Car owners in Illinois and across the country are finding damage under the hood of their cars, and it appears unexpected tiny tenants may be to blame.
When Mike Wilson’s car conked out on him in a grocery store parking lot last summer, he had no idea what he was about to discover in his 2002 Toyota Prius.
“These are the nuts of rodents, mice, squirrels or whatever… who were living in here,” Wilson told NBC 5 Responds.
“You can see all the nuts, there’s a good handful of nuts,” he said, pointing into the middle of the engine compartment, not far from the wiring components that are crucial to keeping an engine running.
Wilson learned what scores of other car owners have bumped into in recent years—an eco-friendly attribute of his car is also quite attractive to rodents: the soy-based coating that covers wires in the engine. Carmakers turned to the plastics-alternative because of its sustainable and environmentally-friendly profile. Turns out, some other creatures find it appealing, too, for altogether different reasons. To them, the soy ingredients smell like lunch. Rodents that are attracted to wires for the purpose of sharpening their teeth, critics say, find soy-coated wires even more appealing.
“It may have started out as a good idea, an eco-friendly idea…it’s just ill-conceived,” attorney Brian Kabateck said.
Kabateck filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Toyota last August, alleging several model years of Toyotas contain the soy-based wiring which is known to be a problem, and accusing the carmaker of shifting repair costs back onto its customers. Toyota did not comment on the litigation for this report, but a spokesperson did point out that rodent damage is common in a number of other makes and models, as well.
NBC 5 Responds found consumers nationwide who say they’ve experienced rodent-damages wires in several carmaker brands. It’s a problem so widespread, carmaker Honda now sells a tape aimed at deterring rodents from nibbling on wires. The tape, which mechanics can wrap over existing wires, is infused with capsaicin, the ingredient in spicy peppers. Honda calls the issue “an age-old” problem, and the tape a good solution for customers who live in areas where rodents like to nest in vehicles.
Some auto insurers cover rodent damage. But back in Glen Ellyn, Wilson’s insurer will not cover the damage in his car’s wiring. While a representative of Amica Insurance agreed, in an email to Wilson, “that it appears a rodent has been eating inside your engine compartment,” the insurer went on to say that its appraiser determined the wire has been frayed due to constant rubbing on the engine mount. Thus, Amica blamed the damage on “wear and tear,” which it does not cover.
“My argument is- are you kidding me? That is a smoking gun, if I’ve even seen a smoking gun,” Wilson told NBC5 Responds. “It’s like a trial without a jury, they decided what the truth is and the facts all point the other way but they decided to go that way.”
As for how it made the determination, Amica would not answer any NBC5 Responds questions. But after our inquiry, the insurance company did offer to re-inspect Mike Wilson’s car, for a second time. Amica said it would not, however, schedule the inspection if NBC5 cameras were present, as Wilson requested. Wilson is considering Amica’s conditions, but says his bigger priority is getting the word out to other drivers about this persistent problem.