Why So Many Cars Have Rats in Them Now - The New York Times


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one week ago  •  34 comments

By:   nytimes

Why So Many Cars Have Rats in Them Now - The New York Times
Driving in the city is on the rise, but if New Yorkers think they can avoid rats this way, they are in for quite the surprise.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Driving in the city is on the rise, but if New Yorkers think they can avoid rats this way, they are in for quite the surprise.

merlin_210851544_801a05c1-4d59-4733-bd81-42bbf5610f35-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale The telltale sign of rats in cars: an abandoned chicken bone under the hood.Credit...Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

By T.M. Brown

Published Aug. 3, 2022Updated Aug. 4, 2022

For eight years, Libby Denault had taken her Prius to the same auto body shop in Brooklyn for tuneups and other repairs, which it always handled expeditiously.

But in January 2021, the mechanics at Urban Classics Auto Repair in Bedford-Stuyvesant were stumped: The "check engine" message kept flashing on the dashboard of Ms. Denault's car, despite the vehicle's driving just fine. "They did a bunch of tests and couldn't figure out what it was," she said.

Finally, they found the source: a rat. It had chewed through a sensor wire. She ended up with a $700 bill.

Rats bedding down under car hoods is nothing new for New Yorkers, but over the last two years, many of the city's auto body shops have seen the number of drivers coming in with rodent-related issues climb significantly. Out of 28 mechanics interviewed throughout the city for this article, 20 of them reported an increase of vermin in cars, and of those, 10 said the number of such appearances had doubled during the pandemic.

ImageLibby Denault's car kept giving her a "check engine" message, but it was running just fine, stumping her mechanics. They eventually identified rats as the culprits.Credit...Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

"I see new cars, old cars, everyone is coming in now with these rat problems," said Ozzy Dayan, a mechanic at Manhattan Auto Repair in Hell's Kitchen. "It brings me a lot of business, but it's disgusting."

The recent Covid trend of New Yorkers' buying cars may share some of the blame. Between the summers of 2019 and 2021, new car registrations increased by 19 percent, according to data provided by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

And more cars means more nesting opportunities for rats.

Jenna Carpenter-Moyes, a design strategist in Brooklyn, bought a used car in May 2020 as a way to navigate the city during the pandemic. That summer, as she was driving to the Hudson Valley, she noticed that her engine was straining as she made her way up a hill.

"The 'check engine' light came on, and I brought it to my mechanic, who popped the hood and found chicken bones, some bread and part of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich sitting there," Ms. Carpenter-Moyes said. She paid $1,200 to repair and clean the car, but the battle to keep the rats from picnicking under its hood is now constant, she said. "I go through a lot of peppermint oil."

ImageDuring the coronavirus lockdown, rats began taking more risks in order to stay alive, like making brazen midday dashes to piles of trash bags and warm cars.Credit...Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

During the pandemic, rat sightings have also gone up (or at least more New Yorkers have complained about them). Between 2020 and 2021, the number of calls to the 311 hotline increased by well over 8,000, according to NYC Open Data. Michael H. Parsons, a research scholar at Fordham University and an urban rat expert, is the co-author of a 2020 study on increased hotline calls about rodents. "When things started shutting down, the rats lost access to their usual food sources," he said.

Like other New Yorkers, rats had to improvise and adapt.

"Rats can adjust to human behavioral shifts very quickly," said Jason Munshi-South, a biology professor at Fordham who has conducted research with Dr. Parsons. "So when the pandemic altered our behavior, it impacted the rats as well." Rats that would typically stick close to their food sources began taking more risks, like making brazen midday dashes to piles of trash bags and other potential meals and hangouts.

But recently, as human behavior has returned to something approaching normalcy, the rats haven't reverted to their old habits; they've simply expanded their tactics. As they continue foraging through garbage and running off with pizza slices, they may also be exhibiting a higher frequency of rare and unusual behaviors, like attacking and feasting on other urban animals like pigeons and even other rats, Dr. Parsons said.

Laura Cali, an archivist in Park Slope, Brooklyn, found evidence of rats in her car this past February. "I was just disgusted, because I didn't really understand how and why they would do that," she said. "Then I learned that they look for warmth, and they go under the hood if you've just parked. It feels really gross to go back in your car and wonder if there's just going to be a family of rats under your hood every time you start your car."

Image"It brings me a lot of business, but it's disgusting," said Ozzy Dayan, a mechanic at Manhattan Auto Repair in Hell's Kitchen.Credit...Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

The proliferation of outdoor dining sheds and new soy-based insulation for car wiring — basically catnip for rodents, Dr. Parsons said — are other possible causes for the increasing number of rats' taking their meals in vehicles, according to some researchers and mechanics.

Charlie Salino, a mechanic at Parkside Auto Care in Park Slope, said that his customers often know when a rat has been rooting around the engine because of obvious signs like feces. But figuring out the extent of the damage requires some investigation. "The rats can fit into spaces that we can't access without taking parts of the engine apart," he said. "Sometimes it's a quick fix that I can do in an hour and sometimes it costs $1,000 to repair all the damage. You don't really know until you get in there."

Dr. Parsons said the increased rat activity, in cars and everywhere else, is a symptom of wider social issues. "Our habits determine how many rats are in our area." he said. "All those aromas coming from garbage bags, the litter and crumbs — those are enough to get the ball rolling."

"It's about social urban hygiene," Dr. Parsons continued. "We have to change the way we think about how we take care of our neighborhoods, and we'll be able to get rid of the rats."

Continue reading the main story


jrDiscussion - desc
Freshman Guide
1  Revillug    one week ago
"It's about social urban hygiene," Dr. Parsons continued. "We have to change the way we think about how we take care of our neighborhoods, and we'll be able to get rid of the rats."

It used to be that garbage on collection day had to be presented to the trucks in metal garbage cans.

At some point NYC got the notion that it would be more efficient to merely leave bags of garbage straight from the garbage compactors on the sidewalk on collection day. And before they wind up on the sidewalk on garbage collection day? They are stored in a pile in the basement garbage rooms of NYC apartment buildings.

The rats have thrived. They are now so big that they hunt the cats instead of the other way around.

Maybe we should bring back garbage cans?

Professor Principal
1.1  CB   replied to  Revillug @1    one week ago

Big/ger glue pads?

Freshman Guide
1.1.1  Revillug  replied to  CB @1.1    one week ago

A Roomba with a mounted dart gun?

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
1.1.2  Trout Giggles  replied to  Revillug @1.1.1    6 days ago

I like that idea

Professor Quiet
1.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Revillug @1    6 days ago

When mentioning rats, are you talking the four legged variety or the two legged in cars?

Sparty On
Professor Principal
1.2.1  Sparty On  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.2    6 days ago

When I hear rats, I think of Midrats or C-rats but then again I’m not from a rat infested city so my experience with rats is much different.

Professor Quiet
1.2.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Sparty On @1.2.1    4 days ago

Agreed about midrats. In addition, living in the Sonoran Desert in SE Arizona, I have lots of friends that live out on farms and ranches. They have to be especially careful of rats and field mice that live chewing on engine wire insulation for nesting inside engine compartments of cars, trucks, and tractors. Very annoying for those people 

Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.    one week ago

Here is something no one is mentioning:

The proliferation of outdoor dining sheds and new soy-based insulation for car wiring — basically catnip for rodents, Dr. Parsons said — are other possible causes for the increasing number of rats’ taking their meals in vehicles, according to some researchers and mechanics.

That soy based insulation on car wiring was a 3K repair on my daughter's brand new car. It's in most Japanese made cars, and we just bought a new Mazda ourselves and we are wondering how best to keep the rats and mice away.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2    one week ago
"...we are wondering how best to keep the rats and mice away."

Keep a cat under the hood.

Professor Principal
2.2.1  CB   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2    6 days ago


How about an "angry cat sound" horn?

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  CB @2.2.1    6 days ago

Just a small speaker under the hood broadcasting intermittent 24/7 cat sounds would do the trick and not use up much battery power.  A horn is just an occasional sound. 

Professor Principal
2.2.3  CB   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.2    6 days ago
Just a small speaker under the hood broadcasting intermittent 24/7 cat sounds would do the trick and not use up much battery power.

I will get a team working on it 'stat.'

pat wilson
Professor Guide
2.3  pat wilson  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2    6 days ago

A mechanic saw droppings in my engine compartment and recommended spraying with Lysol. I do that one a week. Supposedly they hate it .

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.3.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  pat wilson @2.3    6 days ago

I wonder if cat pee would do as well.

Professor Quiet
2.3.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.3.1    3 days ago

Depends on if you can find a cat that will pee on demand.😏

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.3.3  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @2.3.2    3 days ago

I don't think that's a problem.  I'm sure cat pee could be collected and then used to spray the wires. 

Professor Principal
2.4  CB   replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2    4 days ago

Another tip: On occasion 'cycle' your car alarm once or twice. Best wait to being this method of pest control when you have indicators of some activity.

Professor Quiet
3  cjcold    one week ago

Started my truck one morning about 30 years ago and it clunked and made all sorts of strange noises.

One of my cats had found a warm place to sleep (late fall).

On top of a warm small block Chevy engine was not a good idea. 

I was on call as a paramedic. and had to leave fast  

She survived the experience minus an ear i

She never came anywhere near my truck ever again.

Split Personality
Professor Principal
3.1  Split Personality  replied to  cjcold @3    6 days ago

I was a service manager at a new car dealership 40 years ago.

Customer brought a car in for a trans leak.  Checked, found no discernable leak.

They were back in a few days saying it was dripping red transmission fluid on the garage floor.

This was long before cell phones so I gave them a wide roll of brown paper from the body shop

to put under the truck to help locate the leak.

Next day, they were back with the paper, sure enough a drop of something redish black

but it wasn't trans fluid, it was blood.

After we extracting what was left of the cat from the belts they determined that it was one of their own 

missing gatos.  I started wearing latex gloves after that episode.

Back when carburetors were still on every car but air filters were being relocated to boxes behind the 

headlamps, mice loved those boxes pre-filled with nesting material.

Didn't take long to figure out when you found seeds and other trash in the carb or float bowls

that you had mice nesting in the box or the hoses to the carb or throttle body.

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Split Personality @3.1    6 days ago

My dad had a van in his garage and a 50 sack of peanuts. Chipmunks got in the sack and squirreled the peanuts away in the tailpipe. He took it to the shop for an inspection and hard time driving it. He finally got it to the shop and got a call an hour later. The guys in the shop could hardly talk because they were laughing so hard

Split Personality
Professor Principal
3.1.2  Split Personality  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.1.1    6 days ago

I have to keep corn, duck kibble and peanuts in 5 gallon containers with lids.

The squirrels tried to chew through the lids one year but gave up eventually.

They only attack the peanuts; the ducks attack the corn bins trying to get some to fall


PhD Guide
4  evilgenius    one week ago

Up here, in more rural areas, it's mice and chipmunks looking for winter lodging. A vehicle parked over winter may end up completely packed with acorns and bedding fluff. Mice will chew threw any number of hoses and electrical wires. It's always fun when you hit the breaks to stop and a mouse rolls out from the back of your car.

Oh and the occasional outdoor cat looking for a place to stay warm. Growing up my neighbors lost two cats that way. 

Professor Principal
5  Nerm_L    one week ago

Rats and humans have lived together so long it's a wonder rats haven't been domesticated.

Once upon a time, long ago, mothballs could be used to deter critters from revisiting a spot.  Rats (and other critters) tend to mark a spot with urine and other pheromones that will attract others.  Naphthalene based mothballs would mask the odor.  But naphthalene has been declared a public menace and removed from mothballs.  So, the new formulations might not work as well.  Creosote worked pretty well, too, but that's not available any longer either.

Maybe sticking one of those slow release air fresheners under the hood might work.  The idea is to mask the odor that rats have left behind.

Professor Principal
6  Kavika     one week ago

Here in Florida when our cold winter hit it's not unusual to find snakes warming up in cars.


Sparty On
Professor Principal
6.1  Sparty On  replied to  Kavika @6    6 days ago

Lol .... export that problem to NYC ....will fix the rat problem .... and the cat and small dog problem .....

Professor Principal
6.2  CB   replied to  Kavika @6    6 days ago

Uh-huh! The 'devil' is a lie. No Florida for me! "No Sir!" "No-Ma'am!"

Freshman Principal
7  magicschoolbusdropout    6 days ago

Squirrels have an "Under the Hood" reputation too.

Chewed Wires (Chewed my other half's Trailer wires too) and Acorn Shells left under that Pretty Plastic Engine Cover under the hood.

Professor Principal
8  CB     6 days ago

Put "dime store" glue pads under your vehicle and/or 'run' your alarm ever so often for 'critter control'!  What? Some of you are driving cars WITHOUT alarms?!!  How old is. . . nevermind. :)

Split Personality
Professor Principal
8.1  Split Personality  replied to  CB @8    6 days ago

used to use glue pads, terrible results.

they either caught desirable birds or lizards

or they created horrendous screaming victims you had to drown and dispose of.

Better to promote  cats and possums to control the rats & mice.

Of course the lizards still lose, but they have a better chance against the cats.

Professor Principal
8.1.1  CB   replied to  Split Personality @8.1    6 days ago

True. So true.

However, there are the poison boxes left by our Terminix inspector from 'yesteryear.' (Our neighbor has dogs, plural, leading to food stuff nearby outside (we have never owed pets outright.) Now, we are blessed to only see small creatures like spiders, flies, and ants all which are easily remedied by glue boards. I, readily admit, to having caught a lizard once on the glue-board. . . little rascal was stuck tight but alive. It was the once or twice occasion where I learned by reading the glueboard how to release the 'victim' in a safe location if desired: I wished to do so.

It was funny, because I used vegetable oil to help ease 'stickability' and within mere minutes the lizard was free. Guess what it did: It started to head for the nearest car in the driveway: mine!  Okay, the devil is a lie, as I was about to mash his or her little head in! Then, it turned to me, and in its best lizard, 'mouthed' something I will interpret from it posture to mean: 'Don't follow me!'  And turned toward heading to the front tire again!

Well, I was not going to be intimidated by such a mere creature, so I proceeded to swipe it with a stick: it flipped over- came up- 'mouthed' something else in my direction and. . . that is when I covered in with a box, scooped it up, and took it to the backyard and released it.

I felt like a part of nature in that instance. I had spared a life caught in my trap.

Anyhoo, I thought about leaving glue pads out for the cats that crap under the spruce trees in the back! But, just now you confirmed my suspicion that a cat with a glue pad stuck to its foot would not be able to get back over the feet and out of the yard—without my help!  :)  So, I never did put them out back.

But, rats and other 'villainous' creatures of the night could be fair game.  But now I am remembering the raccoons that prowl around at night. . . and the occasional possum. . . Blah!

Once I even bought several rat traps (to scare the 'crappy' cat away when it snaps) but thought better of it getting caught on its foot and worse, it would be sitting there madder than a 'wet hen' the next morning waiting for somebody (me?) to come take it off of its paw. (Not going to happen!)

I don't want to glue anything, but there is only so much I can do when pest persist in bugging the household: They look to me to fix and 'clear' up critter problems.

Professor Principal
8.1.2  CB   replied to  CB @8.1.1    6 days ago

BTW, I do recommend placing glue 'pads' responsibly so as to capture and 'detain' only what one wishes. And yes, for such small creatures as most pest are, I do see glue pads as the equivalent of being starved or suffocating to death (if breathing apparatus is obstructed shut. But, what else is there?

Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
9  Drinker of the Wry    6 days ago

Living in the city
I've been abused, you have
Jobs I keep the people I meet
They don't do more than make me amused

Everywhere I turn now
Just more bad news
So don't look now and don't ask how
We're gonna find me a way to the animal zoo?

Oh no something went wrong
Well you're much too fat and a little too long
Hey hey you got too much to lose
Gotta get on back to the animal zoo


Professor Principal
10  Ender    6 days ago

I let my old Tahoe sit for a while. It wasn't mice or anything that invaded, it was wasps. They were inside the side mirrors.

al Jizzerror
Junior Expert
11  al Jizzerror    3 days ago

When I attended high school in NYC (decades ago) I worked at the Sutton Theater (East 57th Street - now demolished).  I made the night deposits at a bank around the corner.  The two local beat cops would often accompany me to the bank.  One night the cops were waiting at Schaeffer's Restaurant (since moved) which was next door to the theater.  They both had their large flashlights pointed in the window.  They said, "watch this" and they both turned on their flashlights.  Hundreds of rats scurried off of the tables.  We all laughed because Schaeffer's was a high end four star restaurant.


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