It turns out rats can make a meal out of almost anything, even the spark plugs in your car. While city dwellers sometimes have to get used to rats scampering along subway tracks or digging through curbside garbage, a few unlucky drivers have found the rodents making a mess of their engines.
One New Yorker told us his car was rendered useless by the pests twice. But according to mechanics and exterminators, he is far from alone.
In New York City, mechanics say they often find evidence of the city's ever present rodents during the winter months. Andy Bucczek, owner of Uptown Auto Repair on Manhattan's Upper East Side, said the rats climb into the engine as it is still cooling after being parked.
"They nest inside the engine area where it's warm, and eat up the wiring," said Bucczek.
Rats are constantly gnawing objects to keep their teeth short, so when they make a nest in a car a lot of damage can be done. Bucczek says he has seen everything from fan belts to heating vents fall victim to the presence of a rodent.
While the problem is not new, the methods of preventing rodent damage remain haphazard and are as varied as the neighborhoods of New York. On the Upper East side, where subway construction has driven rats from the sewer to the street, Bucczek says drivers can do little except hope for the best.
"I wouldn't put rat poison in [the engine] because that can get in your cabin department," said Bucczek. "There's nothing you can do about that, there's too many of them."
Across Central Park on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Nick Rissmeyer of the Manhattan Alignment & Diagnostic Center offers an alternative method.
"Go to the dollar store and get a jar of cayenne pepper and sprinkle it around," said Rissmeyer, who explains that when the rats take a bite out of your brake line they'll go running for water. "It's more humane."
While Rissmeyer says clients are sometimes in disbelief about the situation, he thinks of it as any other automotive problem.
"I'm not squeamish, just another animal to me," said Rissmeyer, who has had rats jump on him after he opened a car's hood. "They're looking for shelter like anybody else."
Rissmeyer says mothballs can also be used to keep out rodents, but drivers should expect the trademark mothball smell to permeate the car if they turn their heaters on.
It's not only mechanics who handle the mobile rat's nest. Timothy Wong of M&M Pest Control said they often are called in to rid vehicles of pest problems.
"We had a client who…had his car basically snowed in and he had a rat in his car and couldn't get it out," said Wong.
While people may hope there's a way to rat-proof their cars, Wong said it is nearly impossible to protect against a rodent invasion, since rats can climb into an opening that is a quarter of an inch wide. Instead Wong recommends avoiding parking near anything that might attract rodents, like garbage that's not yet been picked up.
However, in New York and other cities with scarce parking, it might just be easier to take the bus.