Rats and rodents more and more nest in parked vehicles amid coronavirus

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There was once a little mouse that caused a big problem.

The animal crawled into the wheel arch of a parked car, over the brakes and into the engine. Most rodents would stop there, it’s a nice nesting place. But this guy had other plans.

He kept walking until he was in the dashboard and couldn’t get out. There he died (I didn’t say it would be a happy story). The rancid and repulsive smell forced the car owner to take it to Avis Ford in Southfield, where service technicians made the unsavory discovery.

Photo of the wild rat file. (Photo: Anatoly Pareev, Getty Images / iStockphoto)

“You can usually find an engine or fuel injection system harness that’s completely chewed up,” said Larry Sirgany, Avis Ford service director. “We’re going to find a car that’s been standing for a couple of weeks, and it’s going to be a big bad one Have a nest. “

Over the years, Sirgany has found a lot of flora and fauna in car engines. There are grass and twig nests and dead – sometimes living – bugs and lots of chewed wires. The resulting damage is expensive to repair.

But this spring, amid order at home during the coronavirus pandemic, engine destruction by rodents in some places was exceptionally high.

“I’ve seen a solid dozen to 15 damaged cars in the past six weeks,” said Sirgany. “I usually have two a month this time of year.”

Hundreds in repairs

An April 30 report in the New York Times said a car dealership in the east called five people in a week to complain about rats living in their car engine. A couple became aware of engine problems while driving and remembered a rat darting across the driveway as they exited. So the couple returned home, opened the hood, and found animal droppings and urine, sticks, leaves, and small bones all over the engine.

A staff member at the couple’s service center said such incidents had become “suddenly very common,” the Times reported in “the past two or three weeks.”

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of unusual or aggressive rat behavior, partly caused by the closings of many restaurants during the pandemic. Rodents are heavily dependent on the scraps of food being thrown away from restaurants.

Now the varmints are looking for food elsewhere and your engine might be. Some brands of cars, such as Toyota, use soy coated cables, which can be a delicious treat for rodents.

More: Rats can’t resist the wiring in newer cars: here’s why

More: The judge is filing a lawsuit against Toyota for rats gnawing at the car’s wiring

In cold weather, a car is also a source of heat for mice, rats, squirrels, woodchucks, and possums. This is usually the time of year Sirgany sees the most engine failure. The creatures crawl into the engine to keep warm and chew on the car’s wires while they’re in there, which ruins the electrical system.

Larry Sirgany, service manager at Avis Ford in Southfield, has seen an increase in engine damage from rodents during the stay amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Terrence Myers)

“Usually it can be quite time-consuming to repair – at least 2 to 4 hours to put everything back together,” said Sirgany. “So it’s a $ 400 to $ 600 repair.”

The cost usually doesn’t exceed a person’s deductible, so it’s usually out of the box, he said.

There is also a potential danger. If a mouse builds a nest of grass, usually the size of a baseball or golf ball, it could potentially catch fire, some experts warn.

“Staring right at me”

The good news is usually that the rodents stay away from cars by the time spring rolls around because there is more activity outdoors.

“This is not the case with COVID this year,” said Sirgany. “The cars were so quiet, they’re parked, they don’t smell like people, and they get pretty attractive to a rodent.”

Albert Heber of Indiana owned a Toyota Tundra in 2012 and had rodents chew its soy-based insulated cables three times, the first time in 2013. The total damage was approximately $ 1,500 – damage not covered by Toyota lawyer Brian Kabateck would fall. (Photo: Albert Heber)

Most customers are alerted to a problem by a warning light that indicates an engine problem. The rodent’s damage will disrupt the car’s wiring system, but it doesn’t usually paralyze the car, Sirgany said.

The customer takes the car to the dealership and then the Sirgany team opens the hood to diagnose the problem. Usually he finds the clues, maybe branches or leaves, sometimes followed by a surprise.

“Every now and then the animal still lives in the car,” said Sirgany. “The last one was four years ago. It was a woodchuck staring straight at me and it wasn’t even interested in leaving.”

Sirgany gently closed the hood and called wildlife experts to safely remove the woodchuck, also known as the groundhog.

Polish the pearly whites

But even in vehicles that use petroleum-based cables, cars attract rodents simply because they are dark, provide shelter, and provide opportunities for dental hygiene, said a rat expert at the University of Michigan.

“All rodents have these ever-growing teeth and must chew on things to keep them from getting long,” said Ben Dantzer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. He studies mice, squirrels and rats to learn how to make decisions.

In his years studying rodents captured from the wild, Dantzer is certain of one thing: They have big smiles.

“You never find a wild squirrel with screwed teeth,” said Dantzer. “But rats used in biomedical research have long teeth and are out of control because they haven’t had anything heavy to chew on.”

In the wild, rodents constantly chew on rocks and trees to keep their teeth worn and sharp, Dantzer said. If they didn’t, they could die of overgrown teeth blocking their jaws.

“So under the hood of a car it’s a nice place to sleep, and you have all of those wires close by and you have to chew and grit your teeth to chew on them,” Dantzer said. “Then the wiring of the car is short-circuited.”

He is not surprised at the increase in rodents nesting in car engines during the pandemic.

“It’s not a situation where we have this burgeoning population of squirrels and rats,” Dantzer said. “It’s a crime of opportunity, you have all these stationary vehicles.”

Dogs, cats and talk radio

Now that you know everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about the rodent lifestyle, there are many ways you can keep your car safe from pests.

The most obvious thing to do is to drive it on a daily basis as, unlike our mouse or Sirgany’s woodchuck, most rodents jump out of the engine and don’t return once the car is in regular motion.

Leaving it outside also makes it less appealing.

“If I’m a squirrel or a chipmunk and the car is outside in the sun, it’s a less attractive item because the garage is dark and sheltered,” said Dantzer. “I could park my car in the driveway because it’s easier for dogs to run around outdoors and everywhere.”

Here are some other suggestions from the experts:

  • Spray commercially available rodent repellant around the lower perimeter of the vehicle and wheel arches.
  • Peppermint oil sprayed around the car will also work.
  • Some automakers make duct tape with chili oil on it. It wraps around cords and has a disgusting taste to rodents.
  • Keep bird feeders out, because “Bird feeders not only feed birds, they also feed rats,” Dantzer said.
  • There are moving false owls or scarecrows that scare off rodents.
  • Take a look at the car every day, open the door and hood, light up the engine.
  • Cats and dogs are predators, so you can leave them in the garage for a while if the temperature is safe for them.
  • Set traps near the front wheel well where rodents can enter.

It also helps to think like a rodent. Sirgany keeps a vintage car in the warehouse and always has a radio on.

“The noise seems to be working very well,” said Sirgany. “I keep it on talk radio so that, from a rodent’s point of view, a human is always there.”

If you happen to open the hood and see a rodent, you won’t remember the 1971 cult horror film “Willard”. They won’t rave about and eat you alive.

“They won’t jump on you; They won’t attack you, “said Dantzer.” But if squirrels ever found out that we were just as afraid of them as we were, they could do serious harm. “

Contact Jamie L. LaReau: 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Sign up for our Cars newsletter.

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