A furry little culprit is causing big problems for car manufactures and, possibly more importantly, for drivers whose vehicles are being destroyed.
Now lawsuits are popping up across the country claiming rodents are responsible, eating cars from the inside out. And it's likely not covered under your warranty.
Critics say soy-wire coverings now used in many new cars are also a tasty food source attracting rodents. They're chewing through wires, and costing car owners thousands of dollars.
Alice Clark, a rat enthusiast, says her cuddly little "pets" wouldn't hurt anyone, but what they could do to the insides of your car is a different tail.
"It's edible, rats will eat pretty much anything that's edible," Clark said.
Clark feeds her rats soy. And critics say as car companies are going green, they've also turned to soy as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic for wrapping wires and car parts.
Driver Sandy Medina doesn't know how long she had furry friends living under her hood.
"Driving around there could have been something underneath while I was driving it and who knows, maybe something would have popped out!" Medina said.
After owning her Toyota Forerunner for just three months, Medina says the first sign of trouble was when her engine light went on and she took it to her dealer.
"They told me, 'There's a nest in the car. Could be anything, could be rodents, could be squirrels, could be anything,'" Medina said.
She says mechanics told her these pests weren't just making her car their home, they were making it their meal.
"I don't even think that there was anything left. Everything was eaten," Medina said.
She fears it wasn't only bad for her car, it was a potential fire and safety hazard, too.
"I felt that my life was in danger," Medina said.
Attorney Brian Kabateck says, "It is a design defect which has effected a lot of people and has cost a lot of people a lot of money."
Kabateck has filed a class action lawsuit against Toyota, which is one of the manufacturers allegedly using a soy based compound for wire insulation.
"Rats think this is delicious," Kabateck said.
The lawsuit says the soy is "baiting rodents" and "enticing these pests to chew through... the wiring" which could "leave the vehicle partially or completely inoperable."
"It can be a life safety hazard, it can cause the car to stop in the middle of the highway, it can cause it to shut down, and it can cause serious problems," Kabateck said.
Kabatech says it's unknown how many manufacturers are using soy in their cars, but Toyota and Honda are two of the most prevalent.
He believes Toyota is using soy to cut costs, not necessarily to go green, and they are leaving car owners to pay for it.
"They ate $6,000 out of my pocket," Medina said.
While some insurance companies, like Medina's, will pay for repairs, the class action cases says Toyota won't cover it under their warranty. Medina says the wires in her truck were replaced with the exact same soy wire covers.
"They can't guarantee that it's not going to happen again," Medina said.
Mark Zickler of Terminex says, "Soy is a little bit sweeter than chewing on a petroleum product, obviously."
Zickler says there are things car owners can do. Honda has said that rodents chewing wiring has been a longstanding problem and they have seen no evidence that anything in their wiring is increasing rodents gnawing tendencies. Nonetheless, they have come out with a fix - spicy tape - that costs about $45.
"You wrap the wiring throughout your vehicle and it has a really super spicy flavoring in it that deters them from wanting to chew on it," Zickler said.
He also recommends owners move their cars, instead of leaving them in one place for long periods which makes them a more likely home, parking inside, and using traps and moth balls to deter rodents.
"They can come from anywhere and surprise you," Zickler said.
Medina, who is part of the class action lawsuit, just wants to warn other drivers and she wants manufactures to fix the problem, without passing the buck to consumers.
"Why wait until something catastrophic to occur, why can't you do something now?" Medina said.
In a statement to Action News Toyota said "rodent damage... occurs across the industry and is not brand or model specific. And they are "not aware of any scientific evidence that shows rodents are attracted to automotive wiring because of alleged soy bases content."
Honda tells us they believe the class action lawsuits have no merit.
STATEMENT FROM TOYOTA
Rodent damage to vehicle wiring occurs across the industry, and the issue is not brand- or model-specific. We are currently not aware of any scientific evidence that shows rodents are attracted to automotive wiring because of alleged soy-based content. Because these claims are the subject of current litigation, we cannot comment further.
STATEMENT FROM HONDA
It is a long established fact that rodents are drawn to chew on electrical wiring in homes, cars, or anywhere else where they may choose to nest.
Honda introduced a rodent-deterrent tape a few years ago to help combat this age-old issue for customers who live in areas where rodents have caused prior damage. Our attempt to provide some protection for our customers against this natural behavior should not lead to the assumption that Honda created the issue in the first place.
Further, Honda sources parts, including electrical wiring and wire harnesses, from several different suppliers who each have their own proprietary formula for wire insulation and wire harnesses. Honda has not received any confirmation from its various suppliers that the wiring insulation and harnesses used in Honda vehicles are soy-based, as the plaintiffs allege. Honda is not aware of studies or information indicating that any of the wiring insulation or other components used for Honda vehicles are derived from substances that attract rodents or increase their propensity to chew on wiring or other components in engine compartments. It is Honda's understanding that rodents may seek shelter in engine components and once inside, can cause damage as a natural result of their need to chew and use material that has been chewed for nesting. Honda is not aware of any information suggesting rodents use wire insulation as a food source.
Class action lawsuits have been filed against a number of auto manufacturers alleging that vehicles contain soy-based wiring insulation and that such insulations attracts rodents to chew on the insulation. Honda believes that the class actions filed against it have no merit.
Rats! New Cars' Soy-Coated Wires Give Rodents Plenty To Chew On
Trouble is, so do the rats in her neighborhood. They're chewing through wires in her engine compartment, causing hundreds of dollars in damages.
JoAnn and her husband Tracy live in Santee, Calif., just east of San Diego. Recently retired, they enjoy the open road, exploring new places. The first clue that something was wrong came last October. "I had just taken the car in for the 10,000-mile check at the Escondido dealership," JoAnn said, "when I got an alert about the tires."
At first, they thought the tire pressure alert might have something to do with their recent road trip to the Grand Canyon. The tires were just fine, it turns out. "The guys at the dealership had a look and told me that rodents had done some wire damage." JoAnn paid $400 for repairs and figured she'd left her Volvo in an unlucky place at the Grand Canyon National Park.
But JoAnn's duel with rats was just starting. Several days later she got an alert that her water coolant was low. Hmmm, strange. She checked under the hood and, to her dismay, she saw freshly chewed wires. JoAnn read on the internet that peppermint worked as a rodent repellent so she spread some on the driveway.
One afternoon, she decided to check on the wiring. Any fresh damage? Easing the hood up, she laid eyes on a portly rat crouched on top of the engine block. She slammed the hood and ran back into the house yelling for her husband.
Tracy came out, looked inside and assured JoAnn that the rat was gone. But he also saw that the wires looked more chewed up. This time, they took the XC 60 to a different Volvo dealership in San Diego. The service guys confirmed what JoAnn already knew: Rodents had chewed through wiring. That set her back another $200.
Since the second visit, JoAnn and Tracy have upped their game. Tracy set out some traps and has caught one rat.
Meantime, JoAnn conducted an exhaustive Google search and discovered a new rat repellent: Coyote urine. She bought a supply of the Coyote formula from Home Depot for $24 -- plus shipping.
Every night, Joann's pours a little coyote piss around her tires. "I dot my driveway with some too," she says. She also places a Coyote urine-soaked sponge inside a tin pan near the car. She's not sure it's working yet and does not want to take her car in for any more repairs until she's rid of the rats once and for all.
Meantime, the couple noticed something else strange: Their other car in the driveway, an older Toyota MR2, seemed to be immune from the rat attacks. Why was her Volvo getting all the attention?
She called the Volvo service hot line. After some back and forth with the customer service representative, JoAnn unearthed a missing piece of the puzzle: Some Volvo components are apparently coated with materials derived from soy. Aha!
Some newer model cars use materials like soy that are more biodegradable than plastics. It's all part of an effort to make car parts more environmentally-friendly. A Volvo service representative at a Volvo dealer in Michigan confirmed some instances of chewed wires, though they "mostly occurred in rural areas -- not cities." A Volvo spokesperson said that an "initial investigation [into the subject] did not return any substantive info."
But JoAnn's experience with her Volvo does not appear to be an isolated case. Honda, Toyota and other automakers seem to be experiencing chewed up wires, too.
Friends of mine experienced a setback with their recently purchased 2014 Mazda 5. One weekend, they parked at a campground in San Diego a few miles from the ocean. During the Sunday return drive, the car got stuck in second gear and would run no faster than 30 miles per hour. They had to get off the highway and take side streets home.
Service advisors at their dealership confirmed that chewed wires had caused the automatic transmission to lock into second gear. The entire wiring harness had to be replaced. Their newly-obtained Mazda had a 30-day warranty so the dealership agreed, "with great reluctance", to cover the $1,200 in repairs.
Some Toyota and Honda owners say they have shelled out thousands of dollars to replace wiring. In September, 2016, a class-action suit was filed against Toyota for vehicles produced between 2012 and 2016 that used soy-coated wiring. Honda was also slapped with a class-action suit earlier in 2016 for vehicles produced between 2012 and 2015. The common denominator appears to be soy.
Alas, no green deed goes unpunished.
Are the rat turf wars enough to spoil JoAnn's feeling for her Volvo? No -- at least not yet. "My husband and I do lots of road trips. I love the way the 4 wheel-drive works. It feels like the tires are bolted right to the road."
Now if only Volvo could find a way to bolt the rats at a safe distance from the soy, JoAnn's life would be perfect.