(Updated on June 17, 2021)
If you’ve ever struggled with ants in the home, you know how frustrating they can be to get rid of. Unfortunately, home is not the only place that these unwelcome guests can set up shop. Vehicles are another place that can host ants for a long time.
Ants are clever little creatures, and quite tough for their size. Some species can carry 50 times their weight in food, and the queen ants of some species can live for 15 to 30 years. Queen ants spend their time in the colony underground or in foliage like trees.
The worker ants are the ones who forage for food and leave signals known as pheromones behind if they find food so the other worker ants can help bring it back to the colony. Ants are omnivorous, so they are pretty indiscriminate with what they like to eat. Sugary drink remnants and the smallest crumb can be a marvelous feast.
If ants came and went quickly without causing other problems, having an infestation in the car wouldn’t be such a big deal. But some species of ants bite when they feel threatened (not something to deal with while driving in traffic or on the freeway) and some, like fire ants, can even cause massive damage to the wiring in the car.
Why Does My Vehicle Have Ants?
If you see one or two ants in the car, they are likely lone workers looking for food. If they don’t find anything they’ll leave.
If there is anything worth staying for, the vehicle develops an ant infestation and then you’ll have to do some work to get rid of them. This is where you’re at if you see many ants all over or ants walking in a trail.
The most common reason for ants to get in the vehicle in the first place is because it was parked near an anthill, usually near trees or grassy areas. That’s when the foragers simply extend their range into your car to check for snacks.
Another possible cause for ant entry is by transporting things that had ants, like old bags or boxes of things that you’re donating or taking to the dump (especially if these things were located in a shed or somewhere ants lived).
How to Get Rid of Ants in a Car
There are many things to try to get rid of ants, and it’s usually safest and best to try the less invasive methods first.
1) Move the Vehicle
Just in case the car was parked near an anthill, moving it far away can take care of the problem since the ants won’t be able to find the car anymore. Keep in mind, though, that ant pheromones can be strong and ants can find the trail again if the vehicle wasn’t moved far enough away.
2) Thoroughly Clean Inside the Vehicle
One of the first steps you take should be to thoroughly clean the vehicle with a quality interior detailing product. Remove all trash, as even candy wrappers and old drink cups can have plenty of molecules of food for ants to enjoy. For this reason it’s not a good idea to keep a trash bag in the car. At the very least, regularly empty it completely.
Then vacuum the car completely, including all crevices. This is to remove any crumbs and as many ants that you can. Use a vacuum with multiple attachments to do the best job, and don’t forget to lift up whatever mats and carpets that you can to try to reach every surface (including the trunk).
Check all surfaces for spilled drinks that may have dried. Spilled lattes, sports drinks, or juice cups all leave behind sugary residue that ants love. For this reason it’s wise to keep a container of baby wipes in the vehicle to promptly wipe up spilled drinks.
3) Thoroughly Clean the Vehicle’s Exterior
The wheels are usually the only points of contact between the car and the ground (unless a tree branch or tall grass is leaning on the car) so it’s very important to clean those well to hopefully wash away the pheromone trails from their foraging. Consider applying an ant repellent to the tires for extra protection.
Wash the rest of the vehicle as normal, and pay extra attention to the underside, the wheel wells, and the engine bay. Moderate pressure should help to dislodge any ants that are walking around those areas – just be careful not to use too much pressure under the hood to avoid damage.
4) Commercial Ant Killers
If the above steps weren’t enough to get rid of the ants, try putting ant bait stations (Terro makes good ones) under the seats. These are a solidified gel material that smells like food, so the ants bring it back to the colony where it kills the entire colony.
These are one of the somewhat safer chemical methods since they pose no inhalation danger, but they are still dangerous to kids and pets who may consider eating them. They are very toxic if ingested.
Spray insecticides, like Raid, kill ants on contact. They only kill the ants they touch at the moment of spraying and don’t repel ants, so this is not an effective strategy on its own. It’s a good idea to use this in hard-to-reach places that you see ants coming into and going out of but can’t quite vacuum, like inside the door handle.
Since this is an aerosol, it doesn’t immediately dissipate from the area. The fumes are toxic so it’s important to follow directions on the can and thoroughly ventilate the vehicle after use.
Also known as a bug bomb, this chemical thoroughly reaches every crevice of the car to kill those ants and even kill ants that enter the car for a couple of months. Hot Shot makes one of the better foggers. They are very effective in treating ant infestations.
This solution is often a last resort, as the chemicals are unhealthy to humans and obviously last longer in the interior. It’s critical to read the instructions carefully before use and ventilate well after use, including running the air circulation system to clean out the vents.
5) Alternative Natural Solutions
If you cleaned the interior and exterior of the vehicle and are still having problems but would like to avoid the commercial chemicals if possible, you can give some natural solutions a chance. These are not usually as effective but are worth a try.
Cinnamon or Mint
Ants don’t like the smell of either of these spices, and cinnamon can actually kill them. Sprinkle cinnamon inside the car where you see ants, particularly on possible entry points. Placing bundles of mint leaves around the car is a less messy option.
If spices work to get rid of the ants, awesome! If not, at least your car smells like a bakery or fresh gum.
Ants also don’t like the smell of vinegar, so this can be used as an effective deterrent and may even cover up their pheromone trails.
Try spraying a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water on surfaces of the vehicle. Vinegar is very acidic, so this is still a decently strong solution. Take care on the different surfaces of the car: avoid this solution on the exterior paint and it’s a good idea to spot-test different surfaces in a less visible area to make sure it doesn’t damage them.
For some reason, ants seem to avoid chalk, so try outlining the tires with chalk where the vehicle is parked.
Pest infestations are a lot of work to take care of, but hopefully you can find a solution that works well for you and your situation to get rid of the ants and they won’t return.
If you’re still having troubles, there are many good pest control companies that can help you.