Vermin infestation turns family van into rat rod

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It started with some torn napkins.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/07/2015 (2620 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It started with some torn napkins.

It ended four months and $9,462.63 later.

Suffrin’ succotash! Where’s Sylvester when you need him?

Kelly Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press Technicians had to strip everything out of Taylor�s infested van. �It was like it was back on the production line, before any of the interior was installed.�

We first noticed the sign of mice in August. We thought we had it covered, but by Sept. 5, our Toyota Sienna was on the business end of an F-250 tow truck headed for the insurance compound.

In the process, the claim opened my eyes to a $3-million industry involving 12 repair shops specially certified for rodent removal. For some shops, cleaning up after Mickey and friends is all they do.

“We’re seeing a bit of an increase over the past number of years, which tells us the rodent population is growing,” said Manitoba Public Insurance spokesman Brian Smiley. “On average, it’s 1,200 to 1,500 claims per year from a number of years ago, where we would have had about 500.”

MPI basically threw a haz-mat blanket over our van. Adjusters wearing body suits and respirators verified the contamination and then sent the vehicle to a shop for rodent-infestation recovery. The fear, of course, is transmission of the potentially deadly hantavirus.

Smiley said cleaning up after mice isn’t cheap. The average claim size is $5,000 to $6,000.

“It’s a very sophisticated cleaning method these shops take on. They’re using cleaning chemicals, they’re wearing masks and without seeing it, the consumer can’t even imagine it, so it’s costly.”

A couple of weeks later, our van was completely naked. Stripped of every piece of soft material inside. There was no dashboard. No instrument panel. No door panels, carpet, carpet underlay and no seats. The only fabric that remained, at that point, was the headliner. It was like it was back on the production line, before any of the interior was installed.

Merv, the operations manager at A Restoration Touch, said it’s necessary to ferret out every possible hiding spot for mice and their excrements. While the hantavirus is only transmitted by deer mice and most mouse infestations aren’t deer mice, adjusters and repair staff take no chances.

Even he is taken aback by the size of his industry.

“It’s surprising. I don’t think the general public knew you could make a claim for this kind of thing. A lot of people told me they didn’t even know they could make claim until they talked to one person and so on and so on.”

After Merv had our van, he called about four weeks in: they’d found signs in the headliner and some chewed bits of the side curtain air bag. Another claim amendment would have to go in, and this amendment wasn’t going to be cheap, adding about $3,000 to the claim.

Kelly Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press

Would it be written off?

Both Merv and MPI’s Smiley agreed had the adjuster known before work started the bill would come out to $9,500, the van likely would have been written off. But repairs were already at $6,500: It was cheaper to just fix it for an extra $3,000 rather than pay the $6,500 and then pay out what we estimated would be $15,000 in a total-loss settlement.

Smiley said that of the 1,300 or so rodent claims in Manitoba, about 45 per cent are total loss claims.

At A Restoration, Merv has his share of repeat customers. “We’ve had one woman whose vehicle was hit three times,” he said.

He said the process takes as long as it does because all work stops when a claim amendment is made, which means restoration experts put that vehicle aside and work on another until both the amendment is approved and they have space in the work schedule to fit your vehicle back into the rotation. There are enough claims, and few enough companies certified to do the work, there’s no shortage of vehicles to restore.

Merv said a variety of old wives’ tales exist about possible prevention strategies. Few actually work.

Dryer sheets?

“We’ve had vehicles where the mice were nesting right on top of the dryer sheet.”

Ultrasonic repellent devices?

Taz Stuart, technical operations manager at Poulin’s Pest Control, said they tend to work initially but as the temperature falls, even mice are smart enough to trade discomfort for survival. As with people who live near railroad tracks and eventually never even notice a train, mice get accustomed to the piercing sound of an ultrasonic device to the point it no longer repels them. “They are limited in their range; they will work but if you’re just like a human, you get used to the noise over time and they may just say ‘Hey, I’ll put up with the noise and move in anyway.’ “

Postmedia UNDATED -- Domestic mouse. HANDOUT PHOTO. For Randy Boswell (Postmedia News) VIKING-MICE

Stuart said the only defence against mice is preventing their intrusion in the first place.

“No. 1, where are you parking your car? Let’s not be out in a field with long grass where deer mice or other mice and rodents can be,” he said. “No. 2, try to exclude them from getting in. Anything that’s the size of your finger or a little bigger will allow a mouse in. Look at sealing it up, windows are up, even looking at the vents, putting some kind of exclusion measures. Anything to keep them out.”

Mice will generally steer clear of foul-smelling repellent materials such as fox urine, but you don’t want your car smelling like a fox’s outhouse.

MPI’s Smiley said the business of rodent remediation has grown, which is good news for both the economy and MPI customers.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of outlets taking on this work, because a few years ago we didn’t have 12 shops, we had seven,” he said. “So it was difficult for some customers to get their vehicle into an accredited shop to have it cleaned and have it properly sanitized.

“And for the businesses, they’ve managed to make it profitable, which is good, but for the insurance side of it, we’re looking after the customer.”

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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