Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Rodents Eating Automotive Wiring

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

We previously discussed how the implementation of bio-plastics in the automotive industry contributed to new claims that rodents have developed a penchant for wiring insulation. While rats gnawing on wires of cars isn’t a novel problem, some believe that the new materials used have exacerbated the issue.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed against various manufacturers on the grounds that the soy-based compounds used in modern-day wiring is irresistible to rodents. One of the more recent legal bouts involves Toyota. Brian Kabateck, a Los Angeles attorney involved in a class-action lawsuit against Toyota Motor Sales, filed on behalf of an Indiana resident after their Toyota Tundra become a meal for rodents three times. The total damage was estimated at roughly $1,500, which Kabateck said Toyota refused to cover.

The case, which involves multiple plaintiffs all represented by Kabateck, has been dismissed without leave to amend — meaning it cannot be refiled. Is this an unfair victory for Toyota and hoards of hungry rats, or are these wiring claims lacking the substantive elements required to be taken seriously?

“Over the course of litigation, we’ve discovered the problem of rodents eating through soy-covered wiring is frequent and widespread, impacting tens of thousands of drivers nationwide,” Kabateck said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press. “Toyota apparently isn’t willing to fix this defect or compensate customers who have paid significant amounts of money to mechanics to repair damage caused by rats, squirrels and mice. People purchased these vehicles because they believed they were buying a reliable product, but Toyota refuses to acknowledge this problem even exists — or cover the damage under its warranty program.”

Based upon the number of online complaints, the issue does appear to have grown over the last decade for all manufacturers. However, whether that’s due to automakers swapping to bio-plastics or the fact that there are more people online willing to complain is unclear. Bio-plastics started becoming increasingly popular after the mid-2000s, which is roughly the same time the internet reached the majority of U.S. households.

Prior to the dismissal of the Toyota wiring case last month, a nearly identical lawsuit filed against Honda was dismissed by the plaintiffs in 2016. In fact, these types of suits have become increasingly common over the last few years. Plaintiff victories, however, have not.

One of the problems is that a lot of evidence surrounding rodents’ preference for the newer bio-plastics is anecdotal. For example, a woman owning a 2016 Volvo XC60 from San Diego claimed rats had repeatedly eaten through the wirin g despite her going to great lengths to deter them. But the vintage MR2 sitting next to it in the same driveway went untouched. While it’s a compelling story, a scientific study would probably prove more helpful in a court case. But, even then, would the judge find a manufacturer liable for what is basically an animal attack?

“We are gratified that, after repeated failures to allege facts that would support their defect claims, the Court dismissed plaintiffs’ meritless claims without leave to amend,” Toyota said.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Znueni Znueni on Jul 09, 2018

    In southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland it's a common problem. Not the mice living in the car; instead, pesky Martens (somewhat like a mink or ferret) which likes to especially gnaw on plastic antennas, electrical cables, and water hoses. Has nothing to do with food, they like the smell of certain plastics. Market has lots of ads for electrical or high-frequency sound devices and deterrent sprays (which don't really work) A while back a newspaper printed some insurance stats - seems May/June were worst months, Renault/Toyota/Ford favourite plastics, and BMW/Audi/Mercedes apparently had the least tasty plastic.

  • Bill Zardus Bill Zardus on Jan 21, 2019

    This could never happen to me because grey squirrels don’t hang around very long in our neighborhood and now I have recently begun trapping mice at night, outdoors as well. The easiest way to protect bird feeders, homes, power lines and car wires is to trap grey squirrels with a Havahart model 1083 and then put them in a fish tank for about 10 minutes. I’ve sent more than 200 grey squirrels to squirrel heaven in less than 4 years. The 1083 is much more effective than the old fashioned Havahart traps. It can be set with one hand in less than 10 seconds. Then at night I reconfigure my squirrel traps by placing Thomcat saw, toothed plastic mouse traps inside them and placing them near the fence line. I've caught 42 mice since Nov 1 in a suburban neighborhood that I would never have guessed had a mouse infestation. (I only noticed this because something began stealing the peanut butter from my squirrel traps at night and deductive reasoning led me to mousetraps.) I place the mouse traps inside the squirrel traps to protect small birds and other wildlife from being killed in my traps. Mice are the only animals small enough to enter through the wires of a closed squirrel trap. When I wake up, I then set the traps for squirrels again. If you wait to see mice inside your home before you set traps, you are setting yourself up for a big problem. Local governments and/or power companies should be paying people a bounty to trap grey squirrels. Most people are too lazy and/or too stupid to do this without some financial incentive If you go to YouTube and search on Shawn Woods and or "Mousetrap Monday" you will find a couple hundred reviews of Mousetraps and many of them also work for rats and squirrels. It seems like the moderator for this website and Shawn could be cross-promoting each other. But he already has over a million subscribers and I'm not sure if he would do that. Bill Z Delaware County, PA devilsadvacat at gmail .

  • Richard Poore Sure, as the article itself notes (hence my ire) California has mandated that all new vehicles sold in state be EV by 2035. They require EV or hybrid by 2026. Since the author admits to this mandate it seems that the article title is clickbait... was really hoping that there was some sort of changes in the CA position since the state is sorely behind on where they need to be with charging stations for this sort of requirement.
  • VoGhost When will Audi eliminate the fake, oversized grills that impede aerodynamics?
  • Kelley It's about time! I was so discouraged to see those poor Chevy Bolts stuck at the charging station receiving level 2 speeds after 80%, it was ridiculous. It would be nice if EA would had more level 2 chargers, also, at the same locations for people to top off above 80% on the fast chargers.
  • Tane94 Carmela Harris is supportive of EV adoption, so government incentives will be continuing under her watch.