Car won’t start? Check the battery. And then check for rats.
Rats can wreak havoc under the hood by gnawing at wires and causing thousands of dollars in damage.
Jefferey Santos, a 31-year-old Bronx native, noticed that his dashboard lights were flashing when he started his 2018 Honda Accord one day. He soon learned that rats were the culprits.
“It felt gross to have rats inside my car,” said Santos. “I ended up fixing the car and then, I kid you not, less than a year later, it happened again.”
Gothamist asked three mechanics serving Ridgewood, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy and East Harlem — neighborhoods with some of the highest rates of rat damage-related complaints in the last three years — about what car owners can do.
Here are some of their tips:
- The problem can be worse in the winter when rats are looking to stay warm, so take more precautions during that season.
- Avoid parking on dirty streets and sidewalks, where infestations are exacerbated.
- Certain scented oils can deter rats.
- Rats like to gnaw at wires in certain cars because of soy-based material used in the engines, according to the mechanics, who all cited Hondas as being particularly prone to infestations. The soy insulation used to protect the wires was the subject of a lawsuit.
Many drivers smell a rat problem before they see one, mechanics said. Rat droppings and urine combine to make a potent, nauseating odor that can circulate through a car’s ventilation system.
Rats’ apparent lust for car components is driven by their primal need to survive. The rodents’ teeth never stop growing and must be whittled down through relentless masticating. If a rat stops gnawing, their teeth can grow so large they pierce through the roof of their mouth and stab their brains, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
At Manhattan Auto Repair in East Harlem, co-owner Louis Letizia says he performs infestation-related repairs four to five times a week. He recalled one of his dirtiest jobs.
“When we opened up the hood, there was a rat more than a foot long, dead from going into the belt area,” Letizia said. “My guys didn’t really want to [remove] it, but they did…But it was a little challenge to get him out of there because he was pretty stuck. And very, very, very large.”
Infestation-related repairs can be covered by insurance, according to AAA. Mechanics said repairs typically range anywhere from $250 to $1,000. In some cases, according to AAA spokesperson Robert Sinclair, repairs could cost thousands of dollars if a car’s “wiring harness was severely chewed up and had to be completely replaced.”
Move and clean your car
Jose Gomez, a technician at Dependable Auto Repair in Ridgewood, says cars left in the same space for days are more attractive to rats.
“Don’t leave your vehicle standing for a long period of time,” Gomez said. “At least two to three times a week, move it from place to place. Try not to park around restaurants or places that have a lot of garbage.”
The best option, he added, is parking on a street without restaurants or trash on the sidewalks – a rarity in New York City.
Gomez said he’s noticed a rise in car infestations since the pandemic. He suspected changes in human behavior resulted in rats becoming more desperate for food, shelter and warmth. Now, he says Dependable Auto Repair works on an infested car engine at least once a week.
Gomez also suggested regularly popping the hood and checking for signs of rats. Common indicators are a rank stench of urine mixed with feces, the presence of nesting materials such as loose twigs, and chicken bones and other food scraps.
Shamim Mahmud, a mechanic at Atlantic Service and Repair on the edge of Crown Heights, said drivers should get their engines cleaned every year to avoid attracting rats.
There are many smells that rats hate, such as sesame and peppermint. Spraying those scents on your car engine could help prevent an infestation, Mahmud and Gomez said.
But Letizia vouched for another product: Rataway.
“I don’t know the formula. It’s probably as secret as Coca Cola,” Letizia said.
Letizia said he uses the product in the four or five cars that come to his shop in a typical week with rat troubles. The concentrate has a faint peppermint smell and can be sprayed all over a car engine.
“People have used cedar chips, they have used peppermint spray, and I’ve even had people use Irish spring [soap]. They grate it like a cheese grater, and that sometimes works. But the Rataway, without sounding like I’m pushing a product, is the best,” Letizia said.
Mechanics said that Hondas have a soy-based wire casing that rats love to nibble. Honda even sells “rodent tape” treated with a chili pepper extract called capsaicin. Four drivers in California filed a class-action lawsuit against Honda in 2016, alleging that the auto manufacturer refused to replace chewed-through wiring even though their vehicles were under warranty. The drivers later withdrew the suit without giving a reason.
But mechanics cautioned that infestations are not limited to Hondas.
Gomez and Letizia said Toyotas, Subarus and Mercedes-Benzes also seem more prone to infestations.
“Their [hood] compartments are pretty big. So [rats] have easy access and there’s a lot of dark spaces in there where they can do their business without having the light shine on them,” Letizia said.
A spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz rejected the claim that the cars are prone to infestation. Other automakers did not respond to inquiries.
Sonic anti-rat weapons
Car owners can also purchase an electronic device that emits a high-frequency noise that deters rats. Gomez says he frequently installs them for customers.
“They tell me that they don’t have that problem no more,” Gomez said. “It’s a small box and it gets hooked up to the battery. It stays there emitting the noise all the time.”
But take caution: Some ultrasonic pest repellers have also been the subject of lawsuits for being ineffective.