Pothole damage: How can garages help customers?

The UK’s pothole pandemic is showing no signs of going away. But as roads continue to crumble, garages have an opportunity to offer new, and more relevant services to customers who suffer from pothole damage. 

In this new video feature, Auto Repair Focus Editor Phil Curry explores how garages can take on new services for customers hampered by pothole damage, and the potential business benefits these can offer. Featuring comments from Straightset, Absolute Alignment and Schaeffler, we explore how workshops can get involved with wheel alignment, and what to look for when it comes to suspension trouble.

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Pothole damage increasing

According to data from The AA, the breakdown service attended around 632,000 pothole damage related breakdowns, with issues ranging from tyre and wheel damage to issues with steering and suspension. This number of callouts is 16.4% more than in 2022.

In fact, last year’s callouts due to pothole damage is the highest total in the last five years. Numbers dropped in 2020, however this was due to the reduced number of journeys as drivers stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, breakdowns have increased year-on-year. 

“Last year AA patrols dealt with more than 600,000 pothole-related incidents which, on a national scale, will have cost drivers almost half a billion pounds,” said Edmund King, AA President. “Currently, we often have a vicious circle of: pothole formed; damage caused; pothole patched; pothole reappears with more damage caused – when what we need are more permanent repairs. Potholes are the number one concern for 96% of drivers and can be fatal for those on two wheels.”

Opportunities for wheel alignment

The best-case scenario for pothole damage is wheel misalignment. It is here that garages can benefit, offering wheel alignment services that will provide profits for businesses with non-labour-intensive work and free checks to entice customers. 

“After a road traffic accident, I think potholes and pothole damage are the next biggest, most expensive issues that can happen to a vehicle,” commented Andrew Bates, Managing Director at Straightset. “So for the motorists, it is shockingly expensive.

“If you are not offering wheel alignment, then you are missing out of a whole tranche of different services and opportunities that you could have. If you are subcontracting out wheel alignment, then you are missing, again, out of a lot of work. And you do not have to go in at crazy money to be able to offer wheel alignment.”

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While there is a lot of talk about pothole damage in the winter, with colder, wetter weather crating the perfect conditions for roads to fall apart, the problem is a year-round one, and therefore garages are likely to miss out if a wheel-alignment service is not considered.

“Garages should be offering alignment checks every time a vehicle comes into the workshop,” added Bates. “You are missing opportunities if you are not offering wheel alignment all year round. This is not like air conditioning, where you have this spring surge of air conditioning requirements.”

Wheel alignment can also futureproof a business, as Bates highlights. “With electric vehicles, garages will have to look for other revenue streams, especially with no engine or exhaust work to be carried out. Tyres and wheel alignment services will end up being front-and-centre of a business. EVs can get through tyres rapidly, especially when drivers constantly use the performance modes they offer.”

Aligning profits

Garages can also see a strong return on investment when it comes to wheel alignment. The work is straightforward and simple but the labour charge opportunities can negate any ‘free’ element of the service you can offer when a driver comes in with pothole damage.

“With a wheel aligner, you are probably looking at a four to six month return on investment on, say a £7,500 investment, which is a typical cost,” added Chris Dear, Technical Director at Absolute Alignment. “Effectively, if you are looking at a wheel alignment being up for £50 for front tow, maybe £80 if it is front and rear, you can see it very quickly pays itself off.

“We had a customer who has done 750 wheel alignments in the last six months, and they were down in the back end of Cornwall, not in a big city location.”

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There are other revenue streams available from wheel alignment checks as well. With misaligned wheels can come excessive tyre wear, and drivers may need these replacing, adding another profit opportunity. 

However, with modern vehicles comes new technology, and ADAS is especially affected by wheel alignment issues and pothole damage. While garages may be fearful of the systems, Dear highlighted just how easy ADAS calibration is to work with.

“ADAS is something which is coming,” he commented. “Garages have no choice but to get on board. However, it is nice, clean, and easy job. It is more of a technical exercise than adjusting parts, you put the wheel aligner on the car, you confirm that it is good, then you move them to the ADAS. The diagnostics tool talks you through it, you press the button, and it calibrates ADAS for you.

“Most garages nowadays have got the wheel aligner and the diagnostic tools, so you just need the actual ADAS frame to go in between.”

Suspension services

Then there is the issue of suspension components when it comes to pothole damage. Some can be quite deep, and driving through them at speed can cause issues that, if not checked and repaired, could make a vehicle very unsafe.

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“Potholes can be very damaging to vehicle suspension, especially in rural areas where suspension components will wear out at a faster rate than they will on a car that does a lot of motorway mileage,” stated Alistair Mason, Technical Services Manager, UK & Ireland, at Schaeffler. “When you think of a ball joint or a bush, obviously as it is going over a bump it has got to move and there is resistance to it moving. It needs to be quite tight, so as it moves a little bit of wear happens and the more it moves, the more the wear is going to happen. 

“Our road conditions in the UK are not ideal, and when a vehicle strikes one, the shocks that are going into these vehicles, have a big effect on the wear of steering and suspension components.

“If a driver has some wear in the steering suspension and they carry on driving it, eventually that joint will wear right through, and it will crack the side out of the arm that they are sat in. And then obviously, the wheel or that suspension unit can become disconnected from the vehicle at some point, and that can have serious consequences.”

Thinking ahead for pothole damage

Free checks on wheel alignment and suspension will likely give drivers peace of mind if they believe they have suffered pothole damage, and explaining the work required can be reassuring. Customers cannot often see that their wheel alignment is out, or that suspension components are broken, but they will know the severity with which they have struck a pothole.

As councils struggle to fund road repairs, and the ‘self-repairing’ road is many years away, the pothole, and therefore pothole damage, is a fact of life, one which garages can benefit from, and reassure drivers that their vehicles are safe – until the next big bump…

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