diagnose asphalt

How to Quickly Diagnose 5 Main Asphalt Problems

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Asphalt is the most popular materials for roads, driveways, and parking lots, and for good reason. It is inexpensive, easy to maintain, and has a service life of 20-25 years. What’s more, asphalt provides a smooth, finished appearance on which painted markings are easily visible. Well-maintained asphalt is a valuable asset to your commercial or residential property. 

With all of the benefits that asphalt has to offer, the material’s constant exposure to traffic and the elements can take its toll. In order to ensure that your asphalt is in good condition for its full potential lifetime, it is important to keep it in good repair. Asphalt problems should be taken care of immediately, as problems like cracks and potholes will grow worse over time. Unchecked, such issues can result in reduced property value, damage to vehicles, and even injuries. To help you recognize potential asphalt problems, we have created an easy reference to the most common issues, how to recognize them, and the best repair options.

Causes of Asphalt Problems

Although asphalt is highly valued for its durability and long lifetime, it is often used in structures that are exposed to harsh environmental conditions. Roads, parking lots, and driveways regularly experience extreme weather head-on. UV radiation, rain, water runoff, freezing temperatures, extreme heat, and chemical exposure can all take a heavy toll.

Moisture can easily get into small cracks and undermine the foundation of the asphalt, or it can freeze and melt in changing winter temperatures, thereby expanding unobtrusive cracks into deep, dangerous holes. Temperature fluctuations cause the asphalt and surrounding area to expand and contract, enhancing the likelihood of cracks and crazing. What’s more, chemical exposure from ice and snow treatments and vehicle fluids can degrade the surface of the asphalt, causing it to break apart, while heavy traffic and snow removal measures such as plowing and shoveling can exacerbate problems with loose gravel and crazing. 

Luckily, it is easy to recognize common asphalt problems so that you can catch them before they become a serious issue.

Cracking Patterns


Alligator cracking and block cracking are easy to recognize due to the pattern of the cracks in the asphalt. Alligator cracking displays a pattern of cracks that look like an alligator hide, while block cracking exhibits a larger block pattern. Both types of cracks are due to fundamental structural issues, which can be caused by settling, erosion, temperature fluctuations, and insufficient asphalt composition and surface thickness. 

You can catch these asphalt problems early by watching for long cracks, especially along high-traffic areas. Catching this problem early is critical. Crack sealing and patching can be used to fix this type of cracking if caught early in the process. Once the cracks have become widespread and begin to display the alligator cracking pattern, it may be necessary to remove the original substrate and repave. 

Location-Specific Cracking

Some cracks occur due to functionality and location. Edge, linear, and transverse cracks each occur in specific areas of asphalt structures.

  • Edge Cracking: As the name implies, this type of crack occurs along the edge of the roadway or lot, and is usually due to poor drainage or insufficient base support.
  • Linear and Joint Cracking: Similarly, linear and joint cracking occur along the center line and joints of the pavement, where the asphalt is thinner and therefore more likely to be affected by high traffic, fatigue, and temperature changes.
  • Transverse Cracking: Rather than running parallel to the center line like linear cracks, transverse cracks are perpendicular to the center line. They are often caused by poor underlying structure and daily temperature variations.

All of these localized cracks can be repaired using patches and crack sealer, if caught early. As with most asphalt problems, diagnosing the issue early is critical to ensuring that it does not escalate. It is important, however, to consider the fundamental cause. If the base of the asphalt is damaged or there is ongoing erosion due to water drainage, for example, those issues will have to be repaired at the source first. Depending on the severity of the damage, it may be necessary to deep patch or repave damaged areas.

Slippage and Washboarding

Sometimes the asphalt in an area is poorly developed or mixed, which can result in slippage or washboarding of the asphalt, where the upper layer moves over lower levels. Cracks caused by slippage exhibit a distinctive crescent shape. Similarly, washboarding from horizontal pressure, such as at intersections where vehicles come to frequent stops, can be recognized by a ripple pattern. 

Both washboarding and slippage cracks can be repaired using a full depth or partial asphalt patch. 

Potholes and Depressions

Much maligned and easy to recognize, potholes are a dangerous and unsightly asphalt problem in many structures. Left untreated, cracks will often interconnect and deepen from exposure to fluctuating temperatures, moisture, freezing, and traffic. Once the asphalt in the cracked area comes loose, a pothole is created that often runs to the base of the asphalt. They are easy to spot, and can be repaired using a deep patch. Left too long, potholes can compromise the integrity of the surrounding area and cause extensive damage to vehicles, so it is important to repair them as soon as possible. 

Like potholes, depressions can be recognized by their lower pavement surface.  Depressions do not necessarily exhibit a break in the asphalt like potholes, which can make them more difficult to diagnose. The easiest way to find depressions is to look for standing water after rain. Although they may not appear serious at first, moisture can collect in depressions, resulting in erosion and cracking. In freezing temperatures, the water will freeze and expand, causing cracks and crazing, and ultimately, potholes. In order to avoid the development of more severe issues, depressions should be treated by applying a surface patch to bring the top layer even with the surrounding pavement. 


Raveling is the result of poor asphalt compaction, often due to cool temperatures at the time of installation. Traffic breaks the asphalt apart, resulting in loose gravel, and ultimately, uneven surfaces and potholes. It is easy to recognize by looking for loose, crumbling asphalt, and can be prevented by ensuring that sufficient heat is applied during installation. To repair raveling, sealing and patches can be applied. 

Professional Asphalt Diagnostics and Repair

The most important aspect of asphalt repair is recognizing problems early so that they do not become larger issues. In order to ensure that your asphalt is in good repair, contact the professionals at MD Paving Pros. Our highly experienced and knowledgeable specialists will inspect your driveway, parking lot, or residential road for signs of wear and damage. Timely repair can make all the difference in protecting your asphalt assets.

In addition to our repair services, we are pleased to offer a number of other services, including:

  • Concrete Installation
  • Asphalt Paving
  • Parking Lot Striping
  • Driveway Installation
  • Heated Driveway Paving
  • Commercial Snow Removal

To learn more about our comprehensive portfolio of concrete and asphalt installation and repair services, contact us today.

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Dan Kirksey

Dan is an asphalt paving contractor and has been helping business owners and homeowners with their asphalt and concrete projects throughout Maryland for over a decade.

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