Cars are perhaps the most convenient thing we own. They let us go where we want when we want. However, they are also notoriously unreliable and break down more often compared to other gadgets we own – remember when the last time you repaired your fridge was? And on top of that, they don’t really hold value, unlike real estate, for example.
But there is a perfectly good reason for that – cars encounter huge obstacles every single day. When you think about it, there are micro explosions in your car’s engine that move you forward, while the suspension always needs to work hard to smooth out various road imperfections. Your car is a very complex machine clashing with an even more complex world, which increases the odds of something breaking down.
And then you add curbs to the mix, which are possibly the most challenging barriers for cars. See, although vehicles have complex suspension systems, they were not really designed for hitting a curb. Instead, the suspension’s job is to minimize vibrations from small road imperfections and harshness from hitting larger ones, like potholes.
But hitting a curb is much worse than hitting a pothole, especially if you do it at higher speeds. In those circumstances, numerous components in your vehicle will be subjected to a force they were not designed for.
Now, you might bring up the question of why automakers don’t just make the vehicles stronger, but that would only add unnecessary weight to the car for a once-in-a-year scenario.
Hitting a curb is a nightmarish scenario, but it doesn’t happen often. Also, getting rid of the curbs can be dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, so that also isn’t a good solution. The best solution is to avoid hitting a curb altogether and drive more carefully.
Even if you are careful, you might still hit a curb and damage one or several components of your vehicle. But what are those, and how can you diagnose the damage? You arrived at the right place to find out, as I’ll dissect every possible scenario of what damage can happen from hitting a curb. So, without further ado, let’s dig in!
- Tire Damage from Hitting Curb
- Wheel Damage from Hitting a Curb
- Alignment Issues from Hitting a Curb
- Suspension Damage from Hitting a Curb
- Steering System Damage from Hitting a Curb
- Undercarriage Damage from Hitting a Curb
Tire Damage from Hitting Curb
Your tires are the first barrier against impacts like hitting a curb or a pothole. Hence, they will take most of the damage and potentially protect other vehicle parts. But this shouldn’t make you happier, as tires are expensive, and damage from hitting a curb will almost certainly mean you need a new one.
The type of damage on your tire when hitting a curb depends on the speed you were driving when the impact occurred, the angle of the impact, and also the type of the curb and how sharp it is. In some circumstances, the tire might remain intact, but hitting a sharp curb at a higher speed will almost certainly cause damage.
1. Sidewall damage
And the most probable injury that can happen to a tire when hitting a curb is sidewall damage. The reason for this is that the sidewall will take most of the load when hitting a curb. The damage can manifest itself as cuts, scrapes, and bulges.
Sidewall bulges are particularly bad, as they indicate that the structure of the tire has been compromised. This happens when the tire’s internal plies, which hold the tire together, tear apart, and air tries to escape through the rubber compound. Since rubber is more elastic, it literally balloons where the internal construction is damaged.
These bulges can have serious implications and could cause a blowout while driving, particularly at higher speeds. Hence, they are an issue you should not take lightly! A sidewall bulge is also irreparable, meaning you should immediately replace your tire, or you would compromise your safety but also the safety of other traffic participants.
2. Punctures or cuts
Hitting a curb could also pierce a hole through the tire or cut the tread/sidewall. Usually, these punctures/cuts will have large diameters, meaning they won’t be repairable.
It’s generally considered that you can only repair punctures of up to ¼ inches (6 mm) in diameter. So, in this case, you might need to replace your tire with a new one. Still, it’s best to bring it to a tire shop and see whether the technician can patch it up for you.
3. Bead damage
The bead is part of the tire that sits against the wheel and ensures an airtight seal. It is made from high-tensile steel wires, which ensure good strength and elasticity.
However, hitting a sharp curb can damage the bead of the tire. When that happens, the tire could start to lose pressure gradually, perhaps even after a few days. However, a damaged bead can also cause the tire to come off the rim, which is a nightmarish scenario that usually happens at higher speeds.
Therefore, it’s crucial to always check the tire/wheel closely for damage after hitting a curb, particularly around the sidewall area and the bead.
4. Internal structure damage
Tires seem simple, but they are very complex underneath. Apart from the obvious rubber tread area, they also consist of steel belts for additional rigidity, along with the radial plies that give stiffness to the sidewalls and a cap ply over the belts to protect the tire from punctures and give additional rigidity. Beneath these layers, there is an additional rubber layer that keeps air from escaping.
All of these layers are bonded together using hi-tech machines and give the tire stiffness, elasticity, and protection against punctures. However, hitting a curb could damage one of these layers, which could weaken the tire’s construction.
Then, the issue will get worse simply by using the tires, as more stress will be put on the components, and they might start separating in what’s called “tire separation.” This is a very serious issue that could lead to air loss and blowouts. Unfortunately, you can’t repair tire separation, and you’ll need to buy a new tire.
5. Uneven or premature wear
Hitting a curb might cause smaller damages to the tire, which will not be visible to the naked eye or noticeable when driving. However, they could lead to uneven or premature wear and shorten the lifespan of the tire. This usually happens when you hit curbs repetitively but at a lower speed, like when you park your car on the curb every day.
Wheel Damage from Hitting a Curb
Wheel damage when hitting a curb particularly concerns “enthusiasts” because these people usually have large wheels with low-profile tires on their cars. Obviously, the chances of damage to the wheel are higher if you have low-profile tires, as they don’t have as much cushion against impacts as tires with higher sidewalls.
But although many think wheel damage is only a cosmetic thing, it’s also related to road safety. A bent rim could lead to air leaks, as the tire’s bead won’t create an airtight seal.
However, bent wheels could also compromise your vehicle’s handling and make it less stable on the highway. You could usually repair bent wheels, but they won’t be as stiff as before.
Another common issue, particularly if you have cheaper alloy wheels, is cracking. This issue is even more serious, as it could lead to blowouts and parts of the wheel flying out of the vehicle while driving. Cracked wheels should not be repaired!
Alignment Issues from Hitting a Curb
Hitting a curb will almost certainly cause misalignment on the suspension components. Misalignment happens from normal wear and tear when the various components, like bushings, ball joints, and tire rods, wear out, leading to changes in alignment angles.
However, hitting a curb will accelerate the wear and tear on those parts and cause misalignment sooner. Particularly, hitting a curb could damage the control arms, steering linkages, or subframes.
Fortunately, wheel alignment is a cheap and quick fix. Still, not many people check their cars for alignment issues, which could lead to other issues, like steering pulling to the side, uneven wear on the tires, and vibrations while driving.
Suspension Damage from Hitting a Curb
Hitting high and sharp curbs at higher speeds could damage various suspension components. These include control arms, ball joints, bushings, and shocks/struts. All of these components are crucial in any vehicle, as they ensure stable cornering.
Damaging any of the suspension components could lead to a suspension geometry change. When this happens, the handling will be affected negatively, but your car will also be less comfortable while driving.
Unfortunately, repairing suspension components is next to impossible, especially if they are bent or cracked. They can also be expensive to replace, which is one of the unfortunate truths of hitting a curb.
But regardless of that, if you notice your car behaving weirdly after hitting a curb, bring it to a mechanic for a proper inspection. It might cost money, but keeping the suspension components sound is crucial for safety.
Steering System Damage from Hitting a Curb
Hitting a curb can also damage parts of your steering system, including tie rods, steering knuckles, or the steering rack. This can be a serious issue, as it could lead to decreased steering control and severe pulling to the side. It can also lead to uneven tire wear (tie rod damage), wheel misalignment (steering knuckle damage), and poor steering response (steering rack damage).
If you notice any weird behavior from your steering wheel, you should immediately bring your vehicle to a mechanic for a detailed inspection. Again, it might cost money, especially if you need to replace some parts, but the steering is crucial for your safety.
Undercarriage Damage from Hitting a Curb
The undercarriage of your car and its various parts can also suffer damage from hitting curbs at very high speeds. Here is everything that could go wrong:
1. Transmission damage
The transmission connects to your vehicle’s engine on the lower end, meaning it’s very close to the ground. Depending on where it sits in your vehicle (on FWD and most RWD cars, it’s in the front, but on some RWD cars, it’s in the back), the transmission case could be damaged from hitting a curb.
Now, I must stress that transmission case damage rarely happens, as you need a really high force to do anything to the stiff housing. Still, a direct impact can cause the case to crack or dent, which could lead to fluid leaks, compromise the housing’s integrity, or, even worse, lead to gear misalignment.
Hitting a curb can also damage the transmission and engine mounts, which secure both parts of the vehicle. Damaged mounts could lead to excessive vibrations, misalignment of transmission components, or even the transmission having issues shifting into gear or shifting out of position.
Repairing the transmission is possible, but it’s expensive and requires a lot of knowledge and experience.
2. Exhaust system damage
Like the transmission, the exhaust system sits at the lowest part of the vehicle and can be damaged from hitting a curb. Depending on where you hit the exhaust, it could lead to damage to the exhaust pipes, muffler, catalytic converter, or damage exhaust mounts.
Damaging the exhaust pipes could lead to decreased performance and increased noise, but it’s generally repairable. Meanwhile, muffler damage could lead to a very loud noise, and it’s not as repairable as damaged piping.
However, the most expensive repair would be damaging the catalytic converter from hitting a curb. Catalytic converters contain precious materials and are costly, which is why stealing them is a big business.
3. Oil Pan damage
The oil pan sits at the lowest part of the engine and collects the excess oil after you shut down the engine. Damaging the oil pan from hitting a curb is a common occurrence, as most often, drivers hit curbs with the front end of the vehicle.
Cracked or damaged oil pan causes oil leaks, which could lead to insufficient engine lubrication. As a result, your engine’s performance will be severely compromised, but oil leaks could also lead to a complete engine breakdown.
Thus, repairing the issue on time is paramount, as costs will only grow up. Fortunately, repairing a cracked oil pan is possible in most circumstances, but you will need to bring your car to a qualified mechanic for inspection.
Hitting a curb happens to the best of us, and it’s an inevitable part of driving a car. Whether it happens because you wanted to avoid an obstacle or simply because of negligence, it will inevitably lead to various issues with your car.
Luckily, most of the issues that happen from hitting a pothole I listed in this article don’t happen often, i.e., you should really be unlucky to hit the transmission, for example.
However, your tires, wheels, and suspension components will almost certainly take some damage, so checking them immediately after is crucial!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.