Rats Heart Plug-In Cars

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
rats heart plug in cars

On the list of things that can go wrong with plug-in cars, this is one the engineers probably never thought of: rodent attack. Cars.com‘s Chevy Volt was parked at a public charging point when a ground error occurred, ending the charging session. We’ll let the firsthand account take it from there:

Monitoring the online ChargePoint portal from home, I hoped the charging station would reset, something it attempts to do a total of four times every 15 minutes. That’s when I received an e-mail from Todd Dore, the treasurer of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association who parks and charges his converted Volkswagen Beetle right next to our Volt. He said that at 6:30 when he left work, we’d had a “furry visitor,” a brown rat who scurried under our Volt, probably seeking warmth. The temperatures had been below 10 degrees.

Rodents are known to climb into the engine compartments of conventional cars when it’s frigid outside, so it made sense. The Volt maintains a minimum battery temperature when it’s plugged in, even once fully charged, because a warm battery is a more powerful one. It also extends the battery’s longevity, according to Chevrolet.

When I arrived Friday morning, I returned the power connector to the charging station, which reset it, then reattached it to the Volt, which began charging again. No problem. But when I departed Friday night, I got warning lights: ABS, “Service Brake Assist” and “Service Stabilitrak.” I drove it home anyway, hoping to get it serviced. The next day, I noticed the bottom rear window pane wasn’t defogging, though the main window was.

This morning, the Chevy dealer confirmed that the rat had indeed gnawed through a wiring harness in the engine compartment, causing, at minimum, the warning lights and rear defogger failure.

This won’t be covered under warranty. It was, in the truest sense, an act of nature.

An attempt to repair the harness should save us “thousands,” according to the dealer, but the labor involved in extricating the harness from behind the headlight is extensive. The cost: an estimated $600.

Of course, this incident was as much a product of the garage in question as the car… and presumably most private suburban garages will be less rodent-infested than urban public garages. Still, this is just one of the many issues that nobody saw coming. As more and more plug-in cars hit the roads, there will probably be plenty more.

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  • Bill Safreed Bill Safreed on Feb 16, 2011

    At our first house, way back when, we always parked our shiny new '82 Accord in our small garage during the winter. We kept smelling dog food when we drove it. When the vents stopped putting out any heat, or air for that matter, I investigated. The air passages were stuffed with dry dog food nuggets. Apparently the resident ground squirrel was carrying our St. Bernard's food from the barrel next to the car and "squirreling" it away in the Honda. Took a whole day to remove enough dash bits to get all the food out. I think there was still some in there when we sold it 10 yrs and 160,000 miles later.

  • Wheelalignmentshop Wheelalignmentshop on Feb 16, 2011

    This sort of thing isn't all that unusual, even in gas powered vehicles. We've seen all manner of creatures under the hood here in our shop. My favorite was the kitten we pulled out of a Toyota. We were giving the car an oil change and tire rotation when we discovered the hitchhiker. Of course I guess it's possible he was chasing a rat. ;-) I do think that with the advent of electric powered vehicles that rodents will prove to be a bigger problem than they are with current vehicles. Here in Florida a lot of people park there cars outside, so keeping animals out of the electric powered cars is going to prove a challenge. We've even had snakes wrap themselves around engines.

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