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Potholes are good business for LI auto repair shops

Artie Valenti, owner of Artie's Collision in Huntington Village, said he has seen a dramatic uptick in major pothole-related repairs at his New York Avenue business.

He usually get one major job every three to six months due to damage from potholes, Valenti said, but in the past three weeks that ratio has increased to one per week.

"With the expansion and contraction of the ground, the snow is really what opens up" the potholes, he said.

Potholes have been responsible for suspension damage, busted tires and wheels and body damage, Valenti said. The jobs have run from $1,000 to $4,000, he said.

The biggest potholes cause the worst damage, but the small ones are a pain, too, Valenti said. "Even if you hit the smaller ones, you're eventually going to have an alignment problem," he said.

Willie Amaya spent the last few days fixing and replacing dozens of tires that had succumbed to potholes - including one of his own.

Amaya, 27, of Lindenhurst, said he sees about 10 busted tires per day at his job as a mechanic at All Weather Tire Sales and Service in Huntington Station.

He said he blew out one of the tires on his Acura on Route 110 in Huntington Station earlier this week and spent part of Monday replacing it. The accident came just two weeks after he spent more than $500 replacing all four tires on the car, he said.

"I've also got to put the car in alignment," Amaya said. "I'm doing the work myself."

Amaya said he knows he's not alone, as business has been booming at All Weather.

"A lot of the people coming in here hit a pothole," he said.

A pothole on Route 25A in Northport had already upset Nicole Goess on Monday night when it blew out a tire on her Mitsubishi Eclipse. To have the same pothole also destroy her spare tire was insult upon injury.

Goess, 20, a Huntington Station resident who attends cosmetology school in Dix Hills, said the accidents temporarily sidelined her convertible.

"It's the sexiest car ever and right now it's sitting in front of my house on a broken doughnut," she said.

The first blowout occurred while she was driving on Route 25A. She put on the spare, and was headed in the other direction when the second blowout happened within moments. The road was hard to navigate because it was dark, she said.

Goess said she plans to complain to the town about the pothole, which she described as "3 feet deep."

"It was the worst night ever," she said.

An encounter with a pothole on the Northern State Parkway stands to cost Jennifer Fiore more than $500 - not including missed pay from work.

Fiore, 41, of East Northport, was headed east around Exit 38 when she hit the pothole, busted two tires and bent a rim.

The car woes meant she had to take Monday and yesterday off without pay from her job as a project manager at a Manhattan engineering firm, she said.

"I'm not only being hit up for the money and the time, it's also the loss of pay," she said. "Work's not going to put up with another day off."

Fiore said she hopes to return to work today. She spent Tuesday at a Huntington Station repair shop waiting for an estimate on her 2009 Volkswagen Wolfsburg.

Fiore said she used a Web site to report the pothole to repair crews.

"This is awful," she said.

Darnell Carter, 30, a mechanic at Floral Park Tire & Service Inc., said not all damage done by potholes is immediately noticeable to drivers. Sometimes dents in rims and wheels are small, creating gradual air loss.

"In an aluminum wheel, which tends to have more give, you might just get a slight bend," he said.

If a driver hits a pothole and thinks there is damage, Carter advises pulling over in safe area - out of traffic - and examining the wheel and tire. "The first thing to check for is a bent rim or wheel," he said. "Then look for ballooning on the sidewall of the tire."

A bent rim or wheel means the tire will lose air pressure and can go flat. Ballooning or bumps on the sidewall can create handling issues for the vehicle and make the tire more prone to blowouts.

"The best thing a driver can do on roads like these is slow down," Carter said. "Take it easy on the main roads, because you can't always just swerve to avoid a pothole. Slowing down is the best way to try to avoid front-end damage."

Al Eisenberg, owner of Al's Hubcaps & Wheels in Mineola, said a "good winter" for his business means double or triple the number of repairs to rims and wheels.

"This winter is one of our good winters, absolutely," Eisenberg said. "We had one probably three or four years ago, too, and then the winter of 2000-01 also was like this."

Sometimes, rims and wheels can't be repaired. When the damage to a rim or wheel is structural, then it can't be fixed or welded, Eisenberg said. Structural damage often means that a spoke or arm in a custom wheel is cracked through, he said.

Phil Loccisano, 28, of New Hyde Park, spent $875 on four new custom wheels for his 1992 Acura Legend in early January. When the wheels were a week old, he slammed into a pothole on the Linden Boulevard exit of the Cross Island Parkway, he said.

"I destroyed the two right-side wheels, front and rear," he said. "The pothole was filled with water and I just could not turn out of the way."

He pulled over to inspect the damage. Four other cars had hit the same pothole just before he did. "They were pulled over to the side of the road with the same kind of damage I was looking at," he said.

Loccisano, who spent several weeks in Australia visiting family after ruining his wheels, drove to Al's Hubcaps & Wheels Tuesday with three different sets of wheels or tires on his car - including his temporary spare.

He needed two new tires and had to put his old wheels on the car. "Luckily, I saved the old wheels," he said. "I had them in the garage and I was going to throw them out."

Keith Caldwell, 56, of Port Washington, considers himself one of the more fortunate of this winter's drivers. He spent just $20 for a replacement hubcap for his 1998 Toyota Corolla.

"This has got to be one of the worst years for potholes," Caldwell said. "I know there are a lot of them, and they are big."

Caldwell said he was lucky because he damaged his hubcap simply by pulling out of his driveway. "It was after the last snow," he said, "after the plow put a big berm at the end of my driveway."

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