Animals and insects are drawn to places that are warm and will keep them hidden. Unfortunately, your car ticks both of those boxes, which means at some point you may face the unwelcome discovery that some critters have taken up residence in your ride.
Such an infestation can not only harm the vehicle (and your health), but you could inadvertently harm the invading animals when you turn on the engine. They can also cause a hazard while you’re driving—I’m allergic to spider bites, and finding one dropping down from the car ceiling while I’m driving is always a bit nerve-wracking. So here’s how to remove creepy crawlers and critters from your car, and keep them out.
Check for signs of rodents and bugs living in your car
You’re probably not going to find a squirrel living in the back seat. Instead, small animals like mice and possums find refuge in the tight crevices of your engine and other small spaces. In finding these cozy areas, rats and mice can often chew through wires and rubber hoses, clog filters, and otherwise cause severe damage to your engine—and possibly create the risk of a vehicle fire. With little critters come animal droppings as well—and their feces can contaminate the interior of the car (or, say, your cabin filters), which can harm your health. Insects like spiders tend to make their homes in your side-view mirrors, car roof, and air vents. (Imagine turning on your AC and getting a face full of spiders!)
Carefully examine your car if you suspect an animal is hiding inside it. Modern Pest gives a helpful list of signs that a rodent lives in your car:
- Visual sightings of droppings and urine, along with bad smells
- Strange sounds, especially the heater or fan making a rumbling or vibrating noise that indicates a nest in the heater blower motor
- Spotting food sources like acorns, dog food, and birdseed that rodents have brought into your car to eat. Seeing old snacks like French fries in unlikely places
- On occasion, seeing a mouse or rat jump out of or run around in your car
If you see any evidence of mice, squirrels, possums, or even cats, don’t turn the engine on, and make some noise before getting in the vehicle to try to scare them away.
How to prevent rodents like mice, rats, and possums from living in your car
You can keep pests out of the car via many of the same methods you use to keep them from getting in your house ( and you might even get better results). Mice and other animals are very sensitive to strong smells, and they dislike the smell of cedarwood, peppermint, and cayenne pepper. Place cotton balls with essential oils of these aromas around the car to deter or repel mice. Stuff steel wool or mesh wire in small crevices and open areas where animals could crawl in to prevent mice from nesting in your engine. And you can always resort to traps and poison—both are effective but much less humane pest control options.
Animals find your car especially welcoming when it sits in one spot for an extended period of time. If you won’t be using your car regularly, you should make an effort to continue to turn it on and take a short drive every once in a while. Animals will not find it a suitable place to rest if it is periodically in motion.
To chase away animals away you suspect are hiding in your car, try jingling your keys and honking the horn before turning your engine on. The startling noise will likely cause the animal to flee, allowing you to start your journey. Whatever you do, don’t open the car hood in an attempt to get the animal out; it may only burrow deeper into your car’s engine to hide.
Lastly, clean your car as often as possible. Mice, rats, possums, and other animals are attracted to leftover food and crumbs. Getting regular car washes and vacuuming when there are spills keeps hungry animals at bay.
How to get rid of insects like spiders and ants in your car
Insects may not chew on your wires or mess up your engine, but no one wants to find a roach in their center console. You first line of defense here is keeping your car clean. Like mice, bugs like ants are enticed by food waste. Regularly wipe down dashboards, vacuum up crumbs, and remove food from your car every day. If you have the means, get a full-service car cleaning every time you get an oil change. It’s an easy way to remember to give your car a deep clean and is worth the cost (about $35) if you can swing it.
Don’t forget to clean floor mats when tidying up your car. According to pest solutions site Mantis, car floor mats are a prime spot for bugs to lay eggs and larvae. Make sure you’re vacuuming your mats thoroughly, and try not to let them stay wet for long periods of time.
Bugs like spiders also dislike the smell of peppermint and citrus oil, so the same cotton ball method used to deter mice can be applied here.
Finally, and perhaps more terrifyingly, bed bugs do not live just in beds and sadly can also infest your car. If this happens, you’ll need to contact a professional—bed bugs and other hitchhiker pests like fleas can be almost undetectable in a car and are extremely difficult to get rid of on your own. However, a pest control pro can execute the heat method or use cryonite treatments to rid your car of these persistent infestations.