Four times out of five, it is the rim that suffers when you hit a pothole, not the tyre.

Johannesburg - With Gauteng suffering under relentless heavy rain, many motorists are struggling to navigate the multitude of potholes that have opened up on the road networks.

Driving over a hidden or unseen pothole can damage any vehcle - as many of us have found out the hard way. And in most cases it's the rim that suffers, not the tyre.

The problem is that rims are safety-critical; running on a damaged rim can lead to wheel-alignment or suspension problems.

Alloy rim repair specialist Craig Courtney-Leaver said motorists need to know what to look out for.

"If the tyre is flat that's an obvious sign the rim is damaged."

“But the tyre doesn't always deflate,” he said. “Even if everything looks fine on the outside, there are tell-tale signs of changes in the balancing and alignment to check for.

"If you feel a vibration in the steering wheel that wasn't there before, the chances are one of the front rims is damaged; if you feel the vibration through the seat, then it's is usually a rear rim."

However, he added, it was only in severe cases that the suspension was also damaged.

OK, so you hit a pothole and now the steering wheel is shaking in your hands - what now?

Les McMaster of the Motor Industry Workshop Association, says you don't always have to buy a new rim - they're expensive, and getting more so with the current exchange rate.

"Take your car to a reputable fitment centre, or the agent, to determine the extent of the damage," he advised. "Wheel-alignment problems can usually be adjusted out but, if the rim is deformed, ask the dealer who he takes damaged rims to for repair - after all, his reputation is literally riding on their work.

"Then do your homework."

"Check that the rim repairer is SABS approved and, if possible, carries ISO 9001 accreditation,” he said.

"Make sure he has X-ray equipment to check your rim for internal cracks after he's done the repair; not all do and it's not worth taking the chance if he doesn't."

The effort is worth it, he says; spending a few hundred rand having a damaged rim restored by a provably competent repairer, after a close encounter of the worst kind with a pothole, can save you upsetting your insurer with a five-figure claim for a new rim.


McMaster's tips on avoiding pothole pitfalls:

Be extra cautious when there's water on the road as a pothole may be lurking below. If at all possible without endangering other road users, rather drive around the puddle.

If you do drive over a pothole, don't slam on brakes as this could make the damage worse or even cause an accident.

If you see a pothole too late to avoid it, grip the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.

When driving at night, make sure your headlight lenses are clean; potholes are more difficult to see at night and you need all the light you can get.

Don't swerve if you hit a pothole - it could endanger other road users.