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When Critters Attack
The 'Car'nage continues ...

Posted 5/11/2005
By Brian Manley

How to prevent or rectify the damage
underhood intruders can create.

As a follow-up to Part 1 of my "When Critters Attack" article (AutoInc., November 2003), I wanted to share a few more stories of bizarre creature occurrences.

Following these stories, I will share methods to deter pests from your customer's vehicles, and acceptable ways to fix those wires that magically disappear.

Those "Wascally Wabbits!"


Photo Credit/Tyler Fitzpatrick
Stories in our local news have reminded me how prolific the rabbit population has become. These nervous, floppy-eared fur-balls can be seen all around one of our largest parking locations in Colorado - Denver International Airport (DIA) - and surrounding suburbs.

One unlucky Audi owner, who had parked his vehicle near the tall grasses surrounding the airport, was profiled in a recent local news story. He had returned to his vehicle only to find that when he started it up, a warning light illuminated on his dashboard. He called a local Audi dealer and explained his problem, and they responded by asking him if he had parked at DIA.

Apparently, rabbits can't resist Audi oil-level sending unit wires. While he was at the dealership for his repair, he said two other people were getting the same repair performed.

I contacted that very same Audi dealer, and Tyler Fitzpatrick, assistant service manager at McDonald Audi, filled me in on the story. He confirmed the fact that they have seen their fair share of rabbit damage under the vehicles. The picture below was snapped by his technician after putting the car on a hoist, but before removing the lower splash shield to gain access to the engine oil pan. This little fellow had ridden all the way from DIA - about a 30-minute drive - without jumping out!

The rabbits seem to enjoy gnawing on the engine oil-level sending unit wires (located directly in front of our bunny), which then turns on a warning light on the dash. Tyler has seen the damage caused by these guys hiding on top of the transmission bell-housings and feasting on transmission wires.

Tyler commented, "This even happened to me. I live in a suburb near fields, and they ate my fog light wires on my truck. The trouble dissipated when our neighborhood pushed the wildlife further out."

Tyler called this a "serious problem," and when I asked if this can affect their customer service index, he said, "Absolutely. Customers hate out-of-pocket expenses." Tyler said one time the damage to a wiring harness was quite severe - with costs in the thousands - and the insurance company put up a fight, but ultimately paid the claim.

I called my insurance agent, who is with a big-name company, to pose the rabbit erosion question to him. He explained that in his experience, most of these repairs are less than the deductible, and therefore would be paid by the customer. However, he said, the repair should be covered by a comprehensive insurance policy if the damage were extensive.

By the way, I've found the average repair for this wire damage on a typical Audi costs under $200 if it is confined to the oil-level sending unit wires.

My Favorite Marten

Gil Davis, an application engineer and product specialist with the Sartorius Group, responded to my last article with this interesting e-mail:

"... As a former auto technician, I have had a few incidents of unauthorized wildlife, but I just wanted to relate a story ... I work for a global company that manufactures precision scales and balances; I specifically work with the paint scales. Our corporate headquarters is in Goettingen, Germany, and one of my colleagues has another type of critter that is a huge problem over there. They are called 'martens' with no direct translation, and unlike anything I have seen here in the United States. These things are just as numerous, if not more so, than squirrels, and do tons of damage to hoses and harnesses. They are nearly impossible to control.

"Many businesses have been born just to cater to vehicle owners who have had that problem - installing everything from chicken wire, mesh, and even electronic sensors and shock systems to prevent them from getting up inside the car. My colleague's car has wire mesh completely covering the undercarriage of his VW, but they still get in! They even have insurance coverage against these little things, and they file a claim, on the average, four times a year.

"The preferred meal of choice is heater hose. Propylene glycol, with its rich, full-bodied taste, is the varmint's preferred beverage to wash it all down. Apparently, they are immune to the perils of coolant.

"Indeed, in my research of these pesky weasel look-alikes, I uncovered some interesting tidbits. First of all, aftermarket spark plug manufacturers actually produce plug wires that are 'marten resistant,' and have a footnote in their catalog that reads 'marten rodent' protection. These sets come with interlocking beads that protect the wire from gnawing rodents and abrasion damage.

"Secondly, I found reports of these weasel-like creatures causing thousands of breakdowns each year. Ulrich Buckmann of the German driver's association, ADAC, said in a 2003 report that 'Marten damage is a problem that has spread since the end of the 1970s from Austria and southern Germany into parts of central Germany.' His organization recorded more than 16,000 breakdowns due to marten damage in 2000."

A Slimy Discovery

One of our fellow ASA members, Tom Seroogy, sent me a PowerPoint presentation regarding an odd underhood dweller. I present this as an extreme example of what we technicians can face on any given day, and to remind us that just when you think you've seen it all . . .

His story is short and to the point: "This guy was driving in to work and heard a 'Pop!' It sounded like a flat tire. He opens the hood of his car and jumped back a mile! A co-worker recognizes him and stops along the road. Imagine, to their amazement, they discovered a snake intertwined among the engine!"

Keeping Critters Out

Can we keep snakes out from under the hood? (Why would you want to? They must be the ultimate answer to controlling the rodent population under there!) Trouble is, though, that there is a whole lot of damage to the drive pulleys and sensors that a snake can cause if it gets wrapped up in the wrong spot.

If rodents are making a nest out of your customer's air filter box, you'll see the telltale signs: candy, seeds or nuts stashed on top of the air filter. In this case, try wrapping the inlet to the air box with wire mesh. This does not always keep rodents out, but it can act as a good deterrent. If you have customers that seem to have random wiring harnesses chewed up (fuel injector, ground wires on the fender, parts of harnesses running along the unibody), then these customers may have to take more drastic measures. Tyler, from our Audi dealership, uses stainless steel engine hose sleeving to protect his wire repairs.

I found an affordable stainless steel sleeving kit at a local parts-jobber that gives me 30 feet of various sizes from vacuum hose diameter to upper heater hose size.

Often, it seems rodents come to where the food sources are. I once had a pack of squirrels chew the trim away from the windows on my back porch, simply in an attempt to get at the birdseed I had inside for the bird feeder.

Tyler reminds us that "You have to be aware where you are parking." He tells his customers not to keep any dog food in the garage under any circumstances.

The vehicle should not be parked in an area where birdseed, dog food or any other animal food is plentiful. Just like when you go camping in bear country you have to suspend all food, dishes, even gum, over a branch in a tree out of the bear's grasp - you must keep edibles away from the vehicle.

Next, I have heard that dog hair placed at various places under the hood can deter pests. I have been told that mothballs can be a good mouse-fighting tool as well. Tyler has recommended to his customers that pellets of fox urine can deter pests. I have a bottle of rodent and animal repellent that may be made of the same thing.

I have read that mixing any pepper sauce to a consistency that will spray from a bottle will work in many cases. Beware, though, about spraying any of this into the HVAC ducting, for your customer may get a spicy surprise when they operate the heater or A/C.

Another tip is to try and attract rodents into traps placed around your car. Certainly they would rather feast on a chunk of cheese than gnaw on a wiring loom, right?

Finally, if your intent is to poison the little critters, you may want to rethink that. If a critter consumes the poison, it may crawl into its safe place to die, and that may be into your customer's air filter duct, or worse, the HVAC ducting. If you have ever encountered the stench of a rotting rodent in HVAC plumbing or in a squirrel cage, it is intense and it can be difficult to eliminate. Some techs have ultimately recommended that their customers get a cat to live in their garage.

Repairing the Damage

In my experience, it is a simple task to splice wires back together with a $5 pair of wire strippers and a pile of 14-gauge butt connectors, but the repair will be short-lived. Two enemies of a quality wire repair are stress on the harness and exposure to the elements. If a wire has been nibbled by a bunny, and you cut a 1-inch section of that wire out, a 1-inch section must be spliced back in, which means you create two new connection points. If you simply pull really hard on both ends then crimp them together, tension will eventually tear the joint apart. Seems like common sense, but remember there are some do-it-yourselfers who do not know proper wire repair techniques.

The elements can wreak havoc with an exposed connection. A proper connection is crimped with a butt-splice, soldered, and protected from the elements. A twist repair will also suffice, as long as heat-shrink-wrap is used.

Crimp-N-Seal splice sleeves are a great all-in-one solution that have insulation made of shrink tubing, which will conform to the diameter of the wire when heated. These splices also contain epoxy, which will seal the sleeve on both ends, effectively creating a waterproof repair. One drawback to this style of connector is that if you're repairing 20 wires, the loom can become bulky.

Craig Van Batenburg [an error occurred while processing this directive]


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