PROTECT YOUR CAR: Rodents eating wires in newer vehicles

ATLANTA — Small animals are causing big problems for car owners across metro Atlanta.

Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland found the connection between vermin and your vehicle.

Many cars have wiring under the hood that’s wrapped in insulation made from soybeans. That makes the insulation eco-friendly, but apparently also makes it a tasty treat for rodents.

One local dealer said they have at least one vehicle per week come into the shop with chewed-up wiring.

Strickland was in the shop when mechanics started working on a car from Marietta/Cobb Driver’s Education.

Shop foreman Jody Voyles showed Strickland the problem.

“We’ve got rodent damage where they’re chewing the wires, chewing the lube,” Voyles said. “So now it’s running on three cylinders.”

Because they didn’t find any droppings, they can’t tell if the culprits were mice, rats, squirrels or something else.

Voyles said owners are often in denial. He said the common response from car owners: “Can’t be. No way I’ve got rats. No way I’ve got a problem with that.”

Collins Brown was stunned to find why his “check engine” light came on recently.

“When they called and said, ‘A rodent chewed through a wire in your car,’ I thought. ‘Holy Cow,’” Brown said.

Brown said he and his wife want to believe a squirrel chewed the wire, rather than a rat. And it’s possible. He lives near Piedmont Park, where he parks his car outside.

Brown’s repair only cost $250.

The driver education car back at the dealership needed an entire wiring harness, at a cost of more than $1,000.

Even Honda Dealership General Manager Pete Richards got hit. His bill was $600.

“I can certainly relate to our customers a little better, having it done and having to pay the bill myself,” Richards said.

No matter how new the car, chewed wiring is not covered by warranty. That’s why Honda owners filed suit in January.

A class action suit blames defective soy-based electrical wiring, and demands repairs be subject to coverage under the warranty.

But the problem is not unique to one manufacturer.

“Honda’s not the only one,” said Richards. “We have it happen at the Hyundai dealership, Kia dealership, Chrysler store. All of them.”

WSOC-TV, our sister station in Charlotte, found Toyota owner Ana Rodriguez. Her dealer blamed chipmunks for the $2,300 worth of damage to her car.

“I know it’s an issue and nobody’s going to change my mind, that the manufacturer on those wires, they have to change it,” said Rodriguez.

In court documents, Honda told a judge it “cannot possibly be responsible for the normal and natural propensity of rodents to chew anything near them.”

But it’s clear the company has known about the issue for years.

In August 2010, the car maker alerted dealers about a special rodent-deterrent tape available to wrap under hood wiring.

One connector has been chewed so often, the car maker sends it to dealerships pre-wrapped in the special tape.

“Usually, once we put this on, it stops,” Voyles said about the pre-taped wire.

As to how to prevent it, drivers can try what gardeners have known for years.

Rodents don’t go anywhere they believe predators are lurking.

Sprinkling crystalized fox urine around your parking space is a possible solution, although you shouldn’t put it in your engine compartment because it could get into the ventilation.

The item is actually pretty easy to find, at places like Home Depot, Amazon and even a site called predatorpee.com.