LOS ANGELES --- Potholes, caused by water working its way into asphalt and cracking it, can damage vehicle suspension components and increase the possibility of costly repairs. Steve Mazor of the Automobile Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center offers the following tips to help your fleet drivers survive pothole season:

-- Maintain proper air pressure in all tires to provide as much cushion as possible between the pothole and the rim of the tire. Consult the vehicle owner's manual or the sticker on the driver's side door jamb, inner glove box or inside of the fuel filler flap for the correct pressure.

-- Watch for potholes by leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Alert drivers have plenty of time to avoid potholes.

-- Before swerving around a pothole, be sure to check surrounding traffic to determine if it's safe to change lanes.

-- Maintain a safe speed for the weather conditions. If a pothole cannot be avoided, slow down, if possible. Hitting a pothole at high-speed increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels, shocks, struts, springs or suspension components. High speed also increases the chance of losing control of the vehicle, especially if a series of potholes occurs on a curved or uneven roadway.

-- When driving over more than one pothole, reduce vehicle speed and hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.

-- If possible, don't brake when directly over a pothole. Applying the brakes causes the car's weight to shift to the front of the vehicle and can increase damage from the impact.

-- Beware of water that may be concealing a deep pothole. Hitting even one severe pothole could alter the alignment of a wheel from suspension damage resulting in uneven tire wear. Uneven and premature tire wear means the tire will need to be replaced sooner than necessary and increase fuel consumption at needless expense.

"A broken shock or strut from hitting a pothole could alter the steering and handling of a vehicle, and create dangers when driving at higher speeds or in tight corners," Mazor said. "Broken or damaged suspension components should be remedied immediately."  

Maintaining the vehicle's tires is also crucial to safe driving, said Mazor. Every other fill-up, walk around the vehicle and check tires for uneven or excessive tread wear as well as proper inflation. Refer to the vehicle's doorjamb or glove box for original equipment specifications or the manufacturer of the replacement tire for proper tire pressure inflation, he added.

The Auto Club also recommends a tire rotation approximately every 7,500 miles, said Mazor. Check the owner's manual for your specific vehicle's service recommendations.