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  • Gregory Zeigler

Toyotas Taken Out in Separate Rat Attacks!

No one saw this coming.

By Gregory Zeigler

I've always touted Toyotas' ruggedness by pointing out they are the truck of choice in Afghanistan. A marketing angle I'm surprised the corporation has never seized upon. But apparently tough old Toyotas have developed, in the last ten years at least, an Achilles Heel.

I love wild creatures. But I don't love it when critters disable our cars—two within forty-eight hours. Both needing to be towed ninety miles to the dealer for major repairs and leaving us stranded.

Bruce the black marmot.

How much do I love wild creatures? Take Bruce, the black marmot, who lives under our barn. He's a pretty friendly guy. A harmless herbivore. Even though several of our neighbors have expressed fear that Bruce could get up to some mischief in the subdivision, there is zero evidence that he has done anything other than mow our grass. There is nothing in the HOA covenants that states a homeowner must not harbor a marmot. We enjoy Bruce's company. But I hasten to add, we do not feed him or any wild creatures other than birds.

Last week we were camped at a lake twenty-five miles or so from our home. We were driving our Highlander (hers) and Sequoia (his) regularly to and from our campsite. On one such drive, the Sequoia's dash suddenly flashed every warning light known to man. Most troubling (right behind the "four-wheel-low" indicator blinking when we were in two-wheel drive) was the "check engine light." Although my usual approach to mechanical problems is too let them work themselves out, I've learned it's best to never ignore the "check engine light."

After receiving the Sequoia our dealer identified some sort of large rat's nest and chewed wires as the problem. Two days later while my car was still awaiting a part and the final repair, our Highlander exhibited the very same symptoms and also had to be towed to the dealer.

Our Idyllic mountain lake retreat

I consulted with a naturalist friend about our dilemma and he suggested pack rats might be guilty. They are good climbers, like tight, dark, cozy places and build grass nests. But the wire chewing? He had no clue.

So I checked in with my friend, Patrick who knows cars. He sent me an article from Car and Driver by Nick Kurczewski (6/25/18) entitled: Does Your Car Have Wiring That Rodents Think Is Tasty? Here's a quote, "Some believe the culprit could be modern car wiring, or more specifically, the soy-based insulation used to wrap it. This insulation can be an irresistible treat for rats, mice, squirrels and even rabbits. The issue has become so widespread that several class-action lawsuits have been levied at automakers, with some of the highest profile cases involving Honda and Toyota."

The article went on to say this has apparently been the case for some ten years and the sad news is, the car makers were trying to do the right thing for the environment by using a soy product rather than a petroleum product. Well—the best laid schemes o' mice an' men, etc.—the greener product is apparently luring the environment (as in critters) in under the hood.

Turns out, like most things in nature, pack rats play an important role. My research led me to a greater understanding of these whiskery little dudes.

Let's unpack the pack rat:

According to The New York Times article, Reading the Past in Old Urine-Caked Rat's Nests by Marion Renault (2/20/2020), "But for paleoecologists studying the prehistoric natural world, ancient, urine-soaked rat nests can be a treasure trove ... to learn about regional changes in climate and ecosystems over time.

And the article concludes,"Pack rats are definitely a pest, and you wouldn't consider they have value when they are filling your grill ... but these little rodents can have such extraordinary impacts on our view of the world once we let in the information that they have to lend to us."

I'll gladly let the information in. As long as I can keep the rats out.

Female pack rat and baby.

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