Experience D’Orth



 by bill orth


A favorite fall topic, that I expound upon every few years or so, involves advice about putting your Ferrari to bed for the winter. I know, its not fall, but I thought that the following story was interesting enough and i didn't have any other ideas anyway. Standard stuff: put extra air in the tires to prevent flat-spotting, fill the tank with fresh gas and stabilant, hook up a battery maintainer....and take steps to keep mice out of the car.  Mouse invasion is more common than you'd think. Virtually no garage is mouse-proof; they can wriggle through incredibly small openings and once inside they're home for the winter.  Often, hospitable car owners provide bowls of dog food and water, but the mice will gladly help themselves by chewing into the fifty-pound bag of kibble conveniently stored in the garage.  Step One is: get rid of any food source.  Step Two is: put up the top and close the car windows. A dormant car's interior is Heaven for a mouse.  There's often some old french fries under the seats, and when they run out the mouse will simply import some dog food, bird seed or whatever else you store in the garage.  For entertainment, mice love to nibble on your car's wiring insulation; plus, they pull out insulation from under the carpets and seat stuffing to make their nests.  All that food gets turned into you-know-what, which they then leave all over the interior.  The poops are easy enough to vacuum up, but the urine stains present a much bigger challenge.  At least the ones you can find.  What about the ones down inside the defroster ducts, under the seats and in the heater vents?  That's why cars that have been stored for extended periods often get a pretty gamey odor inside.


If they can't penetrate the interior, mice will instead set up housekeeping in the engine area.  They love the air cleaner's intake duct and there's lots of wires to chew on and cozy places to make nests.  Bottom line: mice love to inhabit dormant cars, so you need to try to discourage them.  Hardware stores sell stuff that gives off an odor that supposedly repels mice, so putting some of that under the hood, in the trunk and interior is a good idea.  Also, from time-to-time during the winter, take off the cover and look the car over. If you see signs of visitors, immediate action can prevent some very unpleasant surprises come springtime. Mice thrive when they are undisturbed, so if you have a cat, try letting it roam around the garage occasionally. The presence of a predator can make your neighbor's garage seem more attractive to the mice. Keep in mind we're not talking about big wharf rats that are the size of puppies. (well, maybe in your garage) A typical adult field mouse is smaller than your thumb and amazingly flexible; they can fit through impossibly small openings and they can climb anything.  I thought I was immune to mouse problems because my Ferrari sits high up on a lift in the garage. The posts are smooth vertical steel with no apparent toeholds....but this spring I found a mouse nest next to the battery, which is accessible from under the car.  Somehow the beggars climbed the posts and carried nest-building material up there with them!  There's no animal food in our garage, so they gathered up dropped seed from under the outdoor bird feeders and brought that up there, too.  But they fortunately didn't do any damage to the car.  Somebody else wasn't so lucky.


We recently had a 900-mile 575M towed to our shop.  The owner enjoys several homes, and the Maranello resided at one he hadn't visited since last summer.  During the entire fall and winter the car sat under a carport in a wooded semi-rural area, at an unoccupied estate.  He had put a cover over it, but left a window down, under the cover, for "ventilation."  It was a better habitat than the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!  But not for mice.  Chipmunks!  Evidently, these darlin's ran the mice off, and made themselves right at home in the 575.  They simply climbed up the underside of the cover and jumped inside.  Once established, they nosed around under the dash looking for tasty wires to chew on.  The harness leading to the passenger's airbag was apparently pretty good, because they nibbled it completely through.  Naturally, no responsible shop will try to repair anything having to do with a safety device, so a new airbag assembly will be required.  Close to the back side of the airbag, the air conditioning hoses pass through the firewall into the engine compartment.  They chewed through the sealing material, damaged the hoses, and got into the engine area, where there's lots of wires to work on.  More $$$$.


Another expeditionary force decided to find a way into the trunk.  After they chewed through the passenger-side seat belt, the stump retracted back into the rear quarter panel, leaving a slit-shaped opening just large enough for them to squeeze through.  This part of the seat belt is attached to the explosive pre-tensioning device that fires if the airbag goes off, yanking the person tight against the seatback.  Can't repair it; gotta put in a new belt/tensioner assembly.  Big $$$ this time, too.  Once in the trunk, the chipmunks built a nest behind the CD changer and made a mess of that, too. From the cobwebs and other detritus left in the car, it was apparent that numerous other creatures great and small climbed aboard that dormant 575, seemingly heeding Noah's call.


The engine-area team found that now they could simply jump down onto the ground, scavenge around the yard for nest-building material and food and climb back up onto the belly pan under the radiator area. When that pan was removed in the shop, a pine-straw nest the size of a catcher's mitt had been constructed on it, surrounded by the shells of dozens of acorns, seed pods and berries. I can easily imagine the whole episode being made into an animated Walt Disney movie.


The moral to the story is to be constantly vigilant about rodent intrusion, especially when you bed your car down for the winter. Follow the tips above, especially the one about putting a cat in the garage several times a week and see if you can remember all of it this fall.  I guarantee the 575's owner isn't going to forget what it cost to remediate an entire ecosystem that developed inside his $200,000 car.

 - -  Bill  Orth  - -