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When It's Cold, Rats Can Crawl Into Your Car ... And Snack On It


Weather's cold in much of the country. Many rats take the hoods of cars for Motel 6. They check in for warmth and slumber. But often, rats snack on the wires. The Washington Post reports that growing rat populations across the country are wreaking havoc on cars. In New York, their nibbling set a sedan's engine on fire. Dave Albin joins us. He's also known as Rat King Dave and runs a website called Your Highness, Rat King Dave, thanks for being with us.

DAVE ALBIN: (Laughter) Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.

SIMON: So this happened to you, right?

ALBIN: Yeah. So we had two cars that were attacked - three different instances of rodent damage with our cars, which kind of was - is what took me over the edge there.

SIMON: Why do rats find being under the car hood such a congenial environment?

ALBIN: They need a specific environment to breed and to raise their young. When the weather gets colder outside, they need to find alternative shelter. Car engine compartments are perfect for that - engine's still warm when the car gets back from work or whatnot. And on top of that, rats need to continually chew on things to keep their teeth trimmed. So car wiring is a very good option for them to have. And there are some lawsuits that have been filed claiming that soy that car manufacturers have been using has been increasing the amount of rodent damage over the years. Some claim that this may be increasing and maybe attracting the rodents to the wires.

SIMON: I gather you've looked deeply into the psychology of rats.

ALBIN: I have studied rodent psychology. When I was going kind of crazy trying to figure out how to fix the issue...

SIMON: Yeah.

ALBIN: ...I wanted to understand, you know, how the rodents think, so I can figure out, you know, why they're going in the engine compartment, why they're chewing on the wires. And from what I found, I was able to piece together a kind of the plan that I put together.

SIMON: So let's say somebody listening today finds out they've got rats under the hood. What should they do?

ALBIN: So if you can, I would suggest leaving the hood up at night, kind of expose it to the elements - and will eliminate that place as an option for them to nest. Secondly, I would suggest placing rodent snap traps at the bases of the front two tires. Rodents will climb up the tread of the tires to get into the engine compartment. And this essentially blocks their entrance. I would suggest baiting with peanut butter.

SIMON: Crunchy or smooth?

ALBIN: I go with smooth.

SIMON: All right. And let me simply note for those listening, cashew or almond butter would be a more healthful alternative.

ALBIN: Yeah, either or - something that really sticks in the bait cup. You don't want them stealing the bait.

SIMON: You've given this a lot of study and thought, haven't you?

ALBIN: A little too much.


SIMON: Have you - I mean, particularly on your website, have you gotten horror stories from people?

ALBIN: Yeah. There have been people that said they would open their hood, and then a rodent just jumps out at them. I actually had a rabbit under my hood, as well, that did that.

SIMON: I have to ask you, having learned so much about rats, do you root for them a little now - I mean, kind of understand them more than you used to?

ALBIN: I sympathize with them. I'm not some monster. But it's just unfortunate, you know, we're not able to coinhabit in a great way.

SIMON: Yeah. But they're just - you know, they're just looking for a nice warm spot and to do best by their families, aren't they?

ALBIN: It's true. Yeah. Those poor, poor, poor rats.

SIMON: Well, you're a large-hearted man, Your Highness, Rat King Dave.

ALBIN: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Dave Albin, Rat King Dave in San Diego, thanks so much.

ALBIN: Thanks for your time, Scott. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "LOUD PIPES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.