Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Rats and the Law of Unintended Consequences

I've got to say this is a new one on me.  According to a story in USA Today this week, some auto companies have gone to wire insulation based on soy instead of a plastic.  The insulation is derived from a bean instead of petroleum.  The Unintended Consequence is that the soy-based insulation is attractive to rats, and the rodents chew through it, causing (sometimes) thousands of dollars worth of damage.
ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Every evening, Janice Perzigian puts Pine-Sol on the ground around her 2017 Ford Mustang.

Dryer sheets go under the front seat and in the trunk. Spray made with essential oils is applied to the tires, the sides and the back.

Why does she go through this 5-minute routine?

She has a simple answer: to avoid another $600+ repair bill after a rat chewed through wires under the hood of her car, leading to problems last month starting her car.
Turns out Ms. Perzigian isn't alone.  In 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed against Toyota by Los Angeles attorney Brian Kabateck on behalf of Albert Heber of Delphi, Ind., whose 2012 Tundra had its soy-based insulated wiring chewed through by rodents three times, the first time in 2013. The costs of repair totaled about $1,500; damage that Kabateck said Toyota wouldn't cover under warranty.
"Our contention, [while] soy is certainly — it's laudable — they're trying to be more green, at the same time, it's becoming a potential food product for rats," Kabateck said. He believes rats find it "delicious." [Note: anything in square brackets is added by me - SiG]
One thing I had heard of was rats chewing through wires in all sorts of things, and I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that this really has anything to do with the soy based insulation.  Chewing on things is what rats do.
Jim Stevens, a sales representative at Suburban Ford of Ferndale, MI, said finding rats chewing through wires "is a pretty common thing around here," with two or three vehicles coming in a month.

Though he has been aware of the problem for the last five or six years, Stevens said he doesn't buy the theory of the soy-based coating.

"it's just like your home; it's pretty common (rodents) just chew on stuff," he said, noting that he lives in the country and has a pole barn, where rodents have chewed on wires in his tractor.
Tracy Noble, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, takes the view that there is an increase in these damage incidents, and it probably is because of the soy-based insulation.  She said that in the early 2000s, requirements were put on the automakers to manufacture cars that were more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.  In addition to the problems with the soy based insulation, Noble also said there were problems with insulation from natural products such as sisal and flax, and seat cushions made from coconut fiber.


(Wiring harness damage photo from NBCDFW story)

Ultimately, it's probably a worsening of a problem that has always been around to some degree.  The best thing you could do is probably to try to make sure your area is rat free.  Keeping them out of the car is probably easier than getting them out once they live in your firewall or someplace.  Perhaps Janice Perzigian's routine with Pine-Sol, peppermint oil, dryer sheets, and all the rest is a good idea.  Lacking that, there are commercial rat repellents.  You could always try to convince some owls to move in nearby.  Good luck with that.


14 comments:

  1. I had this problem with my old '97 Toyota Tacoma, which we stored in an open garage while we were cruising the Bahamas on our sailboat. Some rat filled the engine compartment with all sorts of sticks, branches, and odds and ends (e.g. knobs off of someone's old car radio, so I'm guessing maybe a pack rat). It was so tightly packed that it took me several hours to get most of the trash out. Then I discovered it wouldn't start because the critter had eaten through much of the wiring on the engine.

    I found out that my insurance policy (USAA) had a clause for "rodent damage", so it was covered minus my deductible, thanks to the young man who I hired to tow it to the nearest Toyota dealer. It never occurred to me that such coverage even existed.

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  2. If you can't convince those owls to move into your neighborhood, you can always go the 2A route. 12 gauge with magnum loads does an admirable job eliminating rats. And after the first few shots, it does wonders for improving your marksmanship as well...
    }:-]

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  3. You could always just convince carmakers to ignore the idiot green fascists and let them make a product that is designed properly, instead of building feel-good virtue signalling puppet models of "automobiles".

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  4. One possible solution (works) is to buy those cakes of urinal soap and put them in the engine compartment. Rodents hate the camphor smell and will avoid the area.

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  5. Rats chew on things. And for reasons I don't understand they are usually around the water. Keeping them off boats was a consideration that everyone dealt with.

    The dog breed schipperke (pronouced "skipper key") was bred in part to be a rat-catcher.

    The worst case I remember is a friend who picked up a rat in the Bahamas. It did about 3000 dollars of damage before they got it trapped and off the boat. It is MUCH harder to get rid of rats than mice.

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    1. Damn. I can sympathize. Bahama adds on a 45% surcharge for any parts shipped into their country, or at least they did while we were there. Cruisers who can't head back to the States to get the repairs done spend a _lot_ more having it done anywhere there. Plus the rule is that everything costs a thousand bucks (BOAT stands for "Break out another thousand") As far as Bahamians are concerned, if you are there on a boat (even a used former charter cat like ours) you are wealthy and won't mind being overcharged.

      We were stuck in Marsh Harbor for a while because the guy in Marathon who installed an AGM battery bank and inverter/charger (Xantrex) for us wired _every_ power source through the inverter. When it failed - after only four months - we couldn't use the engine alternators, our built-in diesel generator, or even shore power.

      The circuit board that needed to be swapped out for a new one cost us an extra 45%, so what should have been done at no charge on the warranty ened up costing us $430.

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  6. A number of years back there was a lot of soy wire related incidents at Denver International Airport in the parking lots....not with rats, but rabbits.

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  7. Or maybe just a bucket with water in it.

    Had a 5gal bucket on my screened porch because of a bit of a leak, went to empty it after a hard rain, found not one but two rats!

    They'd been dead for awhile and now very unpleasantly stinky, dumped them out and went to clean them up the next day and they were gone. Not a trace of them, semi-suburban Florida is weird.

    On the subject of owls, if you have enough t̵r̵e̵e̵ ̵r̵a̵t̵s̵ uhh... I mean squirrels they show up by themselves. That and raptors of various types.

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  8. Moth Balls also may discourage them.

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  9. Not a joke. My wife's Honda Roadsmith trike had rodent chewed wiring in our carport. She rides it only occasionally (once a month) because she has other bikes that need the exercise. About $1800, insurance was pissed but they took it in stride - not their 1st rodeo in this department.

    She now uses one of those plug-in sonic units and confines the dog near the carport where she has easy access to the motorcyle. Not sure if its caught any rodents, but it has killed several 'possums' so its earning its keep.

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    1. Opossums kill rats, mice, and cockroaches.

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    2. And sonic units don't kill, so there's that.

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  10. Not really a new problem. During WW2 Illinois used a combination of soy and fiberboard for license plates. I remember hearing stories of dogs eating the plates on cars.
    http://justacarguy.blogspot.com/2016/06/1940s-illinois-license-plates-were-made.html

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