Mice aren’t exclusively household pests. These pesky critters can and do turn up in unlikely places to seek shelter or resources. Unfortunately, this can include your car.
If you suspect these rodents have found their way into yours, don’t panic, we’re here to help you out!
In this article, you’ll learn how and why mice go into automobiles. We’ll let you know about some of the most common culprits that put you at a greater risk for an infestation, as well as when (and where) it’s most likely to happen.
We’ve also detailed how to identify the signs of mice infestation, and the potential dangers they can bring. You’ll discover how to rid your car of them and keep them out for good.
Finally, you can read through our section on cleaning tips to get your vehicle spotless again.
Why Do Mice Get in Cars?
When it comes to infestations of any type, it’s important to know your enemy. Understanding why those creatures act the way they do can help with prevention.
Mice are one of the most commonly found mammals on our planet. We’re talking specifically about the species Mus musculus: also known as the so-called house mouse.
They’re found throughout pretty much all of North America, including harsh-environment states like Alaska. Physically, they’re extremely strong, athletic and adaptable.
There are three potential reasons why a mouse could end up inside your vehicle. It might just be exploring or seeking shelter, or it could be in search of either food or water (or both).
When the weather turns nasty, these animals seek shelter wherever they can.
Dropping temperatures can encourage mice and other rodents to enter vehicles if they can find access. Even in more temperate climates, they often seek shelter from summer storms.
Females may also choose to nest in your automobile when they’re pregnant. The insulation under the hood can be repurposed as nesting material. This will ultimately lead to many mice in your vehicle, even if it started out as just one.
Hungry or Thirsty
The outdoors isn’t always abundant in resources. Hunger and thirst can drive these rodents straight into your car.
Curiosity can entice a wandering mouse to go where it shouldn’t. That can include automobiles, as well as lots of other places.
How Do Mice Get in Cars?
Don’t forget that we’re discussing able-bodied mammals. When fully grown, they can run, climb, and jump up to 12 inches high. Some can even fit themselves into openings as small as one-quarter of an inch.
Breaking into the average car doesn’t pose much of a challenge for mice.
There are quite a few ways one can get in, and most of these entry points are accessed through the wheel wells or the vehicle’s undercarriage.
Spaces Around Cables
Slipping through tight spaces around cables is not difficult for them. Thinner wires, like those used for your electronics system, are easy for a mouse to grip strongly.
This reduces the chances of the critter falling off, or struggling and losing interest.
They can climb up your steering column to enter the vents or windshield compartment. This is a pretty easy access point for them, actually.
This is another vulnerable area of your vehicle that can serve as an entry point for a mouse that wants in.
Mice found in the interior often get there through your HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning).
They can chew through the material of your cabin air filter to reach the vents and squeeze in.
Holes or Cracks
Automobiles that are in less than ideal condition can be targeted by invading rodents.
Holes or cracks caused by corrosion can provide the perfect way for these creatures to slip in.
Open Doors or Windows
A cracked sunroof might not encourage a burglar, but it can entice small rodents. This is more likely to be the case if your car is parked next to a tree or a high wall. These animals can climb and get onto your roof.
The same goes for open windows or, if you’re forgetful, an open door. In the latter case, you could wake up to more trouble than just a dead battery!
When Are Mice More Likely to Get in Cars?
As we’ve mentioned, seeking resources and shelter are the main motivators for mice to get into a car.
This means that an infestation is more likely to happen during the fall and winter months. However, it is still a possibility year-round.
Some species such as California mice start breeding during cold weather. Vehicles neglected in storage could be a prime nesting spot for a pregnant female.
Mice are also nocturnal animals and skilled hiders. This means that they’re more likely to gain entry at night. You’re not very likely to spot one out and about in broad daylight.
What Other Circumstances Can Increase Your Risk for Mice in Your Car?
Seasonal changes aren’t the only thing that can increase the probability of an rodent infestations.
There are other variables involved, most of which are within your control, so there’s not all that much to panic about right now.
You should try to park indoors whenever possible. Leaving your car outdoors regularly in the same place boosts the chances of mice coming across it.
Don’t think that this is exclusively a rural problem, either. These animals can be found in urban centers too.
If this isn’t an option for you, don’t worry. We have prevention strategies that can work to protect automobiles inside and outside. You’ll learn about them further down.
Food and Mess
The same things that encourage pests to come into your home apply to your vehicle. A messy interior can be a major attraction to the small rodents.
Food waste like crumbs or empty wrappers is a tasty treat, and snacks stored in your car may be eaten before you get to enjoy them.
Take note that these creatures have sensitive noses. They use their keen senses of smell to forage for food, as mouse eyesight tends to be poor.
The stronger the odor of food or crumbs, the more likely it will attract their attention.
Condensation in your vehicle can be a water source for a thirsty mouse.
Leaks from a sunroof that doesn’t close or damp upholstery can make for a wet environment. A tiny amount of water is enough to subsist off.
Certain locations are magnets for mice, e.g. farm fields, barns, or abandoned sheds.
It’s preferable to avoid leaving your car near these places, if you can.
Debris Around Car
Allowing debris to pile up around your car makes it more accessible for rodents. They can easily climb piles of leaves to access your wheel wells or car engine.
A gravel pile you park next to can likewise serve as a boost for an exploring rodent.
Why Is It Bad When Mice Get in Cars?
The animal lovers among you may not think a mouse in your car is all that much of a big deal.
Perhaps you think the best solution is to wait it out. After all, what could a tiny creature do to something as large and complex as a car, right? Well, not really.
As we’ll be talking about in this section, mice can cause a lot more damage than you might have realized.
These rodents can be extremely destructive, and might pose a danger to you, your family, and your automobile.
Chew Through Non-Metal Engine Components
Mice will chew through almost anything they can sink their teeth into, including electrical wires.
This can affect parts like your windshield wipers, or even the ignition.
There are many other non-metal components that are susceptible to mouse teeth as well: Rubber hoses, plastic reservoirs, and engine insulation are just a few examples.
Shred Cabin Air Filters
Cabin air filters in your car are important to your well-being. They prevent pollutant such as pollen and exhaust smog from seeping into the interior.
The soft filter material can be shredded by invading mice. Once compromised, the unit won’t do a good job at protecting you from bad air.
This is no joke for drivers who suffer from severe allergies or asthma!
You don’t have to own a luxury automobile to care about your upholstery. A mouse can tear up your seats, no matter what type of upholstery you have in your car.
It isn’t cheap or easy to repair ripped leather or patch up a missing chunk of your seat, you know.
Don’t expect good etiquette from a mouse living in your vehicle. These animals won’t section off an area to use as a bathroom.
You can expect to find feces and urine anywhere the mouse has been, from your dashboard to your carpeting and everywhere in between.
Most rodents are known disease-carriers. Mice can carry Hantavirus, an unpleasant virus that can have serious health consequences.
You don’t have to touch or hold a mouse in your hand to contract this, either. Coming in contact with a mouse’s urine, feces, or saliva can be enough to get infected.
Family members with compromised immune systems are more at risk. Children and elderly relatives fall under this category.
Imagine you’re driving on the highway and you spot a mouse in your passenger seat. Or, you suddenly feel little claws skittering over your leg while you’re accelerating.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Panic and not pay attention to what you’re doing anymore.
The shock of this can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, putting your life and that of anyone else with you in the car or on the road at the time at risk.
Get Trapped and Die
These critters might get electrocuted or burnt if they’re in the wrong place when you start your engine.
The foul odor of a rotting corpse can be nauseating to deal with, and removing it may not be straightforward (or pleasant) either.
What Are the Signs of Mice in Your Car?
It’s essential to know the signs of an unwelcome guest in your vehicle, in case you haven’t seen one there with your own two eyes just yet.
The sooner you identify the problem, the faster you can get rid of it.
Check Engine Light
As we’ve mentioned, these pests can cause a lot of damage inside the car’s engine.
If you spot the check engine light, a mouse might have gotten trapped behind your air filter. Alternatively, another part of the engine may have been impacted.
You might see that you’re losing coolant, for example. This could happen if the coolant reservoir or a hose was chewed through.
Droppings and Urine
The appearance of stains and pellets are a telltale sign that a mouse is present in your vehicle.
If the animal has been settled in for a while, you’ll smell the waste almost immediately.
Mysterious Damage or Activity in Cabin
Does litter in your car (e.g. food wrappers) look like it’s moving around? Are papers starting to look tattered around the edges? What about mysterious tears in your seats or carpeting?
Any of these things might mean that you have an infestation.
Visible Rodent Damage Under the Hood
If you pop the hood and notice ripped insulation, a mouse could be the culprit.
Inspect rubber pipes and other non-metal components, such as wires, for chew marks.
A foul odor could mean that one or more of these pests has died in your car.
If you can’t immediately find the body, it may be stuck somewhere such as behind your vents.
What to Do If Mice Are in Your Car
Let’s say you’ve established that you have at least one little critter in your vehicle. Now, what should you do?
First of all, safety should be your utmost priority. These rodents aren’t poisonous, but as we’ve explained, you’re still dealing with a health hazard.
So, you’ll have to haul out the cleaning supplies to perform a thorough scrub down of the interior.
Afterward, you have two choices. You can either try to solve the infestation by yourself, or call an expert to handle the situation.
If you happen to see the mouse, avoid trying to catch it bare-handed. Don’t forget that their saliva can transmit diseases — you don’t want to be bitten.
Also, be sure to keep pets and children out of the car until it’s clear of mice. You’re going to be using traps that small family members shouldn’t be exposed to. Plus, you don’t want anyone to come into contact with urine or feces.
Equip yourself with rubber gloves and a mask, since the first thing you’re going to have to do is clean your car out.
If your car was already messy, this might be more time-consuming for you. The goal is to remove contaminants and make your vehicle an inhospitable environment for mice.
Interior Cleaning (Trunk and Cabin)
Here are the steps you should take to clean the interior:
- Park your car somewhere sheltered, and open all windows and doors.
- Throw away all garbage and waste in the cabin.
- Clear away all papers, toys, or any other personal items (including from the glove compartment and trunk). Wash and disinfect whatever you can (e.g. stuffed animals).
- Vacuum every space you can reach, and make sure no droppings are left behind.
- Using a disinfectant and warm water, wash upholstery and carpeting. If you have a steam cleaner, put it to use.
- Wipe down hard surfaces such as the dashboard with disinfectant wipes. Ones with bleach are recommended.
- Throw away the vacuum bag.
Cleaning the Car’s Engine Compartment
Follow these guidelines if you’ve found signs of mice in the engine compartment:
- Disconnect the battery, and make sure your engine is cool.
- Manually remove any nesting material (e.g. shredded insulation).
- Wipe down the accessible areas with a sponge soaked in disinfectant, or disinfectant wipes.
- Do not use a hose or a pressure washer. You want to avoid blasting droppings and other debris everywhere.
- If damaged, remove the cabin air filter and replace it. Be sure to clean the compartment beforehand.
- Once everything is pristine, you can reconnect the battery.
Finally, these are the steps you should take if you smell a corpse:
- Keep your mask and gloves on at all times, and have a garbage bag at the ready to get rid of everything.
- Pop the hood and try to locate the corpse. If the odor is stronger when you’re using your AC or heating, the body is probably behind your vents.
- Find and remove it, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the area.
- If you can’t locate it, you may have to get help from your local mechanic or detailing shop.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, you can have everything professionally cleaned instead.
To do this, call whichever detailing shop you’ve chosen in advance. You want to make sure they’re comfortable cleaning mouse-mess before you bring it over, or else you might be in for a rejection.
Place Snap Traps
You can purchase mouse traps from many stores, or order them online if you prefer. Place them inside the cabin and use as directed.
If you don’t want to kill the invading pests, you can buy humane traps. Just make sure you free the captured animals far away from where you keep your car.
Glue traps are arguably inhumane, so please consider other more humane options that don’t harm the animal in any way, shape or form.
Call a Pest Control Specialist
You always have the choice of calling a pest management expert. In this case, you’ll want to look for someone who specializes (or has great experience) in rodent control. This might be the best course of action if your infestation is severe.
If you’re hesitant to address the problem yourself, getting professional help is the way to go.
How to Keep Mice out of Cars
After you’ve gone through the ordeal of a mouse infestation, you don’t want a repeat incident.
There are lots of tactics you can employ to keep your car mouse-free in the future:
We know this isn’t an option for everyone, but it might be for some of you.
Do you have access to a garage you’re not currently using for parking? Rethink your use of the space, and start storing your vehicle there.
Stay on Top of Repairs
This is the time to fix any vulnerable parts.
If your sunroof is broken or you have a hole in your side panels, now is the time to fix it. Don’t leave these opportunistic pests with another way to get inside!
Patch up rusted holes to seal up viable access points, and don’t ignore windows that don’t close all the way. There’s no need to make it easier for these critters to get in!
Problems that cause condensation should also be addressed. For example, if you tend to wash your carpets and put them in your car damp, dry them first. Remember, a little moisture can be an oasis for thirsty rodents.
We explained earlier that roaming rodents can make use of debris to climb up towards your vehicle. So, make sure the space around your parked car is as clean and clear as possible.
Mice are less likely to scamper around in the open, as they won’t feel safe.
Lock Up Tight
Many of us have forgotten to roll up a window after a long day out.
Doing this is extra important to prevent mice from making their way into your car, though. Sealing up obvious entrances like windows and sunroofs might deter a wandering mouse.
Don’t let your automobile become a paradise for these pests. For starters, throw away trash regularly rather than letting it accumulate.
If you or your family members snack on the road, be careful. Try not to bring food in that leave crumbs or get messy, and dispose of all the packaging as soon as you’re done eating.
Use Mouse Repellent Products
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to pests. Use rodent repellent products to discourage mice from choosing your automobile as temporary accommodation.
Peppermint oil spray is a great start if you’re looking for something that effectively repels mice. Moth balls are also a good consideration.
Take Precautions Before Storage
If you’re leaving your car in storage for a long time, take precautions until you’re back.
Make sure there’s no food or organic wastes of any sort in your cabin, and place traps and repellents around or inside the vehicle.
If you’ve made it this far, good job! You know most (if not all) there is to know if you’re trying to keep mice out of of your car, as well as a list of tips to get rid of mice if you find any.
Stay vigilant, even if you’re already using repellents and parking your vehicle indoors. Inspect underneath the hood and in the trunk every so often, especially during the winter season.
It can be disconcerting to know that a rodent has made a home in your vehicle. You shouldn’t let the shock stop you from getting to work, though. The longer time they’re left there, the more serious of a problem this will become.
Aside from being inconvenient, these pests pose a health hazard to animals and humans alike.
As long as you take everything laid out in this article into consideration, you should be good to go!