As pavement systems primarily fail due to fatigue (in a manner similar to metals), the damage done to pavement increases with the fourth power of the axle load of the vehicles traveling on it. According to the AASHO Road Test, heavily loaded trucks can do more than 10,000 times the damage done by a normal passenger car. Tax rates for trucks are higher than those for cars in most countries for this reason, though they are not levied in proportion to the damage done. Passenger cars are considered to have little practical effect on a pavement's service life, from a materials fatigue perspective.
Other failure modes include aging and surface abrasion. As years go by, the binder in a bituminous wearing course gets stiffer and less flexible. When it gets "old" enough, the surface will start losing aggregates, and macrotexture depth increases dramatically. If no maintenance action is done quickly on the wearing course, potholes will form. The freeze-thaw cycle in cold climates will dramatically accelerate pavement deterioration, once water can penetrate the surface.
If the road is still structurally sound, a bituminous surface treatment, such as a chipseal or surface dressing can prolong the life of the road at low cost. In areas with cold climate, studded tires may be allowed on passenger cars. In Sweden and Finland, studded passenger car tires account for a very large share of pavement rutting.
The physical properties of a stretch of pavement can be tested using a falling weight deflectometer.
Several design methods have been developed to determine the thickness and composition of road surfaces required to carry predicted traffic loads for a given period of time. Pavement design methods are continuously evolving. Among these are the Shell Pavement design method, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) 1993 "Guide for Design of Pavement Structures". A new mechanistic-empirical design guide has been under development by NCHRP (Called Superpave Technology) since 1998. A new design guide called Mechanistic Empirical Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG) was developed and is about to be adopted by AASHTO.
Further research by University College London into pavements has led to the development of an indoor, 80-sq-metre artificial pavement at a research centre called Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA). It is used to simulate everyday scenarios, from different pavement users to varying pavement conditions. There also exists a research facility near Auburn University, the NCAT Pavement Test Track, that is used to test experimental asphalt pavements for durability.
In addition to repair costs, the condition of a road surface has economic effects for road users. Rolling resistance increases on rough pavement, as does wear and tear of vehicle components. It has been estimated that poor road surfaces cost the average US driver $324 per year in vehicle repairs, or a total of $67 billion. Also, it has been estimated that small improvements in road surface conditions can decrease fuel consumption between 1.8 and 4.7%.