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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: February 2024

Rats in the Hood

Seth D Kramer


  • Research shows that rats like to chew on car hoses and other critical parts.
  • Peppermint oil, Irish Spring soap, and laundry dryer sheets can help keep rats away.
  • Damage from rodents is a big problem for car owners, and auto insurance policies in different states may not cover the damage.
Rats in the Hood
owngarden via Getty Images

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I live in a semi-rustic beach community in Southern California. One of the mixed blessings of the area is the wildlife. These include rabbits, birds, lizards and—most of all—rodents. Some of these rodents are nocturnal, and as such I rarely see them. But by their actions, I am well aware of their presence.

A few years ago, when I tried to clean my windshield, I noticed that although the wipers worked well, I could not get water to squirt out onto the windshield. I thought the reservoir was out of fluid— but it wasn’t. So I took my car to a mechanic and found out that a hose under the hood that connected the reservoir of water to the sprayer nozzle had been gnawed clean through.

The culprit: a rodent, probably a rat.

Apparently, rats like to chew on “wiring, hoses, plastic, and other critical car parts,” according to

Damage from rodents seems to be a big problem for car owners. Although it is difficult to get precise numbers of how big the problem is, in 2022 The New York Times checked with 28  mechanics in the city, and “20 of them reported an increase of vermin in cars.”

It is unclear why car hoses are so highly favored by rats. Gnawing and chewing on things seems to be a natural activity for rats. Rats’ “teeth grow continuously,” per, “and they need to constantly chew on stuff to keep their incisors at a manageable length.”

In addition, manufacturers use materials for hoses and other car parts that appeal to rats. “The manufacturing of cars today,” as pointed out in, “has leaned more on using biodegradable materials which are more attractive to rodents.”

And the damage can be expensive. The internet is full of stories about repairs costing in the thousands. Fortunately, auto insurance policies can cover rat damage. However, as very lawyerly puts it, “Most comprehensive auto insurance policies include coverage for animal damage, including rodent-related incidents.”

The operative word is “most.” Anecdotally, a colleague of mine who lives in two states—and whose car had rat damage—told me that his Florida auto insurance agent told him that rat damage was not covered under his policy; however, his Maryland auto insurance agent said that they would cover rat damage. Although a comprehensive analysis of rat auto damage vis-a-vis auto insurance coverage is beyond the scope of this article, knowing the limitations of your coverage and any appropriate state law is critical.

There are numerous suggestions on various websites of how best to prevent rats from damaging your car. For example, suggests that a car owner should avoid parking “in areas known to attract rodents, like alleys near trash bins or near natural food sources, like vegetable gardens.” And wherever the car is parked, it should be moved often to deter rodents. Plus, startling the rats is also a good method: “Honk your horn before driving,” according to “to scare away any napping critters.”

And there are other more creative ways to discourage rats. One way is smell. As states, “there are natural fragrances that rats avoid,” which include peppermint oil, Irish Spring soap, and laundry dryer sheets. “These are an ideal solution to rodent infestation because they can also make your car smell good,” the website notes.

My neighbors have tried some of these approaches. One of them has had success keeping rats out of her car by lining the engine with fabric softener sheets and tying sheets on the hoses. She says this has worked very well for her and has kept the rats away. However, another neighbor insists that the only way to keep rats out of his car is to keep the vehicle parked in a closed garage.

I use a more whimsical technique. When I asked the mechanic who repaired the chewed hose what I could do to prevent rat damage in the future, he had an interesting suggestion. The mechanic said that some of his customers had success in keeping rats out by placing a rubber snake by the car—the idea being that the rats would think it was a real snake and stay away. So that’s what I did.

Amazon has quite a collection of rubber snakes priced around ten dollars. Mine is a realistic-looking black snake in a permanently coiled position. It is about 50 inches long. When I am parked at home, I put the snake in front of the tire of the passenger seat.

And the snake does look realistic. Once at a car wash, I saw that a group of workers had congregated around my car, which was not moving. When I went over to see what was up, I noticed several workers laughing hysterically. There on the back seat was the rubber snake, which had startled one of the workers; he called the others over for a good laugh. Slightly embarrassed, I apologized and said I would put the rubber snake in the trunk. Several of the workers implored me to leave it; they wanted to see how the workers drying the car would react. Although this situation might make for an interesting episode of Punk’d or Candid Camera, frankly, the potential liability scared me so I hid the rubber snake in the trunk.

The snake also seems to fool the rodents, since in the four years I have been deploying it, my car has not sustained further rat damage. I feel lucky that this low-cost hack—so far—has worked. But I cautiously live by the words my brother-in-law likes to say about such fixes: “It will work until it doesn’t.”