Cars and trucks sitting idle while their owners hole up at home during the coronavirus pandemic weren't providing much service work to local dealerships. That is, until hungry, city-dwelling rats started to branch out.
Reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post say city rats that typically gorge on discarded food from restaurants that have had to shut down are venturing farther afield and seeking refuge in automobiles.
East Coast service departments reportedly have noted an uptick in vehicular rat infestations, resulting in repair bills that can run in the thousands of dollars.
"The dealership said we are the FIFTH people to call this week with this problem," Kelsey Snell, who discovered rats living under her car's hood after getting an exhaust-system error message, wrote on Twitter. She told The Times that her bill for replacing damaged wires was about $400.
Rats have been wreaking havoc in Washington-area vehicles, as warmer weather likely spawned a population boom. Rats chew through wiring and defecate in air filters. In an engine bay, they "can blow fuses, start fires and even total cars," The Post reported.
Robert Corrigan, an often-cited rodentologist who specializes in urban rats, told the BBC that more frequent rat sightings in metropolitan areas during shelter-in-place orders aren't surprising.
"When you have a colony of rats on a block that has been depending on tourists littering and lots of trash put out at night — it could be D.C., it could be New York — anyplace where rats have been depending on the easy handouts, and that disappears, then they don't know what to do," he said.