Every year, as temperatures fluctuate between the deep freeze of winter and the thaw of spring in many areas of the country, the roads can quickly become pockmarked with holes (big and small) that can cause great damage to your car and tires. According to CBS News, AAA estimates that consumers typically spend $5 billion a year on repairs stemming from pothole damage. This phenomenon isn’t new, but with this year’s polar vortex, it certainly is starting to feel like we’ve reached a whole new level in this pothole plague.

What Causes Potholes?

As WiseGEEK explains, potholes occur after water, which has seeped into the cracks and crevices of asphalt roads, freezes and expands, pushing about the dirt and gravel layers. Once temperatures warm up and the water melts, holes form under the surface of the road. Eventually, the surface layer of asphalt collapses, causing the huge, car-damaging divots that have become the bane of many drivers’ existence. This inevitable decay has made roads in late winter and early spring chaotic minefields that can send many consumers running to car and tire repair shops all over the country; and, unfortunately, the cost of those repairs are typically the driver’s responsibility.

Avoiding Potholes

Hitting a pothole with your car can cause a great deal of damage to your car, particularly to the tires, rims, suspension and chassis. Because of this, it’s imperative that you take the proper precautions to keep your car out of harm’s way. Obviously, your best course of action is to avoid hitting any potholes; however, that’s not always possible. Keep these seven tips in mind to help minimize vehicle damage:

1. Slow down

The faster you’re driving when you hit a pothole, the worse the damage is likely to be

2. Give some space

Should the car in front of you fail to avoid a pothole, you’ll give yourself the time to react and avoid the same fate if you leave a good deal of space between you and the other driver

3. Prepare for puddles

When you see a puddle in the middle of the road, it’s impossible to know how deep that crater will be, so be very cautious

4. Hold tight

Potholes can cause a violent jolt to your car, so it’s very important that you have a solid grip on the steering wheel. Otherwise, your car can veer into the next lane or you can lose control entirely

5. Don’t brake

You’ll want to avoid braking as you hit the pothole because doing so can actually cause more damage

6. Keep your tires full

Properly inflated tires will give your car added protection from potholes

7. Inspect new tires

Inspect the tire by looking at the DOT number, a four-digit number that stands for the week and year the tire was made.

Signs of Pothole Damage

If you find yourself unable to avoid driving through the potholes that dot your local streets, you’ll want to check for damage as soon as you can. As WiseGEEK points out, signs there may be damage include bulging tires, bent rims, any dents or leaks, which can lead to rusting. Also, if you notice swaying or bouncing, there may be issues with the shock absorption or suspension.

Tire and Wheel Protection

To help alleviate the uncertainty of repair costs, it may be worth it to purchase additional tire and wheel protection. As WardsAuto.com reports, consumers are buying these protection plans at a higher rate because of increased repair costs.

Repair Costs Can Vary

Wondering how auto repair costs break down across the country? CNBC lists Milwaukee, WI, New York City, NY and Bridgeport, CT as the cities with the most expensive average repair costs this year; while Lexington, KY, Buffalo, NY, and Lansing, MI report the lowest average costs.

Report Pothole Sightings

If you spot a pothole on the roads, the best way to make sure it’s fixed in a timely manner is to contact your local Department of Transportation. Many states allow you to do so online simply by providing details about the location and other relevant information.

Do you have any pothole-avoidance tips learned from the road? Share with us in the comments below!