Everybody Has a Rat Story.

It was a few days after Christmas, and I’d just brought my car in for service. That morning, out of the blue, it had started misfiring.

I slid into the seat of Magic Toyota’s courtesy car eager to tell my story to the first person I saw. Only moments earlier the mechanic had given me the disgusting, exhilarating news. I turned to the middle-aged Somali driver who must have been expecting me to give him my address and announced, “They found a rat’s nest in my engine.”

I pulled the car door shut and continued. “They said the nest was this big.” I spread my hands about fifteen inches apart and looked at the space between them with renewed amazement. “The rat gnawed some wires clear through.”

The damage was going to cost me $500 plus tax. And yet, there’s something pleasing about having a good story to tell … even if it actually is a bad story.

The driver smiled. “Last week,” he said, “a woman came in with a big nest in her engine. And,” he added, topping my tale, “there were five baby rats in it.” He shook his head. “The woman never even looked at her engine.”

He shook his head again as though that detail puzzled him. But really! Who looks under the hood? I certainly don’t.

That afternoon, following the advice of Toyota’s mechanic, I went looking for mothballs. A helpful clerk at Bartell Drugs showed me to the correct aisle. I picked up the box of mothballs and told him my rat story. Not surprisingly, he had his own story to tell.

One morning, he said, his new Lexus wouldn’t start, and he had to have it towed to the garage. When the mechanic got back to him, the first thing he asked was where the man kept his dog food.

“In the garage,” he answered.

The mechanic nodded. “It looks like a rat filched about two pounds of the dog’s food and dragged it up your tailpipe.”

That night I mentioned my rat problem on Kate’s blog: Views and Mews. In the comments section, Kate and then Nancy shared tales of other gnawing critters: field mice getting into a heat pump and squirrels doing damage to the neighbors’ cars, $5000 damage in one case.

During the last couple of years, the Seattle area seems to be having a particularly big rat problem. So why are there so many more rats here than there used to be?

Here are some possible explanations:

  1. Global warming. Usually rats stop breeding in the winter. If it’s too cold, some of them don’t survive. But Pacific Northwest winters are becoming warmer. And when one female rate can give birth to up to 150 offspring in a single year, a few extra months of breeding results in quite a few extra rats.
  2. Unlike many cities, Seattle has two kinds of rats: Norway rats that burrow and live in sewers and roof rats that live in trees, vines, and attics. We have a great habitat for both of them–lots of trees for the roof rats and lots of green space and soft soil for the Norway rats. Plus we have streams and water retention ponds for both of them.
  3. Our construction boom. The Seattle area is undergoing a growth spurt. Over the past couple of years, an average of 236 people moved here every single day. This summer there were 58 construction cranes in Seattle, more than in any other city in America. When you knock down old buildings or build on abandoned properties, the rats that used to live there rush out and find a new home … perhaps in your basement or attic or nice warm car engine.

So I guess that’s why we’re beginning to notice the once-hidden presence of rats. As for my own attempts to solve the problem … this afternoon an exterminator is coming to set some traps in my garage. Wish me luck.

Have you had any run-ins with rats or other gnawing critters?

About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

home, life, rats, winter , , , , , , , ,


  1. Oh my word, Nicki! I’ve heard of snakes taking up housekeeping in cars, but never rats. Walking the streets of downtown, to my office, I sometimes spot a random rodent, but not in my car…yikes!

    • I’ve never seen a rat anywhere in my neighborhood. I’ve only had one rat sighting, and that was many years ago. They’re very good at hiding. I think a car engine is very attractive to them on a cold night.

  2. I shuddered as I read this post, Nicki. Oh my goodness. More and more people seem to be finding mice in their cars. I’d better check under my hood. Ugh!!!

    • So, I’m not the only one who never looks under my hood. Ages ago, when gas station attendants still pumped our gas, they always popped the hood to check the oil. Now our cars are so reliable, the oil hardly needs checking.

  3. Technically rats are great pets, very intelligent and friendly but I don’t suppose you were thinking of any sort of adoption here. You would have to neuter of course because you couldn’t afford all the damage a gazillion rats would do. I haven’t seen any rats in my area but as you said in your post, I have a bazillion stories about field mice. The worst part is that they are so darn cute.

    • Mice are probably cuter when they’re out in the field. When Daughter #2 was in 4th or 5th grade, she chose a science project that involved white mice. Not a good choice. They were so smelly and their cage so hard to keep clean.

  4. OMG, Nicki! This sounds like something straight out of Car Talk (I could imagine Click and Clack chuckling about this if it had ever been on their show). That must have been horrifying to hear. I’m so glad you’re getting this fixed, and here’s hoping those mothballs will help too.

  5. Ha, I was sure my cat would get the rat. Put the cat on the garage roof, where the rat was in the rain gutter. Cat watched that sucker run right by.

    Andy had to set traps in the garage.

  6. Years ago, my mom and step-dad bought an old farmhouse out in the country—in Day Creek. One night Mom got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night—she didn’t usually turn the light on, but this time she did. There was a huge rat in the toilet that had evidently come up through the septic system! She almost had a heart attack; and never went to the bathroom with the light off again! Yes, I guess everyone has a rat story.

  7. John Chiu


    Please see above link. The problems are automakers are going green, and using soy based biodegradable insulation on the wiring harness. Rodents treat it as food.

    I don’t know if there are class action law suits going on, if so car owners might entitle to reimbursements for repais costs.


  8. That’s an interesting article that John shared ~ who knew that biodegradable wires are tasty treats for rodents? But that would explain why rats and rodents gnaw on car wires.

    And the image of mice setting up housekeeping in air filters is a cozy domestic scene!

    Hope the traps you set do the trick.

  9. CLeong144@yahoo.co.uk

    Have I had any run-ins with rats? Is this the two legged kind or the four legged ones, Nicki? No, to the former but the latter, well, there are always bad eggs around. I don’t mean it in the personal

  10. It does sound like a rat infestation going on there in Seattle. Maybe more to come. They must be rather quiet, hiding up the bonnet like that. I haven’t had any rats up any of the vehicles in my home, never ever. Then again, I’ve always lived in the city among relatively modern buildings…or maybe I just have been lucky. Do the rats in your area eat cheese? 😀

    • I think you can find rats almost anywhere. (There are more than 60 species of rats in Australia.) In my neighborhood, people keep their garbage cans inside except on pick-up day. But rats are attracted to many other things. Bird feeders, for example, are rat magnets. They love to eat seeds. They also eat bugs, and, of course, any scrap of food they can find. Fortunately, we seldom see them. They’re very good at keeping out of sight.

  11. Mice built a nest in my car’s engine. They had gnawed a hole in a bag of birdfeed and had taken quite a store of it back to their nest.

  12. Oh, my! I’ve never had this problem. I’ve never seen a rat in the parking lot either, it must be because several stray cats live there. I did see a couple of ferrets in the streets in Shanghai and for me that was weird, because I thought ferrets would live in the countryside, not in a city with over 20 million people.

    • Some cats earn their keep. One good thing about rats is that they live in the shadows, so, for the most part, we don’t have to see them. According to an article on a Shanghai site, Shanghai is said to have 96 million rats. Dr. Sun says, “Rats are the most difficult pests to catch. They are very intelligent; some are as intelligent as a seven-year-old kid.” Here’s the article about Shanghai’s official Spring Rats Elimination Campaign: http://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai/post/13558/throwback-thursday-rats

  13. All I can think of is – oh dear !!!!!


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