If your driveway could talk, it would say that it needs some repairs as well as regular care and maintenance. Since it can't talk, you'll have to read these signs.
Your driveway is trying to tell you: You need to act now.
Hairline cracks are common as a driveway ages and weather takes its toll. Cracks will continue spreading, widening, and deepening, which can lead to bigger problems down the road.
Dirt and water will work their way into the cracks. When the water freezes and expands, it causes the cracks to grow. Kent Hansen, director of engineering for the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) in Lanham, Md., says that simply putting an overlay atop the driveway won't solve the problem—the cracks will just come through it. Instead, the cracks need to be cleaned to remove any dirt and debris, and then, ideally, filled with a hot sealer, which is usually applied by a professional.
Jay Sutherland, owner of Expert Asphalt in Watertown, Minn., agrees, saying that a hot sealer is the only long-term solution, since the crack fillers sold at home centers are temporary fixes. "To do it right, you have to heat the crack filler," he says. "It burns into the walls of the crack. When it cools, it expands and fills the crack. It's a permanent fix."
Spiderweb or Alligator Cracks
Your driveway is trying to tell you: Somebody did a lousy job.
The top layer of the driveway is failing, because of either an inferior asphalt installation or an excessive use of sealers. "It could be that people covered up the driveway by building layer upon layer of sealers," Hansen says. The solution is to remove the crack-filled asphalt, recompact the aggregate, and fill in the area with new material. Applying an overlay over the entire driveway will ensure that the new addition blends in for a consistent surface.
Buckling or Wavy Asphalt
Your driveway is trying to tell you: The problem is either loose ground or heavy vehicles.
In northern states, buckling can be caused by frost heave in the spring. "With frost heave, the soil below the driveway is saturated, and then when it freezes, it expands," Hansen says. The ground expansion can cause the driveway to move. "This normally won't work itself out," he said.
Another possible cause could be driving very heavy vehicles or machinery on the driveway, which can cause the asphalt to buckle or develop ruts. Hansen says you don't need to worry about driving a heavy load or two on your driveway—"it usually takes multiple loads of a heavy truck," he says. Repeatedly driving or parking an oversized load, such as an RV, on the asphalt can damage it.
Sutherland says the fix is to replace or patch the damaged area, then apply an overlay to the entire driveway so the surface matches.
Your driveway is trying to tell you: Your asphalt is getting old, but don't worry.
Over time, wear and tear from rain, sun, and vehicle traffic can deteriorate a driveway's surface, causing asphalt to lose its jet-black appearance and turn gray. If left untreated, the surface can become brittle and more susceptible to cracking. But fading by itself is not indicative of a larger problem. "It's not a performance issue," Hansen says.
Oxidation, which occurs when asphalt is exposed to oxygen and then hardens and turns gray, plays a role in the fading. The fix is simple—fill any cracks and then apply a seal coat, which you need to do every three to seven years anyway. But "you don't want to do it too much, like you don't want to paint your house every year," Hansen says.
Sinking Near the Garage
Your driveway is trying to tell you: The underlying bed of crushed stone or compacted soil could be eroding away.
The garage downspouts could be channeling rainwater to the area, washing away the soil or aggregate. "Water is our enemy," Hansen says. "If water is ponding next to it, the area will become saturated. It's always a good idea to have the water drain away from the driveway."
Sutherland says that if this sinking appears in newer homes, it could be because the ground around the house is settling—or the base was not compacted properly. He said a new layer of asphalt can be applied directly over the sunken driveway. "You never want to dig out an area of the driveway if you don't have to," he added.
Your driveway is trying to tell you: It's too thin.
When the asphalt was laid down, it may have been too thin along the edges, Hansen says. Or it might have extended beyond the aggregate base. In either case, the asphalt can break into chunks when vehicles drive over it. Although the crumbling edges are ugly, they won't affect the structure of the main driveway. Installing brick or another material as an edging alongside the driveway will help to keep the edges from breaking off.