Animal Survivors: Tangling With Cars and Living to Tell About It

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 01, 2016

For some reason, I collect animals-in-cars stories. I’ve got a million of ‘em, including a raccoon that nested in a priceless Indianapolis barn-find 1963 Shelby Cobra.

I also recall a family of mice living in a 1969 Corvette—and had a few living in my own ’63 Dodge Dart convertible. I was driving it once when a cute-as-a-button son-of-Mickey went running by along the window channel. That didn’t scare me as much as the friend who encountered a biting huntsman spider in her Chrysler Cirrus.

Vern the coyote lived to tell about it--he survived three broken legs. How about a 10-foot python living in a Ford F-150 pickup (in Arizona, that was)? Snakes, including pythons and constrictors, like the warmth coming off car engines. 

Please, no jokes about the serpentine belt.Woodstock, New York loves its woodchucks, but porcupines are frequent visitors, too, and they love cars. Eating them, that is. A Woodstocker told me about porcupines eating his tires, bumpers and even hubcaps. One of his neighbors lost his brakes—while on the road—to porcupine chewing.

And then there’s the story the late editor and bon vivant David E. Davis told me of a locked-in raccoon eating the entire leather interior of his Ferrari 328 GTS (a pristine 11,940-mile example). “There was not a single panel that wasn’t torn,” Davis told me. “It had $17,000 worth of damage.”

But let’s turn to a related subject—animals getting hit or caught in cars and somehow surviving against all odds. We'll start in Australia, with cuddly koala bears. Last year, Loren Davis was driving the South Eastern Freeway when she couldn’t avoid hitting one of the wee beasts. She thought it was a goner and kept driving. “Once I got home and pulled into the garage, I turned on the light to see the damage,” she recounts. “I turned around, saw a koala, and just screamed.”

This poor fellow escaped with only minor abrasions. The animal wasn’t dead, just wedged into her grille. With the door closed and animal rescue called, the koala managed to extricate itself. “When I got there,” says koala hotline operator Don Bigham, “it was sitting on gym equipment with some obvious minor abrasions.”

A happy ending! Koalas are getting scarce, but only a few weeks previously another one had “hitched a ride” in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. This one, nicnamed "Bear Grylls", was into the grille head first, and also miraculously survived—the car was less lucky.

After successful extraction, this guy made a run for it; he was later apprehended and treated by a koala rescue association. The car was also successfully treated and released back into the wild. And then there’s the coyote who, in 2014, decided to hitch a ride in a Buick Verano in Waukegan, Illinois. The driver heard a thump, but didn’t see anything and so continued on to work. “A co-worker said to me as I pulled in, ‘There’s a fox in the grille of your car. And it’s alive.’” It wasn’t a fox, though. The poor coyote “was just in there hanging out.” And not likely to go anywhere, since he had three broken legs. Here's the video:

Another happy ending: Vern the coyote got three leg casts at his new home in the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and is reportedly doing well. Not so lucky was either a groundhog or a beaver hit by a speeding race car at Pocono Raceway recently. It supposedly disappeared into the grille, too, and race officials took the car apart trying to find it—unsuccessfully. Watch here, as commentators play the incident for laughs.

 My sister-in-law carried a kitten home in her car, and then couldn’t find the poor thing when she arrived—though she could hear it mewing.

Mr. Biscuits, lucky to be alive, sleeps this one off. Turns out the tiny ball of fluff had gotten itself lodged into the seat tracks of her Subaru. Extraction wasn’t easy—the seat had to come out. The kitten had a long and fruitful life after that, and retired to a country home, his chest covered in medals.

Here’s video of a kitten who survived getting embedded into a coil spring, which had to come out before the cat could be freed:

Those two felines were much luckier than Mr. Biscuits. Who’s Mr. Biscuits, you ask? Another kitten, a Philadelphia resident this time, who got stuck inside a car’s engine for two hours. Unfortunately, the car was driving at the time. Fortunately, Mr. Biscuits managed to interfere with the steering mechanism, and the driver stopped to see what was wrong.

Mr. Biscuits was rescued with burns over 25 percent of his body. But the 10-month-old kitten received the best of care from something called the Grannie Project. It’s an ongoing rehab effort, and the kind of thing at which Americans excel.

I thought I was done with hapless kitten stories, but then my local paper yielded another one. A little black kitten managed to wedge itself between the front bumper and the radiator while the car's owner was making a Dunkin Donuts stop. When she got to her destination, meowing was heard, but the cat proved elusive. It took the full weight of several rescue crews to get kitty out. Says the Fairfield Minuteman, "Crews worked for over two hours, raising up the vehicle and removing various car parts to access the area where the kitten was hiding." A vet checked out the feline stowaway, which was given a clean bill of health.

These stories wouldn't be possible without the work of wildlife rehabilitators (and those talented and compassionate mechanics); if you're inspired to help the next black kitten or Mr. Biscuits, wildlife rehabilitators in your area could use your support.

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