Chicago rats chew through car wires, make nests under hoods; what you can do

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Saturday, November 11, 2023
Rats gone wild: Chicago rodents damage cars, build nests under hoods
Orkin rates Chicago as the U.S.'s rattiest city, and rats chewing through car wires and nesting under hoods are common problems. So what can you do?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rats feasting on your car's wires is a common problem in Chicago. But what can you do to stop them from attacking your vehicle, and what is the city doing to control its rat problem?

Rats can scurry by us as we're walking on the sidewalk, or nest in our yards, but did you know that rats could be under the hood of your car?

"Very gross," says Sianna Smith. Rats made a nest in her car while it was parked in Lakeview. "The rats have actually chewed my wires four different times."

Smith said the repeated rat damage has rung up a big bill.

"This whole thing cost $1,300," she said. "Very expensive rat problem."

Why do rats like to nest and nibble on those wires? Smith's mechanic Ken Ziolo of A&A automobile service said rats are sharpening teeth inside cars and seeking shelter.

"You can even see the droppings in there. They've already nested up in this one but they haven't eaten," he said.

He said they may be making a meal out of new car wires, many come coated in soy.

"I just think they must be smelling the soybean in the wiring cover, the covers of the wires," said Ziolo.

Ziolo uses a special rat repellant tape to cover wires that is red hot chili pepper scented. You can also buy the tape on your own.

"You can't watch it every minute of the day," said Janelle Iaccino from, Rose Pest Solutions. "Just getting in the habit of checking the undersides of your car before you get in and maybe popping that hood every once in a while to make sure there's not like nesting material in there or any indication of that presence."

She said you should also avoid parking near a food source.

"Don't park next to an overflowing garbage can because that's where, think about where the rats will be most likely to be appearing and look for things like burrow holes too," she advised.

"Usually a burrow hole will have an entry hole and at least one exit hole for quick escapes," said Iaccino who shared more pictures of burrow holes rats can make. "Their bodies are like the cartilage in our ears, they can fold their bodies and flatten them so much so like they only need the size of a quarter to fit through, so if you're looking underneath your doors and you see lights coming through there and it's the size of a quarter, you could have rats in your house."

She said weather stripping or door sweeps will block the rat's path. You should also report any rats to 311 City Services.

"I have a couple guys who will stomp on them, some really good guys. Their job is to kill them," said Josie Cruz, the Deputy Commissioner of Chicago's Bureau of Rodent Control, which is part of The Department of Streets and Sanitation. "So what they found is that they found a burrow where it shows that the rats going in and out."

They sweep alleys for burrows. Then, they put bait and newspaper in the holes and come back a week later.

"And they'll see if that's pushed out, then we'll go ahead and rebait it again we know it's active," said Cruz. "But if it doesn't open up, that means that there was no rat activity in there."

Both Cruz and Iaccino said the problems became more visible during the pandemic when many rats moved from restaurants and found more food sources near homes and gardens.

But now the city says rat complaints are down. So far this year the city received 38,742 rodent-related service requests compared to 40,173 for the same time period in 2022.

Chicago was named the rattiest city in the U.S. for the ninth consecutive year, according to Orkin pest control. However the city said that's not an official count of rats.

"We aren't the rattiest city, it's just that Orkin gets more calls from Chicago compared to other cities," Cruz said.

She said her department will usually respond to 311 within about five days, but she and other experts encourage residents to do their part by keeping garbage contained. Also ask the city for a new garbage cart if yours has a hole or a broken lid.

"They love the garbage, they love just anything they can get their hands on," Cruz said.

"It is a health risk, it's not just a nuisance. These are vectors of disease, and you want to make sure that they stay out at all costs," said Iaccino.

Some neighborhood programs have used feral cats to fight rats. That's not something the city officially endorses, saying that too many wild cats could bring other health concerns.

The city plans to add an additional $1.5 million to fight rats in next year's budget and five more rodent control crews will be added next year as well.