Fighting Vehicular Rodent Damage

Yep, it can happen to you, too

Nobody believed my tale of woe.

Although I had described the carnage inflicted on my SUV (as it sat peacefully in my garage awaiting completion of a project in progress), they apparently didn't fully appreciate the true extent of it all. Until I lifted the hood and showed them, that is. The gathering of dark brown pellet-sized droppings around the well-gnarled wiring harness left them no doubt that I indeed, was the victim of a Vermin Vandal!

Nibble, Nibble

Yes, just one smallish and otherwise average field rat of voracious appetite (and rather perceptive aim) was all it took to render my stalwart off-road rig immobile. It managed to chew about halfway through the 50-odd wires of the main fuel injection wiring harness. And this creature didn't just sever the wires, but actually chomped out two- to three-inch sections, which were nowhere to be found at the scene. It was a good thing for me that the vehicle was insured because the repair estimate the adjuster put together totaled nearly $2000!

Having had experience with such happenings in the past, I wasn't as surprised as my friends were. We live in a large urban area, and while such things are not as common as in the rurals, there are certain sections where "ratfestation" is a problem. For the most part, the local squirrels, rats and mice seem to peacefully coexist with automobiles. The worst they'll generally create under the hood are nests, food storage caches, and-always meriting dishonorable mention-those inevitable pellets. Providing, of course, that they are getting enough food from other sources. (For instance, we have one friend who lives in the country, with numerous gopher holes surrounding his house, and his vehicle suffered from similar cases of rodent revenge.)

Good rodents can go bad, though, (especially rats) when the pickings get slim, or when other motivating factors exist. Then, any vehicle within reach is fair game. So, the question is, "What can be done to minimize the potential for attack, and subsequent damage to my pocketbook-"

Proactive Approach

The proactive approach starts with understanding that rodents, as with other feral and domestic animals, operate on instinct. Those instincts seem to be focused on the need to find food and shelter. A parked vehicle can provide both.

Secondly, one must understand that an ideal rodent habitat is one that provides consistent shelter from natural enemies as well as weather extremes. Although frequently used vehicles don't really match this description, if they are parked near such a habitat, they may fall victim to the dreaded nighttime vermin sortie.

The logical conclusion to implementing a successful anti-rodent plan would be to take steps to make your vehicle a less attractive target, and to park it as far away from rodent habitats as possible. But how does one do that?

No Free Lunch

First, make sure there are no free lunches. A rodent has a very keen sense of smell, and follows it's nose with persistence until the meal is found. You might think that just rolling up the windows and closing outside vents would be enough to interrupt this process. Well, it helps, but no passenger vehicle is designed to be airtight. Eliminating any and all sources of scents that spell "Dine Here" to these critters is what will go the farthest toward keeping them out of your vehicle. That means anything that is considered food for humans or animals and is not in an unopened can or bottle.

The biggest bogey in this area, by far, is the typical fast food remnants. Were talking anything from the obvious, like stray French fries, burger bits, and drink spillage on carpet and upholstery, to unopened (yes, unopened) condiment packages-especially sauces.

Diligence is required to achieve success here, as there are plenty of nooks and crannies-especially under seats and around floor-mounted components-that can give shelter to such morsels. If you travel with kids frequently, we empathize.

Beyond that, it also helps to have the vehicle cleaned inside and out with some regularity. If you're not particularly into that, I highly recommend paying someone who is. You'll save in the long run.

Now that you've taken the steps you can to make your vehicle an unattractive rodent habitat, let's see what you can do about the area surrounding where the vehicle is parked.

Park Place

Ivy beds, poorly maintained palm trees, long-standing piles of building materials, abandoned large appliances, and neglected vehicles all make for excellent rodent habitats. Unless you have predators with abilities to follow the vermin into such places (snakes, birds of prey, and cats, for instance), they will pretty much be able to move about unchecked around such a habitat.

To check them, predators could be introduced, putting the circle-of-life/food-chain cycle into motion. Other abatement technologies can be used, but serious drawbacks are inherent in methods such as traps and poison. As you can imagine, this is especially true if small children are about.

The easiest, safest, and least belligerent way to deal with this problem is to just remove the habitat. It's probably not going to be the cheapest. Having the palm trees trimmed, or installing landscaping in place of the ivy might get a little pricey. And if none of the problem areas are actually on your property, it will require an exercise of diplomacy with the owners of said property before a remedy could be reasonably implemented.

Even after taking all of these precautions, your vehicle still might become a vermin's victim. While there may no longer be anything you'd consider as edible-or worth chewing for any reason-about your vehicle, the rodent may have other ideas.

They do seem to have a penchant for chewing certain types of plastic, and rubber commonly found under most hoods. Primary wiring, such as my 4Runner's Fuel Injection wiring harness, and common windshield washer tubing are high on their list, according to my experience.

At that point, the only thing that will help is carrying comprehensive coverage with a relatively low deductible on your vehicle's insurance policy. It can be very well worth it, as my surprised friends can now attest.

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