A squirrel seen going into a car engine is almost always a mother looking for a place to nest. Squirrels have babies twice a year, in the early spring and the late summer, so be careful: you don’t want to orphan the baby squirrels. Squirrels are excellent mothers and will move their babies to a new den site when frightened, but evicting a mother squirrel always runs the risk that she might abandon or become separated from her babies.

What to do if a squirrel is in the car engine

Unlike other conflict situations with mother squirrels, where we recommend patience, in this case steps should be taken to convince the mother squirrel to leave. Living in a car engine is not safe for a squirrel family, and can also do damage to the car.

Humane harassment

The mother squirrel is living in the engine because it’s a dark, quiet, safe place for her and her babies. If you make the engine not dark, not quiet, and not safe using light, sound, and smell, the squirrel can be convinced to leave your engine and take her babies with her. All harassment techniques should be placed as close as possible to the nest, so the mother squirrel can’t ignore them when she comes and goes.

Pop the hood

In most cases where a squirrel is nesting in a car engine, the easiest solution is to leave the hood propped open for a day or two. This lets enough light and noise into the area that the mother squirrel won’t feel safe there anymore, and she’ll move her babies without any other intervention.

If necessary, try the following:

Light

Place a bright light under the hood of the car. Make sure it’s fire-safe. Squirrels don’t like bright lights in their homes.

Sound

Tune a radio to a talk station and place it under the hood of the car. Music doesn’t mean anything to squirrels, but the sound of human voices is threatening to them.

Smell

Soak some rags in Apple Cider Vinegar or ammonia, and put them in a plastic bag. Poke holes in the bag to let the smell escape, and hang it under the hood of the car. You can use dirty kitty litter in a plastic bag the same way. Both of these smell like a predator and will make the mother squirrel feel unsafe

Patience and persistence

Keep all of the above going for at least 3 days and 3 nights or until the squirrel has moved her babies. You’ve got to be persistent to convince the squirrel to leave. Don’t drive your car while waiting for the mother to move her babies. When you think she’s gone, look inside the nest to make sure any babies are gone. After the nest has been removed, make sure to have a mechanic check your engine just to be safe.

What NOT to do

Live trapping

Trapping and relocating a squirrel might seem like the “humane” option, but it isn’t. Relocated squirrels don’t tend to survive when they’re moved off of their home territory. Relocated mother squirrels leave behind babies which are then orphaned without a mother to care for them. A mother squirrel relocated with her babies will mostly likely abandon them when faced with a new, unknown territory. In Ontario, it is illegal to relocate any wild animal more than 1km from where it was found.

Every year, Toronto Wildlife Centre receives hundreds of calls about baby squirrels orphaned because well-meaning people trapped and relocated their mother. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to care for them all.