Maintaining your driveway not only makes your property look better, but it also prevents more serious problems down the road.

It’s something that’s a major part of most homes, but it’s also something you probably don’t think about often: your driveway.

“It’s so important to maintain your driveway," says Barry McCarty, who owns McCarty's Sealcoating in Columbia with his wife, Terry. “People park and drive on their driveways, and they probably don’t think about all the wear and tear.”

McCarty recommends resealing your driveway every two to three years.

“Most people want to do it every two years,” he says. “They want to keep that nice black new look.”

McCarty’s company hand-brushes the coating and he says it results in a longer-lasting coat.

Driveway damage

A variety of factors can affect the look and quality of your driveway, he notes.

“Especially here in the Northeast, the winters are brutal on asphalt,” he says. “We have a lot of freezing and thawing. Asphalt contracts and expands. When it freezes, it lifts up and when it thaws, in comes back down. Some people can actually see the changes in their driveway.”

Salt is also hard on driveways.

“People put salt down for de-icing, and that’s really tough on asphalt,” McCarty says. “And, if you have someone plowing your driveway in the winter and they scrape it up, that can cause problems, too. If you have a seal on it, it’s less likely to start falling apart.”

Sealing your driveway can prevent other problems as well, he says.

“If you have an oil leak on a sealed driveway, the seal will protect the driveway and it will be easy to clean up,” he says. “If you don't have a good seal, leaking fluids like transmission or power steering fluid can make puddles, which can eventually turn into potholes.”

In addition to sealing, McCarty’s company will also treat issues where the driveway meets the garage.

“We have waterproof caulk that we’ll put down so if there’s a freeze and then it melts, it prevents water from possibly getting in your basement,” he says.

Additionally, his crew will fill cracks and look for other issues on the driveway.

When to replace

“When we see driveways that are 25 to 30 years old, we tell the homeowner, don't waste your money sealing,” he says. “It’s time to replace the driveway at that point and get it repaved.”

That's where someone like Jim Townsley Jr., one of the owners of Jim's Paving in Lancaster, comes in.

His company handles paving and resealing.

“Your driveway can only be sealed for so long,” he says. “Over time, your driveway will develop cracks and sealing can’t really help once the driveway is really cracked. Sealing is doing nothing but making the driveway black. You’re just painting your driveway.”

Townsley says the average driveway has a lifespan of 20 to 30 years and that homeowners can look for signs it’s time for some work on their driveway.

“If your driveway has turned to a gray color, that means all the oil in the asphalt has dried out of it,” he says. “When tar dries out, it becomes very brittle and begins to crack. You want to reseal as preventable maintenance before that happens if you can.”

Little cracks can be sealed, he says, but if your driveway is very unlevel or has major cracks, it needs to be replaced.

A driveway that’s in good condition matters not just for the aesthetics, he says.

“If your driveway settles and it’s uneven, it could be a tripping hazard,” he says. “If pieces of the asphalt have come up, that can cause underground issues, including water getting into your house and that can lead to structural damage of your house.”

A nice driveway adds a lot of curb appeal to a home, he says, but it requires maintenance.

“You could have a really nice home, nice landscaping, but if your driveway looks bad, that can affect how the rest of the yard and house looks,” he says. “But even more importantly, a driveway that hasn't been taken care of can damage other areas of your home.”

McCarty charges about $125 to $150 for a one-car average-length driveway and $200 to $250 for a two-car driveway.

Townsley's rates start at $2.50 per square foot up to $5 per square foot for paving, although he also offers tar chip paving.

“A lot of people are going back to tar chip, which gives your driveway an old-fashioned look and is a fraction of the cost of asphalt,” he says, noting that it runs 75 cents to $1 per square foot.

It may seem like a lot of money to spend, but Townsley emphasizes that it’s an investment.

“If you take care of your driveway, you're only going to have to worry about it every few years and it will last 30 years,” he says. “By keeping up with the maintenance, you'll save yourself a lot of money in the long run.”