Trading horsepower for rat-power

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

A car’s engine is normally rated according to horsepower, but some may now be measured by rat-power.

Our son Justin, who lives in Arlington, Va., normally travels by the extensive Metro subway system that serves the area in and around Washington, D.C. So he rarely has to drive his 2007 Chevy Impala that originally served as our family car. But he still takes the car out for a run every week or two to keep the battery charged and the fluids flowing.

That’s what he intended Sunday when he headed out to flex the car’s legs. Before he started the car, he opened the hood to check the oil. As he peered inside a big nasty brown rat jumped out from the engine and just missed Justin’s head. Expletive deleted!

After he gathered his senses, Justin took the car for a spin with no further surprises. But he wondered what damage the rat may have done while holed up around all those wires and hoses that wrap around the engine. Apparently none, as far as he could tell.

Rats, mice, possums and other varmints aren’t unusual boarders in unused vehicles parked out in the country, but they haven’t been a problem in the city — until recently. With restaurants closed, rats have to look harder for food. As people retreat from coronavirus inside their homes, rats aren’t afraid to roam the streets, and with cars sidelined by the pandemic, rats have found those dark, warm idle engine compartments ideal places to hide out in the city.

Rats aren’t the only animals taking over the cities. A fox was photographed a couple of weeks ago running down a deserted street clutching a Washington Post in its mouth, answering one subscriber’s question as to why he wasn’t receiving his newspaper in the morning. And a coyote was photographed in early April wandering down a deserted Michigan Avenue on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

Coincidentally, just a few days before Justin’s encounter, The New York Times published an article on this very subject: “Time to Check Your Pandemic-Abandoned Car for Rats.” One Washington car dealer reported five cases in one week of rats invading car engines. Rat-chewed wires can cost from several hundred to thousands of dollars to repair.

Rats must gnaw constantly because their razor-sharp teeth grow continuously throughout their lives at a rate of four to five inches a year. If they don’t keep their teeth trimmed by chewing, rats might not be able to open or close their mouths. That would be a shame.

Researchers have also have found that rats really enjoy the soy-based wiring in newer cars as opposed to the petroleum-based wires used in older models. It’s amazing what research can tell us.

To lessen the chances of your car’s engine compartment becoming a rat motel, don’t park your car over sewers and drainage catch basins, used by rats to move above and below ground, and start your car and move it from time to time if it’s not going to be used for a while.

And don’t store cheese in your engine.

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