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Slingshot effect? What happens when a car hits a pothole

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

Hitting a pothole can turn a swell day into a lousy one, sometimes requiring a costly and unexpected trip to the repair shop.

We asked one expert -- Jennifer Bastiaan -- to weigh in on what these craters can do to an automobile. Bastiaan is an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., with a Ph.D. in mechanical and mechatronics engineering. Her teaching and research focus is on ground vehicle systems.

The following interview was edited for brevity and readability and is not verbatim.

Question: What happens to your vehicle when you drive over a pothole?

Answer: It's kind of a slingshot effect, where there's a spring that's the suspension that's compressed and basically the wheel and tire are propelled into the pothole. There's an impact and that impact is damaging to the vehicle systems.

Q: What can happen?

 

A: All things that are expensive in the end. Tires and wheels are the primary sufferers when it comes to these impacts, but ultimately you can have damage to the vehicle body, and there can be suspension components that are damaged if they come in contact with broken pavement.

Q: How much is speed a factor?

A: The speed is a factor, so the faster the speed that you're traveling, the shorter the time duration of the impact. At highway speeds, you basically travel through the pothole very, very quickly whereas if you're just tooling around town you'll travel through it slowly. At highway speeds or fast travel speeds, the impact is very short in duration, and this is more painful where the vehicle system is concerned.

Q: What about damage?

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