Have you thumped down into any particularly gruesome potholes lately? It’s more than likely that you have. Britain’s roads seem to be rather too liberally pock-marked with them. It’s really quite shocking to learn that the RAC responded to more than 25,000 pothole-related breakdowns last year, which was up by nearly 25 per cent on the previous year.
That’s not counting many other examples of pothole damage that didn’t cross the RAC’s radar. I was victim to one of them. While driving on a country lane in the Cotswolds last year, my test car’s front tyre thumped down into a sharp edged pothole that I didn’t manage to spot in time, and promptly started to lose pressure. It meant an unwelcome trip to a nearby dealer for a replacement tyre.
A chum living in rural Essex was even unluckier. Driving home on an unlit back road after dark, he chanced upon a particularly vicious pothole that punctured both nearside tyres and damaged a wheel. The bill came to over £300. Grrr.
Ford’s pothole hell
Most car manufacturers put their new models, whilst under development, through gruelling test track trials that simulate real world driving situations under laboratory conditions. Ford is no exception, but it has gone even further at its vast proving ground at Lommel in Belgium.
Included amongst its 50 miles of test tracks, replicating almost every possible surface found anywhere in the world, is a total 1.2 miles of potholes. Engineers have scoured the globe for scary road hazards that are potential car-damagers, and faithfully reproduced them.
As Ford durability technical specialist Eric-Jan Scharlee explains it: “From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter.” That includes a punishing collection of potholes from Ingatestone in Essex, near Ford’s UK headquarters at Warley.
Technology versus road scars
The motor industry loves grand titles for new techy kit, and here’s one: Continuous Control Damping with Pothole Mitigation technology. It’s what Ford calls an innovative new development that its engineers are working on to help guard future models against potholes damage.
It is a system that automatically makes adjustments to the suspension if sensors detect that a wheel is dropping into a pothole, to help protect against unwelcome and potentially costly damage. We can expect to hear more about it when future Ford models are launched, and other manufacturers are also working on something similar.
It is welcome news that car makers are working hard on mitigating the expensively damaging effects of potholes, but it might be even better if a few more of them were filled in. According to an EU report, the poor condition, and inadequate maintenance, of European roads is said to contribute to at least one third of all accidents every year.
In the meantime, we’d just better keep eyes peeled for potholes as we drive. Or pay the price in repair bills.
All images: Sue Baker