The road can be a dangerous place. Whether it's your neighborhood, a two lane highway, or the interstate, you never know when you'll run across something that obstructs your path. Below are the top five examples of obstructions you may come across and how you can avoid or at least drive safely over them.
1. Old car/truck tires
I want to get to this one right away. If you've driven on an interstate or highway for any length of time, chances are you've seen the shreds of destroyed tires littering the shoulder or side of the road. Most of these come from the big trucks, which have so many tires and drive for such extreme lengths of time that at least one of them is bound to succumb to the heat of friction, especially if not inflated properly. Usually, highway patrol or other workers remove the tire shreds from the roadway. But you just may happen upon a destroyed tire before anyone has had a chance to clear it. If at all possible, avoid driving over it.
Although it may look like the shredded tire sits low enough that you can drive over it without harm, this is often not the case. I once witnessed a car drive over a shredded tire, and the force of air helped it whip up and literally tear pieces and parts from the car's undercarriage. Needless to say, the car was forced to pull to the side of the road in distress. Therefore, if at all possible, avoid shredded tires. If you're not sure if it's a shredded tire, avoid it anyway. It's always a good idea to avoid any hazards on the roadway, if you don't think they'll hurt your car.
Some poor animal has been hit once, and nearly flattened. You see it too late, and end up helping to flatten it some more. Usually, these animals will be too small to do any serious damage, but here's something you might think about: you don't want the smell of dead animals on your tires. Not only can this be unpleasant if you drive home and put your car in the garage, but it can also attract other animals to your car when it is parked in open spaces. The smell can also be very difficult to eliminate from your tires.
It won't take much to avoid hitting such an animal—usually just a slight correction of an inch or two on the steering wheel in whichever direction you think would help you avoid it better. However, don't swerve to avoid already deceased roadkill, or even soon-to-be roadkill. As sad as it might be to think about, it is nearly always better to hit a small animal that has just run out in front of you, if it cannot at all be avoided. If you swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel, armadillo, possum, or even a cat or dog, you just might end up trading your life for the animal's. You could very likely go off into a ditch or collide with another vehicle in this scenario.
3. Speed bumps
Several friends of mine have told me that they do not slow down for speed bumps (or speed humps, if you prefer) because they do not agree that the speed bumps should be there. Whether or not you like the idea of speed bumps, don't let your car suffer for the speed bumps' sins. Depending on the size of the speed bump, you may have to slow completely to a stop and let your car simply coast over the bump. Usually, you can tell when a speed bump is ahead due to its reflective yellow paint. When you see one coming, take your foot off the gas and let your car decelerate before you reach the bump. You'll find that by the time you reach it, you'll likely be going slow enough to coast over it with ease.
Why should you do this? Because if you go over a speed bump at full speed, or even at speeds of 10-15 MPH and up, you risk damaging vital parts of your car's steering system, including the alignment and suspension systems. Suspension work can be expensive. Alignments are usually not as expensive, but if you find yourself getting one every month, that can add up. You may not think your car needs an alignment, but if you find that your steering wheel pulls slightly to the left or right when you're driving in a straight line and you take your hands off of the wheel, an alignment is in order. Putting it off will risk uneven and increased wear on your tires, forcing you to replace them sooner.
What this all adds up to is more money that you will have to spend in the long run. Taking the time to drive slowly over raised speed bumps will help you keep that money in your pocket, and keep your car in much better driving shape.
If everyone could easily avoid potholes, no one would complain about them. While it's usually easy to see a speed bump coming, you may not notice a pothole, or realize its true depth, until you've driven through it. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that looks like a pothole, as long as it does not endanger you or other vehicles. If it can't be avoided, at least try to slow down when driving over it. Potholes are another pesky problem that can wreck your alignment and suspension.
Fun fact: if you see or run into a pothole, you can call your state Department of Transportation office to report it. Your state DOT may even have a toll-free number set up specifically to report potholes. It doesn't take a whole slew of complaints to get a crew to repair it, but if you've reported one and within a week or two it's still bad, it wouldn't hurt to call again. But many times, they depend on you to tell them about potholes. After all, road crews can't be driving on every single road in your state on constant pothole patrol. If you want a pothole to be repaired, you have to be the pothole patrol.
5. Railroad tracks
Although many modern railroad crossings appear to have their tracks recessed enough into the pavement as to not cause a ruckus, it is usually a good idea to slow down for them just like you should slow down for speed bumps. Again, if you go over railroad track crossings at high speeds, you are doing damage to your alignment and suspension. As much as it might annoy the impatient vehicle behind you, slowing down to 20 or below will help you coast over the tracks with less chance of damaging your vehicle.
Some of the suggestions above involve possibly avoiding obstructions in the roadway. However, I again emphasize that you should always be completely aware of all of your surroundings before attempting to avoid any obstruction. Check all of your mirrors and your blind spots. Get in a habit of doing this regularly so you can do it easily when you really need to. If you're surrounded by other traffic or a ditch or trees or anything that's not another empty lane of roadway, you just may have to hit the obstruction. Doing damage to your car is not the end of the world. But if the obstruction is big enough, it could endanger both you and your car. As with any driving situation, it is always best to use your own good judgement. And if you hadn't stopped to think about some of these possible obstructions before, I hope they're now locked away in the part of your brain that makes those judgements. As always, be safe out there!