It all started when I lost my keys. After waiting a month and hoping someone would turn them in, it was time to relent and get a new key made. It’s really not as easy (or inexpensive) as you would imagine.

There’s some sort of convoluted process my Volvo technician has to go through to download software that matches the new key to my vehicle’s brain. It’s a mind-numbing event, so I had planned to sit for a while in his office, perhaps write an article and catch up on my magazine reading until I could drive away with my own key in the ignition.

Before I was through reading the table of contents, however, I heard the dreaded words: “Hey, come on back here and check out your Volvo.”

Now Dave Sheloske, who owns and operates Foreign Car Service in Auburn, has been caring for our Volvos for nearly two decades; he’s also my next-door neighbor. I wasn’t sure what to make of his tone of voice. Our vehicle had just been in a couple of weeks prior to this visit for a tune-up. Was my car about to break in two? Did I have a stowaway Boston Terrier in the back seat? WHAT was going on?

Then, I saw it. Right there in the engine compartment – an a-maze-ing configuration of multi-colored string and bits of shredded and completely unrelated fabrics forming what can only be described as a nest. I couldn’t believe the rodents were at it again.

Our Jeep had been their previous victim about 10 years ago. At that time, they had filled the air filter with sunflower seeds. No wonder it wasn’t running smoothly. Dave found that mess, too.

The need to gather and hoard food, as well as create shelter for themselves, are primal instincts for rodents like field mice, chipmunks, rats, squirrels and an assortment of other nocturnal critters. A somewhat warm engine, up off the ground, enclosed for the most part, makes an inviting location for all those needs. Luckily, the colorful nest didn’t include any chewed wires, only some missing insulation from the back wall separating the passengers from the engine. The ever-ready duct tape fixed that hole quickly.

Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile for all motorists, not just those who park their cars during the winter months, to open the hood on a regular basis and check for rodent activity. Keep bait traps in the garage and/or under vehicles, even those parked outdoors.

Make sure you don’t inadvertently lure those rodents by keeping food – fast, fresh, opened or otherwise – in or near the car without having it properly sealed. A closed-up paper bag doesn’t count. It’s always possible the littlest nest-builder could find his way into your car, and there goes the stuffing in your seats!

Other than that, there’s not much you can do to deter the little tykes except keep a vigilant attitude toward your vehicle, check it regularly and hope for the best. I do not recommend keeping a cat in the garage. First of all, your cats should probably be living indoors with you and using a litter box, but if that’s not your philosophy, keep in mind that antifreeze, which sometimes leaks, is deadly to cats. So please play it safe for all involved – except the rodents – as the damage can be fairly severe and repairs costly if not caught early.

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