Small Animals Can Cause Big Problems with Cars

Small Animals Can Cause Big Problems with Cars

Critters can inflict serious punishment on your customers’ vehicles.

We all have a cache of stories involving weird, wacky and downright strange customer parts requests, but the majority of them can be traced back to mechanical failure and/or human error.

You may be familiar with “Just Rolled In,” a YouTube channel highlighting some of the most terribly maintained and unsafe vehicles brought into shops across the country, along with strange “customer states … ” complaints that must be seen to be believed. While the worst damage is due to lack of maintenance and misguided DIY repairs, sometimes there’s no one to blame but Mother Nature.

Animals of all varieties can inflict serious punishment on your customers’ vehicles. Collisions with deer cost insurance companies more than $1 billion annually, the result of roughly 1.5 million accidents. Of these, nearly 200 people are killed each year, and (presumably) a much larger number of deer! West Virginians have a one in 37 chance of being involved in a deer-related accident, the best (worst?) odds of hitting the Bambi lottery in the continental United States.

Alaskans, New Englanders and our Canadian friends also need to watch out for moose. At nearly 7 feet tall and more than 1,000 pounds, a collision with a moose is more than 10 times as likely to result in a human fatality when compared to striking a deer. With long legs and a higher center of gravity, a struck moose often clears the hood and winds up in the windshield or on the roof of the car that hits it.

When Animals Attack

Smaller animals are capable of doing a lot of damage too. In Texas and across the South, road-killed armadillos are a common sight along the highway. With a Spanish name meaning “little armored one,” the armadillo’s hard plating has been known to puncture tires, and more than a few people have been struck by ricochets when attempting to shoot them.

These little tanks also have a peculiar defense mechanism. When startled, the armadillo jumps up to 3 feet straight up into the air! It may scare predators in the wild, but it also means that when a car or truck passes over one in the road, it’s likely to jump up into the underside of the vehicle, killing it and causing damage to vehicle components.

Even without the benefit of a shell, raccoons, woodchucks and other small mammals can wreak havoc on the underside of low-slung vehicles. One of my body shop customers shared an insurance estimate with me containing more than $3,000 worth of damage to a late-model Dodge Challenger. The owner had struck a raccoon, damaging the bumper cover, radiator, condenser and support. Fortunately, it wasn’t a skunk!

Proving that size doesn’t matter, some of the most common damage claims result from small rodents chewing on wiring, insulation and other underhood materials. Here in the United States, this damage is widely blamed on mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels. In Europe, the prime suspect is a weasel known as the marten (marden) or stoat. These ferret-like animals are such a nuisance that many insurance providers offer “weasel policies” specifically to cover losses from marten and stoat damage. Claims in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium are equivalent to U.S. $60 million annually! Individual claim values average $500 per incident, but are increasing due to the complex interconnectivity between wired systems, and the higher cost of damaged hybrid and electric-vehicle components.

This is such a well-known and widespread problem that even the OEMs are designing electronic marten-repellent kits. Audi actually has a factory accessory (P/N 8U0054650) that the automaker markets “so that rodents do not make themselves at home in your Audi.” (For the record, martens are not rodents, but the deterrent annoys mice too!) Audi’s ultrasonic “anti-Marten device” will set you back around $300, plus installation.

Unfortunately, the damage isn’t just limited to chewing on tasty auto parts. Like others in the weasel family, these little guys also “mark their territory” once they’ve taken up residence underhood. Even after repairs have been made to the rubber, plastic and electrical components, the vehicle needs to be deep-cleaned to remove the residual “stoat-stink,” which can attract other weasels that start the process all over again! LIQUI MOLY also offers Marderspray, an aerosol designed for the express purpose of “reducing marten odor” underhood, which should be used every couple of weeks for best results.

My favorite thing about this industry is that no two days are exactly alike. Sure, our jobs can become a bit repetitive; you may have pads and rotors for their BMW, and control arms for their Audi. But how often do you get the opportunity to upsell a customer on weasel spray?

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