How Do Parking Lot Potholes Form?

Doug Enright 

Potholes are more than just annoying. They can damage vehicles, alienate customers and expose companies to liability claims. While they may seem like an unavoidable part of life, there are ways to keep potholes from forming in your parking lot. Read on to learn why potholes form and how you can take steps to prevent them.

How Do Potholes Form?

While most people blame heavy vehicles for potholes, they're only part of the cause. In most cases, even the largest potholes began as tiny flaws that allow water to penetrate below the surface. 

If your asphalt surface has cracks, water will be able to seep into the subgrade. When water seeps beneath your asphalt’s primary top layer, it will gather there indefinitely. When temperatures eventually drop, the water will freeze and expand. Repetitive contraction and expansion cause the underlying layers of asphalt to push against the upper layers. Over time, this will lead to extensive cracking and material loss. Eventually, potholes will begin to develop, and the asphalt surface will need to be repaired.

The Process:

parking lot pothole
  1. Small or large cracks allow water to migrate into the asphalt's underlying layers
  2. The water contracts and expands repeatedly due to temperature changes
  3. Pressure causes even more cracks, which weaken the asphalt material bonds
  4. Traffic and general wear and tear pull material from the paved surface and further weaken the asphalt, resulting in small or large potholes

Many people are surprised to learn that potholes can also occur in warmer climates where there aren't extreme transitions from fall to winter to spring. In these instances, heat can sometimes cause the pavement to expand and fracture, allowing water to seep in and collect. When the water dries up, it leaves behind empty air pockets in the underlying sub-surface layers. As vehicle and foot traffic repeatedly move over these weakened areas, the surface begins to erode. Over time, the top layer begins to collapse down into the empty pockets, eventually crumbling downward to form a pothole.

Preventing Potholes

Regular maintenance can extend the life of your asphalt surface and prevent potholes from forming in the first place. 

To prevent potholes, be sure to:

  • Hire a pavement contractor to evaluate your surface and fill any cracks.
  • Maintain a consistent pavement cleaning routine with your in-house janitorial or maintenance teams.
  • Have your asphalt lot seal-coated to help it remain durable over time.

As with most things, prevention is much cheaper than the cure. If you haven't had your lot inspected in a while, consider having a professional out as soon as possible. If you've noticed some cracks or see that your lot has begun to warp in certain areas, invite a specialist out to patch these areas before they result in more extensive damage requiring costly repairs.

The Dangers of Potholes

Potholes can make a business look unprofessional or disreputable. At the same time, they can also cause significant damage to vehicles. Not only can they affect tires, they can also impact exhaust, suspension and alignment. In some instances, potholes can even result in accidents that can leave drivers injured and angry. Unfortunately, this can leave business owners liable for damages. 

While liability is ultimately proved in the courtroom, businesses are required to maintain a parking lot that is considered reasonably safe. If your lot is riddled with potholes, you could end up facing a lawsuit, especially if it results in an accident or injury, either while a customer is behind the wheel or when they're walking across your lot. At bare minimum, you can expect to have frustrated customers who will not appreciate having to dip and dodge as they enter and exit your lot. 

For these reasons, it's important to quickly repair any potholes that may have appeared on your lot. You should also have any cracks or tiny fissures repaired as soon as possible before they have a chance to develop into large potholes. 

Enright can inspect, maintain and repair your parking lot, so you can avoid costly problems and ensure that your business looks professional. With more than three decades of experience, we have the knowledge and expertise to get the job done right.

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