is in your front
  • Avoid overspeeding when driving on a road that appears rough. Consider seeking an alternative route if the road is poor. 
  • Pay attention to water. Water from a close snowbank and rain can be absorbed by large potholes, making it impossible to know how big the pothole really is.
  • Avoid swerving as it could put you in more danger doing so. Dodging may make you veer into an oncoming lane of traffic. Instead, apply the brake gently when you see a pothole and safely avoid it.


Potholes create a terrible experience for drivers as they drive through the driveway surface. They also pose a severe threat to the pavement structure, reducing its longevity. Hence, it is vital to have even the tiniest cracks on your driveway fixed as soon as you notice it to avoid expanding to a giant hole.

One of the best ways to avoid potholes is to take care of your pavement properly. You can seek professional advice to guide you on how to best prevent the formation of potholes on your driveway, even in the winter and spring seasons.