Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dealing With an Ant Problem

For some reason we have an ant problem in the house this year. We have had ants before, but never this bad. We tried several natural deterrents, in hopes that we could keep them out of the house without resorting to anything that would actually harm them. All of the deterrents that we tried, however, either failed or were only successful short term.

Peppermint oil was the most successful of the deterrents, but we found that it needed to be reapplied daily, preferably twice daily, to be very successful at all. We were applying an undiluted peppermint oil using a qtip. I suspect that using a diluted solution in a spray bottle would have been much faster, but perhaps not quite as effective due to the dilution.

Another deterrent that we tried was chalk. I read that ants will not cross chalk, so we used it to block off their paths. They were clearly not happy about the chalk, and would avoid it whenever possible. When there was no other option, though, they would eventually cross the chalk line and continue their march. It was not an effective solution for us.

I also read that both vinegar and citrus were good deterrents. We keep a jar of vinegar and lemon peels on the counter to use as a cleaner, so thought it would work great. It seemed to have no impact as a deterrent, though. If we sprayed the ants themselves they would scatter and avoid the area for a while, but would soon return as if nothing had changed. We concluded that either vinegar or citrus were useful deterrents in our situation.

As we became more desperate to find a solution we decided that we needed to try something to actually get rid of the ants rather than just try to deter them. I had some previous experience with using Borax as an ant killer, so did some additional research and decided to give it a shot.

I mixed 1 part Borax with 3 parts powdered sugar and scattered it in the areas where the ants were most common. After a few days there was a definite decrease in ant traffic. It has been nearly a week since we started using the Borax mix and it seems that we are getting the ants under control. We aren't to the point that we can stop using it yet, but I think we'll get there fairly soon.

For those of you not familiar with the use of Borax as an ant killer I'll give a brief summary of what I learned. Borax kills ants, but not immediately. They have time to make it back to the nest where they share the food with others. This is important because it impacts the entire nest, and not just the foraging ants. The use of powdered sugar is important because it attracts the ants. They will avoid Borax if not mixed with sugar or some similarly attractive ingredient. I have read that mixing equal parts Borax and powdered sugar isn't effective, presumably because the concentration of Borax is high enough that the ants avoid it completely. I also read suggestions of mixing with water to form a paste, or mixing with peanut butter, etc. The dry powdered sugar is working great for us, though and is easy to work with.

I am not happy to have resorted to killing the ants. I would have much preferred to find a deterrent that would keep them out without doing any harm. Since we were unable to find anything, though, we made the hard decision to use an ant killer.  I am not suggesting that anyone else do the same. However, if you have decided to use an ant killer I do recommend the Borax and powdered sugar mixture. I would certainly recommend it before using any chemical sprays. Even though Borax is natural, please keep it away from pets and children as it can be toxic.

Risks of Buying a Used Hybrid Vehicle

Back in January 2015 we purchased our very first hybrid vehicle, a 2007 AWD Ford Escape Hybrid. We were very happy with the purchase. The Escape was a joy to drive, had more cargo space that our Scion XA and gave us better fuel economy that the XA, even with AWD.

Things were great with the Escape until the Summer. On a couple of occasions we were out and it would not start. Both times this happened we had to leave it, but it would be fine when we returned to get it the next day. After doing some research, and taking a few test drives, I was able to identify a pattern. The problem only happened when it was very hot and we were using the air conditioner. Sometimes it would quit while we were driving, other times it would seem fine until we stopped and shut the engine off. Either way, when we would try to restart it the display would give an error and it would not even attempt to start.

I took it to the local Ford Dealership for troubleshooting. After keeping it for weeks and replacing $500 worth of, what turned out to be completely unrelated, parts they were unable to reproduce the issue. I picked the car up one day, with the express purpose of recreating it for them, and was able to do so within ten minutes. This finally gave them the computer codes they needed to identify the problem, the battery pack was going bad.

The quote from the dealership for a replacement battery pack was $9600 for an OEM battery pack or more than $6000 for an aftermarket replacement. We were not in a position to pay either price, so I took the vehicle home and parked it while we decided what to do. Eventually I found some refurbished battery packs for around $4000, but that was still more than we could afford to spend at the time.

After nearly a year we decided to trade it on another car. We owed more than it was worth, especially since it needed repair. We took a significant hit, but were happy to be rid of it. Regardless of what we had decided to do we would have ended up losing money. I learned from the dealership where we traded it in that they planned to take it straight to an auction where it would be sold As-Is. In other words, whoever bought it would have no idea that the battery pack was failing. This verified what I had been suspecting for a long time, buying a used hybrid vehicle can be a serious risk.

Knowing what I know now I am fairly certain that the previous owner had likely encountered the same issue that we did. They probably traded it in at a lot, then was immediately sold at auction. The title history shows that it was sold at auction and landed at a few used car lots before eventually ending up at place that sold it to us. One would hope that the health of the battery pack would be checked out before a used car dealer would offer the vehicle for sale, but I'm pretty confident this was not the case, unless they checked it and then knowingly sold it with a bad battery pack.

I am sure that there are thousands of used hybrid vehicles sold that have no problems. For me, though, it is just too big of a risk to take again. The only way I would buy another used hybrid vehicle from someone I did not know is if it were a Certified Pre-Owned car from a major dealership. Even then I would do significant research before making a decision.

The other thing that I learned is that the price of battery packs, and availability of aftermarket and refurbished replacements, varies greatly based on the make and model of the vehicle. I found refurbished replacement battery packs for a Toyota Prius for less than $2000, which is an amount that we would have been able to afford. If I buy another hybrid, at least anytime soon, it is likely to be a Prius, partly for that reason.

If you are considering buying a used hybrid vehicle I would urge you to do a significant amount of research. Find out how much a replacement battery pack would cost and how easy they are to acquire. Find out if there have been reported problems of battery pack failures for that make and model. If at all possible contact the previous owner and ask if they had any problems. If it can be arranged you might also consider taking it to the local brand dealership and have the battery pack tested before making a final decision. I don't want to scare anyone away from buying a hybrid vehicle, because we really did love having one. I just don't want anyone to make the same mistake that we did and end up in the same situation.