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Rodent damage up to and including totalling the vehicle is a very real threat to your van or any vehicle parked in some areas where there are rats or rodents. Pay special attention at popular campsites, and particularly at popular trailheads if leaving a vehicle for several days or more.
Newer cars using soy-based wiring insulation are particularly at risk; see Rats! New Cars' Soy-Coated Wires Give Rodents Plenty To Chew On.
For more about the half-day nightmware with this cute rat below, see Mickey Mouse moves into Mercedes Sprinter van with me in the wilderness to get out of the cold.
Reader James G writes about a troubling hazard of travel in many parks and mountain areas:
Beware the move by Mercedes and a lot of other automobile manufacturers to use biodegradable or "green" materials in things like wiring and hoses. Very attractive to rodents.
Ex-wife's Prius was totaled due to rodents damaging wiring harness in so many places that it couldn't be repaired and something about the foam in the seat cushions made for a comfy home until they died inside the car and not all the carcasses could be found.
Mineral King trailhead used to be notorious for marmot damage and the advice was to screen off the bottom of your engine compartment with hardware cloth or chicken wire. But mice can get through even smaller stuff.
One would hate to be all the way out at White Mountain and have to be towed back to civilization because the mice trashed your wiring.
Short of dipping your van into a vat of bobcat piss, Honda sells a capsaicin-impregnated duct tape or MouseBlocker Anti-Rodent Insulated Tape for wrapping wires and hoses. At least think about the problem and consider mitigation or at the very least a disaster recovery plan.
DIGLLOYD: I had been pondering this very issue recently. Threats include marmots (White Mountains and other areas at 10,000' and higher), ground squirrels, rats and mice.
I’ve heard the 'totalled by rodents' story from the service department in Reno, and from other sources. There are no good solutions to rodents (other than a pet bobcat I suppose!). Leaving a vehicle at a trailhead for a week is a real threat.
One tip I heard is to leave the hood cracked open, so that it is not dark and cozy inside. That’s not viable if leaving for very long (rain or snow). I have been considering doing things like putting some LED XMAS tree lights inside the engine compartment that would just run all the time (well, perhaps a simple switch), the idea being that lights under the hood would discourage rodents from finding it dark and cozy. I have no idea if that would work however.
I have not had a problem with rodent damage to my Cayenne, but as a 2008 model they did not go overboard on 'green' design nonsense (though it is an ULEV). Something nice and toxic is more to my liking for vehicle wiring.
The wrapping of wires with something rodents do not like is a good idea but it’s very hard to reach all the wires. Maybe a bear spray and/or mountain lion urine sprayed onto everything around might work, but how often and how effective I don’t know And I bet it smells real nice on one’s car too. I’ve been told that mothballs in the engine compartment can work also.
Spray-on options include Roden Repellent for Vehicle Wiring. Spray-on seems much better since things all sorts of nooks and crannies can be covered.
Reader Jim A writes that thera are ultrasonic rodent repellers or a similar technologies in a simple device to discourage rodents from infesting attics and basements. They are battery powered and some have a light as well. I have not tried them, and I don’t know how to figure out if they work. A friend of mine has them for mice, but I watched the mouse go right past it one night—maybe it wasn’t powered on.
Victor (gotta love the name) has Victor ultrasonic rodent repeller. The issue is AC power— a vehicle has no efficient AC power source—an inverter can suck 10 to 40 watts even with no load, which would drain the battery over the course of a week, even if an AC inverter or wiring could get into the engine compartment. There are battery powered pest repellers available, including an under hood animal repaller, but which work and which don’t work across mice/rats/marmots/squirrels it’s hard to say, and the ones without light for under the hood seems less than ideal.
I was thinking about sheathing the high-amp cable from the alternator to the main battery in some kind of stainless sheathing. But that’s of no use if other wires get chewed.
Wire 'fencing' under the engine area sounds good and might keep out marmots and ground squirrels but whether it is feasible and will stay in place on offroad outings and for vehicle service I don’t know. Up in the white mountains I once snuck up on a marmot gnawing a huge hole into the seat of a SnowCat (from below). I could hear it gnawing as I approached—6 inch hole right up through the seat bottom! The marmots up there are densely populated near the end of the road—a very bad place to park for long—I park 1/4 mile away to reduce the odds of damage and so far so good.
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William D writes:
I use a 3 prong approach to this problem.
1. Moth balls in small net bags. - rodents do not like the strong smell of moth balls - 2 or 3 bags
2. Electronic noise maker - battery powered. I set this under the hood at night.
3. Solar lights - two cheap lights from a hardware store. The sun charges them during the day and I put two under the engine compartment when it gets dark. The lights seem to deter rodents - same idea as cracking the hood open since many vehicles have a small lamp which turns on when the hood is opened. I just got two at a discount store for $2 each.
I carry the above in a zip lock bag when I go to an area that has rodent problems. This is especially true for Organ Pipe National Monument near the Mexican boarder. Pack rats there have chewed wires in many vehicles in the campground. I had a campground host at the Mojave Preserve tell me the problem is worse when the vehicle is not run or moved for several days. Rodents will then start climbing into the engine compartment for chewing wires and looking for nest areas. So far I have never had any damage.
PS - The battery was dead for the electronic deterrent when you saw the mouse - I replaced it and caught him in "Victor" trap!
WIND: sounds promising, but solar lights won't be viable if away for a few days on an overnighter backpack trip or similar.