13 Pavement Defects and Failures You Should Know

With all the snow and ice over the last week on the east coast I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at some of the identifiable ways asphalt is adversely affected by weather – and other conditions. After all, correctly identifying pavement problems and their causes is very important, Below we have identified and pictured 13 specific distresses/failures any pavement contractor should be able to identify.

Alligator crack in Pavement

Alligator Cracking

Alligator cracking is a load associated structural failure. The failure can be due to weakness in the surface, base or sub grade; a surface or base that is too thin; poor drainage or the combination of all three. It often starts in the wheel path as longitudinal cracking and ends up as alligator cracking after severe distress.

FIX: Because a structural failure is taking place the only possible solution to alligatoring is to perform a full-depth patch.

Block crack in Paved Asphalt Road

Block Cracking 

Block cracks look like large interconnected rectangles (roughly). Block cracking is not load-associated, but generally caused by shrinkage of the asphalt pavement due to an inability of asphalt binder to expand and contract with temperature cycles. This can be because the mix was mixed and placed too dry; Fine aggregate mix with low penetration asphalt & absorptive aggregates; poor choice of asphalt binder in the mix design; or aging dried out asphalt.

FIX: Less severe cracks measuring 1/2 inch or less can be sealed to prevent moisture from entering into the sub grade. More severe cracks should be fixed by removing the cracked pavement layer and replacing it with an overlay.

Cracked Paved Asphalt

Longitudinal (Linear) Cracking

Longitudinal cracking are cracks that are parallel to the pavements centerline or laydown direction. These can be a result of both pavement fatigue, reflective cracking, and/or poor joint construction. Joints are generally the least dense areas of a pavement.

FIX: Less severe cracks measuring 1/2 inch or less can be sealed to prevent moisture from entering into the sub grade. More severe cracks should be fixed by removing the cracked pavement layer and replacing it with an overlay.

Traverse crack in pavement

Transverse Cracking

Transverse cracks are single cracks perpendicular to the pavement’s centerline or laydown direction. Transverse cracks can be caused by reflective cracks from an underlying layer, daily temperature cycles, and poor construction due to improper operation of the paver.

FIX: Less severe cracks measuring 1/2 inch or less can be sealed to prevent moisture from entering into the sub grade. More severe cracks should be fixed by removing the cracked pavement layer and replacing it with an overlay.

Cracked Edge on Pavement

Edge Cracks

Edge Cracks travel along the inside edge of a pavement surface within one or two feet. The most common cause for this type of crack is poor drainage conditions and lack of support at the pavement edge. As a result underlying base materials settle and become weakened. Heavy vegetation along the pavement edge and heavy traffic can also be the instigator of edge cracking.

FIX: The first stepin correcting the problem is to remove any existing vegetation close to the edge of the pavement and fix any drainage problems. Crack seal/fill the cracks to prevent further deterioration or remove and reconstruct to full depth fixing any support issues.

Joint problem with Asphalt Pavement

Joint Reflection Cracks

These are cracks in a flexible pavement overlay of a rigid pavement (i.e., asphalt over concrete). They occur directly over the underlying rigid pavement joints. Joint reflection cracking does not include reflection cracks that occur away from an underlying joint or from any other type of base (e.g., cement or lime stabilized).

FIX: For less severe cracks (less than 1/2 inch) crack sealing will prevent the further entry of moisture into the subgrade. If the cracks are more severe the removal of the cracked pavement layer followed by an overlay may be required.

Asphalt dealing with slippage

Slippage Cracks

Slippage cracks are crescent-shaped cracks or tears in the surface layer(s) of asphalt where the new material has slipped over the underlying course. This problem is caused by a lack of bonding between layers. This is often because a tack coat was not used to develop a bond between the asphalt layers or because a prime coat was not used to bond the asphalt to the underlying stone base course. The lack of bond can be also caused by dirt, oil, or other contaminants preventing adhesion between the layers.

FIX: All of the areas exhibiting the “stretch marks” will need to be removed and will require a partial or full depth patch.

Pot hole in Asphalt

Pot Holes

Small, bowl-shaped depressions in the pavement surface that penetrate all the way through the asphalt layer down to the base course. They generally have sharp edges and vertical sides near the top of the hole. Potholes are the result of moisture infiltration and usually the end result of untreated alligator cracking. As alligator cracking becomes severe, the interconnected cracks create small chunks of pavement, which can be dislodged as vehicles drive over them. The remaining hole after the pavement chunk is dislodged is called a pothole.

FIX: Full depth replacement patch

Asphalt with Depression

Depressions (bird baths)

Depressions are localized pavement surface areas with slightly lower elevations than the surrounding pavement. Depressions are very noticeable after a rain when they fill with water.

FIX: Depending on the severity of the depression the asphalt may have to be removed and replaced (severe). Less severe depressions can be fixed by applying a thin surface patch or infrared patch.

Asphalt with Rutting


Ruts in asphalt pavements are channelized depressions in the wheel-tracks. Rutting results from consolidation or lateral movement of any of the pavement layers or the subgrade under traffic. It is caused by insufficient pavement thickness; lack of compaction of the asphalt, stone base or soil; weak asphalt mixes; or moisture infiltration.

FIX: If rutting is minor or if it has stabilized, the depressions can be filled and overlaid. If the deformations are severe, the rutted area should be removed and replaced with suitable material.

Asphalt that has shoving issue


Shoving is the formation of ripples across a pavement. This characteristic shape is why this type of distress is sometimes called wash-boarding. Shoving occurs at locations having severe horizontal stresses, such as intersections. It is typically caused by: excess asphalt; too much fine aggregate; rounded aggregate; too soft an asphalt; or a weak granular base.

FIX: Partial or full depth patch

Asphalt Upheaval


Upheaval is a localized upward movement in a pavement due to swelling of the subgrade. This can be due to expansive soils that swell due to moisture or frost heave (ice under the pavement).

FIX: Full depth patch

ground with leaves

Raveling (very porous asphalt)

Raveling is the on-going separation of aggregate particles in a pavement from the surface downward or from the edges inward. Usually, the fine aggregate wears away first and then leaves little “pock marks” on the pavement surface. As the erosion continues, larger and larger particles are broken free and the pavement soon has the rough and jagged appearance typical of surface erosion.

There are many reasons why raveling can occur, but one common cause is placing asphalt too late in the season. This is because the mixture usually lacks warm weather traffic which reduces pavement surface voids, further densification, and kneading of the asphalt mat. For this reason raveling is more common in the more northern regions(snow belt).

FIX: Apply a thin hot-mix overlay. Other solutions could include: sand seal, chip seal, slurry seal or micro-surfacing.

Other issues that need treatment before maintenance:
Oil Spots – oil spots are a common problem in parking lots and driveways. These areas must be treated before sealcoating or the oil and chemicals will seep up through the newly applied material and render your sealed surface ineffective. There are number of great products for treating these types of issues. Ask your material supplier what they offer.
Grass – Poorly maintained parking lots will often have grass growing up through the cracks. Cleaning the cracks should be standard practice before sealing them. Use a heat lance to burn out the crack and/or blow out the cracks depending on the severity of the problem.
Mud, tree sap, berry stains, etc – Anything that would sit between the asphalt and the sealer must be removed. Without removing it the sealer can not properly adhere to the asphalt and will eventually (sooner than later most likely) peel off. Blowers, push brooms, pressure washers, and gas powered brooms are all tools you should have in your pavement maintenance arsenal.
If you spot any of these defects or issues, it’s a big indicator that your parking lot or pavement needs asphalt repairs. Learn about other indicators that it’s time to repair your asphalt.
Harry Gallagher
Elite Asphalt LLC

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