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Each year, rodents cause millions of dollars of damage to vehicle wiring, some of which is made from soybeans.

By Dave Ellison

With cooler weather approaching, East Texas drivers might save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by frequently checking under their vehicle hoods for the presence of mice, rats or squirrels.

This precaution is especially important now that some car and truck manufacturers are using what arguably amounts to a “dinner call” ingredient on their electrical wiring.

Various car companies have begun using wiring insulation made from soybeans, a tasty treat for rodents. Previously, the insulation (coating around the wires) was petroleum-based, not “environmentally friendly” and more expensive to produce.

As an alleged consequence of this change – which began in the early 2000s – rodent damage has become an escalating problem for consumers across the United States, particularly in rural areas.  And as one Big Sandy man learned recently, the harm can prove expensive. After he drove less than 1,000 miles in his 2018 Hyundai Sonata, rodents chewed through numerous wires under the motor shroud, causing the car’s engine to begin violently missing, necessitating a tow to the dealership and repairs of more than $300.

“That bill was bad enough considering it was a brand new car,” he said, “but I also was told that sometimes the cost can be around $5,000, maybe a lot more.”

Despite the contention that manufacturers, in effect, are inviting the gnawing little critters in for a free meal, it’s consumers who are paying the price for such largesse since resulting damage is not covered under warranty terms. Not surprisingly, vehicle salesmen generally don’t volunteer to prospective buyers that their car might end up being a morsel that certain furry little culprits view as a McDonald’s on wheels.

During the past two years, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota have been named in class-action lawsuits asserting that the companies installed rodent-attractive wiring in their cars and should be responsible for related repairs. Allegations also include the claim that such damage could be a serious safety issue because it might cause malfunctions of critical components while the vehicle is moving.

Relevant car manufacturers say the charges are without merit. Honda and Toyota insist there is no evidence indicating that the newer wiring is a magnet for rodents. All types of wiring, the car makers contend, have long been attractive to these pests.

“Rodents are known to chew home wiring, car wiring or wires wherever they nest,” said a Honda spokesperson. “Particularly in winter, they try to find warm locations, like a home or a vehicle’s engine compartment.”

Brian Kabateck, a Los Angeles attorney with a pending lawsuit against Toyota relating to rodent wiring damage, is not buying the manufacturers’ explanations. In an interview with the Big Sandy Journal, Kabateck said he is confident that rodents consider the soy-based wiring as a food source and that manufacturers are fully aware of the appeal.

“The situation is literally like putting honey or peanut butter in a car and then acting surprised when insects and ants and bees are attracted to it,” he said. “With regard to the soy-based wiring, car makers are effectively putting something there that the rats want, in an environment that the rats want. It’s almost like they are creating a Ritz-Carlton for the rats.”

He agrees that rodent damage to vehicle wiring is not a new problem, but he adds that “our findings show it significantly intensified after car makers began using the soy-based wiring.” As a result, he said, “we believe the wiring is inherently defective and should be fully warranted.”

In many cases, comprehensive automobile insurance will cover, less a deductible, rodent damage. Subsequent claims, however, could trigger a rate increase or, worse, denial of renewal.

While the soy wiring battles proceed in courts, experts advise car owners to be particularly vigilant in preventing or at least minimizing destructive gnawing.  At least every other week and more frequently in cold weather, they say, check under the hood for droppings and nests. If present, remove before taking other steps.

Often-used rodent deterrents for placement in the motor compartment  – none guaranteed  – include a  chili pepper-laced tape sold by Honda dealers or Amazon ($30+); Bounce dryer sheets; peppermint oil (spray or dabbed on cotton balls); mothballs and various commercial products available online and at hardware, farm and garden stores. Amazon sells several types of ultrasonic rodent repellers powered by a car’s 12-volt battery; reviews vary from “sensational” to “don’t waste your money.” Baits with poison are another choice, but they pose a hazard to children, pets and desirable wildlife.

Liquid or granular fox urine (available online or at hunting supply stores) is an option for spreading around the vehicle, but the smell is strong.  Also, since rodents typically gain access to the engine area by climbing a front tire, a snap trap in front, back and atop each tire may produce desired results. Some people place a fake owl (presumably not one made from soybeans) on the ground near their car’s grill.

Then there’s the tale by a retired Texas and Pacific railroad conductor from Alba who didn’t have to rely on any commercial deterrent to keep rodents from feasting on his truck wiring. “I opened the hood one morning and immediately spotted a big non-venomous snake eyeing a rat near the battery box,” he said. “Well, I just shut the hood sorta quietly and as far as I could tell later, that old snake took care of the problem for me.”