Marmots will eat your car. Well, not all of your car, but your radiator hoses. Some types of wiring. Brake lines and hood insulation too. If you’ve ever done much hiking in the Mineral King area of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, you’ve maybe used a tarp to seal off your car’s delicious underbody or walked past cars parked at the trailhead and wondered why they were wrapped up like big Christmas presents. I’ve seen cars disabled by the side of the road there, felled by a chomped wiring harness, and once returned to my pickup to scatter a small phalanx of marmots gathered at the front of the truck, no doubt plotting a strategy to get past my flimsy tarp defense to feast upon the Michelin-starred radiator hoses inside. The Mineral King marmots are particularly enthusiastic about the delicious rubber and plastic bits of your engine, but most any marmot population has an insatiable craving for the most sensitive, chewy of car parts.
And while marmots are the most well-known engine ruiners, they’re not the only vandalizing rodents out there. I found this out the hard, and potentially very expensive way, earlier this month.
I’d spent a couple nights camped on private land near a section of the Los Padres National Forest outside northern Santa Barbara. Each night, my wife and I could hear rodents scurrying around the tiny unheated hut we slept in. Sounded like they were everywhere. The hut was even wrapped in chicken wire to keep the little beasties from infecting the sleeping area with their little rodent droppings and germs and general presence. Still, they came in waves, throwing themselves at the wooden walls and climbing to the roof above as if trying to claw their way through in a mindless frenzy.
Or that’s how it sounded anyway.
After a couple lovely days in a still wild bit of Southern/Central California, we drove north to our San Francisco home, and parked our truck in the same rodent-free garage it’s been parked in since the day we bought it. While unpacking our gear from the bed, I paused, convinced I heard a scurrying noise from the front of the truck. I stood still for a moment, listening to a definite pitter patter noise, but dismissed it as an aural trick, a hangover from hearing scampering field rats the previous nights. Or maybe a cooling exhaust manifold.
The next morning, however, I noticed rodent droppings scattered under the truck. Then I turned over the ignition and the check engine light glowed from the gauge cluster. Alarmed, and still with a sliver of warranty left, I headed glumly to the dealer.
A week later I had my truck back. A rodent of some variety—the technicians, sadly, were unable to identify the species—had eaten my knock sensor wiring harness. The cost to fix: $4,500. That’s four thousand five hundred American dollars. It took 19 hours of labor to take half the motor apart to get to the necessary goodies. They found rodent droppings. They showed me pictures of gnawed-upon wires. I called my insurance company and discovered this was somehow covered by my policy. I threw down some mousetraps in the garage but they turned up nothing. I swept up the droppings and no more appeared. This appeared to have been a one-time offender.
Because my insurance was fitting the bill, I chose to not flip out in a murderous rage. Instead I decided to be charmed by the idea of a Southern California vermin hitching a ride north, snacking on some delicious wiring, then striking off into the big city.
As it turns out, in the past decade or so, a great deal of vehicle manufacturers have begun using soy-based wire coatings which rodents find irresistible. People starting their cars to discover rodent-caused bad wiring or leaking hoses is more common than I’d realized. Especially in rural areas. If you’re parked in a zone with lots of vermin-y critters running around, be aware that they may try to snack on your expensive car parts.
I checked in with the folks at the Overland Journal and to some trusted 4WD forums to see what people are doing to ward off the toothy danger. Here’s what they suggested:
• Little electronic sonic-wave emitting device that hooks up to your battery. Rats hate the sound and stay away.
• Nylon stocking filled with mothballs stuffed into a safe spot in the engine compartment.
• Same deal as above, but with fabric softener sheets
• Wipe kerosene on the tires to keep rodents from climbing them
• Travel with a cat
• If parked for a long time in marmot-infested areas, the tarp trick is an absolute must.
As for me, my engine bay now is one-half engine, one-half dryer sheets and mothball storage. I have another trip this weekend, and I’m not leaving anything to chance.