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From: Jon Koplik1/15/2024 4:19:58 PM
   of 139
 
WSJ -- Professor Wages Epic Battle Against Rats Attacking His Car ..............................

Jan. 12, 2024

A New York Professor Wages Epic Battle Against Rats Attacking His Car

From hot sauce to hiding, desperate auto owners are trying everything to keep critters from chewing expensive wiring. ‘They will find you.’

By Ginger Adams Otis

Tom Marion, a theater professor at the City University of New York, is a survivor of roughly four rodent invasions of his car, which he parks in a city that is home to an estimated two million rats.

It can feel like he’s tried as many tricks to defend his ride.

The 62-year-old Manhattanite has wrapped his ignition wires in minty tape, doused garlic-scented potion on his engine, and he purposely parks in a different spot each night, trying to stay a whisker ahead of the enemy.

It is as if his car is made out of cheese.

“They will find you,” he says, of rats. “And they all know each other and they talk to each other.”

Rodents have long ravaged automobiles, and anecdotal reports of critter-on-car B & Es rose in the pandemic, which reduced driving, a pattern that persisted. But skyrocketing now is the wild world of remedies being touted to confounded drivers, especially in cold weather when your stationary sedan can become a flop house for vagrant varmints.

“Help. I have rats in my car and they are destroying everything,” said a December Reddit post, one of many like it, that drew more than 150 replies, including tips to stick bars of Irish Spring soap in the cabin, center console and trunk; “pee next to the car”; spray ammonia near the wheels; place dryer sheets under the hood and seats, or take the nuclear option: “In a few weeks your best option will likely be to set the car on fire and claim insurance,” said one suggestion.

Arizona photographic artist Steve Love suspects a chipmunk snacked through about $700 of wiring in his dad’s Ford Explorer in November. Before that, a rabbit, he suspects, nearly chomped through battery cables and some blinker wiring on the same car.

Love, 59, investigated purported deterrents, including a motion-sensor strobe light, but found a simpler fix.

He props the vehicle hood open every night and secures it with a bungee cord to keep the wind from closing it. The idea? Deprive critters a getaway.

“That way the rodent won’t feel safe in the engine compartment,” he says.

The insurance industry is estimated to have paid out in more than 91,700 car-damage claims caused by rodents, squirrels, and rabbits nationally between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023, according to a recent analysis by State Farm.

After a recent relaxing night on a Hawaii beach, Davarus Shores jumped into his 2003 gold Infiniti to return home to Honolulu -- ­only to have the car die within minutes.

Shores, who is 31 and works in the medical profession, got it towed roughly 40 miles, and mechanics handed him a $2,000 bill and a dead rat. The rodent had entered his engine and nibbled through wiring.

“Poor little rat was just trying to find somewhere to chill that night,” Shores figures.

To prevent incursions, car owners also slather on hot sauce so thick it drips from car wires, or wrap aluminum foil around the bottom of vehicles, under the theory it’s too slippery for rats to scale.

One can buy shields and pastes that promise to make rodents turn tail and run, or invest in ultrasonic pest alarms. An online car forum mentions witchcraft: “Burn rodent bones and chant Druid expulsion alms.”

Will any of it work? Well, in the classic “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, Jerry the mouse usually outwitted Tom. If rats take a liking to your car, you are Tom.

Spraying engines with peppermint might deter some rodents, at least temporarily. Or it might not faze them, according to Jason Munshi-South, an evolutionary biologist and professor of biology at Fordham University.

Garlic oil? White Pepper? Pine-Sol? Same thing, he says.

The word rodent evolved from the Latin rodere, to gnaw. “And so they’re constantly gnawing on things, and that’s the reason they gnaw car wires,” the professor explains.

In some cases, the idea that certain smells or flavors are turnoffs stems from lab tests.

Given a choice, rats in captivity might avoid scented objects, says Munshi-South, but that doesn’t necessarily mean rodents in the real world will do so.

Love, the Arizona artist, suspects there is some truth to the unproven but popular theory that rodents nosh on cars more as automakers switch to soy-based products to insulate wires.

In legal cases, automakers have argued rodent behavior is essentially an act of God.

AAA has suggested rodents might find modern vehicles appealing because of all the wiring from sensors, computers and increased technology.

In New York, Marion’s first rat attack came in late 2022, when he was parking his 2015 Toyota Prius C in an open-air lot in his East Harlem neighborhood.

After rats chewed through wires, the car had to be towed to a garage. Marion’s insurance footed the roughly $1,000 bill.

He chalked it up to bad luck, but when it happened again soon after, he started dousing the car nightly with garlic-scented rodent repellent and “really smelly” peppermint oil. After each drive, he covered his engine with stainless steel wool, yet another rumored rodent barrier.

A few weeks later, his car died again, and Marion discovered a rat, unharmed and squeaking angrily, under the hood. He had to chase it off.

Next, Marion ditched the parking lot for open spots on the street, sometimes as far as a mile away. He still diligently applied rodent repellents nightly. But two weeks later, his car died as he crossed a bridge into Queens. It cost his insurance company another $1,200.

In a remove-the-cheese strategy, he sold his Prius and bought a hybrid Ford Escape. Coincidence or not, he says he hasn’t had an incident since.

But he can’t relax. He avoids parking near trash cans and never parks in consecutive spots.

A rat might case his car, plotting for a break-in, but “by the time they come back, I’m gone,” he says. “I’m never in the same place. I am all around.”

Write to Ginger Adams Otis at Ginger.AdamsOtis@wsj.com

Copyright © 2024 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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