Thursday, 11 June 2020 12:13

Unusual Rodent Engine Problem Has Suddenly Become 'Super Common'

Written by Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press
Wild rat file photo.  Wild rat file photo.  Anatoly Pareev, Getty Images/iStockphoto


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

The critter crawled up in the wheel well of a parked car, made his way over the brakes and up into the engine. Most rodents would stop there, it's a nice nesting spot. But this fella had other plans.


He kept going until he was inside the dashboard and couldn't get out. There, he died (I didn't say it would be a happy story.)


The rancid and revolting odor compelled the car owner to bring it to Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, where service technicians made the unsavory discovery.


"Usually, you find a wiring harness for the engine or the fuel injection system that is all chewed up," said Avis Ford's Service Manager Larry Sirgany. "We’ll find a car that’s been sitting for a couple weeks and it will have a big nasty nest in there too."


Over the years, Sirgany has found plenty of flora and fauna in car engines. There are grass and twig nests and dead---sometimes alive---vermin and lots of chewed wires. The resulting damage is costly to fix.


But this spring, amid the stay home order during the coronavirus pandemic, the rodent ruination to engines has been exceptionally high in some places.


"I’ve seen a solid dozen to 15 cars with damage in the last six weeks," Sirgany said. "Typically, I would have two per month this time of year."


In fact, an April 30 report in the New York Times said a dealership out East had five people call in one week to complain of rats living in their car engine.


One couple got an alert of engine trouble while driving and remembered seeing a rat scurry across their driveway as they left. So the couple returned home, opened the hood to find animal feces and urine all over the engine, as well as sticks, leaves and small bones.


An employee at the couple's service center said such incidents have become “all of a sudden super common” within “the past two or three weeks," the Times reported.


Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of unusual or aggressive rat behavior caused, in part, by many restaurants shutting down during the pandemic. Rodents depend a lot on the tossed-out food scraps from restaurants.


Now the varmints are searching elsewhere for food and your engine could be it. Some car brands, such as Toyota, use soy-coated wiring, which can be a delicious treat to a rodent.  


Also, in cold weather, a car is a source of heat for mice, rats, squirrels, woodchucks and opossums. That's usually the time of year when Sirgany sees the most engine damage. The creatures crawl in the engine to keep warm and chew on the car's wiring while in there, wrecking havoc on the electrical system.


"Typically, they can get fairly time consuming to do a repair---at least two to four hours putting it all back together," Sirgany said. "So it’s a $400 to $600 repair."


The cost typically does not exceed a person's deductible, so it's usually an out-of-pocket expense, he said. 


There is also a possible danger. If a mouse makes a grass nest, typically the size of a baseball or a golf ball, it could possibly start on fire, some experts warn. 

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