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Rodents Cause Car Damage, Really!

Dumber than a Rat: Preamble

I hope you enjoy the essay “Dumber than a Rat.” But there is a serious side to the car damage that pack rats and other rodents inflict each year. Apparently they like to eat the wiring insulation and other rubberized components in the engine compartment. When they eat through the wiring , this often causes a short circuit in whatever engine part those wires control, and also damage to the very expensive computer chips that are at the heart of car electronics these days. This simple act of rodent vandalism (See also Rodent Graffiti) causes thousands, maybe millions, of dollars in damage every year.

You can tell if your car is at risk by opening the engine compartment and looking for signs of stray plant material or other scraps of things that shouldn’t be there. Pack rats do exactly what their name suggests. They gather stuff up, bring it back to their nests, and keep it long after their friends or spouses think it has any useful purpose. They collect all sorts of things, and seem to have a particular affinity for pieces of cactus, any kind of shiny object, and old vinyl Frank Sinatra albums. Car engines make for nice warm nesting places, and excellent places to keep the collection.

So what’s the solution? Well, I have tried nearly everything. But the most promising approach so far is to cut up strips of metal screen door mesh and wrap this around the exposed wires, using duct tape to secure it. The rats might nibble on the duct tape. (Make sure you use duct tape without flavoring.) But they stop when they get to the metal mesh. I believe this method is so useful, that car dealerships should offer this as a service, particularly as many wires that need to be protected are hard to get at for the average car owner. And car manufacturers should begin changing their engine designs to thwart rodent damage. It would be easy and inexpensive. And there is no reason why these wires can’t be better protected from the beginning of the car's life. Another car component subject to this threat is the tubing that connects your windshield washer fluid. And there may be others. So do what you can to protect yourself. And ask your car mechanic to help out with the rest.

Good luck.

Mark Friedman
Santa Fe, New Mexico
January, 2009 
[email protected]