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Kelley Blue Book: Rats got into my car and chewed everything. Will insurance cover it?

Having rodents under the hood isn’t the first thought that comes to mind when your car won’t start or isn’t running quite right. Still, those little critters can create big headaches for drivers by chewing through wires around the engine.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that problems caused by vermin can happen to any vehicle in urban and rural areas across the country. When rodents damage your car, who pays for the repair? Continue reading to learn about insurance coverage that might help ease your financial burden when the mechanic says rats are the reason for your engine trouble.

Why do rodents chew car wires?

Gnawing is a natural behavior of mice, rats, chipmunks, and squirrels. A rodent’s teeth never stop growing, and like your fingernails, must be trimmed. Since they can’t use clippers, these critters chew on things to help keep their incisors filed down and manageable.

Another essential survival skill in rodents is locating dark, dry, and warm spots that are safe from predators. Your car’s engine compartment fulfills those requirements — and more.

When you lift your car’s hood, you’ll see plenty of rubber and plastic — prime ingredients of a buffet for vermin to gnaw on while hiding around your engine. They can satisfy the need to sharpen their teeth inside the shelter instead of going out to chew on sticks and bark.

Some people believe that today’s car wires coated with soy-based material attract rodents because they taste better than older wires with petroleum-based insulation. There is no scientific evidence to support that. Critters don’t chew the material for nourishment or to please their taste buds. Instead, rodents gnaw on car wires and other material only to help keep their teeth in good working order.

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How do rodents harm your car?

Vehicle damage caused by rodents can be minor or significant if the varmints aren’t interrupted. Their instinctive gnawing can harm essential parts under the hood:

Wires

Belts

Cables

Hoses

Filters

If your vehicle sits for prolonged periods of inactivity, rodents may set up camp by building a nest in your car. In addition to being out of sight and difficult for you to locate, a hidden nest may prevent the vehicle from operating correctly. Rodents have built nests in all areas of cars:

Engine compartment

Under center console

Climate control ducts

Behind paneling

Trunk

Rodents use whatever they can find for nest material, such as twigs and leaves. Some car owners have reported discovering nests made of the insulation scavenged from hood liners and vehicle carpeting.

Critters have also used parked vehicles as storage units for their winter food supply. A squirrel in North Dakota stashed 182 pounds of walnuts in a Chevrolet Avalanche.

While a rodent’s mouth and teeth might harm your car, what comes from the other end isn’t good for your health. Rodent feces and urine — and dander, too — can carry disease. You don’t want any of this unsanitary stuff in your car’s ductwork.

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What is the cost of rodent damage?

Repairing encounters with rodents in vehicles isn’t always expensive, but they can be.

Consider this scenario: A rodent found its way into the heating and air conditioning system of your car. It filled the vents with dead grass, tiny twigs, and cloth from the insulation under the carpeting. Its cozy winter paradise created a blockage that reduced air flowing through the ducts.

Undoing what the critter did will require a week to repair:

Remove the instrument panel

Clean or replace the ductwork

Replace the blower motor

Remove the front seats to disinfect the carpeting (in case there was urine and feces)

Replace the cowl screen and a list of other issues.

The estimate to repair this uncommon but realistic situation comes to about $4,000.

Does insurance pay for rodent damage?

A car insurance policy with comprehensive coverage might help save the day when you face an expensive repair due to rodent damage. Some comprehensive policies don’t protect against rodents gnawing on wiring, so check with your insurance provider to ensure that you’re covered.

Comprehensive coverage is an optional product if you own your car. Finance companies usually require comprehensive coverage when you lease your vehicle or if you’re still paying off an auto loan.

Fire, theft, vandalism, glass breakage, falling tree limbs, hitting an animal, as well as wind and flood damage are situations that fall under comprehensive coverage. Remember that each policy is unique. Your insurance agent can confirm coverage.

If estimates to fix, clean, and sanitize your vehicle cost more than your deductible, you might decide to file a claim. If repair costs are close to the amount of your deductible, consider paying the repair cost to avoid a potential increase in your insurance premium.

Be sure to document any damage with photographs and obtain detailed repair estimates in writing.

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How to prevent rodent damage to vehicles

Nobody enjoys making an insurance claim. Having rodents rummaging around your car is even less desirable. Take steps to avoid potential vehicle damage from rodents:

Move your vehicle regularly; stored vehicles become easy targets.

Leave your car’s hood open if you park in a garage.

Seal small holes in the garage; use traps if rodent presence is detected.

Secure pet food and birdseed that can attract critters.

Keep garbage away from where you park vehicles.

Avoid parking in areas with thick underbrush.

You can also try one of the many rodent deterrents on the market. If rodents are a big problem on your property, contact a professional pest control service for a solution.

This story originally ran on KBB.com

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