How To Get Rats Out Of Your Car

The question is, “how do get rats out of your car?” however, most people probably ask, “how did you get rats in your car in the first place?

Let’s clarify, with rare exceptions, “rats in cars” refers to rats living under the hood in the engine area of the car, not the actual inside. Though it is possible to have rats living in the actual inside of the a car, however in most cases that can be resolved by sealing up the opening (unless it is an old ripped up convertible!) and trapping the rats inside.

After 3 decades of being a professional rat trapper, I have found opossums, spiders, fleas, German roaches, snakes,l squirrels, cats and rats inside cars and under the hoods of cars. Sometimes it is just an animal trying to stay warm but when rats take up residence under your hood, there can be no good cometh.

The first thing is, how to tell if rats are in your car. Unfortunately, most people find out after the car will not start because of a chewed wire or they see a giant puddle of fluid under the car as a result of rats chewing tubing that carries vital fluid to the engine.

There are some occasions when someone opens to the hood to do some regular work and are surprised to see a rat or two jump out leaving a nest behind.

Typically when rats get into cars it is because the car has been sitting in one place for a long time. Rats do not like change and will rarely, if ever take up residence in a vehicle that is routinely used.

There are very few, if any exceptions but rats like to do things on their time, not yours. For example, I get many calls from people saying “I left the garage door open so now rats are living in my garage.” While it is true there may be rats living in the garage, there is most likely an opening that allows them to come and go other than an open garage. Rats do not have the patience to wait on you, they have very important rat things to do. Rats need to have access 24/7 rather than having to wait for you to open the garage so they can go out and find food and water…suitable mate.

The same is true for a vehicle parked in the garage. Though on a side note, if you have rats in a car that is parked IN a garage, this would be treated as a “Rats in garage job” because the rats are living in the car, exiting at night and leaving through some consistent opening in the garage or area that leads the garage. In other words, a rat will not live in a car, waiting for the car to be driven somewhere outside where it will eventually stop, then the rat will forage and hop a ride back on the car before it leaves and head back to the garage.

If rats are living in the vehicle and they need to wait for you to drive home and park so they can get out and forage, they just will not live in there. Rats are also neophobic, meaning they are leary of new things in their environment, so if they are living in your car and you drive to work, they are not likely to get out and live two lives, one at home and one at work.

Let’s keep in mind that rats are primarily nocturnal, they are active at night. Many people get this mixed up and think the rats will be sleeping somewhere at night, wake up and then get into the car at night when really, they are sleeping in the car during the day and foraging around the car, the garage and outside throughout the night.

While rats are primarily active at night, there are exceptions and a rat may go in and out of it’s home numerous times throughout the night. This leads many people to believe the rats enter the attic at night and leave during the day when really, they are normally just quietly asleep in the attic…or car during the day.

On the scale of solvable rat problems, getting rats out of a car is by far one of the easiest. I’m almost embarrassed to say that often, it is as easy as just moving the car to a different spot for a couple days. You do not even need to move it far, 25-50 feet can do the trick. Remember when I said that rats are neophobic and do not like change? Well, if your home got up and moved 50 feet, wouldn’t you think twice about continuing to live in it?

But maybe you live somewhere where you cannot move your car or you have a really, really stubborn rat, now what?

What many people overlook is that if conditions do not change, you will continue to have a rat issue and rather than resolve the issue, you will have to manage it.

The main reason people get rats in their car is because their car is dormant for too long. In addition, additional factors such as a crop of acorns falling all over the car. When these two things cannot be prevented, we go into management mode.

I love animals-yes, even rats. Sure, I’ve killed many, many, many, many, many rats but I still look to see if we can resolve an issue without killing animals. Much of this is because I love animals, but if you only rely on killing rats to stop the problem and do not do anything else, more rats will come. So you kill them. Then more rats will come and you will find that there are more than enough rats out there to convince you that you do not want to become a professional rat trapper.

So, yes. We can find creative ways to set snap traps under the hood. You can also go the bait route. With rats “bait” is normally synonymous with “rat poison”. WARNING: Do not ever just randomly throw bait around, inside or outside. This creates a high probability of a non-target animal consuming the poison and dying. I’ve met countless people over the years that could care less if they kill random raccoons, opossums or their neighbor’s cat. This is cruel, inhumane and if this is you, stop. You are a j*********.

It is important to know that just placing bait up inside the car can be dangerous. Rats are known to carry food around and will at times, pick up a bait block and carry it around, thus exposing it to other non-target animals.

If you are using bait, make sure it is either tied down or stuck to a structure. I’ve found Liquid Nails adhesive works great in sticking rodent bait blocks to the inside of a car.

But if it was me, I would do the following: If the car worked, I would drive it around the block and park it in a different spot. I would purchase a product called “Essentria3”. Essentria3 is a non-toxic irritant that you can safely spray under the hood of the car.

To apply, you can add it to a generic house cleaner spray bottle or you can get a 1-2 gallon pump sprayer from Lowes or Home Depot. I advise staying away from the really cheap sprayers. As someone that relies heavily on sprayers, it is tough to get your money’s worth with any pump sprayer under $20.

The Essentria3 treatment should work rather or not the vehicle can be moved. Apply the Essentria3 genrously under the hood of the car and where ever the rats are spotted. While Essentria3 is non-toxic, it does carry a heavy rosemary-ish smell. Just go easy on it if you are not keen on the smell and are applying in areas where you will smell it.

Essentria3 is commonly used for “non-toxic pest control” and while it can be a great product, it is not the end all, be all-especially for rodent control. Essentria3 is best when used in tight quarters such as under the hood of homes rather than the entire attic of a home. Treating an attic with rats by spraying Essentria3 in the attic will not work to get rats to leave. I do not doubt there are some anecdotal cases or some isolated incidents but this is a method that has been tried and tried with no success of anything of which to brag.

Q. Can I just use mothballs?

  1. Ugh. Most wildlife guys cringe at the sound of “mothballs”. This is because we have been on the other end of the phone hundreds (if not thousands) of times that starts off like “I have xyz animal. I tried putting out mothballs but it didn’t work.”

Of course we have all seen posts on Facebook where someone posts “Help! I have an xzy animal in my house.” And in EVERY one of these posts a know-it-all neighborhood expert says “Just put out mothballs!”

But here is why I cringe…in this case, they just MAY work. Given that it is a small enough area, mothballs may be effective. BUT I must warn you, mothballs are toxic and should not just be thrown under the hood of a car. Put a handful in a few women’s stockings and place those under the hood so they can be contained and retrieved.

Here is what I require of you…if you put out mothballs AND move the car AND the rats disappear, you CANNOT become one of those people that now tell everyone on Facebook to just put out mothballs. No, your issue was most likely resolved by moving the car, not using mothballs.

And just using mothballs is anecdotal until you can replicate the same results with the same actions multiple times. Don’t be a Facebook mothball advisor.

Q. Will  ammonia soaked rags work make the rats leave?

  1. Any answer for ammonia soaked rags would be the exact same as for mothballs.

Q.  What if there is a nest?

  1. If you have rats under the hood of your car, I can guarantee you there will be a nest. And given that roof rats can have 4 litters a year and can reproduce at 3 months of age, it is highly probable that your little rat nest is full of babies.

Are you prepared to deal with a nest of baby rats? This is a very sensitive subject on something that is very common. Many people will have no issue removing a nest full of baby rats. Will you place them on the ground and hope they just disappear? Will you dispatch them with a sharp blow to the head?

If you are concerned about dealing with baby rats, I would recommend moving the car about 5 yards and treating under the hood with Essentria3. This is enough of a disrupture that the mother will likely take her babies and leave.

If in doubt, call a professional.

Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.


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