Why Do Roads Get Cracked And Damaged?

If you’ve ever driven on a road in the US before, you’ve probably had that uncomfortable shaky-bump experience of going over a crack or pothole. These cracks and damage may seem like inconveniences or eye sores, but they can cause serious harm. Car accidents and damage can happen when vehicles hit or try to avoid potholes. Pedestrians can also trip over them when crossing roads or in parking lots.

What causes that damage in a road? Fortunately, at Reliable Paving, asphalt paving and concrete is what we do. We are deeply familiar with how paving and asphalt are laid and installed, how they age, and eventually degrade. Continue reading our guide to the various types of cracks that appear in roads, and what makes them occur.

Non-crack damage types and their causes


The most infamous of road damage types are potholes. They occur when the area directly beneath the pavement’s surface has been damaged, not repaired and fails. This causes a surface depression. These are responsible for some of worst damage (barring car crashes) that vehicles receive on the road.


Potholes are often caused by a combination of factors. Most often, moisture seeps beneath the pavement’s surface. This sub-surface water will expand and contract naturally as the temperature fluctuates over the day/night and over the seasons. As it does so, it degrades the pavement beneath the surface. Add to this the pressure of vehicles passing over, and the pavement easily collapses into a pothole.

Read more about this pervasive pavement issue here.

Blowouts/ shallow sinkholes

These are potholes but on a much bigger scale. 


The reasons for blowouts are the same as potholes, but often coupled with road neglect. 


These are the most dangerous types of damage that can be found on the road. They occur when the subsurface of the pavement has eroded. This often includes not only the pavement under the surface, but the subgrade has eroded as well. Subgrade is the courser material often put under pavement such as larger (3-5 inches) loose rocks and stones. Earth beneath the subgrade can also erode to further worsen the sinkhole, making it even more dangerous.


These occur from improper drainage or sewer/plumbing leaks. Basically, when the water that should be draining outside the road is draining into it, especially on a large scale, it can cause sinkholes. Areas that are prone to flooding are notorious for sinkholes.


Raveling occurs when the gravel in asphalt begins to loosen because of weakening binder. It weakens the surface by making it less sealed to outside elements. It appears as a crumbling on the surface.


Raveling usually occurs when asphalt has been oxidized. This is a natural process that occurs when asphalt is laid. It is a chain chemical reaction in which the asphalt bonds together and becomes much stiffer. With stiffness it is also more brittle, hence the raveling.


Peeling usually occurs several years after the asphalt is laid. It becomes dried out and the top surface begins to flake or peel away. This reveals the subsurface and makes the asphalt more easily damaged by water and the elements.


Asphalt becoming overly dried out is a big cause. This is common in places with dry climates and heavy sun, with little rain and atmospheric moisture. 


Sometimes called frost heave or upheaval, heaving manifests as large raised, broken areas of asphalt or road. It can be dangerous depending on the level of heave, and lead to car damage and/or accidents.


Heaving is caused by a change in the soil beneath the asphalt. Typically, when the soil absorbs moisture and then freezes, it expands, hence the term frost heave. However, there are other causes, such as nearby construction, root growth underground waterways movement, and geological activity.


Shoving appears as little raised areas or bumps. It is annoying, but typically not threatening.


Shoving is usually caused by heavy trucks or equipment that start or stop frequently. The distress on the asphalt causes small bits of asphalt to be pushed in one direction and make a small mound.


Rutting is a minor depression in the roadway along the lines of vehicle tire tracks. 


Repeated vehicular traffic in the exact same location.

Types of Cracks

All cracks will lead to worsening damage if untreated. They allow water into asphalt and thus further, more serious damage.

Fatigue cracks

Also known as alligator cracks because they resemble alligator skin.


Repeated pressure from vehicles.

Reflection cracks

These are cracks that form over other types of asphalt cracks.


They are formed when asphalt is laid to simply cover existing cracks. The existing cracks come through on the new layer of asphalt, and are aptly called reflection cracks.

Block cracks

These appear as an interconnected network of diamond or block-shaped asphalt pieces separated by cracks. 


They happen as asphalt ages and begins to shrink, so it cracks into blocks, rather than creating a network of fatigue cracks.

Line cracks

AKA longitudinal or transverse cracks. Longitudinal cracks form going in the same direction as traffic, transverse cracks form perpendicular to traffic’s direction. 


Much like fatigue cracks, these are caused by heavy traffic on a roadway.

Handle your asphalt damage reliably

If you’ve noticed any of these problems, or a combination thereof, on your property, the Reliable Paving has a solution for you. We are an experienced, professional, and highly capable paving contractor who is sure to have a solution to your paving damage woes. Whether its damage you need repaired, new paving laid, or preventative maintenance, Reliable knows how to get it done. Send us a message today and find out why we are one of the most trusted names in paving in Texas.