• It happens more often than you think
  • Comprehensive insurance usually covers it
  • Steps you can take to protect your ride


It was a cold November day. The heater in my 2017 GMC Terrain was set to the highest temperature. The fan speed was turned to maximum velocity. The fan noise was loud but the volume of air blowing out of the defroster, instrument panel and heater vents was practically nil.

What caused the problem? A computer glitch? The last legs for the Terrain’s blower motor or something else? Thank goodness for comprehensive insurance.

The dealer’s service advisor popped the hood, and noticed extensive critter damage to the cowl cover located in the engine compartment near the windshield. An animal had chewed through the cover in several places. Then the service advisor went to the passenger compartment, removed the glove box tray and opened a small door providing access to the ducts that supply air to the defroster, instrument panel and floor vents. The prognosis was shocking as was the repair estimate: $4,000.

An expensive nest

“This is not covered by your vehicle warranty. Call your insurance agent,” the service advisor quickly explained. This is where comprehensive insurance, an inexpensive policy, saved the day and is recommended for all vehicle owners.

A rodent had made its way into the heating/air conditioning system of my vehicle and filled the vents to capacity with dead grass, tiny twigs, and long gray threads of cloth possibly pulled from the insulation under the carpeting, drastically reducing the amount of air that could go through the vents. It had built a warm, cozy winter paradise in the heating/air conditioning system.

The repair required removing the instrument panel, cleaning or replacing the ducts that channel heated and cold air to the vents, replacing the blower motor, removing the front seats and disinfecting the carpeting in case there was urine and feces, replacing the cowl screen, and a long list of other issues. The insurance agent said this type of damage was unusual but had been seen from time to time as temperatures drop and winter sets in. More common are critters that enter the engine compartment and eat the apparently tasty rubbery covering that protects the vehicle’s electrical wires. 

Check your insurance

The advice here is take a good look at your car insurance policy. Owners might mistakenly believe that liability and collision coverage automatically cover damage caused by a critter and possibly everything else.

“Not so,” said an Allstate Insurance agent located in the Detroit suburbs. “Collison is strictly what it says, collision, colliding with another vehicle” or a moving object such as a shopping cart, golf cart or bicycle. “Fire, theft, vandalism, glass breakage, falling tree limbs, hitting an animal, wind damage from a thunderstorm or tornado, all fall under comprehensive,” which is an additional policy. As for liability insurance, it may help pay for costs related to another person’s injuries and damage to another person’s property if you cause an accident.

Among the other scenarios covered by comprehensive insurance are flood damage, an angry animal ripping up a vehicle’s interior in search of food, and an animal creating a warm winter home near the vehicle’s engine compartment or in the heating/air conditioning system.

Coverage is usually inexpensive

Comprehensive insurance is required by a lender if there is a loan on the car or if the vehicle is leased. Unlike collision insurance where a low deductible can have a significant impact on the cost of insurance (meaning a high insurance premium), the cost of comprehensive insurance is generally inexpensive, even with a deductible as low as $50, as it was for the owner of this GMC vehicle and his 2009 Pontiac G6 sedan.

Using the northwest Detroit suburbs as an example, the cost for $50 deductible for comprehensive insurance on a 2009 Pontiac G6 was $46.55 for six months when this story was written. If a $500 deductible was preferred, the cost would be about $35 for the same period, a savings of about $11.50 per month. A $2,000 deductible would be $21.61 for six months versus $46.55, a savings of about $25.00 for six months, the Allstate agent said.

By comparison the newer vehicle, the 2017 GMC Terrain, would cost about $8 a month more than the Pontiac in the above examples. However, keep in mind that insurance rates vary by geographic region and some premiums might be considerably more expensive than mentioned here.

Other steps to take

The Terrain was in the repair shop for about three-and-a-half weeks. The final bill was $3,100, which was considerably less than the original estimate, but still real money. Thankfully, my contribution to the repair bill was the $50 deductible.

Looking for advice to prevent this issue from occurring again, neither the insurance adjustor nor the GMC dealership had any critter-proof ideas.

But one possible solution quickly was turned down: Attaching a woman’s nylon stocking filled with mothballs to the cowl cover screen. The unpleasant smell might turn off an intruder, but the unpleasant odor would permeate the passenger compartment every time the fan was switched to “on.”

“It likely would remind you of grandma’s closet, a bag of mothballs attached to a hanger to prevent the moths from eating the wool garments. But it is not a good idea to breath that toxic air,” a colleague observed. Whether you take preemptive action or just make sure you’re covered by insurance, remember, it’s just not a collision or a falling tree that can ruin your ride.  

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