“A cat!” my wife said. “I hear a cat, meowing. Do you hear a cat under the car?”

We were in her 2018 Hyundai Elantra sedan, just east of Clarion, waiting during a highway repair job.

“We are in a car! It has just traveled 10 miles at 70 mph!” I said. “There can be no cat beneath this car!”

“I hear it again!” she said. “It is meowing. Don’t you hear it?”

Beneath our car, I knew, were a muffler and exhaust system, brake lines, fuel lines, etc. But all were exposed, with nowhere for a cat to stay once we got moving — or so I thought.

I shrugged, and watched the paving crew at work. My wife listened intently.

“No, it is a kitten! It is underneath the car!” she said.

Pish. Tush. Hogwash, I thought. Any cat would have been shaken loose long ago, I said, smugly.

I knew all about car undercarriages. I had replaced mufflers, exhaust pipes, brakes, and brake lines. I had been an uncertified undercarriage expert.

Never mind that those undercarriage repair jobs had occurred a half-century ago when, as a poverty-stricken college student, I had used the “Get a friend, get underneath, get duct tape and electrical tape,” style of keeping a jalopy running without spending much money.

I still know what a car undercarriage looks like — don’t I?

When we reached Brookville, instead of going directly to our house, I pulled into a truck stop to get gasoline — and show her there was no way a cat could cling to the exposed underside of a car. I flattened myself beside the passenger side doors while the pump refueled the car, and looked for the exposed underside.

But the underside of that car is not exposed.

Several plastic plates are fastened to the underside, beneath the brake lines and wires. A groove along the centerline holds the muffler and exhaust pipes beneath those plates. Most everything else is encased in the space above the plates and below the floorboards.

Why would car manufacturers put plastic plates beneath newer cars?

The knowhow.napaonline.com website provides this answer:

“A plastic undercarriage cover is designed to protect the wires and sensors that are included with newer cars and trucks.”

“With cables that hang down and sensors that stick out, there’s always a chance that a branch or road debris will snag something important and sever a wire or disconnect a crucial component.

“An undertray goes a long way towards preventing that from happening.”

Who knew?

Certainly not I. The undersides of my current vehicles, a 2014 Ford pickup truck and a 2008 Subaru Forester, look quite the same as did the underside on my hallowed (and rusted out) 1955 Plymouth.

Come to think of it, the undersides looked pretty much alike on the 23 vehicles that I have owned, loved and/or cursed.

So imagine my surprise at having found those black plastic plates covering the undercarriage of my wife’s car.

I reached up beneath the car, past where I could see, and felt around. Sure enough, there were spaces at the ends of those plates, spaces large enough to accommodate a kitten.

But I could not see any kitten. I did not hear any kitten. Even equipped with a flashlight, I would not have been able to see a kitten crouched between the plate and the undercarriage, not unless I jacked up the side of the vehicle, which I would have attempted 20 years ago, but not these days.

We drove home but parked the car outside our attached garage.

Sure enough, within minutes, my wife spotted a gray-and-white kitten, looking like one of five we now have, scooting around the garage and toward the food and water near the back door.

Now, did she actually see it come out from beneath the car? No. Had our own kitten made a 40-mile round trip? Had we picked up a hitchkitten while our car had been parked in Clarion?

Nobody knows.

So I could have been correct when I, the uncertified automotive undercarriage expert, declaimed, “There is no cat beneath this car!”

But just to make sure, we had the folks at Sigel Automotive put the car on a lift, combining its needed annual inspection with the — it turns out — unneeded search for a feline.

“No sign of cat,” said the completed repair order. “Must have escaped.”

So I pass on this word to the wise for those of us with newer vehicles: Things have changed in the automotive netherworld.

And to the manufacturers who burden us with this newest unrequested “convenience,” which strikes me as a solution in search of a problem, I suggest crimping the ends of those plates with tiny felines in mind.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor/publisher at newspapers in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com

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