MARIN COUNTY, Calif. - Imagine driving down the highway, enjoying the day, and all of a sudden your car develops a serious problem. The culprit? Rats.
We're hearing reports it's happening - "rats eating cars." Of course, rats aren't eating whole cars but are nibbling on enough of the important parts to lead to costly repairs and concern for owners. Some question whether organic materials in many different makes and models are more appetizing to the rodents.
Margaret Levine loves her electric BMW - its zippiness and smaller environmental footprint. Turns out, rats love her car, too.
"It was shocking, I had no idea that was even an issue," Levine tells the I-Team's Dan Noyes.
When the car wouldn't take a charge, she took it to a Marin BMW dealer and found wires clipped, insulation eaten around the "brains" of the car and a rat nest under the front hood. The total bill for damages: $5,000.
A mechanic, Levine says, told her rats had been eating the wires of her car.
"I was flabbergasted," she says. "I was like, 'What?'"
Liz Wise experienced something similar when she took her Prius for its first checkup and discovered rats caused $8,500 worth of damage.
"The hood was opened, and they showed me a big dead rat," Wise recalls of her visit with the mechanic.
Toyota is among the first companies to face class-action complaints based on new wire covers and car parts made out of organic materials. According to the filing, the use of soy or bio-based ingredients is "a defect ... that entices these pests to chew through, eat, or otherwise damage and compromise the wiring."
"As far as we can see from the anecdotal evidence, rats think this is delicious," says plaintiffs' attorney, Brian Kabateck, from his Los Angeles office.
Kabateck says he's been contacted by angry drivers from across the country and Canada who've lost money after rats feasted on their cars and trucks.
"We want Toyota to cover this under their warranty because it isn't the people's fault who bought the car," he says. "They didn't do anything wrong."
Toyota declined an on-camera interview citing "current litigation" but sent the I-Team a statement.
"Rodent damage to vehicle wiring occurs across the industry," the statement reads. "And the issue is not brand or model specific. We are currently not aware of any scientific evidence that shows rodents are attracted to automotive wiring because of alleged soy-based content."
Thomas Ramies, owner of Portola Valley Garage, says he sees rat damage in Toyotas and many other brands. "It was the Mercedes and Porsches they like the flavor of, now it's everything," he says.
Ramies says he used to see one or two cars with rat damage a year. Now, he's sees up to ten a week and thinks it's because of the newer compounds in cars that range from soy, rice husks, wood, sugars, vanilla, peanut oil and straw.
"Even rubber is being made out of plant products," says Ramies. "So it's an absolute smorgasbord for these rats."
Repairs can be costly, but in Levine's case, insurance is covering most of the damage. She's also haggling with BMW about the company paying her $1,000 deductible. Levine says she can't sell the car because she would lose too much money. So, instead, she's spending hundreds of dollars to rat proof her garage with an assortment of traps, potions and sharp lattice that's tough on rats' little feet.
The I-Team asked BMW to comment several times but didn't hear back.
In addition to Toyota, Honda faces a similar class-action complaint over organic car parts. The company has said in other published reports there's a "long-known history of rodents chewing wires of all types."
More background on the issue:
You can check NHTSA's safercar.gov for any complaints and recalls related to this issue. You must enter an exact make and model of a vehicle that is experiencing the issue:
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