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.
Whether red, brown, or black ants, they 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 Are There Ants In My Car?
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.
Food Sources and Trash
One of the most common reasons of finding ants in your car is the presence of food and trash. Whether you realize it or not, leaving food crumbs or wrappers can attract ants, who are always on the lookout for their next meal.
Ants absolutely love it when you spill a bit of your sugary drink whether it be soda, coffee, or the apple juice in your toddler’s sippy cup. So, if you ever eat or drink in your car, you’re potentially inviting these insects to take up residence in your vehicle.
Another factor that can attract ants to your car is the availability of water. Ants need water to survive just like any other living organism. They may be drawn to your vehicle if there’s accessible water, like a water bottle left behind, rain getting inside through open windows, or even moisture from the air conditioning system.
Keeping your car dry and free of water sources can help prevent ants from making it their new home.
Proximity to a Nest
Parking your car close to an ant hill, trees, or other foliage infested with ants increases the likelihood of ants finding their way into your vehicle. That’s when the foragers simply extend their range into your car to check for snacks.
In some cases, ants might even decide to build a nest inside your car, especially if there’s easy access to food and water.
Hitching a Ride
Ants can also get into your car from transporting materials such as boxes, bags, firewood, or camping equipment. They are known to hitch rides on items that have been stored in areas where ants are present whether outside or in your garage or shed.
When transporting these items in your car, any ants that are present can easily crawl out and into your car. Once inside, they can even start building nests and colonies, which can lead to an infestation in your vehicle.
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 as 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).
If you want to get rid of ants quickly, vacuuming them up is hard to beat.
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.
How to Get Ants Out of Your Car Naturally
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.
Using borax to kill ants is one of the most popular natural methods out there. Generally, you will mix 1/3 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon of borax and add just enough water to make a liquidy paste.
Soak a cotton ball in the paste and place it in a small shallow container or on top of a small piece of cardboard. The ants will ingest it and take some back to their nest, eventually killing them all.
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.
Preventing Ants in Cars
Keep Your Car Clean
If you’re looking to keep ants out of your car, cleanliness is key! Regularly vacuuming the interior of your car is a great place to start, but don’t forget about those pesky nooks and crannies under the seats and in the glove compartment.
But it’s not just about vacuuming – keeping your car free of food debris is even more important. Be sure to discard any trash, especially food wrappers, and avoid leaving food or crumbs behind. If someone accidentally spills their drink (even a tiny spill), make sure you thoroughly clean it with a wet rag, sponge, or paper towel.
Seal Food Containers Properly
If you temporarily need to keep food in your car, make sure you store it in tightly sealed containers. Ants, especially those pesky Florida pavement ants, can detect food sources from miles away.
By keeping any food containers sealed, you’re minimizing the chance of attracting those hungry worker ants. Remember, once they find a food source, they can leave a pheromone trail for the rest of the ant colony to follow.
Check for Ant Nests
Be vigilant and always check for any signs of ant nests or infestations in your car. This includes inspecting your tires, as ants often use them to build nests and access your vehicle. Look for signs of water leaks or damp areas inside your car, as ants are attracted to moisture.
Ants In an Engine Bay
Ants can be pesky little creatures, and discovering an infestation under your hood has been known to happen. Ants can infest engine bays because of the warmth and protection they provide for nesting.
First things first, try to identify the nest. If you notice a larger concentration of ants in one area, that’s likely where they’ve set up shop. Once you’ve found the nest, you can begin taking steps to remove the ants.
Here’s what to do:
- Using a cloth or brush, gently remove dirt and debris from the engine bay.
- Using a Shop-Vac, suck the ants and their nest out of your car’s engine. Make sure to reach all the nooks and crannies where ants could be hiding. Don’t be tempted to simply use your air compressor to blow the ants away. You’ll instead simply move them elsewhere in the engine.
- Use Raid or another ant killer to strategically spray where the ants were and areas they may have used to gain access to your engine compartment.
Can a Brand New Car Have Ants?
Yes, even a brand new car can have ants. Though it might seem surprising, the car could be parked near an anthill or in an area with a high concentration of ants (whether that’s in your driveway or at the dealership lot).
It’s also possible to get ants in your brand new car is if it’s been parked for an extended period, which is very likely when it’s been sitting at a dealership for a while. Ants are less likely to infest a car that’s driven frequently, as their nest-building activities will be continuously interrupted.