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Wildlife -- and your car

Got a question about your car and… dogs? Or cats? Or goats, snakes, birds, crabs, raccoons, geckos, bed bugs, mud chiggers, or Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches?

Well, good news! We’re pleased to welcome Car Talk’s new resident wildlife expert, Dr. Kieran Lindsey. We recently had a discussion with her, and posted some of the most common automotive-animal conundrums right here.

But… what other questions do you have? Got a burning issue about cockroaches coming from a clutch? Or something more mundane? Let us know – Kieran and the gang at Car Talk Plaza will be watching, and doing our best to give you answers. And, unlike the answers from our humble hosts, we promise you they’ll be something a bit more than a wild guess about wildlife.

Yours in bed bugs and Buicks,

The Lackeys of Car Talk Plaza

a FYI: I have heard some manufacturers switched to a corn based primary wire insulation. And critters found this as a free candy gift, chewing through the insulation. Any truth to this? Who-When? Did they go to a different formula?

Since Deer Prosper Where Farms Provide Corn And Other Crops And Since More & More Farmers Are Being Subsidized For Growing Corn To Use For The Big Government Ethanol Push . . .

. . . Could the over-abundance of deer be turned into some type of fuel to reduce the cost of energy in the country ? This would also help keep them from leaping through my windshield. It kills two birds (deer) with one stone. Grow the corn, get the deer for free.


I don’t know, but now I’m curious. I’ll have to do a little research but I’ll get an answer for you as soon as possible!

Dr. Kieran


85% Deer/gas mix.

Something must have happened because we have had Toyotas forever and haven’t had rodent damage until the newer ones: Prius and Solara. They eat or at least chew up the insulation on the underside of the hood. They nest in various parts of the AC system and of course die in there occasionally. A perfectly yummy Toyota truck sits next to the cars and is never bothered.

Our solution: We raise the hoods and clip on a bright light to shine all night on the engines. It is the only thing that seems to work.

Do you have any other suggestions? This has been really costly!

Thanks. Ann

Do those little things work that you stick on the bumpers that supposedly make high pitched sounds?

I hit a very large wolf in Idaho in July 2010 on Interstate 90 at a speed of 75 miles per hour coming back from Spokane. The impact ripped the front left portion of my bumper. Thankfully the air bag did not deploy. Just curious though… why didn’t the air bag go off with that hard of a hit?

PS… I have a duct tape bumper… or is it duck tape bumper?

Unfortunately, Wolves Don’t Have Air Bags, Yet.


A Neighbor, Just Up The Road, Reported To His Insurance Company That His Windshield Was Broken By A Large Fish ! They Were Skeptical At First, Until They Learned That The Fish Was Dropped By A Bald Eagle Trying To Gain Altitude.


And I’ll bet that bald eagle talked incessantly to other bald eagles about the one that got away.


RABBITS!!! Evidently they love to chew on the soy-based wiring insulation. Whether the soy part is NEW is yet another question however, since my car is a 20+ year old Buick Century. It has 40,000 miles and both interior/exterior are in beautiful condition. I leave it to YOU to wonder if I am the old lady who only uses the car for church, or? perhaps only the back seat? Hmmm. Ah-hah!

After a surgery last year I could not drive. After a few months of running the car in the driveway,few times a week for about 20 minutes, it would not start. Had it jumped. All was fine for another couple months with the running the engine 3 times per week regimen. Then it would not start again. After my sister and I tried a trickle charge routine and a few more jumps—at last I decided to just let it sit.

FINALLY when the doc said I was allowed to drive again, I had the car flat-bedded to my mechanic. When the tow-driver got out of the truck at the other end a rabbit jumped out of the engine compartment. Scared the heck out of him and he yelped, also scaring the hell out of the poor rabbit! Both he and the rabbit took off running—giving all his buddies and the customers out-front a good laugh.

I?m not laughing. Cost me $1,200 to have the harness and all the wiring replaced (plus 4 new tires—from AZ summer dry rot).

I only drive about 3 times a week. My car must sit outside the garage, in the driveway. HOW can I repel flocks (herds?) of AZ Rabbits from roosting (???) in my engine compartment again??? (They did not get inside the car, thank goodness.) A humane way to get rid of them would be lovely— if we don?t have to cart cages or handle them. Otherwise, it is going to have to be ?just fine? to handle the problem another way!!! Help!!!


Good headlights, clean windshields and headlight lenses, alertness, and caution are the only thing sthat work.

Well, for one thing, the fuel tanks on our vehicles would have to be ENORMOUS!

Sorry, I couldn?t help myself.

I will now provide you with a sincere, if not completely serious, answer. Keep in mind, I?m a biologist, not a physicist, so if the following argument contains some gaping holes, please cut me some slack.

Your question is a great example of thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, it?s also a great example of thinking outside the laws of physics? specifically, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which states that (I?m paraphrasing here) every time energy changes form or moves from one place to another, some of it is lost.

What has this got to do with using venison to power vehicles?

Because energy has to change forms many times before deer can become fuel?more times than it takes to change corn into fuel.

The simple, not very nuanced explanation goes like this. Earth gets all of its energy from the sun. The chlorophyll in plants?in your example, corn?collects and transforms sunlight into sugars, which in turn are used to make leaves and stalks and flowers and seeds. A deer comes along and eats the corn, transforming it into muscle, bone, fur, fat, fawns and movement. Transforming deer into a fuel that could be used to power a vehicle would entail yet another change.

Even more simply stated, the reason your idea sounds too good to be true is that it IS too good to be true. Deer are a less efficient source of fuel than the corn used grow deer.

That said, you?re not the only one who has been thinking creatively about alternative sources for biofuel. About 5 years ago, Michael Wolford, a Master?s student in Environmental Management at Webster University in Missouri wrote a paper on the feasibility of converting waste from a turkey processing plant into fuel. The process generated about 2.5 barrels of #4 diesel fuel per ton of waste. As a method for reducing the waste stream it works pretty well?instead of a bill from the local landfill you get some juice for your jalopy. But the focus of the study was on whether one could produce useable fuel from refuse, not whether you could produce that fuel more efficiently and/or economically than from corn. Unfortunately, you can?t.

One last comment: I doubt that our hypothetical farmer would agree that when you grow corn you get deer for free. The corn those deer consume isn?t free. The farmer has to pay for seed, water, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, machinery?not to mention fuel to run that machinery?and labor. Every kernel the deer eat reduces the farmer?s harvest, and is therefore money out of her pocket. Money that isn?t likely to be recouped by turning deer into diesel fuel.

Dr. Kieran

Sounds entirely possible to me.

If you’re going to fly while holding a fish with your feet, you need to orient the fish in as aerodynamic a position as possible. You may not achieve the optimal position on the first grab so some juggling may be necessary. Also, sometimes the avian angler makes a bigger catch than anticipated and has to lose some weight to get airborne again. Finally, sometimes the fish doesn’t want to fly and makes it’s wishes know by heading for the exit. Sadly for this particular fish, and your neighbor’s windshield, he forgot to use a parachute.

Dr. Kieran

Ann, the short answer is “no.”

If you’d like to read a longer answer that includes some of the reasons why, you (and anyone else for that matter) can do so at my blog, Next-Door Nature:

Dr. Kieran

If you’re going to fly while holding a fish with your feet, you need to orient the fish in as aerodynamic a position as possible.

I will note that the next time I try to fly while holding a fish with my feet. However, I have yet to master flying, with or without a fish.

Dear Dr. Kieran,

I read through all your interview answers, but this one eludes me.

I have an RV parked on property in a Wisconsin oak/pine forest. If my car is parked there in the fall, my engine fills up with acorns. Clearing out the food source may make sense in a contained environment like a garage, but what do I do in the forest?

Also, if you have ideas about keeping mice out of the RV, I would appreciate them. I won’t poison them and introduce poison to the forest ecosystem. So far, we are trapping and releasing, but you state that this is only a slower death for them. We leave no food available for them, but they come in to nest.

Thanks! And Welcome to cartalk, this is a great idea!


Although your story features a wild animal the question is really about why one of your vehicle components didn’t work as expected. I know a lot about animals and very little about the inner workings of automobiles. So… click on this link ( and you can post this question to the Car Talk community. I’ll bet someone (nearly anyone) there will be able to offer a better answer than I.

Dr. Kieran

My Toyota Corolla is Sweet 16 this year - with only 1 repair - front brakes! EXCEPT . . . One day - it made farting noises and stopped running altogether - Had it towed to my trusty mechanic . . . Called a few hours later . . . “What’s wrong wit it,” sez I . . . My mechanic shouts (loud garage noises in background) RATS!!- I think he?s shouting at his staff . . . “What!?,” sez I. “Rats,” he sez, "Elizabeth, rats crawled in your car and ate your ignition wires! YUUCCKKK!!!,? sez I, "You mean they been riding around town with me??? Sez he, ?Heck no, they get out when you start the car and wait 'til you get home . . . Sez he, ?Good thing you didn?t have your air vent open, they woulda been inside. ?AARGHHHH??? (If I hadn?t been sitting down, I woulda fainted!). My gallant mechanic comforts me, ? You shoulda seen what possums did to a Mercedes this week ? set it on fire . . .