How To Keep Rats And Mice Away From Cars

Rats build nests in engines in the winter (1)

Mice and rats can cause considerable damage to the inside of a car. They chew wires, filters, and destroy nearly everything they can get to. They can rack up thousands of dollars of car damage.

Plus rodents carry disease and are generally unsanitary and filthy.

Although rats can get into a car any time of the years, fall and winter are usually worse months for infestations. That’s because the colder weather drives rats to the protection that a car provides.

How To Keep The Car Safe From Rodents

Fortunately, there are several methods that you can use to both prevent and discourage rats from getting in the car. These methods work well on both rats and mice because their habitats and behaviors are similar.

1. Eliminate Food Sources From The Vehicle

Rats and mice are usually attracted by either shelter or food. Human food, dog or pet food, and even trash with trace amounts of food are attractive to them. Take all snacks and other forms of food inside when you park the car. Throw away soda bottles or drink containers.

Make sure that there aren’t other kinds of food that rodents like.

Throw away the trash and vacuum the carpet in the carriage of the car. Even small crumbs left in the crevices of seats or on the floor can attract rodents into your car.

Don’t forget to check the glove compartment and other hidden compartments for food sources.

2. Clean Your Car

In addition, make sure to clean the engine, and undercarriage of the car if you see signs of rats or mice. Rats are unable to throw up. If they digest something that is bad for them, they will die. As a result, they typically try only a small amount of food in a new area before consuming it or nesting down.

One of the ways that they know that food is good or an area is safe, is by leaving evidence of rats in the area. Both mice and rats will urinate nearly everywhere they go. They leave trails of pee. This marks their territory and also tells them that it’s a safe place for rodents.

Other rats are often attracted to areas that show signs of previous rats. Defecation and shredded paper or nests are other signs that rats leave behind.

Eliminate those signs of safety by thoroughly cleaning the car. Wash away the rat or mouse poop and clean the surfaces of the car where signs have been left. Use pine sol or other scented cleaners to help mask the smell of rats or mice in the area.
This helps to make the car an unsafe area again and rats will have to proceed more cautiously.

Drive cars often to combat rodents
Photo credit: Andreas Mortonus Flickr

3. Park The Car In The Garage

Place an extra barrier between your car and rats by parking it in the garage. A garage also makes it easier to eliminate a rodent population and keep them away from your car. Rats are usually attracted to grassy areas where they can be easily covered.

A clean garage posts many risks to rats and mice, but a messy garage can encourage a local population.

But, even a messy garage usually has a smaller rodent population than the outdoors, where there is an endless supply of mice and rats.

4. Don’t Use A Car Cover

You might think that sans a garage, a car cover would do the same trick as a garage. That is wrong. A car cover actually creates a more ideal place for rats to hide. Rats like to seek a place that’s warm and hidden.

Car covers make virtually the entire car a hidden compartment for them to hide in. They even increase the protection for rats underneath the car.

5. Close Your Doors, Windows, And Sunroof

Don’t put a welcome sign on your car. Close your doors, window, and sunroof. Rats can get through very small spaces so even a small gap in an open window or a sunroof gives a way for rats to get it.

Close windows, doors and sunroof to keep out rodents (1)

6. Keep The Hood Up

Because rats and mice like protection, open the hood of your car when you have an infestation of rats to your engine compartment. This eliminates the hood of your car as an optimal place for mice to hide.

The rodents will be out in the open elements. Rodents who make it to the hood of the car have often burrowed in from the undercarriage and wheel access. This means that opening the hood of your car brings them back into the open as they make their way in.

It essentially opens up their home from a cave to a tunnel.

Keep rodents out of your car (1)
Photo Credit: Carlos Ebe Flickr


7. Trim Bushes, Mow Grass, and Clear The Driveway

If you don’t have a garage, then trim the area around where you park your car. Rats love long grass, bushes, and trash as a home or nesting area. Eliminate those places by getting rid of the bushes surrounding your driveway, keeping the grass mowed short, and getting rid of the trash.

This will pull the rodent population away from where you park your car and make it less likely that they nest in it. They will have to scamper across open areas to get to it and mice and rats both hate open areas because they are prey for birds, cats, and other predators in the open.

8. Reduce The Local Rat Population

Get rid of the rats in the area by trapping, poisoning, or using natural predators to reduce their population. Neighborhood cats are helpful for this. Plus, chickens and turkeys also kill and eat rodents.

You can encourage bird of prey into the area by offering nests for hawks, owl or eagles. Clearing space around your car also makes it more likely that traveling rats will be eaten before they make their way.

Keep rats away from your car with a mouse (1)

9. Prevent Rats From Getting Into The Car

Unless you have bushes and other things leaning against your car, rats usually access a car vía one method. Mice climb the tread on the tires and access the undercarriage of the car. From there, they can access vent lines, the hood, engine, and even the carriage of the car.

They can tear holes in seats, shred wires, and tear apart tubing.

Keep rats from climbing up the tires by placing traps on both sides of every tire. Although you can reuse most traps when they are set off, I’d recommend purchasing more than 8 traps. They are most easily handled when the traps, rats and all, can be thrown away. It gets a lot more gruesome to reuse them. It’s also a lot dirtier and unsanitary.

10. Seal Off The Access To The Car

If you aren’t into setting traps around the tires, or if you want to take additional steps, then you can seal off access points into the car. This is tricky because rats have collapsible ribs which makes them able to squeeze through very narrow openings.

It’s also tricky because rats and mice can chew through a lot of things. Sealant, screen mesh, and other substances are easily chewed through. Steel wool is one of the few things that mice and rats don’t like to chew through.

But, it’s problematic to fill all openings in your car with steel wool.

Rats get into a car through the tires (1)

11. Shine A Light On It

Rats are nocturnal animals. They have a poorer sense of sight. They tend to avoid light. Scare rats away by lighting up the under area of your car. A simple motion detector from above won’t be effective because the under part of the car will still be in shadow.

Instead, place a light low to the ground and light up the tire and undercarriage area. This will help to deter rats.

12. Protect Sensitive Wires By Using Honda Rodent Tape

Honda sells a rodent tape that is made to discourage rats from eating the wires of a car. It’s coated with strong flavoring that Honda says “puts the spice in salsa.”

The strong taste is nasty and overwhelming to rats but doesn’t put off a scent that humans can detect. It is mainly taste-based.

13. Scare Rats Through Coyote or Fox Urine

Rats are very wary of predators and coyote or fox urine alerts them to a predator nearby. They usually stay away from such a smell.

The urine comes in a bottle and has to be reapplied regularly, usually every 2 weeks. It must also be reapplied after rain or snow or it will stop being as effective.

In some cases, coyote urine can attract certain types of dogs so be aware of the species of dogs in your neighborhood.

Mice nest in small safe areas like cars (1)

14. Use Ultrasonic Sound To Keep Them Away

Several devices produce an electrical high-pitched sound that rats don’t like. The effectiveness of those devices will vary. If your car still offers a good food source and is close to weeds and grass, then it’s unlikely that an ultrasonic sound will help keep rats away.

The temptation will be too strong for it to be effective.

But, if you clean up and keep the food away from your car, then sound devices will be much more effective.

15. Poison The Rodents

Rat or mouse poison can be very effective in eliminating a rodent population. However, you should be aware of what animals are in the area and what types of poisons are available. Some poisons cause the rats to feel claustrophobic and flee into the open.

While this is ideal for your house, because it keeps them from dying inside the walls, it is less ideal for the outdoors. Those types of poisons will cause them to flee into areas where cats or birds will eat them. This will poison the predators as well as the rats.

You will also want to be careful where you poison rats because pets or other animals can either get into the poison or may eat the sickly rodents.

Rats love to hide in grass (1)

What Home Remedies Keep Rats Away

Rats don’t see very well so they rely on their sense of smell to find food and sense danger. If their olfactory senses are overwhelmed, then they can’t stay safe or eat.

You can use many home remedies to keep rats out of an area. Most of them will need to be reapplied with regularity or their effectiveness will wear off.

  • Peppermint is a strong and powerful scent that masks another more subtle smells such as the smell of a cat (danger) or the smell of food.
  • Perfume is used by many to overwhelm the rat’s sense of smell and keep them away
  • Cedar Wood has a smell that is disliked by many animals including rats. The most effective types of cedar wood is Western Red Cedar. It has a stronger scent than other types of cedars. Outline the walkway around your driveway with cedar wood chips.
  • Hot Peppers are the basis of the Honda Rodent Tape and are strong enough to keep the rats from tasting or smelling other scents
  • Ammonia is disliked by rats. However, it can be dangerous to pets and children so be careful where you use it and don’t leave it in open containers.
  • Pinesol is a great scented cleaner that will mask the scent of rat urine and help to keep rats away.
  • Irish Soap has a high amount of tallow in the soap. It is used often to keep animals away. The strong scent may be effective against rats in small areas such as under the hood of a car.

Mice love small places to hide (1)

Why Do Rats Get Into Cars

Rats generally get into a car for one of three reasons.

  1. They are following a food source or scent
  2. They are looking for shelter
  3. They are looking for chew toys
  4. Car wiring smells good

Rats are omnivores. They eat both plants and meat. They are incredibly sneaky and good at finding waste foods. They will eat almost anything. Rats can’t see well, but they have a great sense of smell. They can follow a food scent into your car to find a feast inside.

They are looking for shelter from the wind, rain, snow, or cold weather. Rats, especially nesting rats need a warm place for their babies. Rats can have 6-8 babies every 23 days. That means that female rats are nearly always looking for a warm place to nest down. Fall brings a lot of rats and mice to seek shelter in the protection of a car, even when that car is being driven regularly.

Both rats and mice have teeth that are continually growing. If they don’t keep their teeth trimmed, long teeth can actually be deadly. It is usually helpful though to have a constant supply of teeth so they can chew and nibble their way through things. But, they also have a need to keep their teeth trimmed down.

Some cars have soy-based wiring. There have even been lawsuits around manufacturers using soy-based coating in cars because it attracts rodents, including squirrels and chipmunks to the interior of the cars.

Keep rats out of the car (1)

How To Tell If A Rodent Is In The Car

There are several tell-tale signs that rodents have infested your car. The signs are pretty universal whether it is rats, mice, or squirrels. If you suspect a rodent infiltration and don’t want to deal with it, take your car to a mechanic.

1. Your Car Smells Like A Hamster Cage.

The smell of rodents nesting is sometimes one of the first signs that you have rats or mice in your car. They will shred tubing, bring paper and other nesting materials into the car, and store food.

Rodents will pee and poop in the area and you will smell the musty nasty smell that a dirty hamster cage smells like.

2. Scratching Noises In The Car

A scratching nibbling noise is a sure sign of a rodent. The sound is almost like the sound your fingernail would make when scratching at the upholstery or dash of your car. It also sounds like the click of flicking your teeth.

If you are hearing new or strange sounds in your car, then you should investigate them immediately.

3. Chewing Marks On The Tubing, Upholstery, or Wires

Chewed wires, frazzled wires, or scratches in various areas of your car are signs of rodents. You might see something that looks chewed down. If you see nibble marks or other signs of teeth cutting on parts of your car, you have a rodent.

4. Small Black Droppings In or Around The Car

Mice and rats have small round droppings. It can be scattered around the area. If you see any small droppings, check promptly for rodents. The quicker you get the problem taken care of, the less the damage will be.

5. Check Engine Light Comes On

Because mice and rats love to chew and love to collect food, they often cause mechanical issues with a car. The chewed wires, tubing or other components can cause mechanical failure in a car.

Chewed tubing can cause fluids to leak, causing other issues with the engine.

The check engine light is often the first sign of a rodent issue in the car.

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