Cracked pavement is a fact of life. We see it everywhere we go in daily life, from driving on the interstate to walking on a pedestrian path — or even pulling up on our own driveway. What most people don’t know is that there are several different types of cracking that can occur asphalt pavement installations. Not only that — it’s actually possible to tell what’s wrong with the pavement based on the size, shape and pattern of the cracks.

So what are the most common types of asphalt cracking? More importantly, if you see any of these types of cracking on your home or business pavement, how serious is the problem? What can be done to correct it?

1. Block Cracks

Often caused by the shrinkage of asphalt (which frequently occurs in areas with radical temperature changes) block cracks are so-called because they form rectangles or “blocks” of cracks along the surface of the pavement. The solution for this type of cracking will depend on the severity of the damage. If the cracks are contained and relatively small, they can be professional sealed. If the network of cracks is wider and deeper, other asphalt repair methods (including resurfacing) may become necessary.

2. Alligator Cracks

This type of cracking is more serious, and is usually associated with structural failures or installation errors. It’s called “alligator cracking” because it resembles the skin of an alligator, forming a network of cracks that almost look like scales, and the problem is often in the base or sub-base layers. The solution for this type of cracking is usually more intensive, involving milling or reclamation processes to stabilize and renew the pavement.

3. Slippage Cracks

Pavement is often resurfaced, wherein a fresh layer of asphalt is laid over an existing, fatigued layer. But this process requires a high degree of skill and professionalism, and when it isn’t done right, the result can be a slippage between layers of pavement, which results in a series of cracks that look like crescent moons. A method known as asphalt patching is the most common remedy for this type of problem.

4. Linear Cracks

This type of cracking usually runs down the middle or center of the pavement installation, and is usually due to stress over time. Mistakes during installation, and/or the use of a poor-quality asphalt mix, can also lead to this type of problem. As with block cracking, the solution is varied and will depend on the severity of the cracks.

Finding a professional solution

While there are solutions that can be purchased at home goods stores and used to repair cracks, they almost never address underlying issues. To really understand why your pavement is cracking up — and to solve the problem comprehensively — it may be necessary to have an assessment from a fully qualified asphalt specialist. Of course, homeowners should also be concerned about misinformation and disreputable contractors. For this reason, it’s wise to seek assessments from two or three different contractors in order to make sure you’re getting the correct information and best options for repair.