A deep pothole on New York City's Second Avenue

A pothole (sometimes called a kettle and known in parts of the Western United States as a chuckhole) is a type of disruption in the surface of a roadway where a portion of the road material has broken away, leaving a hole.



Small potholes in the road in Banbury, UK

Most potholes are formed due to fatigue of the road surface. As fatigue fractures develop they typically interlock in a pattern known as crocodile cracking. The chunks of pavement between fatigue cracks are worked loose and may eventually be picked out of the surface by continued wheel loads, thus forming a pothole.

The formation of potholes is exacerbated by low temperatures, as water expands when it freezes to form ice, and puts greater stress on an already cracked pavement or road. Once a pothole forms, it grows through continued removal of broken chunks of pavement. If a pothole fills with water the growth may be accelerated, as the water "washes away" loose particles of road surface as vehicles pass. In temperate climates, potholes tend to form most often during spring months when the subgrade is weak due to high moisture content. However, potholes are a frequent occurrence anywhere in the world, including in the tropics.

Potholes can grow to feet in width, though they usually only become a few inches deep, at most. If they become large enough, damage to tires and vehicle suspensions occurs. Serious road accidents can occur as a direct result, especially on motorways where vehicle speeds are greater. They are frequently almost invisible to road users.[1]


Pothole patching is the process of repairing an asphalt based road imperfection. Pothole patching is a year round activity performed by City and County Street Department crews to maintain the area's roads and bridges.

Pothole patching methods are divided into two distinct categories, hot mix and cold mix. Just as the nomenclature suggest, cold mix is a suitable material for the winter months and hot mix is used during the warm spring and summer seasons.

Both hot and cold mix are applied with similar methods. The most widely used method is known simply as throw-and-go. The patching mix is thrown into the pothole along with any debris or water present and compacted with the shovel by manual labor. This method is widely utilized due to the easy application and high rate of production, but the failure rate is extremely high.

The next step in a higher quality application is the throw and roll. In the throw-and-roll method, the patching mix is once again thrown into the pothole manually regardless of any water or debris. Next, a truck slowly drives over the repaired pothole and the mix is compacted. The goal is for the compacted patch to have a crown in the range of 0.125-0.25”. This process will take approximately two more minutes per pothole compared to the throw-and-go method. Although more time consuming, it makes for a more durable patch due to the compaction of the patching mix with the truck tire.

The best-known pothole patching method is the semi-permanent repair. In this method, the pothole is completely removed of any water or debris. Next, the pothole needs to be squared. All uneven edges will be cut with a pavement saw making the hole into a square or rectangular shape. The pothole is cleaned once again before the patching mix is applied. Finally, the area is compacted with a single drum roller or a vibratory plate compacter. The semi-permanent method provides the tightest and longest lasting patch. However, it is more time consuming and requires more workers and equipment in the field.

During the "semi-permanent" repair, a material known as a tack may also be used. Tack is a liquid form material used to promote adhesion of the pothole patch mix, and the pothole surface. If tack is utilized during the repair, it is either sprayed or brushed on the clean and squared pothole. Next, the pothole patching mix is applied and compacted in the desired method, and a final coat of the tack is sprayed on top of the patch overlapping the edges a few inches.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, whichever method is used, patches applied in the winter months typically will not hold up as well as patches applied during the warmer months. The goal for winter patching should be to repair the road as quickly as possible to increase the safety and comfort of the roads. With that stated, the throw-and-go method is favorable as long as a high quality material is utilized. The goal in the warmer months is typically to use the semi-permanent. Utilizing this method while the conditions are ideal will create patches that will last to the extent of the roads life.

See also

  • Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Committee
  • Giant's kettle


  1. ^ Eaton, Robert A.; Joubert, R.H. and Wright, E.A. (December 1989) (in English). Pothole primer—A public administrator's guide to understanding and managing the pothole problem. Special Report. 81-21. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory. pp. 34. http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil/library/specialreports/SR81-21.pdf. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pothole — Pot hole , n. A circular hole formed in the rocky beds of rivers by the grinding action of stones or gravel whirled round by the water in what was at first a natural depression of the rock. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pothole — also pot hole, 1826, originally a geological feature in glaciers and gravel beds, from M.E. pot in sense of a deep hole for a mine, or from peat digging (late 14c., sense now generally obsolete, but preserved in Scotland and northern England… …   Etymology dictionary

  • pothole — [n] chuckhole cavity, crater, depression, dip, fracture, gap, hole, pit, pocket, rut, split; concept 513 …   New thesaurus

  • pothole — ► NOUN 1) a deep natural underground cave formed by the eroding action of water. 2) a hole in a road surface. ► VERB Brit. ▪ explore underground potholes as a pastime. DERIVATIVES potholed adjective potholer noun potholing noun …   English terms dictionary

  • pothole — [pät′hōl΄] n. 1. a deep hole or pit; esp., a deep, round hole formed in the rock of a river bed by gravel whirling in water 2. CHUCKHOLE 3. a deep cave extending downward underground …   English World dictionary

  • pothole — [[t]pɒ̱thoʊl[/t]] potholes also pot hole 1) N COUNT A pothole is a large hole in the surface of a road, caused by traffic and bad weather. 2) N COUNT A pothole is a deep hole in the ground. Potholes often lead to underground caves and tunnels …   English dictionary

  • pothole — UK [ˈpɒtˌhəʊl] / US [ˈpɑtˌhoʊl] noun [countable] Word forms pothole : singular pothole plural potholes 1) a hole in a road 2) British a large natural hole in a mountain or under the ground Derived word: potholed UK / US adjective …   English dictionary

  • pothole — noun Date: 1826 1. a. a circular hole formed in the rocky bed of a river by the grinding action of stones or gravel whirled round by the water b. a sizable rounded often water filled depression in land 2. a pot shaped hole in a road surface 3. a… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • pothole — /pot hohl /, n. 1. a deep hole; pit. 2. a hole formed in pavement, as by excessive use or by extremes of weather. 3. a more or less cylindrical hole formed in rock by the grinding action of the detrital material in eddying water. 4. a cave… …   Universalium

  • pothole — noun a) A shallow pit or other edged depression in a roads surface, especially when caused by erosion by weather or traffic. b) A pit formed in the bed of a turbulent stream. Syn: giant kettle …   Wiktionary

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