Most people have encountered some type of ant issue in their lifetime, as ants are the most common insect worldwide. The species of ant you are dealing with depends on where you are located, but repeatedly finding ants, especially inside your car, can be frustrating regardless of ant species.
Ants, part of the family Formicidae, are incredibly persistent insects that live for a long time. It is no wonder that they cause issues for so many people! A common place for ants to pop up is inside vehicles. What should you do when you find ants are invading your car?
Why Do Ants Like Cars?
Before getting into any DIY control options for ants in your car, it is important to understand an ant's biology, especially the differences between budding and swarming ants.
Budding ants are more difficult to control. They reproduce by splitting and sending a team of established worker ants with a newly fertilized queen to start another nest somewhere nearby. Many stressors can cause an ant colony to bud or fracture, one of them being over the counter (repellant) sprays. Stay away from these products if you're dealing with a budding ant.
Examples of budding ant species are:
- Odorous house ants or sugar ants
- Pharaoh ants
- Argentine ants
Budding ant colonies will simply split when over-the-counter products are applied, making the problem larger over time. Some budding ants are so sensitive that just spraying water can cause them to fracture.
The moral of the story? Make sure that you aren't dealing with a budding ant before you try any DIY ant spraying in or around your car.
Swarming ants reproduce via winged reproductives (both male and female). These are ants with wings that leave the nest in swarms around the same time each year to mate when conditions are just right. There are generally two waves of swarming, one wave in the late spring/early summer and the second in late summer/early fall. Some examples of swarming ants are:
- Carpenter Ants
- Moisture Ants
- Pavement Ants
If you are wanting to attempt to control ants with an over-the-counter (repellant) ant spray, be sure they are not a budding ant and follow the label closely. When it comes to treating with over the counter ant products, it is ideal to find the nest and treat it directly so the product is coming in contact with eggs and larvae for more effective treatment.
If you aren't sure what species of ant is infesting your car, contact a local pest control company that specializes in IPM (integrated pest management). They can help you identify what type of ant you're dealing, what could be helping to cause the ant issue and provide safe control methods regardless of ant species.
What Is IPM?
IPM, or integrated pest management, is a system of pest control that looks at a pest issue from multiple angles to find solutions that consider the entire surrounding ecosystem. Not only does this method of pest control lead to more effective long-term pest solutions, but it is also better for the environment, as it reduces the need for harsh chemical treatments.
2 Ways to Get Rid of Ants in Your Car
Start by cleaning up any food sources that may be attracting the ants. If the ants remain once the car is clean, consider these approaches to ant control.
Use Ant Bait
If you are wanting to be more aggressive in your approach or if the the trailing ants are severe, you could try using an over-the-counter ant bait to help resolve the ant problem in your car.
Don't place ant baits inside your car, as ant baits are designed to trick ants into thinking the bait is a verified food source. The bait is sweet and the ants will want to feed off it. Placing ant bait stations in your car could make the visible ant problem worse before it gets better. Instead, look for small exterior ant bait stations that will stick into the ground near your car and draw ants away from the vehicle. It is preferable to put ant bait stations along already established foraging trails.
Chemical Ant Control
Maybe you have tried DIY solutions and baiting but there are still ants in your car. If you are interested in utilizing a chemical control, don't be afraid to shop for an Integrated Pest Management professional, especially given that a chemical ant treatment in your car would be considered an interior treatment.
Interior treatments involve applying targeted, specially formulated pesticide and/or professional-quality baits inside of the car (or home) to combat a severe ant issue. Certain situations require a level of chemical control, and it is important to make sure that interior chemical treatments are done with care.
A local IPM pro will know how to identify the ant species you are dealing with, what chemical applications are appropriate, and how to safely apply them given the circumstances. In most situations, it is best to leave chemical spraying to the professionals. After all, they are licensed and trained to handle situations just like this one.
Be prepared that some interior treatments require you to leave the area in order to allow the product adequate dry time, as many chemical ant treatments can be mild skin irritants when wet. This simply means you may need to stay away from the treatment site for a few hours.
What Causes Ants in Your Car?
When you first see ants in your car, it might be tempting to hose them down with whatever over-the-counter ant product you can find at the hardware store, but it's important to slow down and think about what is causing the ant issue in the first place. Thinking this way can avoid overexposure to harsh chemicals for both you and your surrounding environment.
If you are finding ants in your car, it is likely because they are looking for a food source or have already found one. If they are looking for one and do not find it, they are likely to go away on their own, but if they are successful in finding food, they will signal for other ants to follow.
To initially start reducing the ant activity in your car, you must use IPM to think about what could be drawing the ants to your vehicle in the first place, starting with food sources.
A Crumb-Filled Car
Whether it's kids eating in the back seat or a hidden snack stash in the center console, cars can be filled with crumbs and other things that attract ants. Ants don't care where the food comes from, they're just happy to pick up any leftovers and carry them back to their nest.
Start by vacuuming your car out regularly to clean up any leftover food bits. If something sticky or sweet spills, be sure to clean it up quickly, as these types of spills are very appealing to ants. Even an empty drink can could be an ant food source.
A Car Parked Near an Ant Nest
It is possible that your car is parked near an ant nest and they are exploring your car to find any possible food sources. First, make sure the ants won't find any food, then start to look for evidence near your parking spot that could indicate a bigger ant issue nearby.
When inspecting for an ant issue in your parking area, start by looking along cracks in the pavement, places where the pavement meets the dirt along the edges, and joints where two slabs of concrete come together (especially in front of the garage door). All of these places are frequent ant highways where ants can be seen actively trailing. These could be the ants responsible for the pest issue in your car. If you find a large population of active ants outside your car, attempt to identify the species you are dealing with. If you need help with this step, call a local Integrated Pest Management company.
If ants are not present outside, look for little mounds of dirt around cracks or joints in the concrete around your car. These little dirt mounds serve multiple purposes for the ants, including regulating nest temperature, serving as a nest entrance, and protecting the colony from predatory threats.
How to Prevent Ants in Your Car
If you're not dealing with a budding ant, there are things you can do in addition to keeping your car clean to help reduce the visible ant issue. Once your car has been vacuumed and cleaned, take your ant control methods one step further by addressing ant pheromone trails as well.
Pheromones are how ants communicate. Once an ant finds a verified food source, it puts down a pheromone trail that other ants are able to follow. These pheromone trails can be cleaned up with a simple household cleaner.
Wiping up pheromone trails is not a fix-all, but it can help reduce the activity you are seeing while the ants are figuring out that your car is clean and will not be providing them with dinner.
Where do ants in your car come from?
Ants are everywhere, but are drawn to specific spots for their food and water needs. If you are experiencing an ant issue in your car, make sure there are no food sources available to them inside your vehicle.
Will ants in your car go away on their own?
If ants pop up in your car suddenly, they have likely come from a nearby nest to look for a source of food. If they do not find one, it is quite possible that they will go away on their own. If they do, however, find a source of food, they will leave a pheromone trail for other ants to follow, signaling a verified food source.
Do ants in cars bite?
This all depends on the species. Some ants do bite, and depending on where you live, the ants in your car could bite you. If you aren't sure what species of ant is present in your car, call a local Integrated Pest Management specialist for help in identification.
How long do ants live in cars?
This answer is also dependent on the species of ant. Male ants live a very short life with a very specific reproductive purpose living anywhere from days to weeks, while worker ants live slightly longer, in the weeks to months range. Queen ants live the longest, somewhere between 2 to 30+ years depending on the species!
Andre, Paul and Fred Fishel. "Pesticide Poisoning Symptoms and First Aid." University of Missouri Extension, 2002.