Drivers and pedestrians beware. With winter a little more than half over, New York City has been left with more than just the snowiest January on record. City streets look like the surface of the moon, with potholes everywhere. Cars try their best to navigate around the craters or gingerly run through them, while others slam down hard on them. Pedestrians tread carefully so as to not trip on them.

Potholes form when the asphalt used to pave most road surfaces begins to crack under the stress of traffic and heat. This allows rainwater and snow to seep in. In freezing temperatures the water freezes and expands, pushing the dirt and gravel out and leaving a hole. Snow, salt and traffic put even more stress on the hole since there’s only a thin layer of asphalt covering it. The result is a rim-bending, tire-flattening, axle-wrecking pothole.

It’s up to Department of Transportation to fix these holes from hell. Like other city agencies, the DOT has been hit by cutbacks and furloughs. It has filled more than 45,000 potholes since the December storm, about 2,000 per day, but they are not being fixed quickly enough, much to the frustration of drivers.

Contacting the DOT to report a pothole is as frustrating as trying to navigate over one. For starters, you are not directly connected to the DOT, but to the 311 hotline where, after listening to information about heat and hot water outage reporting and parking rules, you are placed on hold for a representative, which could take a while, depending on the call load.

Once this reporter was finally connected to an operator, I stated that I wanted to report a pothole. I was then transferred to another representative who said that her system was not operating and then to another who placed me on hold after asking me what borough I was calling about. I was cut off. I called back. I was now on my fourth operator who gave me a list of criteria used to categorize a pothole.

According to the DOT, a pothole is defined as having a circular or ovular shape with a definable bottom, which may be concrete roadway base. The hole may be filled with mud, dirt or loose gravel. I’m thinking, “I don’t care about that. I just want to report the hole in the street.” I was placed on hold–again–to wait for a “specialist” to take my complaint. I’m now on my fifth representative.

I reported the mass of potholes at the intersection of 125th and Lenox. The representative checked to see if there were any previous complaints on that area. There were not. She then issued me a complaint number. In all, it took four phone calls, five representatives and nearly 30 minutes to report one pothole. The system is indeed overloaded.

How long would it take to get this puppy filled? According to three of the representatives I spoke with, the DOT can take up to 30 days to fill a pothole after it’s been reported. That’s a lot of damaged cars, and a payday for auto repair shops.

Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA of New York City spoke with the Amsterdam News about the city’s pothole dilemma.

“The problem is that it’s not just on the tertiary roads but on the main highways. I hit a major hole on the Long Island Expressway. That’s a federally maintained road. We have an overpopulation of trucks because we lack a rail freight tunnel in New York City. One truck does the damage of 2,000 cars. Most trucks are overweight. The weather is the other culprit. You combine the precipitation with the freeze-and-thaw cycle, and that creates a bumper crop of potholes,” Sinclair said.

“The scouring action of the plows also contributes, with all that scraping. We usually don’t see this type of problem until mid-March. The Road Improvement Program in Washington, D.C., came out with a list of cities with the worst roads, and New York City and Newark, N.J., were tied for sixth place. It costs the average New Yorker about $600 to maintain their vehicle because of bad roads. Tire rims, suspension components, steering components, steering racks and springs all suffer because of bad roads. Smaller cars are even more prone, because there’s less space between the rubber and the road. This could lead to a crash–it’s a safety concern as well as a monetary problem. We used to have a device called a joltometer, which was a seismic device that we’d put in a vehicle to measure the intensity of the impact of the potholes on the vehicle. It’s not in use anymore, but it’s something I think we should put back in the budget to help monitor the roads,” he said.

“If I were to offer advice to drivers, it would be twofold: First, keep your tires properly inflated or every slightly overinflated based on the manufacturer’s recommendation so that the car can better deal with hitting a hole. Hitting the pothole is not what does the major damage–it’s when you come out and hit the outer lip that does the damage.

“When you’re driving, don’t tailgate because sometimes a pothole will emerge in front of the vehicle in front of you and you won’t have time to react if you’re too close. Watch the movement of the vehicle in front of you,” he concluded.

If your vehicle is damaged by a pothole, you can file a claim with the City of New York. Visit the New York City Comptroller’s website to fill out the PDF claim form, or call (212) 669-3500.