Rodents. They make cute pets for the kids. They run through mazes or spin cages and eat and evacuate everywhere they go. That's OK in their cages. It becomes a problem when they move into a vehicle, which they love to do.
Mice, rats, squirrels and even opossums have been known to take up residence in local cars and trucks. Maybe they like hidden nooks and crannies available to them in the modern car. Mice love to get into the air conditioning ductwork inside the dash boards of cars. hey then have their own little runways back and forth from one side to the other, and find neat little nooks to make nests and have babies. Then someone starts the car and turns on the air conditioning system, and the opening and closing doors of the system catch and hold one of them. For a while the driver only notices a lack of air flow. Then a day or two later the smell begins. It is horrible.
Everyone in the car repair business has been confronted with the results at one time or another. There is no easy way to remove a dead rodent from a vehicle. It requires disassembling things to locate them, removing the remains, and cleaning the residue. It's a terrible job, and many people simply cannot bring themselves to do it. The good news is that most insurance policies will cover the expense, if you can find someone to do it.
The expense can be very high, because they can cause a lot of damage while they're in there. Mice and rats like to chew on the plastic insulation of the wiring in the car. They strip enough insulation from the wires until the bare wires touch, shorting out multiple circuits, possibly ruining computers, or even starting fires. They also forage for nesting material by ripping insulation from under the hood, among other places, and eat their way into foam rubber cushions for more material. We have found paper, cloth, foam and other materials stuffed into air conditioning vents to make these nests. I once opened the hood on my wife's car and was confronted with a massive nest which included all of the insulation from the hood and several banana leaves, all packed between the engine and the firewall. The car had been driven only two days earlier. I believe it was a squirrel nest. I've had a disagreement with the family of squirrels, who live in my oak tree, about who is in charge here. They're convinced they own the tree, the bird feeders, the house, and apparently even our car. I disagree, of course.
We once had a nice shiny pick-up truck in our shop overnight. The next morning we found the lower part of the front fender was horribly scratched. A mechanic had left his dog in our shop overnight, and he had detected a family of mice living inside the fender of the truck, and tried scratch his way in to get them. It cost me a paint job.
We have had many repair jobs involving damage done by rodents, sometimes only requiring a little electrical work on a few wires, sometimes complete wiring harness replacements. The latter can easily go into thousands of dollars. Remember to check with your insurance in these cases. It is probably covered.
As for a way to avoid this occurrence, your guess is as good as mine. I've tried different ways to get them to leave peacefully or otherwise, with little success. Traps, noise makers, odor dispensers, poison, nothing seems to work. If any of you have had success, I'd love to hear about it.
-Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, www.thecarcareworld.com, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to www.dehaysauto.com or facebook.com/DeHays-Automotive.