How to Prevent Rodents From Damaging Your Car

Stephen Fogel
September 11, 2018

rodent damage

When you think of the ways nature can damage your vehicle, you likely picture high winds snapping tree limbs, menacing hailstones or even a deer running out in front of you. But there’s another type of critter that can trouble your car — rodents.

Whether we’re talking about rats, mice or squirrels, these creatures can thrive in a variety of climates. And they can easily find a home under the hood of an unlucky vehicle. If left to their own devices, rodents can do significant damage to your car’s wiring, hoses and other parts. 

Let’s go over why they like cars, the type of damage they can do, and how to keep them out.

Why are rodents targeting my vehicle?

Rats, mice and other rodents have a few primary drives. One is to find safe shelter, to protect them from predators. Another is to find food and a place to store it. One more is to reproduce, so their species can continue. In addition, rodents have the unique need to chew and gnaw on things, as a way to keep their constantly growing teeth at a manageable length. Unfortunately, your vehicle is a great place for all of these. 

Rodents will find a quiet spot in a car, and then build a nest with whatever soft materials they can find. This can include insulation, carpeting, upholstery and even the papers in your glove box. They can also drag in food and bedding items from outside the car.

An unexpected food source for rodents in your auto is its wiring. Since 2008, many carmakers have started using soy-based wire insulation, known as bioplastics, which may worsen the problem. 

Problems caused by rodents in cars

When your vehicle becomes a rodent home, a variety of hazards can occur:

  • Damage to your vehicle’s wiring, tubing and related components
  • Reduced heat and sound insulation in your engine compartment
  • Stored rodent food items shifting and causing mechanical or safety problems
  • Fire from debris igniting from high under-hood temperatures
  • Bad smells from rodent feces and urine
  • Risk of getting sick from viruses blown through ventilation system

Rodent damage in your vehicle is fairly easy to spot if you take a close look. Start under the hood, then look in the trunk, the glove compartment and the rest of the interior. Check for these telltale signs:

  • Nests made of chewed-up insulation and other materials
  • Gnawed wires, hoses and tubing
  • Chewed edges on under-hood insulation or carpeting
  • Droppings
  • Scraps of chewed paper
  • Bad odors
  • Rodent urine, which will light up under a UV light

If you find damaged parts or signs of an infestation, you’ll need to get rid of them — see the methods suggested below — and you’ll want to take your vehicle in for an inspection. Gnawed wiring will need to be replaced, and there could be bedding or food in parts of the engine you can’t easily see.

» LEARN MORE: Get an estimate for your car repair

How can I stop or prevent rodent damage?

Rodent damage isn’t your everyday car problem. When a vehicle has a failing part, you can usually analyze the symptoms and come up with specific solutions.

But when dealing with rodents, the solutions aren’t so clear-cut. These are animals that possess a certain amount of intelligence. Plus, squirrels are different from rats, which are different from mice. What works in one situation will not necessarily work in another.

The best advice from car owners who are fighting rodent damage is this: you should use more than one method at a time to increase your odds of success. 

Easy first steps toward rodent damage control

Let’s start with some common sense steps that cost little or nothing. These are a good step toward discouraging rodents from making your car home:

  • If you park in a garage, leave the hood up. Rodents don’t like open spaces.
  • Drive your vehicle regularly so rodents don’t have time to move in
  • Don’t park in a forested area, or where there is high grass
  • Trim nearby bushes that can provide hiding places for small animals
  • Park on a paved or gravel surface if possible
  • Get rid of nearby bird feeders; they attract squirrels
  • Use screening or sheet metal to seal up small holes in garages
  • Seal and secure pet food and birdseed
  • Put your dog or cat on rodent patrol

Physical protection strategies

The next level of rodent control involves ways of physically preventing rodents from entering your vehicle. This includes: 

  • Metal mesh to cover openings such as your air cleaner intake 
  • Rodent snap traps placed on and around tires — rodents enter vehicles by climbing up tires and wheels. Don’t use live, sticky traps; they’re typically less humane and they can frighten caught animals, causing them to urinate or defecate and potentially spread disease. 

Electronic deterrents

Some people have found relief by using electronic gadgets that claim to repel rodents:

  • Mouse Blocker, which emits a high-frequency noise intended to keep mice away
  • Rid-A-Rat, which claims to use LED lights to disorient packrats and drive them out of your vehicle
  • Battery-powered LED lights placed under the car, because rodents prefer dark places

Chemical warfare

Here is a list of substances that have been used by vehicle owners in their quest to prevent or stop rodent damage:

  • Capsaicin tape, saturated with hot pepper essence, and intended to be wrapped around your tasty bioplastic-coated wiring. Alternatively, you can coat your wires with hot sauce or pepper spray — but make sure to tell any mechanics you visit that you are using these spicy methods.
  • Infinity Pro, an odor and smoke elimination spray that also can act as a natural pest and rodent repellent
  • Peppermint oil
  • Pine-Sol-soaked towels or rags on and around the tires. You can also put these under the hood, but remember to remove them before driving.
  • Mothballs, placed under the hood and around the tires 
  • Fox urine, powdered or liquid
  • Used cat litter
  • Dog and cat hair

Poisons are a bad idea

Poisoning rodents is a very bad idea. Reasons to avoid poisons include: 

  • Poison can kill the rodents while they are deep inside your vehicle — bad odors await.
  • Poisons or poisoned vermin can be eaten by pets and other harmless animals, killing them.
  • Poisoned bait near your vehicle will attract more rodents.  


Get it diagnosed by a professional

Is rodent damage covered by my warranty or my insurance?

The bad news is that rodent damage isn’t covered by your new-car warranty. The good news is that your car insurance policy may provide the coverage you need for rodent damage repairs.

Comprehensive vehicle insurance typically covers you for various kinds of non-collision damage. This can include damage done by animals (including hitting one).

Comprehensive insurance coverage is not usually required by law, but it may be mandated under the terms of your car loan or lease, if you have one. It’s generally a good thing to have, and is relatively inexpensive. Talk with your insurance agent to verify whether you have comprehensive coverage, and whether it covers rodent damage to your vehicle.  

Keep in mind that when making an insurance claim, you need to balance the cost of the repairs against the deductible you’ll have to pay. If you have a high deductible that’s higher or about the same as the amount of damage, you may be better off paying for repairs out of pocket. If the cost of repairs is significantly more than the deductible, it’s likely better to make the claim.


Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.