Hi everybody.
I live in Chicago and the pot holes (more like canyons) have absolutely destroyed my car. I’ve had three flats this winter in addition to bad bearings and suspension damage. I have an 06 Outback. I’m buying a new car and I’m wondering if there are models that may be a little more durable in these conditions. I was all set on getting a Toyota Highlander but I think they are too expensive. I like everything about the Outback but I’m reluctant to get another one because of the durability issue. For the sake of full disclosure I have to confess that I think I’m a bad driver. I accelerate too fast out of stop signs and brake too hard. I’m working on changing my ways but it’s a slow road.
Does anybody have any suggestions for a durable car? CR doesn’t really have a category for that.

I don’t know if police cars are chosen by durability, what models are police driving in Chicago. I am sure you are not alone in road hazard damage.

If your problem is mainly from really bad roads, then you need a truck with a full frame, rather than a car-based SUV or Crossover that is built on a unitized chassis.

Think in terms of a Ford F-150, or a Chevy Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 (same vehicle, different badges) , or a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. Their frames & suspensions have the strength to withstand being driven on really rough roads without sustaining the same type of damage that a car or car-based SUV/Crossover would wind up with. And, you should be aware that these trucks are now available with all of the same creature comforts that cars come equipped with nowadays.

On the other hand, if your problem is mainly the result of how you drive, then the type of vehicle really has nothing to do with the durability factor. Nowadays virtually all cars have the ability to make it to 200k miles if they are driven in a sane manner AND if they are maintained at least as well as the mfr specifies. But, even if well-maintained, a driver who is overly aggressive and who slams the vehicle into potholes while accelerating and braking heavily is going to see his car come to a bad end sooner than it should have.

Regarding your driving habits, if you consciously drive with fuel economy in mind, that will tame your driving to some extent. Make believe that there is a raw egg between your foot and the pedal, and the object is to apply pressure to the pedal (both gas & brake) so gently that you don’t crush the fragile egg. Trust me–it works.

What can you tell us about your maintenance practices with your cars?

A body-on-frame vehicle will generally be more durable than a unibody design.

If you’re looking used, a Panther-bodied Ford (AKA Crown Victoria) is designed for a beating as a Taxi/Police Cruiser. Generally, they get beat on as a squad car, then sold and converted to livery use and beat on some more. Alas, these are no longer being made new.

Failing that, look for a “truck-like” SUV. Ask specifically about frame design; also, look at tow ratings: you want an “overbuilt” vehicle.

Finally, a word to technique: if you are intimidated by potholes, you will likely be riding the brakes when confronted with one. This is exactly what you DON’T want to be doing–you want to be OFF the brakes and gas if contact is unavoidable. That way, you “roll off” the pothole. (Hitting a pothole with locked wheels is a good way to blow a tire/bend a rim.)

There really is no such thing as a durable vehicle when it comes to daily commutes on road surfaces that are better suited for tracked vehicles such as tanks and dozers…

About the only suggestion I can make to help mitigate the damage is to buy a vehicle fitted with tires that have a much taller sidewall profile. That can at least help cushion the blows to the suspension a bit.

I feel your pain. The roads around here are horrible and it’s not just suspension and wheel bearings that suffer; it’s other chassis parts and involves shaking glass guides inside the door to pieces, rattling inner fenders loose, or shaking the guts out of a CD player.

It’s as much about the tires and wheels on a vehicle as it is about frames or not. Each is important As far as the damage you talk about, nothing beats the high profile truck tire. The more plys the better. Don’t be fooled by an SUV with 20 inch wheels and no more coushin radius from rim to tread then a compact.

Get something like a Tacoma crew cap with 15 inch wheels and 245/75/15 truck AT tires with lots of tread depth and plys… You need lots of cushioning that only off road vehicles or tires and small wheels with high profiles can give you. These are mostly found on real trucks, not Outbacks and truck wannabes. With 265/70/16 on my truck, we laugh city potholes and debris.

Everyone was so concerned about rollovers, handling and looks, they plum forgot about potholes and crappy roads. The smallest wheel rim and the highest profile tire on any car is a good beginning.

Btw, if you put a big wheel rim low profile tire on a Crown Vic or even a frame based truck, you suffer flats, bent rims and alignment problems of a car with a frame. It’s just that trucks tend to come standard with the stronger set up and better clearance for them. So don’t buy one and spoil it with low profile tires and large rims.

Make all cars more durable by adding tire pressure a few lbs higher then “normal”. When it says 32lbs on the door jam, I put in 35lbs which the recomended for heavy loads in the manual. It only helps !

Dag,can you get 15 inch rims on a tacoma?-Kevin

When I lived in Colorado and driving pothole strewn roads in the winter I had my 4x4 Ford truck and a VW Rabbit. I had a lot more pothole related problems – including damaged front wheel bearings – with the Rabbit than the truck. In fact I never had a single pothole related problem with the truck. But the Rabbit got much better mpg and was more fun to drive. It’s a compromise. My guess is you are better off in the long run just getting a vehicle you like to drive (choose one of the models w/good ground clearance), and drive as carefully as you can during pothole season. When something gets whacked going though a pothole, take it to the shop and get it fixed. It’s always wise to consult CR on the reliability predictions when making a vehicle purchase, even though they don’t specifically address potholes.

Also, though they’re increasingly rare on cars, plain old steel wheels are much less likely to suffer damage than alloys, and minor damage that would total an alloy can often be repaired.

Trucks and the cheapest economy cars are where you’re most likely to find them stock, or you can buy a set for almost vehicle after the fact. Buy the smallest wheel offered for that model by the maker so you have the deepest sidewall and then drive like you treasure your car.

It’s a shame how bad the roads/streets have become, but you still have to drive on them. If you have a choice of routes you might find that one is in better shape. It may be easier to tell in the summer.

Car show in Chicago, Tahoe last body on frame vehicle!

What is everybody else in your neck of the woods driving? How are they fairing as far as repairs/tire damage. If people with similar drives are spending less money on repairs, then maybe the main problem is your driving pattern. Also they might be able to help you with the type of vehicle they are driving.

Do you think driving lights might help you better avoid potholes??

The base 2wd Tacomas come standard with the 5 lug 15 inch rims. The 4wd comes with the 6 lug 16 inch rims. Regardless what the size of the rims are, the standard tire on the 4 wd is 245/75/16 which is the tallest standard tire you can get. On a 2wd Tacoma, I got a 235/75/15 to fit on mine. I misspoke about the 245/75/15. It should be 225 or 235 . My point being all Tacomas come with 75 aspect ratio tires. That’s one reason CR may not like the handling but everyone who owns them likes their off road capability. So, get the smallest wheel, 15 on 2wd and 16 on 4 wd you can get with the highest aspect ratio tire. Trucks do better then cars more because of the tires that come with them then the frames. People who stick 20 inch rims on trucks then run around with 45 to 50 aspect ratio have their share of bent rims and suspension problems. This idea about framed vehicles being the solution is only true if the tires are tall enough.
Btw, steel rims will damage too. All steels are not magically tougher then a good alloy? Some steels are crap. The difference is, they are cheaper to replace.

"driving lights might help you better avoid potholes" Absolutely!

I have always thought that my “fog lights” were only minimally useful in foggy conditions, but I find that they are great for illuminating the ground right in front of the vehicle, and thus are very helpful this time of year in helping me to see potholes before it is too late.

You need a truck with big wheels. The larger the tires, the less likely that your wheel will fall into the pot hole. The HUMMER H2 rides on rims up to 26". That ought to do it. Fuel economy and drivability issues would be an issue with any big truck on large wheels, but it solves your pothole problem.

Thought I’d throw in that durability and reliability aren’t the same thing either. Obviously they kind of go hand in hand, but you can have a durable vehicle that can take all kinds of punishment but not last as long as a more fragile vehicle, assuming both are driven gently.

The Hummer that was mentioned is a good case in point–the original military-spec Hummers could survive all sorts of abuse and keep going, but I doubt you could get 200K miles out of one without a lot of expensive repairs. While with a Honda Fit, you can probably get 200K miles fairly easily but don’t hit a curb with it or let it overheat.

For those of us who live on gravel roads which are plague with potholes 90percent of the time even in the best of conditions city streets with potholes aren’t a big deal. Going up hill over a gravel road in solid axle trucks produces wheel hop making all those ripples you drive over down much faster and can literally shake your car to death. Driving slow is the single most important thing you can do on bad roads

Our road was so bad at times during parts of the year, I kept a chain saw in the back of the truck, being the only vehicle we could use, just so we could cut enough small trees down to allow us to drive thought the woods around the worse parts of the road. When my neighbor got his bulldozer stuck in the middle of the road and put a sign on the seat saying, “road closed” , it was time to break out the chain saw to get the groceries home. City road potholes aren’t that bad.

A military Hummer and an H2 are worlds apart

They’re not even on the same platform . . . not even close

Not only that, but I believe those 26" rims mentioned would probably be on low profile tires

In my opinion, low profile tires are no good for bad roads

26" ?!? Geez, even ten-speed rims are smaller than that!