HARTFORD, Conn. — Car batteries are fading and ruinous rodents are colonizing engine compartments as the coronavirus keeps many cars parked at home.
Dead batteries prompted 40% of AAA’s calls for service in April, compared with 20% in April 2019, the organization’s Greater Hartford spokeswoman, Amy Parmenter, said.
“Some cars won’t last two weeks,” said Paul Hechenbleikner, manager of Jones’ Automotive Service in East Hartford.
Some vehicles draw more electrical power while parked with the engine off. Called “parasitic drain,” electrical current goes to engine computers and electronic control modules for power windows, mirrors and other accessories.
Also, older car batteries fizzle faster, said Don Cusson, owner of Cusson Automotive Inc. in South Windsor. Mechanics advise people to take a 20-minute cruise at least once a week to keep the battery charged.
Stationary autos also invite rodents seeking dry, warm places for nesting. The buck-toothed critters can cause costly horrors on wiring.
Connie Yan of Manchester said her car sat for about two weeks as she and her husband followed state guidelines and stayed home. One day last month, the couple decided to take a ride to ease cabin fever, but noticed warning lights for anti-lock braking and traction control systems.
Opening the hood revealed a retreating bushy tail and a huge nest next to the engine. Squirrels had chewed through wires, disabling some systems, and also had gnawed through a windshield washer spray hose, Yan said.
While removing the nest, the couple noticed something else — two baby squirrels that could hardly open their eyes. They placed the pair in a box on the ground with some of the nesting material so the mother could find them, she said.
After getting the car repaired, they sprayed diluted peppermint oil solution in a few spots to deter further visitors. People also use dryer sheets and mothballs to fend off squirrels, mice and chipmunks.
Hechenbleikner said he recently repaired squirrel damage on a car’s wiring harness. The bill was about $150, but that was cheap compared with the extensive damage he has seen in other vehicles.
Even as restrictions ease, many cars will not be rolling as they normally would for weeks or even months, so AAA advised owners to take the following steps:
If you won’t be driving your car at least once a week, a battery tender will maintain the charge.
Keep the gasoline tank at three-fourths or full. Full tanks help minimize condensation.
Check the tire pressure and fill, as needed, to the amount posted inside the driver’s door.
Despite virus-related repairs that some car owners need, Hechenbleikner and Cusson both said business is down and they have had to adjust their workforces.
“I try not to dwell on the figures,” Hechenbleikner said. “I don’t want to depress myself too much.”
Cusson said business at his 14-person shop has slowed 55%-60% and he had to cut technicians’ hours to 32 hours a week for four weeks. He did receive federal paycheck protection money and everyone is back to 40 hours a week, Cusson said, but the slowdown is still hurting.
But the shop also repairs motor homes, and Cusson said he feels confident that business will return as the pent-up longing to get back on the road is finally realized.