Whether you know it or not, your car is a veritable ecosystem for the thousands of small critters that live in the Santa Barbara area. In our experience, at least eight out of 10 vehicles have evidence of critter infestation.
Mice and rats are the most common and most damaging critters that get into cars. Attracted by the heat of the engine and/or the interesting smells in the car, they will chew on anything rubber, chew through wires, tear up insulation and filters for nesting, and leave droppings in their wake.
The pictures show a little rodent nest we found in a car’s air filter — part flora, part fauna, and part filter — wedged between the filter and the housing. The black box is the air filter housing that protects the filter, and also the nest. Not a lot of room, but look how much fluff the rodent stuffed in there! The car’s owner had no idea it was there, reducing the car’s efficiency.
Rubber, plastic, and “soft” parts of the car already have shorter life expectancies than “hard” parts (e.g., metal and ceramic), and critters can shorten that life expectancy considerably. Some of the damage we’ve seen is merely disgusting, like an air filter full of droppings. Other things are more dangerous, like a chewed-through radiator hose causing a car to overheat or chewed-through spark plug wires robbing the car of acceleration power. The last thing you want is to be in a car struggling up Highway 154 with semi-functional spark plug wires.
Cars left idle for long periods are particularly susceptible to becoming critter condos. Time and weather already take their toll on tires, gaskets, and other rubber parts that hold in fluid. Add in some critters, and you may find that the car you’ve been saving for a special occasion is full of leaks. It’s natural to wonder how a car that is “just sitting there” could sustain damage and wear — small animal infestation is often the explanation.
So how can you make your car critter repellant? You can’t seal off the car as well as you can your home, but some of the same techniques that keep mice out of your home can keep them out of your car. Keep your car in a garage, on a concrete pad, and as far away from fields and critterland as possible. Set traps and bait near the tires. Clean the car of food wrappers and remnants. Get a cat. Cats also love to curl up on/in a nice warm car engine, and a little mousie snack would be an added bonus for them. And, of course, have your car inspected regularly.