Imagine driving down the highway and suddenly everything stops, from your power steering to your brakes.
There's now growing concern that scary scenario could play out in thousands of cars, all because of a component that could be under the hood.
Retired teacher Jackie Barnes says her Kia was trouble-free until one recent night, when everything went haywire.
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"I was going to a friend's house, and I pulled out into the neighborhood and I thought, 'Wow, I can't see anything, my headlights aren't coming on, and the windows didn't work either,'" she says.
Her wiring harness had been chewed to pieces by rodents. The critter had even dragged a rag into the car's wheel well and made a nest.
Cost to repair the mess was $400, not including the tow charge.
Owners of cars across a spectrum of makes and models say it's happened to them too, and they blame soy.
Many carmakers have switched from petroleum-based wire insulation to a more earth-friendly version derived from soy. It's biodegradable, cheaper, and, apparently, a delicious treat for rodents like mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels.
"It's the soy wiring that attracts them and the result is the same," says LA-based attorney Michael Braun. Repairs could cost thousands, and are not covered by warranty.
Braun says this could lead to a dangerous scenario for drivers.
"If you're lucky you'll wake up one morning and your car won't start. If you're unlucky, it'll get disabled in the middle of a freeway, in the middle of traffic," he says.
Braun has filed a class-action lawsuit against Honda on behalf of three car owners who blame soy wiring for rodent damage.
While a Honda spokesman, Chris Martin, wouldn't comment on pending litigation, he pointed to "evidence (that shows) how rodents have chewed on wires long before soy-based wiring came to be."
That opinion was echoed by Jim Martin, who teaches automotive science at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I've even seen them chew through rubber hoses in vehicles. I've seen vacuum hose damage and these are carbon-based," says Martin
Jackie Barnes said she's taking no chances and squirting her car with rodent-repellant every day and thanking her lucky stars.
"I was very happy that it happened in the driveway, but I'm very concerned for other people. They may be driving down the highway, and they could have a catastrophic failure," she says.
If you want to know if you have soy-derived components in your car, contact your manufacturer.
If you want to protect the wires and hoses under your hood from rodents, Consumer Reports has addressed this issue and offers the following advice:
- Install a metal mesh around the wire harness, rubber hoses and openings.
- Wrap the wire harness and hoses with a rodent-deterrent tape. You can find it online for about $30. It's electrical tape treated with capsaicin, the ultra spicy ingredient in peppers. Rats don't like it. The tape is manufactured by Honda.
Braun argued the fact that Honda manufactures the tape is an admission that they're aware of the problem. He thinks the company should do more to protect consumers.
Honda insists that rodents nesting in cars is an "age-old problem" and they're simply helping consumers with a solution.