Whangārei panel beater Dale Finlayson forked out $10,000 to repair his Mercedes after it sustained damage from potholes. Photo / Tania Whyte
Bent rims, suspension failure and blown tyres — Northland motorists are copping them on the roads, and one even racked up a $10,000 bill after hitting potholes on a notorious section of State Highway 1
just south of Whangārei.
Whangārei panel beater Dale Finlayson has so far paid out $1500 in three insurance excesses and claimed a total of $18,000 for damage to his Mercedes from potholes in the region in one year.
Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency and Whangārei District Council (WDC) said a wet summer last year, followed by ongoing rain throughout winter, hindered long-term road repairs.
Finlayson got his car back three weeks ago after it had been off the road for four months, partly due to delays in the arrival of parts from overseas.
He hit potholes on top of the Onerahi hill that blew out a tyre and bent a rim.
“I contacted the council and I was just given the run-around. They just didn’t want to hear anything of it, so I’ve paid out $1500 in excess to fix my car because of their shocking roads.”
Next, he was heading into town along SH1 just north of Oakleigh about five months ago when his car spun around after hitting potholes between the Mangapai turnoff and the Portland roundabout, coming up and over the passing lanes.
“There are a couple of bad patches that are patched up all the time. That was the one that did the most damage. There was a great big chunk on the road at the top of the hill, and it keeps coming out all the time. Every time you go up the hill, even on a sunny day, you can see water across the road.
“I hit it as I came up to the top of the hill. It destroyed the left-hand front rack end and the car steering rack end, blew out the right-hand rear tyre and sent me spinning around. I replaced the rack end myself and put a new tyre on it.
“Within two days of me doing that, I noticed the suspension starting to sag in the car, because it’s air suspension in those Mercedes. Took it into the mechanic – he had a look and said I’d blown seals out of everything.
“The damage this time was worth $10,000. That was the bill. That was just the suspension. The front and rear shocks and having to put them in. With one garage and just one incident.”
Finlayson said he has had three insurance claims on his vehicle for suspension, rim and tyre damage since he bought it less than a year ago— all from hitting potholes— that increased his insurance premium and caused the loss of his no-claims bonus.
Having spent the last 15 years in Christchurch, he said the roads down there went from being completely destroyed during the earthquakes to being back to perfect.
He blames poor maintenance for the road conditions in Northland.
“Every hole there is, every pothole that I can see, has been patched up again. They never do it properly. The same at the intersection of Rewarewa Rd and Port Rd where the railway tracks are. They patch that up every week, and every week it’s destroyed again.
“All they’re doing is putting more rubbish in the hole and squashing it down to last it for two days and to fall back out again. I think they should stop putting a band-aid on everything and concentrate on fixing one item at a time and doing it properly.”
WDC/Northland Transportation Alliance strategy and planning manager Jeff Devine said attempts at long-term repairs in winter would fail because of wetness and cold.
He said long-term repairs involved different processes and materials and larger sections of road that tended to cause more disruptions.
Repairs were carried out in summer because the warm dry weather and dry ground conditions enabled long-term repairs to cure properly and they lasted longer, he said.
“Unfortunately, the very wet summer last year followed by ongoing rain throughout winter means we did not get through the amount of long repairs we wanted to last summer. We are hoping to make good progress this summer if it stays dry.”
Regarding the Kioreroa crossing, he said it was more efficient to do short-term repairs at the location, given the entire intersection was due to be replaced in August.
“The council’s policy regarding damage to vehicles caused by potholes is that drivers must drive to the conditions. Our responsibility lies with repairing the potholes as reported to us, when the [weather] conditions allow and in a timely fashion,” he said.
A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said the pothole incident Finlayson referred to north of Oakleigh occurred in March, after Cyclone Gabrielle, and in the middle of multiple other rain events in Northland.
The spokesperson said there have been 45 recorded pothole repairs carried out in the location Finlayson’s car was damaged.
Subsoil drainage repairs to remove water have been completed and permanent repairs are planned throughout this area during dry spells, the spokesperson said.
“Potholes will often appear during heavy rain events, and we’re seeing these events occur more frequently now due to climate change. In January, Northland received 485 per cent of the expected rainfall for the month, and that was before Cyclone Gabrielle in February.”
Mike Smith, the owner of Westech Automotive in Whangārei, where Finlayson’s car was repaired, said motorists brought vehicles damaged by potholes into his garage every week.
Some vehicles, especially European-made ones, needed to be sent to Auckland to be painted once repairs were completed.
The manager of Mount Shop in Whangārei, Anthony Scott, said the demand for suspension was high as vehicles sustained more damage on roads.
“Northland roads are not first-class, and also, we’re not really spending money to upgrade the roads, even though there are more cars on the roads,” he said.
Imran Ali is a senior reporter and does general news reporting at the Advocate after more than two decades covering courts. He also takes a keen interest in rugby.