If you're going to install a gravel driveway rather than an asphalt driveway or a concrete one, you'll save money in the short run, but your maintenance costs may end up being higher in the long run. A gravel driveway needs maintenance every year and sometimes more often than that. Potholes are inevitable, and poor drainage can create ruts and even cause washouts on sloped ground. It's a good idea to form a friendship with a neighbor who has a tractor or large pickup equipped with a scraper, but you won't always have to test that friendship because you can handle some of these issues on your own.
Potholes and Low Spots
A driveway filled with potholes can seriously shorten the life of your vehicle's tires, and if there are a lot of them, it may be time to call your neighbor with the scraper (or a contractor) to regrade the driveway. You'll also need the scraper to smooth out washboard, another common problem. If you have a shovel and aren't afraid to use it, however, it's within your power to fix a pothole or maybe even a few by yourself.
The first thing to do is scrape all the gravel out of the pothole and then widen the hole with a shovel and steepen the edges so the area will hold gravel. Fill the bottom with new gravel — preferably 1/4- or 1/2-inch angular drain rock — to a depth of about 3 inches below grade, as recommended by Palmen Dodge Chrysler Jeep of Racine. Tamp it down with a hand tamper, add more and tamp again. Continue until you've filled the hole almost to grade. Finish off by backfilling with dirt to make a small mound and then wet the mound with water and drive over it with your car to compress it.
Water Runoff on a Gravel Driveway
Erosion caused by water runoff is one of the main problems that affects a gravel driveway. If water is allowed to flow down the middle of the driveway, it creates ruts that are as hard on car tires as potholes, and it displaces gravel to the sides of the driveway, exposing the surface of the driveway to even more erosion. Runoff is especially problematic on a steep driveway, but you can forestall major damage with regular driveway maintenance.
It's better to address runoff on a regular basis by raking gravel back into place every week or so (especially in rainy weather) than it is to wait until you have to make major repairs. Braen Stone recommends adding fresh crushed gravel periodically and raking it into low spots as well as building up the center of the driveway with coarse gravel to encourage water to run off to the sides.
How to Handle Drainage Issues
No amount of maintenance can stop water from following the lay of the land, and whenever the slope of a driveway makes a perpendicular shift in the direction of travel (as with a 90-degree turn), water will flow across the driveway and create a gulley. The usual remedy is to place a culvert—or a pipe used for water flow—under the driveway, which usually happens when the driveway is constructed, but culverts have a habit of filling with loose stones, branches and other debris and backing up, and this produces flooding and water flowing across the driveway surface.
Part of an effective maintenance routine is to clear the culverts by poking a length of wood into one side followed by a jet of water from a garden hose to wash debris to the other side. Country Roads Paving recommends purchasing a culvert cleaning tool, which screws onto a long handle and allows you to extract material.
Building up the center of a gravel drive to encourage water to drain off to the sides may produce flooding in the surrounding landscape. In such cases, ditches or trenches filled with coarse gravel may be needed to direct water to an appropriate runoff area. For lawns or other flat areas, French drains with underground drainage pipe may be necessary. On a steep driveway with a runoff problem, the best solution is often to install a drainage grate across the driveway to catch water and direct it into a ditch. If gravel loss is a recurring problem, the remedy might be to install pavers or netting under the gravel to help hold it in place, as suggested by Home Logic.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.