How to get a live possum out of a car engine?
September 24, 2011 2:23 PM   Subscribe

A possum has made a nest inside my car's engine! What can I do to get it out without damaging the car or the critter?

After a sad incident with a feral cat earlier this year, I always pop the hood of my car before I drive anywhere to make sure nothing has crawled inside. Today, when I opened the hood I noticed there seemed to be an awful lot of garbage (leaves & junk food wrappers) packed in there, and pulled it out only to reveal something furry and breathing. When it didn't run away from my noisiness I was afraid it was a dying cat, but it eventually moved around enough for me to see it is a very much alive possum. Pic 1, Pic 2, Video (watch for the eye blink at the end)

What should I do? There's a decent auto repair place right down the block, but they're closed now until Monday. If I call Animal Control, will they wreck my car getting the critter out? (Jersey City Animal Control is already in after-hours mode, so, I'd have to call the police non-emergency dispatcher.) If I call AAA will they just tell me to call Animal Control? Are there any household remedies I can use now to make my engine a less inviting space, like dumping some chili powder in there, so it will crawl away overnight?
posted by oh yeah! to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did you try honking the horn?
posted by Aquaman at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Right now, it's warm and dry and cosy in your engine. I don't know enough about cars to suggest squirting water in there (so don't!), but you could try hosing the wheels down to make it more damp. Or maybe turn a hair dryer, set to cold, onto the creature. Or get some peppermint or smelling salts or olbas-oil-type-product, add some to some cotton wool and put that by the creature. Make sure it doesn't touch any plastic bits, though.
posted by Solomon at 2:37 PM on September 24, 2011

This page suggests parking over mothballs to repel small animals. Not sure if it will drive off one that's already in there, but it seems worth a shot.

Otherwise, google seems to be leaning towards animal control.
posted by Eideteker at 2:45 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

We just spent $1000 fixing the damage left after a rodent made a nest in our car...I probably wouldn't be so kind.

That said, since it's a possum, you can't poke it with a stick or anything else similar or it will just play dead. I'd probably spray water on it and honk the horn. If you feel comfortable doing it, you can remove the engine cover that provides some of the "nest" structure. If you do that, you may have more luck persuading the possum to move.
posted by schyler523 at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2011

"First of all, it is never necessary to kill the animal. The kindest way to remove an opossum is to set a Have-A-Heart trap baited with tinned cat food. These are harmless traps that can be obtained at many hardware or farm supply stores or from some rent-all establishments. Once the opossum has been captured, it can be taken to a remote area and released. Even this is generally not necessary, however, because opossums are transient animals, usually staying in a particular area only a few days at a time and then moving on. The best way to avoid being “bothered” by an opossum is simply to make sure no food is available to them. Don’t leave out pet food or table scraps and make sure your trash cans are fully closed. With no food available in your yard, they will simply go search elsewhere."
posted by Eideteker at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems to be living underneath a plastic cowling over your engine block. These cowlings are generally pretty trivial to remove. Take a socket set, undo the appropriate bolts, take off the cowling. I doubt the possum is going to stick around at this point, but you can always poke at it with a stick to make it go away. Remove nesting material, replace cowling, all set.

It's just a possum under your hood. This isn't exactly one of those things you need an expert for.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Where the possum is could involve access to a few belts or moving parts, so you do need to get your car looked at afterwards to make sure everything the possum put in there (including its teeth!) is gone and any memories erased!

That is only an access panel over the top of it, so removing that should be enough to visually check that nothing is amiss. Nothing major unless that inspection show damage, but all twigs and leaves need to be out of there before I'd be too confident starting it without someone competent looking at it.

I'd try honking the horn, pointing a hose at it (where it is should be fine for low pressure water - think mist rather than fire hose) and basically make the little buggers life miserable until he decides to leave.

I'd honk and hose at five minute intervals until it leaves. It won't go while you are stood there, but it will get the message eventually. If that doesn't work, then trapping it could be worthwhile.
posted by Brockles at 2:51 PM on September 24, 2011

Get rid of the possum before it chews up any wires or hoses.
posted by twblalock at 2:52 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

"It seems to be living underneath a plastic cowling over your engine block. These cowlings are generally pretty trivial to remove."

Not always trivial. But if you want to go that route, oh yeah!, I have some tools I can bring over if you don't have a suitable set.
posted by Eideteker at 3:06 PM on September 24, 2011

Thanks everyone - I will try the horn honking again later tonight (I did it a little when I wasn't sure what kind of critter it was, but once I knew it was a possum I thought I'd have more luck getting it moving once it got darker out.)

Eideteker I don't have any tools, thanks. I see one bolt holding down the plastic, but, from my poking around it seems like there may be other connections that aren't visible. And since I'm going to have to get a mechanic to give it a thorough going-over on Monday anyway, I'm not sure it's worth doing twice.

schyler523, twablalock it's not that I'm feeling particularly kindly towards the critter, it's just that I haven't driven the car since before last weekend, so, I'm assuming that whatever the damage is it has already been done, and I'm worried that if I call the police dispatcher it could get escalated into something ridiculous.

There is a Have-A-Hart trap in my parents' garage, but I'm afraid I'd just end up catching one of the many feral cats that live nearby, so, I'm more interested in things that will make the engine seem like a less attractive den but that won't poison me via the air vents. So, I guess I'll be looking for mothballs in the morning.
posted by oh yeah! at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2011

Ammonia or peppermint oil soaked rags, or mothballs.
posted by srrh at 3:45 PM on September 24, 2011

I'd start with horn-honking, and if that doesn't work maybe move up to purposely setting off your car alarm. Maybe add in some motion, by leaning on your bumper and rocking the car.

No idea how you can make your car less appealing to future critters, though that might be something to look into.
posted by easily confused at 4:01 PM on September 24, 2011

I try to put mothballs under the hood every now and then, to either prevent animals getting in it, or to shoo off any that are starting to get comfortable. Give it a go.

Depending on where your car's cabin air intake vent is, it might be possible to put the mothballs in a bag and tie the bag to the car body under the hood, so that the engine compartment is always repellent and this can never happen again. I can't leave mothballs in mine permanently, because my cabin intake sucks in air from under the hood :-(
posted by -harlequin- at 4:43 PM on September 24, 2011

Ammonia or peppermint oil soaked rags, or mothballs.
NO! Both are flammable!

posted by 6:1 at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ammonia and peppermint oil, especially "soaked rags" are flammable.
posted by 6:1 at 4:45 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sure they're flammable, but you'd remove them and wipe up any residue before starting the engine. I don't think it would be a problem to use them with care.
posted by Koko at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2011

If your goal is to just get him to move, is there a downside to just putting the cat food out without the Have a Heart trap?

(Not sure how you will keep him from going back in when he's done eating though).
posted by murrey at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2011

Well, I tried a little more horn honking, but it was so loud I worried I'd annoy the neighbors so gave up after not very long. murrey the cat food would be eaten by the feral cats before the possum hit the ground. So, my plan for now is to go out walking tomorrow to look for boxes of mothballs to lay in and around the car, then go to the mechanic first thing Monday morning and see if he's ok with taking off the cowling or if he wants to get Animal Control involved.

Does anyone have an opinion on one of these sonic pest repeller devices? I wouldn't want to use it if the range is far enough to annoy cats & dogs in apartments nearby, but if it's short range and has a possum frequency that could work, no?
posted by oh yeah! at 5:25 PM on September 24, 2011

Any chance you have a neighbor with a dog that could come by (on leash, of course), sniff around the car and bark at it?
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:43 PM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

(And I say on leash for two reasons: you don't want a tussle or the dog running after it and you don't want the dog jumping up on the side of your car and messing up the paint)
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:47 PM on September 24, 2011

I have found possums in odd places in my life from time to time. In general, if you annoy them where they're currently sleeping, they'll find a new place. (Some web sources suggest that they maintain multiple dens.)

I'd go out with a light well after it is dark and see if it is still there - chances are it won't be. Once you're sure it's gone, pull all the leaves and such out of the front of the cowling that you can and move your car to some place it might think was less hospitable - under a streetlight, etc.

Possum are not typically gnawing animals (like mice and squirrels) so I wouldn't expect it to have done any damage. If the engine is missing or backfiring he might have messed up a plug wire. Otherwise, keep an eye on the temperature gauge, just in case the water pump belt is MIA. If it overheats, or the temperature doesn't go the way in normally does (depends on where Hyundai decided to put your temperature sensor) pull over and shut it off ASAP!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2011

I know nothing about possums, obviously. But is a car engine an attractive place to birth baby possums? You might want to check for more than just the one big one.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:23 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A rodent made a nest in my car and the mechanic had me bring him dryer sheets. He shoved downie (brand specific request) into all the open spots as something about downie repells rodents. You might try a dryer sheet shove tonight?
posted by bunderful at 7:52 PM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Honking the horn won't help. I recently sledgehammered a broken tub to pieces and found several young possums still in a nest right under it when I could finally lift out the tub bottom. If possums can put up with many minutes of seriously heavy pounding with a 20lb sledgehammer, a car horn honking isn't likely to move them. I'd try the Downie of mothballs, or even disassemble that part of the car.
posted by anadem at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2011

I second the ammonia. And by the way household cleaning ammonia (5 to 10 percent) is most definitely not flammable.

Put a few shallow cups of household ammonia leaning near the place the possum is nesting inside. Make sure that you remove them before driving. You might also consider sprinkling the area with cayenne pepper when the possum is not around. The possum will go away.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:04 PM on September 24, 2011

Babies aren't and issue because if it is a mom, she'll take them with her in a cute overload: giant rat with bad teeth edition sort of way.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:04 AM on September 25, 2011

I was too chicken to check under the hood last night (if it was getting frisky with the darkness I was afraid of getting bitten when I clicked the release latch) but as of right now it has vacated the car. All of the activity yesterday must have done the trick. So, immediate crisis averted! I'll still be going to the mechanic tomorrow morning, and am going to look into setting up one of those sonic pest deterrent devices underneath the car to prevent it happening again.
posted by oh yeah! at 12:03 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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