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Rodent Rampage: Surprising culprits behind rising car breakdowns

The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) has revealed that the usual suspects of car breakdowns - like head gaskets or catastrophic engine failures - are being upstaged by a much smaller, yet formidable adversary: rodents.

The RAC's latest data, gathered from thousands of patrol breakdown reports since 2016, shows a startling increase in vehicle damage caused by mice, rats, and even foxes. These creatures have been "surprising" customers by wreaking havoc on their vehicles, with the total number of rodent-related breakdowns soaring by 55% from 196 incidents in the first 11 months of 2018 to a staggering 303 in the same period of 2023.

This rise in rodent-induced breakdowns is not just a year-round phenomenon but shows a significant seasonal spike. Over the past five years, there has been an average increase of 66% from summer to autumn, marking a disturbing trend as the seasons change.

In 2023, rats have been particularly destructive, responsible for half (51%) of all animal damage incidents. These rats have shown a penchant for gnawing on fuel hoses, inhabiting engine bays, and even damaging headlights. Foxes, not to be outdone, have also contributed to the chaos by chewing on speed sensor wiring, windscreen wiper blades, and brake hoses.

The RAC's patrols suggest that the root of the problem often lies with food inadvertently left in or near vehicles. Open bags of pet feed, especially in garages, are irresistible to mice and rats. These rodents are drawn to the peanut and soy-based oils and waxes found in various automobile parts, such as diesel injector wires and gearbox insulation.

Moreover, vehicles that are left standing and unattended for extended periods become attractive shelters for these creatures, providing warmth and security. This situation not only leads to expensive repairs but also highlights an unusual aspect of vehicle maintenance that many may overlook.

The RAC advises vehicle owners to be vigilant about storing food and regularly checking their vehicles, especially if they are left unused for long durations.

One patrol attended a Porsche where 10 mice had made a nest under the scuttle panel at the bottom of the windscreen, while another was called to retrieve a more exotic creature: a baby pet python which had taken up residence behind a wheel trim. The snake had gone missing from the member’s home and was drawn to the car’s warm brakes. When the patrol pulled the trim off, there was the python all cosy and coiled up.

RAC patrol Nick Isaac, who works around the South West of England, once found a squirrel using an air filter as its pantry. Nick said: “The car had lost power and had an odd smell. When I lifted the bonnet and revved the engine the air filter moved like it was being sucked towards the engine. It turned out a squirrel had been taking nuts from a bird feeder and storing them in the air box, restricting air flow to the car.”

Alister Hughes, an RAC patrol in Cornwall, remembers an incident from this year where a cat managed to disconnect a battery in a Peugeot van. The curious cat crawled onto the engine, disconnecting the quick release battery terminal in the process. Alister said: “The van wouldn’t start, but the biggest giveaway was all the leftover fur and the neighbour telling me they’d been calling their cat the previous evening!”

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “Many of us are used to seeing the occasional rat or mouse on the street, but finding one in your car is not only a nasty shock but often the cause of very unwelcome and expensive damage. Unfortunately, incidents like this are more common than drivers might expect, particularly over the winter months when animals look to take shelter from the cold conditions.

“To reduce the risk of animal damage, check your car if it hasn’t been driven for a week or more. The best advice is to make sure no food – for pets or humans – is left inside. Also check for unusual smells in the vehicle and be mindful of any dashboard warning lights that don’t disappear after a minute or two. Any foodstuff in garages should be kept in airtight containers or locked in metal bins.

“If you suspect your vehicle has sustained animal damage, whether that’s chewed cables, clogged air filters or a nibbled diesel priming bulb, you should contact a reputable mobile mechanic or use the RAC’s Approved Garage Network to find a local garage that provides quality repairs. Car insurance does cover animal damage, but it’s worth checking before you claim to see if the damage justifies the expense.”


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