How to Get Rid of Ants in Cars…Once and For All

It’s one thing to discover an army of ants on my porch or garage floor. But finding ants crawling around my car is where I draw the line. It needs to remain blissfully free of insects and other pests.

But you can get rid of ants in cars and other vehicles without calling pest control.

With a few readily available household items and the right know-how, you can quickly slam the brakes on an automotive ant infestation.

Let’s get started.

Why You Keep Finding Ants in Cars

Before you break out the ant bait, it’s worth asking why these scurrying marauders are parading into your car like it’s a door-buster sale at Best Buy.

The simple answer is that foraging ants infest cars for the same reason they enter your home.

To find food sources.

Here are some common possible food sources:

  • Sticky soda residue in your cup holders
  • Spilled food crumbs or food wrappers
  • That stale french fry that fell down the side of your driver’s seat

Sometimes, it’s to escape the elements or find a safe spot for the queen ant to reproduce.

If you can pinpoint where the ants in your car are coming from and where they’re going, it’ll be easier to eliminate them.

Usually, that can tell you what they’re after. Then, you can formulate a plan to get rid of ants once and for all.

Can Ants Damage Your Car?

Here’s the bad news: if allowed to explore unchecked for too long, most ants can do severe damage to automobiles.

For example, worker ants can quickly access a car’s electrical system.

When this occurs, they can chew through wires, relays, and other sensitive components before you know they’re there.

This is especially common in the cold winter months.

Can Ants Survive in Cars?

It would be great if car ants died as soon as temperatures dipped below freezing or rose into the high double digits.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

Ants are highly adaptable creatures. They’re built to withstand adverse environmental conditions, including extremes in temperature.

That said, heat and cold affect their behavior, making them that much more predictable.

Hot Cars

While heat can kill ants outright, things must get extremely hot to do it.

This could happen if you’re battling an infestation in the summer.

The ambient temperature inside an automobile cabin can climb to over 120℉ on a 100℉ day after being parked for only one hour, with certain surfaces reaching up to 160℉.

Even so, this generally won’t be intense enough to spontaneously roast several hundred ants.

Usually, car ants live in dark, well-ventilated areas like the floorboards or under the seats where it’s a few degrees cooler.

Cold Cars

Ants don’t care much for the cold. One of the reasons they might have snuck into your vehicle is that they’re looking for warmth.

If that’s the case, they’re more likely to be deep in the car’s innermost recesses than out in the open.

In winter, your ant problem will usually be in your engine bay, which is nice and toasty.

With that in mind, one of the first things you should do is try starting your vehicle and letting it idle for a while.

Don’t be surprised if you see a procession of ants filing out of your air vents after a few minutes, especially if it’s chilly outside.

How to get rid of ants in your car

How to Get Rid of Ants in Your Car

Now for the good news: you’re not powerless in the face of an ant infestation.

Fighting back will require a fair amount of work, but it will all be worth it when your ride is spotless, sanitized, and ant-free.

Before we eliminate the evil ant problem, you need to get rid of what attracted ants to your car in the first place.

That’s right, it’s deep-cleaning time.

Deep Clean Your Car

Vacuum the interior of your vehicle thoroughly. Step one is to thoroughly vacuum every last inch of your car’s interior that you can reach with the hose. Pay particular attention to the cracks and crevices where ants or crumbs can hide.

Vacuuming serves two purposes. First, it gets rid of the ants themselves. More importantly, it also removes what lures the ants inside your vehicle.

Wipe down all exposed surfaces. Use a damp cloth (or, better yet, a disinfecting wipe) to wipe clean the hard plastic surfaces.

Even if you don’t think it may have come into contact with food or drinks, ants may have left a pheromone trail.

You’ll want to remove any traces of those smells.

This also includes frequent touchpoints such as the steering wheel, gear shift, parking brake, dashboard, and glove box. Cloth seats and carpets should be shampooed to remove embedded dirt and debris.

Wash the outside of your car. Once you’ve successfully secured your vehicle’s interior, you can focus on the exterior. 

You should also give the wheel wells and engine compartment a good hose-down.

Doing so will help flush out any clingers-on who might be waiting in the wings.

Deploy ant traps in common problem areas. If the ant problem persists despite your best efforts, place a couple of liquid ant baits under each seat. Then, let worker ants return the poison to the rest of the colony.

Ant bait stations are cheap, effective, and utterly harmless to humans.

The same can’t be said for ants, however.

Ants will be drawn to the sweet, syrupy liquid inside the ant baits full of lethal substances (typically borax or similar ingredients).

Natural Methods to Kill Ants in Car

If you’d prefer natural solutions, create an ant spray with a 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water.

Like most other bugs, ants hate the smell of vinegar.

They’ll do almost anything to avoid it, including finding another place to take up residence.

There’s only one downside to this approach: vinegar smells pretty bad to people, too.

Adding a few drops of one or more pure essential oils to your spray bottle will help mask the vinegar stench. Depending on the scent, it may also improve the repelling power of your solution.

Scents like peppermint, clove, eucalyptus, lemongrass, citrus, orange oil, and cinnamon are offensive to ants and other creepy crawlies.

Interestingly enough, bay leaves also have been shown to deter ants.

Although it might be awkward to explain to passengers why your car constantly smells like spaghetti sauce if you decide to go this route.

Do Bug Bombs Get Rid of Ants in Cars?

In some situations, for some people, maybe. But a better question would be: are they worth it?

Most pest control experts actually advise against using bug bombs and foggers. They have a lackluster success rate, considering how unbelievably inconvenient they are.

Most bug bombs caution against entering the fumigated zone for several hours. That means you’ll be stranded while you wait for all the poison you released into your car to dissipate.

Not only that, but traces of the toxic chemicals can linger on surfaces for days, and these chemicals are almost just as bad for humans as they are for bugs.

Direct or prolonged exposure to chemical insecticides could lead to any number of unpleasant side effects, including:

  • Irritation of the nose, throat, or airways
  • Burning, watery eyes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Uncontrollable coughing
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Allergy-like symptoms
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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.