CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Best pothole car

Can anyone recommend a vehicle for someone who can’t seem to avoid potholes? I try to be careful but they’re everywhere. Have had bent wheels and all sorts of trouble with my 1999 Prizm (factory alloy wheels). Looking to replace it. Don’t want an SUV if I can avoid it. Thanks.

I really don’t think that there is any one make of car that resists pothole-related damage better than other makes.

However, alloy wheels should be avoided and you most definitely want to avoid ultra-low-profile tires (50 series, 40 series, etc.). Those ultra-low-profile tires are great for the public image of urban purveyors of illicit substances, but for any other urban dwellers they represent a major expense when tires, wheels, and suspensions sustain damage due to their inability to absorb the impact of potholes.

All of this being said, if you have to consistently drive over really bad pavement, a full-size pickup truck or a truck-based (full frame, rather than unibody) SUV would be your best choice in a vehicle.

I am not sure any car can solve your problem. I have two suggestions:

  1. Slow down when you drive where potholes are prevalent. You don’t have to avoid them if you drive through them slowly.

  2. Change the wheels to plain steel rims with tires that have a large sidewall. Then check the tire pressure once a week to make sure they are not under-inflated.

  3. If the roads are really that bad where you live, you should get an off-road vehicle, like a Jeep Wrangler or a truck-based SUV. I can’t think of any non-SUV cars that are made for off-road use.

Pending legislation will require all manufactures to list the resistance to pothole damage,just hasn’t happened yet. We are on our own without the government to look out for us in this area.

A big cushy American car like a Buick or a Lincoln or a Caddy or something would at least make it so you didn’t feel them as much. Preferably one with an air suspension. They might not necessarilly “handle” them any better, but at least you wouldn’t notice them as much.

A truck or SUV with a full-frame construction and truck suspension will defintely be able to handle them the best in terms of not damaging anything, but you’ll feel every one.

Sure there are… they’re called AMC Eagles.

You want Big Wheels. The only way to get really big wheels is a raised truck. I suppose that a car with 19’s or 20’s might do it, but a pick-up with 22.5" or 24.5" diameter wheels is where it’s at. The tires will be more than 3-feet in diameter!

Or a bicycle. I’m rollin’ on 26’s.

It’s not the car…It’s all about the rim diameter and your optional alloys (and maybe too low tire pressure). A car with the smallest steel rims relative to the outside diameter of the tires remaining constant and the weight of the car (lighter the better). I had an older Prism and put 175/75/14 on the 14 inch rims instead of stock 165/70/14 (I believe original) and it was much better dealing with potholes. The higher the aspect ratio, (the middle number in tire size) the less damage prone a rim can be. Be willing to accept other compromises in handling though. Most importantly; keep air pressure up. Tire sizes with lots of flotation and carry lots of air, provide the best cushion.
Those who tout larger rim diameters have it backwards. You want the tallest side wall which means smaller rim sizes and higher aspect ratios. Agree with Whitey and sorry to disagree jtsanders.

Be sure to not apply the brakes heavily when going through a pothole. Heavy braking over large bumps puts undue stress on suspension components.

They are still making the AMC Eagle? I thought they stopped making them in the 1980s.

Well no, but who said new?

I used the present tense.

…and on flexible brake hydraulic lines.