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lou's garage

A no-start Volkswagen Tiguan recently arrived on a flatbed tow truck from a customer who lives in downtown Toronto. The owner mostly commutes by subway and just relies on her vehicle for weekend excursions and to run errands. When our technician opened the hood to replace the battery, he got quite the shock – and not the electrical kind.

The animal was huge, and angry. The technician says he looked into its eyes for a moment, but thankfully was not bitten as the recently relocated Godzilla-sized rat scampered around our shop. We managed to hastily open all the bay doors and encourage the creature to make its exit.

Every auto technician has to deal with wildlife that makes a new home in bumpers, wheel wells and engine bays, but it seems to be worse as of late. Early in my career I dealt with rodent nests about once a year, now its every month. There is a theory that electrical wiring sheathing is soy-based and particularly tasty for rodents. While this has been a popular theory for years, some professionals say it has no merit.

A technician found a rodent nesting under the hood of a customer's car.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

Here is my theory: Engine bays from decades ago were massive with large open areas. Most new car owners open the hood of their contemporary vehicle and see a plethora of plastic shielding. Typically, after having little success trying to find the dipstick, they close the hood and never return because access to components is limited. The only thing is, while it is limited for human access, it is ripe for rodents to seek and find warm, dark areas for their nests. Ninety per cent of the time when we locate an unwanted animal nest it is found under the main engine plastic shielding. If a wiring harness is running through their home, it will usually be chewed, they are hungry after all. The damaged wiring harness will cause problems for your vehicle.

Regardless of the reason for the increased frequency of non-human visitations, if you suspect a rodent is present, you may want to check for yourself. Spend a bit of time and research how to remove the upper plastic cover on your engine. Despite how it looks, this upper cover is usually not that difficult to temporarily remove. Most times only a basic skill level and rudimentary tools are required. You might be surprised at what you find.

Your automotive questions answered

I was wondering about the consequences of driving on Winter tires year-round? Where I live, you need winter tires for 8-plus months, so it seems like the cost/benefit of switching is not great.

Thanks – David C.

I understand that drivers of all varieties exist on our roads. One person is perfectly happy in a small 20-year-old econobox while another daily drives a $250,000 exotic car. The same goes for spending habits when it comes to repairs and maintenance. One driver does every service as prescribed and repairs every item ahead of time because they don’t want any unforeseen misadventures. And then there are those who have absolutely no problems putting their loved ones in a vehicle that they have been told repeatedly is unsafe for the road.

Tires are the only thing between your vehicles steering, suspension, brakes and the road. They perform such an important job. Any technician with a few years of experience can go for a test drive in a car and immediately recognize faulty wheel bearings and other failing suspension components. As the technician further refines their skills, they can even usually tell you a lot about your tires, just from a test drive. We can often feel the mushiness and unresponsiveness when driving on winter tires in the summer.

There is a daycare beside my shop and there is a constant flow of vehicles coming into the parking lot. I often walk by in bemusement of the parents who have their baby-on-board signs proudly displayed in the back window of their minivan. I peek at the tires on their parked vehicles and often see ones that are completely bald and others also sporting winter tires on scorching summer days.

I often read the armchair warrior opinions online from those who profess winter tires are unnecessary and a conspiracy by tire companies. Those people are usually from the group who drive around with parts hanging off their car.

When I’m travelling at highway speeds with my own loved ones, and I have to quickly brake or swerve; mushiness and unresponsive steering aren’t issues I want to deal with.

Admittedly I am not an all-weather tire advocate for my own personal vehicles, but I do recognize that for some people, they are the correct choice. Please do yourself a favour and research and possibly transition into a set of all-weather tires. Given your extended winter season, they may be right for you.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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