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How To Repair A Blacktop Asphalt Driveway DIY Homeowner

Are you scouring the internet looking for articles on "How to repair a blacktop asphalt driveway?" If you're a DIY (Do It Yourself) kind of homeowner, you've come to the right place!

To be honest, there are a lot of great articles out there on the internet that explains what you need to do to repair your asphalt driveway but we wanted to create an article that explains not only "how to repair a blacktop asphalt driveway" but also the products and equipment you will need to properly make the necessary repairs.

If you're a DIY homeowner looking to make repairs for the very first time, let us assure you that the process really isn't that difficult as long as your asphalt driveway is in decent condition. If you have a really old asphalt or blacktop driveway with a lot of potholes or alligator cracks (we'll explain those later) then you might be better off, in the long run, to have your driveway resurfaced with fresh asphalt.

Asphalt Driveway Problems

Let's start off by explaining the main problems with a blacktop asphalt driveway. This will help you decide if you need to make initial repairs or if you just need to simply fill cracks and then sealcoat which are both simple preventative maintenance tasks, not really repairs.

Pot Holes

Do you have a lot of potholes in your driveway asphalt?

Potholes are pieces of asphalt that are physically gone from the asphalt. It literally creates a "hole" in the asphalt. The origin of the word is a bit hazy, but I'm sure you can use your imagination to come up with an idea of how it came to be known as a "pothole". Point is, potholes are definitely an area of your driveway that will need repairs. Pothole size can vary from a few inches to several feet in diameter and many times, they are the result of unmaintained alligator cracks.

Alligator and Spiderweb Cracks

Do you have a bunch of smaller cracks that "Looks like a 'gators back" or a giant spider web?

Alligator cracks, also known simply as gator cracks or spider web cracks, look like the scales of an alligator or a spider web. I suppose if Dinosaurs were still around, we would call them T-Rex cracks or something... If you're lucky, you only have a small area of what we call alligator cracks that you will need to repair on your driveway, but even so, they aren't hard to fix at all. If you have a big area, it's just going to take lots of time and some extra material.

Sink Holes and Bird Baths

Do you have areas of asphalt that are sunk in the ground?

Sinkholes and birdbaths are usually caused by major settling of the ground after the driveway was surfaced with fresh asphalt. They are either formed by a poorly constructed base (foundation) or the base has washed away over time and heat from the sun has warmed the asphalt enough that it contours to the missing base. In colder climates or high traffic areas, these depressions will stress the asphalt and cause it to crack which eventually leads to potholes.

The minor sinkholes called bird baths are usually 1-2 inches deep and they can use similar repairs as alligator patch, but the really deep sinkhole repairs tend to vary. It might be as easy as adding pothole patch or it might require some pretty extensive repairs like cutting the bad area out and adding new pothole patch. We'll let you be the judge if you want to tackle driveway sinkholes.

Now that we have explained the main symptoms, now would be a good time to reflect on the problems you have with your blacktop asphalt driveway to determine which repairs you will need to make. (If you need to get up and go check, we'll stick around and wait.)

Preparing The Driveway For Repairs

First thing's first, we need to prepare the driveway to make the repairs. This is just a matter of thoroughly cleaning the affected repair area and making sure it is clean from dust, debris, vegetation, water or anything that will keep the repair materials from adhering to the existing asphalt. This is especially important for alligator asphalt.

Removing Dirt and Dust
Method 1) Using a stiff-bristled broom, simply sweep off or around the areas to be repaired. If you don't have a stiff-bristled broom lying around the garage, any broom should work just fine. You can usually find a cheap broom at the local hardware store or you can always pick up a professional grade broom from us and make things easy by getting everything in one place.

Method 2) If you decide to use water (from the hose or a pressure washer), you want to make sure the area is completely dry before making repairs. Keep in mind, the problem with using water is that it will seep into cracks of the asphalt and if you cover the cracks up, there's no way for the moisture to escape. This can cause problems down the road... So, if you decide to use water, we recommend only using this method on really hot summer days and waiting at least 24 hours before applying any material.

Method 3) Some of you might have a backpack leaf blower or even a walk behind push blower that will make your life REALLY easy... If you do use a leaf blower and can't seem to loosen dirt from an area, use a stiff-bristled broom to loosen the area then try again with your leaf blower.

Removing Vegetation
Method 1) If you're on a tight budget and have a triangle-shaped gardening hoe lying around, chances are you can use the sharp-angled tip to get rid of vegetation from cracks which you will probably find mainly in alligator asphalt or wide cracks. Simply stick the angled part in the crack and pull it toward you. Repeat until the vegetation is gone. This tool should work fine too for potholes or sinkholes. If the gardening hoe turns out to be your wife's and she actually uses it for gardening, you might consider going to the hardware store and picking up your own. Assuming you aren't on a tight budget... Gardening hoes are usually a thinner material and might not stand up to the job. What you'll want to look for is a thicker steel triangle hoe that will take the abuse against the hard asphalt driveway. If you're the type who tends to go all out and get the best money can buy, we can sell you a professional grade crack hoe which is designed with a heavy-duty tip when compared to the typical gardening hoe.

Method 2) If you're the type who loves to play with fire, we have just the tool for you! For around $100, we sell a tool that spits out an extremely hot flame and roasts vegetation in seconds. Our asphalt crack torch runs on standard propane and it's also great for drying up wet spots or even melting snow around the pothole area. If you're more on a budget and just want to stick to the basics, that's OK too. Our heat flame crack torch isn't absolutely necessary but for some of you with big driveways or a lot of vegetation, it might pay off in the long run to have one.

Asphalt Driveway Repairs

So how do you repair pot holes, alligator cracks, and sinkholes? Most of the repairs are pretty painless and simple, but they do require a bit of elbow grease and some hard work. If you don't have any elbow grease or don't like hard work then you might want to look for a professional. Otherwise, if you don't mind getting your hands dirty, let's move on!

Now that you've prepared the asphalt surfaces by removing the vegetation and cleaning any debris, we'll look into the tools and materials you'll need to repair your asphalt driveway with ease and confidence.

Pothole Repairs In Driveway Asphalt

Let's find out if you need to repair potholes in your asphalt:
1) Do you have missing chunks of asphalt in your driveway?
2) Are the holes at least 1/2" deep?

If you answered "yes" to either of these, then continue reading. Otherwise, you can skip to the alligator asphalt section.

Driveway Pothole Repair Materials
In order to repair a pothole, you'll need a pothole patch and an asphalt tamper or vibratory plate compactor.

For a quick background, cold pothole patch has been around for years.  It's basically just aggregate mixed with an oil bitumen-like binder that doesn't harden at colder temperatures like hot asphalt.  Hot asphalt oils start hardening around 185º F and become harder the colder it gets.  Cold patch on the other hand, cures over time with open-air.  That's why you've seen pothole repairs that last 3 minutes after it's been installed.  Municipalities are notorious for using cold patch for quick pothole fixes because it is cheap and easy.  Unfortunately, that same pothole is completely blown back out after a few days, making it a complete waste of money.

While a lot of companies have tried to make a better traditional cold patch over the last 60 years, none of them have really been able to find a good long term solution despite claiming to.  This has led several innovative companies to create non-traditional cold patch options that are more expensive but work just as good or better than hot mix asphalt so if you look at the longevity of the repair vs the cost of material, spend the extra money upfront and you'll spend less later.  If you plan to replace the entire pavement area in a few weeks or months, then, by all means, get some cheap cold patch and call it a day!

We offer several brands of the traditional cold patch with Crafco being the industry standard among contractors.  Instead, we are going to recommend that you take a look at a newer, stronger pothole patch that we know you'll be happy with, in the long run.

How much pothole patch material do I need?
Most cold patch asphalt repair aggregate will cover a 12" x 12" x 1" hole per 10lbs. So if you're hole is about 12" diameter give or take and the depth of the hole is 4" plus 1" to 2" for overfill, you're looking at around 50 lbs to 60 lbs for that one hole.

Driveway Pothole Repair Instructions
The first thing to check for is whether or not the pothole goes past the bottom of the asphalt layer. If the hole goes deeper than the asphalt itself, you'll want to fill the hole with sand, gravel or dirt so the hole isn't quite as deep. Sure you can fill it with pothole patch but that's a waste of material unless you're into that sort of thing... If your asphalt is 4" thick and the hole is 8" deep, fill up the hole so you only have about a 4" deep hole. A good rule of thumb is to try and always have a 4" to 5" deep hole. This will keep you from wasting material but ensures there will be enough bonding between the old layer and the new pothole patch. You might have potholes that are more like "dips" or too shallow to really add patch to. If you have these, check out the alligator repair instructions in the next section.

(For the guys who have a flame torch) If you're the type who likes to play with fire and you went out and bought a flame torch despite your better judgment, now is a good time to pull it out and heat up the asphalt surrounding the pothole. This will help bond the patch aggregate with the existing asphalt and helps make the repair last longer. Just make sure you don't scorch or overheat the surrounding asphalt which can damage the oils and cause more problems later.

Now that the hole is prepared, it's time for the cold patch.

If you decide to pick up the Technisoil repair products, you'll have to mix the binder with the aggregate first, then follow the steps below.

If you grabbed the traditional bag style, open the bag of pothole patch and simply pour the aggregate asphalt into the hole. Make sure you overfill the hole by about 1" to 2" from the ground surface. If you spill outside of the hole opening a little bit, that's OK and won't hurt anything. If you have a flat head shovel or a garden rake, these can come in handy for spreading the material out over larger potholes. The side of your foot will work too if you're on a bit of a budget or don't have a flat head shovel handy.  If you're a contractor, you'll probably want to pick up a Lute Rake to help spread the patch since you'll need it for other jobs.

Once the hole has been filled with material, take your pothole tamper and begin "pounding" the asphalt aggregate to flatten it out. This process will compact the pothole patch material into the hole and keeps it from breaking up as easily later. If the original overfill of 1" to 2" wasn't enough, you will want to add more patch material to help level it out properly.

I need to note that if you wait until the hole is completely compacted only to find out you need more, the new layer isn't going to compact as well with the layer you just compacted which might cause the top layer to break apart sooner over time. Just take care to watch the patch level, adding a little more aggregate as you go. On the flip side, if you add too much aggregate, you'll end up with a bump on your driveway. If it looks like you've got too much, use your hoe or flat shovel to scrape some of it away before it's completely compacted. Don't worry though, you'll be fine. It's like filling a hole in your yard with dirt and adding just enough dirt that it levels out flush with the rest of the ground when it rains.

Are you done pounding already?? You can probably pound a little more... The more compact the pothole patch is, the better it will hold up later. Repeat this process for all of the potholes in your driveway. If you have any leftover, you can save it until next time but keep in mind that the oils in the aggregate will dry up and break down over time once the air reaches it, along with any exposure to prolonged freezing. The shelf-life of cold asphalt patch is usually around 3-6 months if it's been opened and 8-12 months if it's still sealed in the bag. You might get a little more shelf-life if you can put it into a seal-able 5-gallon bucket.

If you have a bunch of potholes in your pavement that need attention, and you have a few extra bucks lying around, you might consider renting a vibrating plate compactor instead of using a pothole tamper. The more compact the asphalt aggregate is, the longer it will hold up and a vibratory plate compactor works perfectly for this job. Plus it saves you some back work from the manual tamping. The rental of a plate compactor will run you about $50 - $100 a day, depending on where you go.

Alligator Asphalt Driveway Repair

Let's find out if you need to repair alligator cracks in your asphalt:
1) Do you have tiny cracks that make up a bunch of squares or rectangular shapes on your driveway?
2) Do the cracks look like a spider web?

If you answered yes to either of these, continue reading. Otherwise, skip to the sunken hole section.

Alligator Asphalt Repair Materials
To repair alligator cracks in your blacktop asphalt driveway, you'll need alligator patch material, sealcoat sealer, and a squeegee or asphalt brush. Note that we do mention sealcoat sealer. We highly recommend sealcoating over the alligator patch. The patch is designed to fill in and level the surface of the asphalt, but it still needs a good sealer to protect it.

  • Alligator asphalt patch is very similar to regular cold pour crack fill materials, but it contains more solids and dries "harder" than the regular crack fill material, making it a perfect product for alligator cracks. If you can find alligator-patch at your local lumber they may not have competitive pricing so I'll mention that we sell our own special blend of contractor-grade alligator asphalt material which has become extremely popular among contractors and it's perfect too for DIY homeowners.
  • Technisoil TrowelPave Patch is another option for filling large alligator cracks however it requires a little more work than using our BIG A alligator patch.  As the name says, TrowelPave can be troweled into the cracks but the larger 1/4" aggregate might prevent it from going into smaller cracks.  Just keep this in mind if you're shopping between the two products.
  • Asphalt Squeegees can be used for several different materials, but you'll definitely want one to repair alligator asphalt. If you plan to sealcoat later, you can use the same squeegee for both. Squeegees come in a handful of sizes, usually starting at 24". If you're on a budget, the 24" will work fine but if you want to get done a bit faster and don't mind spending a little extra, there's a 36" model or 48" model you can pick up. For a DIY homeowner, you really don't need anything fancy, so we recommend just going for the 24" or 36" straight blade squeegees.
  • Asphalt sealcoat sealer can be purchased at your local hardware store or through us. Of course, we're going to recommend our sealer over our competitors but two things we'd like to note about ours vs the competitors: 1) We use clay-slate instead of sand for abrasive properties and bonding. 2) By volume, we use more solids and less water which gives you a thicker, longer-lasting coat of sealer.

How much alligator patch material do I need?
On average, you can figure to get about 20 square feet per gallon (20 sq. ft. / gal) for a 1/8" to 1/4" overlay. Most homeowners probably won't need more than a 5-gallon bucket or two but if you do have a lot of alligator cracks in your driveway, you'll need to do some serious measurements and calculations to come up with the right amount.

Alligator Asphalt Repair Instructions
Repairing alligator asphalt is VERY easy:

  1. Pour a fair amount of alligator patch in the middle of the repair area.
  2. Using your asphalt squeegee, spread the material out over the alligator cracks leaving about a 1/8" to 1/4" layer of material
  3. Pour additional material as needed until finished.
  4. Squeegee the material about a foot or two away from the repair area, smoothing it out and transitioning to the good asphalt.

That's it! Do this across all of the various areas needing alligator crack repairs on your driveway.

Note 1) Allow enough time to dry, usually several hours (thicker or deeper areas like dips and birdbaths will need more time). You can tell when the material is dry when it's no longer squishy. In some climates, thicker applications might slightly crack over a few days time. A second very light coat will be enough to remedy this.

Note 2) If you need a textured surface for sidewalks or heavy foot traffic areas, use a medium bristled brush broom and lightly pull the broom toward you. You might want to pick up a cheap throw-away head from the lumber store for this step.

Bird Bath and Sink Hole Asphalt Driveway Repair

Let's find out if you have bird baths or sinkholes:
1) Do you have "dips" in your asphalt that are 1-2 inches deep and they collect a little bit of rainwater for the birds to play in? You have Bird Baths
2) Do you have large depressions in your asphalt that are greater than 2" in-depth? You have Sink Holes

Bird Baths

Bird Bath Materials
If you have birdbaths (depressions 1 - 2 inches deep) then you can use our alligator patch as a repair material, then sealcoat over it once it has dried.

Bird Bath Repair Instructions
To repair a birdbath, take the alligator patch and pour just a little bit into the center of the birdbath. You will want to smooth the patch out so you have about 1/4" thick of material in the birdbath. Let this dry long enough that it is no longer spongy. This can be a couple of hours or it may take a full day depending on temperature and humidity. Once the first layer has dried, repeat the procedure by adding 1/4" of material at a time until you build it up enough to be level with the surrounding surface. Once the patch is level, sealcoat over the area to seal the patch and surrounding asphalt.

Sink Holes

Sink Hole Materials
Sinkholes that are deeper than approximately 2" will need pothole patch.

Sink Hole Repair Instructions
If the sinkhole hasn't cracked yet or there is only a ring around the sinkhole that has formed as a crack, continue reading. If the sinkhole has cracks through the middle of it and there is clearly a separation of the asphalt, we recommend removing those chunks of asphalt with a pry bar and then treat the sinkhole like an actual pothole. (See pothole section above)

Sinkholes are kind of their own animal... While you do repair a sinkhole in the same way as a pothole (see above) these methods are sometimes not always effective. The deeper the hole, the better off you'll be but if it is a fairly shallow sinkhole, the patch may not have enough "bite" to stay intact and it will end up undoing itself if there is a lot of traffic over the sinkhole area. Using a vibratory plate compactor or roller vs a pothole tamp to compact the patch will ensure that it lasts longer.

The one difference between a sinkhole over a pothole is that we do not recommend adding any sand or gravel to bring up the base foundation. Just dump in the pothole patch and go to town.

If you want to "properly" fix a sinkhole, the absolute best method is to cut out the sinkhole with an asphalt saw and remove the bad asphalt. Build the foundation back up to the same level as the surrounding base, then fill it in with pothole patch. This method isn't for the faint of heart though and will probably require renting some equipment from your local hardware rental store.