This is the time of year in northern climates when the snow melts, the rains begin, and suddenly your favorite roads become obstacle courses.

Potholes are one of the few downsides to spring. All that freezing and thawing breaks up the roadway, and your car — more specifically, your car's wheels and tires — can suffer and sustain damage if you're not careful. So be careful. But how?

Such a good question. Follow these guidelines, and you'll have a better shot at avoiding damage — or recovering from it if it happens.

1. Maintain proper tire pressure.

Our expert friends at the Tire Rack, the one-stop tire-shopping website, tell us that proper tire pressure is the one thing that can help the most if you hit a pothole. If a tire is running low on air and you hit a pothole, you're more likely to sustain damage because the rubber can get pinched between the pothole and the edge of the wheel. If it's overinflated, it will be more unyielding and thus, more susceptible to surface damage. So, get a tire gauge and use it — or stop off at your local service station and check the air pressure frequently.

2. Don't hit a pothole in the first place.

Watch the road even more carefully than usual this time of year. Slow down enough that you have time to avoid a pothole once you've spotted it. Watch for bumps, broken pavement and especially puddles that could be covering up deep potholes.

3. If you must hit a pothole, do it slowly.

Don't swerve out of your lane, obviously, if you are suddenly confronted with a pothole. Aside from the danger of hitting a car or solid obstacle, you could end up hitting the pothole at a bad angle, potentially causing even more damage to your car.

You're likely to do less (or, if you're lucky, no) damage if you are moving slowly. If you are about to hit a pothole, don't slam on your brakes: The sudden jarring can mess up your car's alignment or do structural damage to the car.

4. Check for tire damage.

Get in the habit of checking your tires, says Tire Rack's Matt Edmonds. That's especially true after you have hit a pothole. If you've blown a tire completely, that will be obvious, but there can be harder-to-spot issues that can lead to a blowout later, or at least will greatly reduce tire life.

Don't just check the part of your tire you can see; stop in to your favorite repair spot and get the inside shoulder of the tire looked at, too. If there are bulges or bumps — something that looks like a blister, Edmonds says — it probably means you've cut the tire's interliner, which means air can get between it and the rest of the tire. To know for sure, you have to have someone demount the tire from the wheel. If you spot a blister, mark it with chalk, because once the air has been let out of the tire, you won't be able to see it anymore.

Don't ignore something as small as a tire blister. As Edmonds points out, we're all more likely to put extra loads on our vehicles during the vacation months — whether towing boats and Jet Skis or just loading up luggage for a road trip — and a tire weakened by pothole damage may not be able to stand up to that stress. You don't want a blowout in the scorching heat of July with kids in the car or, really, anytime.

5. Look at the rims, too

The odds are pretty good that if you drive into a pothole with your front tire, you'll end up driving through it with the corresponding back wheel, too. If you bend a wheel — or a pair of them — it can be expensive to replace them. Edmonds points out that you can often purchase a full set of four aftermarket replacement wheels for less money than just a couple of original equipment wheels.

6. Report potholes to local authorities

Lots of city and state governments have set up hotlines, websites and even smartphone apps to let you report potholes that need repairing. Find yours and report problems so a road crew can fix them. A pothole generally has to measure a foot in diameter for a road crew to take it seriously. Making a report is not just being a good citizen; it also gives you a little bit of control over the road conditions where you drive every day. And who doesn't want that?

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©2015 Jean Knows Cars, LLC; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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