Breakdowns caused by animals getting inside vehicles have reached record levels, figures suggest.
The RAC said it was called out to 303 incidents of animal damage in the first 11 months of the year.
That is more than the same period during any other year on record, and represents a 55% increase from 196 between January and November 2018.
The figures do not include incidents when a vehicle has struck an animal.
Drivers are being warned that rodents can be attracted to vehicles left unused for long periods or with food inside or nearby.
More than half (51%) of this year’s animal damage breakdowns were caused by rats, which often gnaw fuel hoses, infest engine bays and break headlights.
Patrols also reported numerous cases of foxes chewing speed sensor wiring, windscreen wiper blades and brake hoses.
RAC patrol Nick Isaac, who works in south-west England, said he discovered a squirrel using a car’s air filter to stockpile nuts.
He explained: “The car had lost power and had an odd smell.
“When I lifted the bonnet and revved the engine, the air filter moved like it was being sucked towards the engine.
“It turned out a squirrel had been taking nuts from a bird feeder and storing them in the air box, restricting air flow to the car.”
One patrol attended a Porsche where 10 mice had made a nest under a panel at the bottom of the windscreen.
Another was called to retrieve a baby pet python which had been attracted by the warm brakes of its owner’s car and placed itself behind a wheel trim.
RAC spokeswoman Alice Simpson said: “Many of us are used to seeing the occasional rat or mouse on the street, but finding one in your car is not only a nasty shock but often the cause of very unwelcome and expensive damage.
“Unfortunately, incidents like this are more common than drivers might expect, particularly over the winter months when animals look to take shelter from the cold conditions.
“To reduce the risk of animal damage, check your car if it hasn’t been driven for a week or more.
“The best advice is to make sure no food – for pets or humans – is left inside.
“Also check for unusual smells in the vehicle and be mindful of any dashboard warning lights that don’t disappear after a minute or two.
“Any foodstuff in garages should be kept in airtight containers or locked in metal bins.
“Car insurance does cover animal damage, but it’s worth checking before you claim to see if the damage justifies the expense.”