We all know that picking up hitchhikers is not generally a good idea, and there is one little stowaway that can really make life miserable for motorists. Her name is Cimex lectularius.
That's Latin for "bug of the bed." And while the tiny red insects aren't a hazard that springs to mind when we think of automotive bugaboos, you can bet that the plush upholstery in your vehicle, as well as the frequent appearance of seated humans ripe for the bloodsucking, can be attractive to bedbugs.
That's especially so in travel season, when you might be hefting luggage from car to motel room and back again, or otherwise boosting the odds that these wily little critters -- who love the crevices and dark places a car cabin offers -- might hop aboard. Even if no road trips are on the schedule, you can bring bedbugs to your car after sitting for a while in upholstered chairs at libraries, restaurants, movie theaters and even airplanes, according to insect experts.
Those all are venues that pest management firms report servicing, according to a recent survey released by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky. The 2013 Bugs Without Borders Survey (available at PestWorld.com) asks insect control companies about the type of service requests they get, and more than 99 percent reported bedbug calls are on the rise.
Bedbugs won't kill you and they probably won't even make you sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bites of the bug as it tries to tap into your bloodstream mostly cause itching, with possibly infection from excess scratching. Once you're aware you have bugs in your boudoir, anxiety and loss of sleep are common ancillary problems.
But eradicating the persistent critters from a motor vehicle also can lead to a giant headache and a major pain in the wallet, said Gene White, a board-certified entomologist and director of education and training for Troy-based Rose Pest Solutions.
"Bedbugs can live in a car year-round," said White. "Also RVs, campers, trailers, anything like that. Neither hot sun nor freezing cold will kill them."
That means you need to be vigilant about what you put in your vehicle. Think twice about stowing yard sale items, for example, especially if they're full of the nooks and crannies where bedbugs love to hide. Hop online to familiarize yourself with what bedbugs look like -- and how to spot their bites and other evidence they leave behind when they head back into their lairs.
White says he travels with a substantial flashlight and upon checking into hotels, inspects mattresses, headboards, the nightstand and other areas for signs of bugs before unpacking.
"They crawl onto your luggage and lay eggs -- and they glue them on; those eggs are not going to fall off," said White. "And always brush off the outside of your suitcase before you put it in the car."
Prevention is a lot better than the cure. That's because two of the three most effective methods for getting rid of bedbugs aren't really suitable for use on automobiles.
Applying long-lasting chemicals in such a confined space could be rather detrimental to driver and passengers, obviously. And a high-temperature treatment, commonly used in other settings to eradicate bedbugs, is problematic in cars because of the many plastics, adhesives and other sensitive materials inside the cabin and cargo compartments. "There are too many components that could be damaged by high heat," White said.
That leaves fumigation, which uses gases to permeate bug-ridden areas. "We take an auto, tarp it to make it airtight and insert gas at a certain rate until it kills the eggs and bedbugs," said White. "The gas breaks down in air and won't hurt people when it disperses. And it's more environmentally friendly.
"The drawback is, it's the more expensive option -- about $1,000 to $1,200 per vehicle. So the real secret is not to get bedbugs in the first place."