Jay Caracci was backing his Honda CR-V out of his driveway on a fall day in 2017 when the power steering stopped working.
“The car, you couldn’t even manage it,” says Caracci, who lives in Arlington Heights.
At first, he thought the power steering fluid had to be low.
But when he took the then-2-year-old compact sport-utility vehicle to the dealer to be checked, he got a shock.
“They came out and said rodents had chewed through my cables,” Caracci says.
The repairs would cost about $500. And Honda refused to cover them under its new-car warranty. It said the damage was an “act of nature.”
It all seemed a little crazy. But things happen all the time, and people move on. Just another of life’s little annoyances, if not a cheap one.
Caracci might have moved on, too. But he did some research online and soon found other car owners also complaining about rodents nibbling on their wires, which are covered in soy-based insulation.
And Honda, he discovered, knew this was a problem. In fact, it sells a chili pepper-infused anti-rodent tape and even installs some components pre-wrapped in tape.
Caracci didn’t think it was fair for him to have to pay for the repairs. So, in 2018, he sued Honda in a lawsuit that’s recently been amended to include new information he says proves Honda was aware that its wiring was tempting to rodents yet looked the other way.
He’s asking a federal judge in Chicago to grant his case class-action status. That would expand the lawsuit to also include at least 73,000 consumers who bought or leased 2015-2018 Honda CR-Vs in Illinois.
His lawsuit says Honda “engaged in deceptive and/or unfair practices” by failing to warn consumers that rats and other rodents could munch on its wires, even though its authorized dealers told the company about “serious vehicle malfunctions.”
It also says Honda’s wire and wire harness suppliers had informed Honda that covering the wires with tape would deter rodents and that Honda directed some suppliers to pre-wrap certain wire parts — though it failed to wrap all of the exposed parts.
“Honda’s Rodent Tape is designed to wrap around vehicle wiring and is made with a blend of spicy flavorings that Honda claims will deter rodents,” Caracci’s lawsuit says. “However, disclosure of the need for Rodent Tape is only made after the vehicle is sold, malfunctions, [is] brought in for repairs, and Honda denies warranty coverage.”
According to his lawsuit, “hundreds” of consumers have complained to Honda about rodents chewing through wires and causing damage that required repairs running into the thousands of dollars in some cases.
Honda declined to make a representative available for an interview.
In a written statement, spokesman Chris Martin says there’s no proof that rodents find Honda’s — or any other car brand’s — soy-based wiring insulation to be tasty.
“It is a long-established fact that rodents are drawn to chew on electrical wiring in homes, cars or anywhere else where they may choose to nest,” according to Martin. “Class-action lawsuits have been filed against a number of auto manufacturers alleging that certain vehicles contain soy-based wiring insulation and that such insulations attract rodents to chew on the wiring. Honda believes that these class actions have no merit.”
For years, consumers have reported rodents getting under the hoods of cars, where they nest and chew on wires.
Other carmakers, including Toyota and Hyundai, have been sued over soy-based insulation but have prevailed in court by arguing that the insulation isn’t what’s attracting the critters. They say squirrels, rats and other rodents gravitate toward warm, sheltered spaces and chew on whatever they can find — so consumers should make sure not to park anywhere rodents are known to congregate.
But some experts theorize that the eco-friendly, soy-based insulation on some automotive wires is especially attractive to rodents.
Larry P. Smith, one of the lawyers working on Caracci’s case, says that, as soon as Honda found out its wires were vulnerable, it had a duty to warn consumers and pay for their repairs.
Smith says Honda installs pre-wrapped knock sensor harnesses on certain models, proving the carmaker knows there’s a problem.
“They knew they had a vulnerable wire,” Smith says.
The wiring that controlled the power steering on Caracci’s new vehicle wasn’t covered with special tape.
“Why are you wrapping this part and not that part?” Smith says. “And, no matter what, you’re calling it ‘an act of nature?’ ”
Smith and co-counsel Stacy M. Bardo say they’re looking into complaints about rodents chewing on other wiring, including in one instance, a vehicle’s gas line.
“It’s a consumer safety concern,” Bardo says.
A previous lawsuit filed in Illinois by Smith and Bardo on behalf of two other consumers whose Honda wiring was chewed by rodents was moved to federal court in California, where a judge dismissed it in 2018, though it was later revived and remains in legal limbo. Unlike Caracci’s lawsuit, that case didn’t center on Honda’s warranty promises.
A complaint database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration includes numerous recent complaints about rodents damaging vehicles, including models made by Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Lexus, Volvo and other brands, affecting fuel lines, oxygen sensors, steering and other functions. Many of these complaints mention soy-based wire insulation.
Consumers Reports warns people who’ve let their cars sit idle during the coronavirus pandemic or over the winter that they should check their cars for rodent droppings, scratches, chewed wires or belts and nesting materials.
Among the organization’s tips to keep rats and other rodents away: Try to park far from trash bins or vegetable gardens, and, if possible, park in a sealed garage. Also, keep food, newspapers, cardboard, rags and other nesting materials out of your garage.
If you need to store a car, placing mothballs under the hood can help keep rodents at bay, it says.