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Thursday, April 11, 2013

That annoying squeak in you car might be a mouse!

By Joseph Robertia
Rodents, with their beady eyes, yellow teeth and long, leathery tails, are right up there with spiders and snakes in terms of the fear they can bring on in most people. It is a feeling Rhonda McCormick, of Soldotna, can relate to after she determined that an unknown vermin had taken up residence in her vehicle.
“Just knowing it was in the car with me, that I drove around with it for four days, it just grosses me out,” she said.
She realized the tiny, tailed stowaway after she left the grocery store March 30. She was loading her groceries into her still-new KIA Sorento, when she noticed something odd.
“There looked like there was a cookie or piece of wafer or something on the floor,” she said.
As she leaned to scoop it up, her eyes met with a small, nibbled hole in the interior wall.
Not only did it click in McCormick’s mind what the hole meant, but it also dawned on her that this might have something to do with why her rear window washing fluid suddenly stopped working just a few days earlier.
She called her insurance company, which agreed McCormick’s policy covered this sort of thing, so she brought her vehicle in for repairs to Driven Auto Body in Soldotna.
“I left the car there,” she said. “I wasn’t driving around with that thing any longer.”
In her life in Alaska, McCormick has never even heard of this kind of problem. She asked friends on Facebook, and no one else had ever had a similar incident. But Zach Strahan, an assistant manager at the repair shop, said that rodent-based repairs are more common than most people would think.
“We get at least a handful of these every year,” he said.
As to McCormick’s specific rodent, Strahan said he wasn’t sure exactly what type it was — mouse, vole, squirrel or something else. McCormick had set a trap in the car before bringing it in, and several others were set at the repair shop, but none yielded success.
Assuming the rodent fled the vehicle, Strahan said they began disassembling the damaged portions of McCormick’s car. While the mechanics still haven’t seen the rodent, they can attest to the damage it left behind.
“As we disassembled the inside, left-corner panel next to the spare tire, we found a nest. It had a lot of nesting material, and several pieces of food,” he said.
The rodent was somewhat clean, though, as Strahan said there was not much feces among the other debris. Still, the repairs began adding up.
“It can get expensive fast, as they get inside and cause mechanical or electrical issues. Right now, we’re at about $500 to $600 in repairs, but we’re still finding stuff,” he said.
McCormick’s rodent went for the inside of her vehicle, but others go for more external housing, as Kevin Hayes, of Kasilof, can confirm. He recently began seeing the elongated, white body of a weasel around his home.
“I think it’s living in the insulation of the garage walls because I can hear movement in there,” he said.
Hayes parks his pickup truck in the garage in winter, and also stores bags of garbage in there overnight until he can transport the trash to the dump the next day. He said that both of these things may need to stop soon, at least temporarily, due to the unwanted guest.
“The weasel had already begun getting into the trash. But about a week ago, we were getting ready to go to Anchorage so I went to check the oil. When I lifted the hood, it had four chicken bones in there. I think it was dragging trash in there to eat it when the engine was still warm,” he said.
Hayes said that he’s hoping to put a stop to this activity soon, before the weasel chews up a hose, belt or some other important part of the motor.
While Hayes knew the source of his rodent problem, McCormick is still wondering how hers got started.
“It’s a brand-new car. I just got it in October. And I park in the garage every night. So, the only thing I can think of is, I work at the Kenai Watershed Forum, and that’s in kind of a woodsy area, so maybe it got in there,” she said. “Either that or it was already in there when I bought it, but I hope not. I’m a clean freak and the idea of it being in there that long freaks me out.”