The 10 Most Common Reasons for Driveway Cracks

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated September 13, 2021
Home with concrete drive
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Find out what's causing those unsightly driveway cracks so you can fix them the right way

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It's easy to brush off a small crack in your driveway as a sign of its age, but that might not be the case. In fact, there are many things that could cause cracks in a driveway such as settling, improper installation, and more. These cracks can lead to expensive repair bills if not taken care of promptly. For example, asphalt driveway repair costs up to $3,600, while a simple patch costs only $20 to $40. Let’s look at the causes so you can decide the best way to fix and fill driveway cracks.

1. Poor Driveway Foundation and Base Installation

A cracked driveway is often the result of faulty foundation installation. The base of your driveway should consist of tightly packed crushed stone or gravel, followed by an aggregate base. Then, the driveway surface is laid on the top. If the base or foundation is sub-par (for example, it’s not packed tightly enough or uses sand or soil substrates that shift and erode), the driveway quickly cracks. 

2. Settling

Settling cracks occur when there's a space beneath the driveway. Over time, with the weight of the driveway itself plus vehicles passing, the ground shifts to fill the void, and the driveway cracks as it settles onto the newly adjusted ground. 

Settling isn't necessarily due to poor installation. Instead, it can be because you or your neighbor had a tree removed, and the roots that ran beneath your driveway decomposed. Or, maybe at some point, a utility company did some work on the spot where your driveway is now, but they failed to compact the soil properly when they finished. 

3. Too Much Weight

Oversized or extra heavy vehicles can easily crack your driveway, as both concrete and asphalt have weight limits. Additionally, even if the driveway surface can withstand the added weight, if the ground beneath cannot, it will shift, resulting in a void and a stress crack in the driveway surface. This is particularly true after heavy rain when the ground beneath the driveway is softer.

4. Tree Root Growth

As tree roots grow and spread beneath your driveway, they apply pressure from below. Eventually, to relieve the stress, the driveway surface cracks as the foundation and base layers push upward. 

5. Sharp Object Damage

Dings and scrapes from sharp or edged items like snowblower blades, poorly handled snow shovels, or studded tires can crack or tear chunks from a driveway's surface. It's essential to fix accidental cracks or chips like these ASAP. If you don’t, water, salt, and snowmelt will work their way in and cause more cracking. If you don't have the time or skills, just hire a local driveway repair service to take care of it for you.

6. Freeze and Thaw Cycle

Home with nice new asphalt drive
Photo: pics721 / Adobe Stock

Concrete and asphalt can both crack with repeated freeze and thaw cycles. As snow and ice melt or as heavy rain falls, water seeps into your driveway. If it freezes, it expands, putting concrete and asphalt under a lot of stress. 

If you apply rock salt to your driveway during the winter, you're actually exacerbating the problem. When you use salt, it penetrates the driveway and attracts additional H2O. Luckily, there are plenty of ice melt alternatives that help preserve your driveway.

7. Heat Expansion

Concrete is prone to heat expansion, which can cause cracking. As it heats up, concrete expands and pushes outwards. If it pushes against another inflexible substance, like a brick wall, it will break to relieve the pressure build-up.

8. Plastic Shrinkage

Plastic shrinkage usually occurs when there’s too much water in the concrete mix. The concrete cracks as it dries because the water evaporates, leaving spaces that weaken the structural integrity. Your concrete pro needs to create the optimal blend to prevent concrete cracks like this.

9. Asphalt Is Too Thin

Crumbling and cracking around the edges of your driveway indicate that the asphalt is too thin in those places. It's common for the asphalt to spread beyond the aggregate base during laying, creating a narrow strip of asphalt that doesn't have a solid foundation. While these edge cracks aren't dangerous, they are unsightly. One way to remedy this is to hire a driveway specialist to remove the cracked edges, recompact the foundation, lay a brick edging, then lay new asphalt between the existing driveway and the brick. 

10. Excessive Use of Sealers or Low-Quality Asphalt Mix

Spiderweb or alligator cracks in an asphalt driveway indicate that the contractor used a low-quality asphalt mix or that the previous homeowners had the driveway repeatedly coated with sealers. This is because the cost to seal an asphalt driveway is significantly less than fixing the underlying issue and bearing the cost of replacing an asphalt driveway. The only way to fix this issue is to remove the asphalt layer, recompact the base, and lay new asphalt.

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