How to Find Bed Bugs in Your Car—and How to Get Rid of Them

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021

Mattresses and sofa cushions are among the most obvious places to check for bed bugs. But these sneaky creatures can also find some unexpected hideouts—including your own car.

Bed bugs crawling on fabric.
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Bye-bye, bed bugs!

A bed bug infestation in your car, although rare, is no minor inconvenience. These many-legged hitchhikers can easily access every place you go, just for starters. And once they reach your front (or back!) door, they can be much harder to get rid of. “As much as the thought of having bed bugs in our car is alarming, it is much worse having an infestation in the home where there are many dynamic components and people involved,” says Jody Green, PhD, an urban entomologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in Lincoln, NE.

Business car interior. with brown rear leather seats.

Telltale sign of bed bugs: Dark spots on the seats or floor mats

Bed bugs can sneak into your car via clothing, purses, moving boxes, and even books, Green says. To prevent these pests from getting the best of you, closely inspect areas of your vehicle that are made with fabric. One of the most common clues of a bed bug infestation will be small fecal or blood stains near the seams of the seats, cracks around the console or glove box, and on the edges of the floor mats, according to the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology. Don’t forget to search car seats or other fabrics like blankets as well. Check out these 13 weird tricks to clean your car.

Exoskeletons of bed bugs.
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Telltale sign of bed bugs: Exoskeletons near cracks and crevices

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs shed their exoskeletons five times before reaching adulthood, or about once a week. Look for those exoskeletons in places where bed bugs love to hide, such as between your seats and inside the glove compartment or center console. Pro tip: Use double-sided tape to inspect any hard-to-reach areas, including the edges of seat cushions and floor mats.

A bed bug walking on carpet.
Akos Nagy/Shutterstock

Telltale sign of bed bugs: A live bug walking around the vehicle

Naturally, a live bed bug roaming around your car is yet another sign of an infestation. Floor mats, seats, glove boxes, and center consoles are all fair game for these critters to hide out. While their color and shape change based on their age, most bed bugs are reddish-brown, flat, and oval-shaped. Their size can range from as small as a poppy seed to as big as an apple seed, Green says.

Bed bug bites on a man's arms.

Telltale sign of bed bugs: Bites or bumps on your skin

They may be little, but bed bugs pack a huge punch in other ways—including their bites. Human blood is their favorite food, so they might nip you while you are driving or taking a nap in the back seat. If you suddenly find itchy, red bumps, or rashes on your body after driving, you could have a bed bug or two in your car. Here’s how to identify the most common bug bites.

A black dashboard and steering wheel of a car interior.

Get rid of bed bugs by: Inspecting your car regularly

No need to panic if you spot a lone bed bug in your vehicle. “If a car is found to have a bed bug inside it, it does not necessarily mean that it is infested,” Green says. Still, you will be better off stopping the pests before they make themselves at home, which is why precautions like routinely inspecting your car are key. If you transport people or objects for a living, Green suggests performing an inspection on a daily basis. Keep an eye out for these warning signs you’re about to have a bed bug problem.

A person vacuuming a car mat with a vacuum cleaner.

Get rid of bed bugs by: Cleaning the vehicle

Think you have an infestation on your hands? First things first: Clear out any trash and knickknacks that might be cluttering up your car, which will decrease the number of places the bugs can hide. Next, clean and shampoo the rugs and other fabrics in your car, and vacuum all of the nooks and crannies thoroughly. Once the vehicle is spick and span, Green recommends continuing to monitor and inspect it for bed bugs every few days.

Bed bug in a white container.

Get rid of bed bugs by: Collecting and freezing the bugs

If you continue to find bed bugs in your car after a thorough clean, place a few of them into a clear, resealable bag and store them in the freezer. From there, a professional pest management company can identify the bugs and take action. Doing this can also stop the bugs from infesting your home; bed bugs cannot survive the freezing temps for longer than four to seven days, according to Green.

Exterminator in work wear spraying pesticide with sprayer.

Get rid of bed bugs by: Contacting a professional

There are several treatment options for getting rid of bed bugs, but a DIY approach is not necessarily foolproof, Green says. She recommends consulting with a professional exterminator before doing the job yourself. Exterminators can properly treat your car using Environmental Protection Agency-approved pesticide to control bed bugs that won’t spread bed bugs to other areas. Don’t miss these 13 secrets from professional exterminators about bed bugs and other pests.