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The Best Ways to Keep Rats and Mice out of Your Vehicle

Rochelle has experience with wild critters and gardening adventures while living the simple life in a rural area for 20 years.

You don't want these guys inside your car.

You don't want these guys inside your car.

Rid Your Car of Pests

This article lists rodent management and extermination solutions that many people have used to stop damage to their vehicles. There are several biological, chemical, mechanical, and electronic methods to discourage rodent infestations in cars. Some tactics may kill or trap the pests, and others just discourage them from making your car into a rat hotel.

This article features some strategies and warnings about the potential disadvantages and dangers of each option. What works for one motorist may not work for another. Many people try multiple methods simultaneously to address this kind of problem.

If You Already Have Mice In Your Car

  1. First get rid of the rodents, their droppings, and their nests. Use a small vacuum to expedite the cleaning process.
  2. If you can, try to rinse out the engine with a garden hose to remove nesting material and wash away the rodents' scent.
  3. Check the vehicle for damage, especially in the engine compartment. Seek advice from your mechanic regarding what to look for and how to recognize signs of damage.
  4. Look over the suggestions below to find deterrents and strategies to keep the perpetrators away permanently.

How to Prevent or Eliminate Rodent Infestations in Your Car

  1. Clear away potential hiding places.
  2. Eliminate food sources.
  3. Use bright lighting to discourage nesting.
  4. Use repellant fragrances/odors.
  5. Block points of entry.
  6. Use electronic deterrents.
  7. Don't let your vehicle sit idle for long periods of time.
  8. Use biological deterrents.
  9. Use traps.
  10. Use poison.

How to Keep Rats and Mice Out of Your Car

1. Keep the Area Clear

One of the first steps you can take involves ensuring that you are not providing food and a comfortable habitat for the culprits. Both the car and its surrounding environment should be kept clean and free of clutter. Rodents like to nest in areas with lots of hiding places, so trash, clusters of boxes, and thick foliage should be removed.

One woman whose car had been attacked by mice noticed that her cats were fascinated by movements and noise in a thick vining shrub that covered the side of her garage. She eventually found out that mice were living in the thicket, and some had decided that her car might also be a good nesting spot. Removing the plant helped solve her problem.

2. Eliminate Food Sources

Mice and rats can be attracted to bags of dog kibble, dry cat food, bird seed, livestock feed, garden seeds, or even stored emergency meal supplies that may be kept in a garage. If there's a handy food supply nearby, rodents may take up residence in a conveniently parked vehicle.

Make sure that all of these types of edible options are stored in sturdy, sealed, rodent-proof containers. Cardboard cartons and paper, plastic, or cloth bags will not prevent mice and rats from getting inside. If you have children who eat snacks in the car and drop crumbs between the seats, you will make local mice very happy. And those people who forgetfully leave big bags of dog food in the trunks of their car are also asking for trouble. Try to avoid spilling snacks in the car, and vacuum between and beneath the seats often to reduce the risk of attracting unwanted guests.

3. Use Light to Deter Nesting

Rodents like to build nests and stash food in nearby places so they can eat it at a later time. Sometimes rodents will store food in inconvenient places like inside a car's air filters. Keeping the garage light on (and the car hood open) might discourage nesting because some rodents can't sleep with the lights on, and they may choose to nest in darker places instead. For those who do not park in a garage, leaving the vehicle hood open in the daytime is sometimes recommended to keep the intruders from finding a dark enclosed place to nest.

4. Use Repellant Fragrances and Odors

Mice, rats, squirrels, and similar species have a well-developed sense of smell. They can be repelled by the following strong odors.

  • Irish Spring Soap: Cut the soap into cubes, drill holes into each cube, and wrap a wire through and around the soap. Then, tie them under the hood in locations where it doesn't get hot. Or just rub the soap bar around on various surfaces. This soap is also often used to repel deer.
  • Peppermint oil: This oil works as a mouse repellent when it's applied to cotton balls and appropriately fixed or wired in place, but you must remember to reapply the oil every few days. Peppermint oil has a strong scent, and its fragrance is possibly repugnant to rodents but more pleasant to humans than other options.
  • Laundry Dryer Sheets: Campers and hikers occasionally use these sheets as a type of mosquito repellant. It has been said that putting them under the car's hood or tying them in certain places in the vehicle can make mice vacate the premises. They are also very easy to purchase and acquire. Dryer sheets must be regularly replaced.
  • Pine-Sol: Some people recommend spraying pine-sol into the car's engine compartment to repel mice. Try to not to get it on the batteries. Spraying the area around the windshield wipers should send a message to invading rodents. Confirm that pine-sol is safe to use before spraying it onto certain parts of your car. Alternatively, "Stop the Rodent" or "Critter Ridder" products should be safe to use everywhere. Check each product's directions before you use them.
  • Brillo steel wool scrubbing pads: These pads may contain soap residue which can act as a good rodent deterrent.
  • Cayenne pepper: This type of pepper is occasionally used in some commercial spray products. Sprinkling it around the vehicle's tires might help deter rodents.
  • WD-40 and self-defense pepper spray: Some people use these items to repel rodents, but I’d refrain from using them. The first is dangerously flammable, and it also evaporates quickly. The second may literally backfire on you.

5. Block Points of Entry

If you think you know how the mice are getting inside the vehicle, you may be able to put up a barrier. Several vehicle models have air intakes or open wheel wells that rodents interpret as "vacancy" signs. I have heard of some car owners blocking off those entries with wire mesh, which would take some work to install. Some people have been able to fasten a quarter-inch mesh screen over the 3x5-inch air intake vents and the wheel well vents. Mice can squeeze through an opening that is the size of a U.S. dime, so finding all of the tiny mouse-sized entrances on a car can be daunting.

6. Use Electronic Deterrents

There are several kinds of effective electronic repellants. Some plug into a wall socket, some plug into the car's lighter receptacle, and there are even some solar-powered models. Some are ultrasonic, others use a flashing strobe light, and a few cause vibrational disruptions that deter rodents. Some buzz loudly when they sense slight motion, and others send out an unpleasant sound that's only heard by rodents. A small electronic deterrent device that sends out rodent-disturbing signals might be the best option. One advantage of this method is that you won't have to keep respraying a solution or baiting a trap.

7. Don't Leave Your Car Unused for Long Periods of Time

If you leave your car idle and parked for a few days it will be more susceptible to rodent intrusion. Start your engines now and then to discourage mice from moving in. You might also try parking in different locations, but if you have a heavy rodent infestation, doing so might not be enough to solve the problem.

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8. Use Biological Deterrents

Many people recommend getting a cat to discourage mice. This might be a good solution if you have a feline with the right hunting instincts and disposition. However, if you have one of those big sissy kitties that eats from a crystal goblet, you may need to consider other options. If you use a cat as your main mouse deterrent, make sure you know where she/he is before you start your car. Cats can get inside your motor just like mice, and the consequences can be deadly if the car is started while an animal is inside.

Some people recommended using dogs—especially rat terriers—to control rodent problems, though one owner reported that his terrier damaged the car by clawing, biting, and scratching the vehicle while trying to get at the vermin.

Other biological deterrents include placing animal fur (or even human hair) around the car or tied in bundles under the hood. Critters can sense the presence of predators by the smell of fur or hair, and they may be inclined to nest elsewhere as a result. You can also purchase products that are supposed to contain fox or coyote urine. These ingredients apparently dissuade rodents. No, I don't know how product manufacturers obtain the ingredients for these types of repellants. However, I will advise you to refrain from catching a wild predator for do-it-yourself (DIY) versions of these deterrents.

How to Get Rid of Rats and Mice

9. Use Traps

Snap traps have been used to manage rodents for more than a century. They are very straightforward in their operation. Bait is put on a lever to attract a mouse. Then, a mouse trips the lever and releases a stiff wire bar that's attached to a strong spring. The bar smashes down on the mouse, trapping and (usually) killing it instantly.

Some people think this is still the most effective method of dealing with mice and rats. It does, at least, leave evidence of success behind (and a bit of a mess to clean up). One reader leaves a baited trap on the passenger side floor and zaps the varmints before they can do any damage.

Traditionally, we tend to think that cheese is the best bait for snap traps, but most people will tell you that peanut butter or a peanut affixed to the trap with a blob of peanut butter works best. Watch your fingers. If you have a dog or another pet who likes peanut butter, keep the trap out of their reach or the trap may snap on their nose.

Another popular type of trap is the "sticky strip," which uses a thick gluey adhesive to trap the little creatures. (Don't touch the sticky part!)

The sticky strip has several advantages:

  • It can be affixed to surfaces inside the engine compartment.
  • It may catch more than one mouse at a time.
  • It is disposable.
  • It does not accidentally snap down on your fingers.

Place traps near and on top of the tires since that is often the entry point for rodents that are trying to climb into the engine.

Some people object to the fact that mice probably die a slow and tortured death when they're caught in sticky traps. There are cage-like traps that humanely capture rodents so they can be rehabilitated, given a secret identity, and relocated in a far-away area that doesn't have automobiles. People who have recently paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for car repairs are usually not inclined to be so charitable to the perpetrators, but if you want to catch the rodents without hurting them then humane traps are definitely an option to consider.

10. Poisoning Rodents

  • Mothballs (Paradichlorobenzine) are poisonous to animals and humans. They have toxic vapors and are dangerous to use. Some people recommend placing them in a can under a vehicle or hanging a bagful under the hood, but there are serious risks associated with using mothballs.
  • Rat poisons can kill rodents and their natural predators (foxes, hawks, etc.) if a poisoned rodent is eaten. Rat bait may work as well, but it is often carried away or eaten by other animals. It would be terrible if you killed your favorite hunting dog or the neighbor's cat while using rat poison. Also, if a rat consumes the poison and dies in a hidden space inside your vehicle, will you be able to live with the repulsive rotting smell that will penetrate the car's interior?

It can be difficult to find the specific solution that works best for your particular circumstance. The type of rodent, the climate in your area, the frequency of vehicle usage, the proximity of rodent habitats or food sources, and many other factors can influence the success of each potential solution.

No single tactic seems to work for everyone, but many people who're fighting rodent infestations have found that using a combination of two or three strategies at the same time may be the best way to get the desired results.

I hope some of these tips help you solve or prevent a vehicular rodent infestation. Please comment below about your experiences—especially if you find a solution that solves your problem.

How to Keep Mice, Rats, and Other Rodents out of Your Car Engine

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What can be done about squirrels in the air conditioning unit of my car? I've repaired it once; they're back again.

Answer: I would try one of the electronic devices suggested in this article. They are usually scared off by noise or vibration.

Question: I'm storing my 2012 Silverado in a Wisconsin storage unit while I spend five months in FL. What product would you recommend?

Answer: First I would ask the managers of the storage unit if they have any rodent problems and what they might recommend. Mothballs might be effective. Things like traps have to be reset, oils and soaps need to be replaced frequently. An electronic device might be best if you have access to an outlet.

Question: I have a rat living in the roof and door panels of my vehicle and I can't get it out. How do I get it out?

Answer: Your best bet may be to set traps with some bait that rats like. Peanut butter is a possibility. If you suspect they are getting dog food kibble or wild bird seed as part of their diet you might try that.( You can stick bits to the trap trigger with peanut butter.) If traps are not your choice, the electric ultrasonic repellers seem to be effective in getting them to leave.

Question: I will be trying your ideas, as my dog is going bonkers around my new, parked car! Are the old metal and wood mouse traps still the best, or are any of the newer ones good?

Answer: I don’t know if there has been a comparison of metal and wood traps. I think they would be similar. One thing that is often recommended with either is using a dab of peanut butter rather than cheese.

Question: Does a rat bite cause harm to a human body?

Answer: Any animal bite presents the opportunity for infection and the transmission of any disease that the animal may have. One infection known as rat-bite fever, can be contracted through an infected rat's bite or even by simply handling a rat with the disease.

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