Help! I Found Bed Bugs in My Rental Car
Saving up money for months, taking time off of work in advance, or buying a new suitcase are no longer the biggest stresses of people planning a summer vacation this year. The possibility of bringing home the nasty miniature vampires we call bed bugs is a far bigger worry among travelers lately, as news about the persistence and ever-growing resilience of the hard-to-eradicate pests continue to make the headlines.
But while it’s well-known by now that hotels and motels are some of the little critters’ favorite hangouts, and most people are equipped to limit critter trouble during their stay, rarely do they think about the presence of bed bugs in the cars they rent. Just last week, a Long Island man set his rental car ablaze while attempting to eradicate bed bugs inside the vehicle.
Newsday reports that the 44-year-old man doused the entire car with rubbing alcohol, then climbed inside and lit a cigarette. The car immediately burst into flames, damaging two nearby cars in the blaze, leaving the driver with second- and third-degree burns.
Unfortunately, the blood-sucking creatures are a feature in many rentals, patiently awaiting their unsuspecting victims to give them a ride to their new home. Because it’s an economical and comfortable way to travel long distances, many tourists choose to pick up a rental car or an RV to make the best of their vacation. In 2010, the car rental market was estimated at approximately $20 billion in the U.S., with 1,690,561 cars in service operating across 17,254 rental locations.
In most cases, people who rent cars or RVs do not know they have an infestation until someone informs them. A bed bug bite often resembles a mosquito bite, and people either don’t notice they’re bit during their vacation or realize they’ve been bit days or even weeks after the actual bite took place. Most may not even be bitten at all during their vacation, and it is once they arrive home – and bring the tiny critters along – that they notice the first signs of infestation.
Why Do Bed Bugs Thrive in Rental Cars?
It’s well known that bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eradicate from housing structures, but you are in for just as much trouble once they decide to turn a vehicle into their comfy hotel room. The reasons for this are numerous, including:
- Their small size. Bed bugs are tiny, flat insects that can squeeze themselves virtually in any space, no matter how small. Inside the house, they reside in places you’d never think to look, such as under electrical switch plates or behind loose wallpaper. Inside cars, the chances are they are lurking along the seams of the fabric, along the edges of the seats, and inside the trunk.
- Their high reproduction rate. While the reproduction rate of bed bugs, compared to other insects, is not that impressive, a female is capable of laying 1-2 eggs per day, 5-7 per week, adding up to 500 eggs over the course of her lifetime. An infestation from a single pregnant female can rise up to 5,000 bed bugs in a period of six months and can easily spread to an entire apartment building.
- Their outstanding resilience to commercial treatments. Pyrethroid insecticides have been the mainstay for bed bugs due to their safety, low cost, and effectiveness, but lately scientists have discovered that bed bug populations have evolved multiple ways of thwarting pesticides. Some pesticide-resistant genes are found on the outer epidermis, which acts as a shield and also as a metabolic hot spot that breaks down the molecular backbone of insecticides, rendering them completely useless. Other genes work as “biological pumps” that simply pump the insecticides back out before they reach the inner organs.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Bed Bugs While Driving a Rental?
According to the Bedbug.com’s Knowledge Center page, there are several safety measures you can consider to prevent bringing bed bugs from the rental car into your home. The most important are:
- As in the case of accommodation, initiating the search for a rental car should start by checking the online reviews of the rental company. Bed bugs are a trip spoiler for many tourists, and most will not refrain from sharing their unfortunate experiences online for everyone to see.
- If there are any complaints regarding bed bugs, contact the rental company and ask them what measures specifically have they taken to eradicate and prevent infestations.
- The first step to ensuring you are given a bedbug-free car is to conduct a thorough inspection. Beyond looking for the bugs themselves (which are of the size of an apple seed and, thus, quite hard to detect), keep an eye out for the telltale signs they always leave behind: blood stains and fecal matter. If there is excess clutter in your car or a musty odor, the risk of having an infestation increases.
- Keep ALL your belongings in sealable laundry bags and anti-bedbug luggage liners.
- Upon arriving home, unpack your luggage outside and put everything into the washing machine. Vacuum all luggage and bags, paying special attention to the seams and inner compartments. Seal luggage and bags properly and store them separately from your clothes.
If you’ve done all of the above and you still notice signs of infestation a while after you’ve returned from your trip, it’s crucial to contact an experienced pest control professional in your area. Although getting completely rid of bed bugs may seem time-consuming and challenging, experts will be able to safely apply the most effective treatments while keeping you, your family, and your property out of danger.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid garde