Speaker Paul Ryan last week told the story of the undoing of his trusty Chevrolet Suburban.
Ryan was at the Economic Club, a Washington nonprofit, to discuss tariffs and trade policy when the conversation turned personal. The Republican and self-described “policy guy” recalled having more freedom before he became the speaker of the House in 2015.
“I haven’t driven in three years. It’s a little strange,” he said, adding that he had been keeping his car in his home state.
Ryan is from Janesville, Wisconsin, home to a General Motors assembly plant that closed 10 years ago. He said his mother, who lives in the area, recently tried to start his SUV but could not.
So Ryan had it towed to a dealer.
“They realized that a family of woodchucks lived in the underbody of my Suburban, and they ate all the wiring out of it,” he said. “And so my car was eaten by animals, and it’s just dead. I had to call the insurance company. So I don’t have a car.”
It is not uncommon for rodents to work their way into vehicles. Sometimes they do it for warmth and shelter, and sometimes they are looking for something to chew.
“Animals will interact with their environment, and that can include cars,” said David Seerveld, a wildlife-removal specialist in Orlando, Florida. “Rodents gnaw on several materials to wear down their ever-growing teeth, and electrical wires are a common target, both inside attics and automobiles.”
But Seerveld suspected that Ryan’s damage did not come from woodchucks (also called groundhogs) because those are known for burrowing, not climbing. “I receive a few hundred reports annually of chewed car wires, caused almost entirely by squirrels, rats or mice,” he said.
The best way to keep a vehicle safe from rodents is to house it in a garage, Seerveld said.
There are also ways to make wires less palatable, with bad-tasting deterrents like sprays or tapes that have been treated with a spicy compound found in hot peppers, for example. Seerveld said that the scent-based repellents you might find around the house, like mothballs or dryer sheets, were generally not effective.
The insurance company Allstate recommended using well-sealed garages because many rodents can squeeze through small openings. Havahart, which sells wildlife control products, recommended a mixture of repellents and humane traps.
Experts also suggested making sure that cars are driven regularly and kept free of food and garbage.
Though Ryan’s SUV may have been ruined, he was at least spared an encounter with a more alarming intruder like the timber rattlesnake found underneath the hood of a car in Hancock, New York, last month, or the bear that got stuck inside of a Subaru Outback at Lake Tahoe, forcing a sheriff’s deputy to smash a window (and run) so it could escape.
It is unclear what measures Ryan might take to prevent rodents from feasting on his next vehicle (he is considering getting a pickup truck, the Ford F-150) after he retires from the House at the end of the year.