Many people have not driven their cars in months due to the COVID-19 pandemic — leaving their vehicles unattended in driveways, parking lots and garages.

But that doesn't mean they've been empty.

While cars have sat dormant for months, rodents such as mice, squirrels and chipmunks may have taken up residence under the hood, potentially doing damage that could could cost drivers thousands of dollars

Tom Alfrey, owner of Emmett's Sinclair Auto Body Repair Shop in Franklin Lakes, said if you start a car up and there's a smell coming from the air conditioner, check the hood. If rodents have been living there, they may have built nests, which are fire hazards. Their droppings can be sucked into the car's air filtration system, causing health hazards too.

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Alfrey said for some reason, rodents like to chew under hood wirings. He recently services one car in which a rodent ate through the cabin air filter. Unfortunately, the rodent got caught in the blower motor, making a huge mess, stinking like crazy and costing a fortune to fix.

Once you see damage, bring the car immediately to a local auto repair shop. Be on the lookout for lots of leaves under the hoods, and for torn insulation where nests may have been built. Alfrey said you shouldn't try to remove the leaves and nests yourself.

"It's a hard thing to see because a lot of times you can't get to it. Sometimes it's down in the center of the engine and you can't get to without long pliers or air equipment to blow it out," Alfrey said.

Alfrey said sometimes people put moth balls in the engine to try and keep the critters away, but he said that doesn't always work.

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