5 On Your Side

Shattering sunroofs still a scary issue for many drivers

Posted March 10, 2015

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— Sunroofs are often a big selling point for car buyers, but more customers are finding that the fresh air, light and open feel that sunroofs offer comes with a big risk – shattering glass.

Bacc Alexander was driving his 2013 Lexus down the highway when his sunroof busted into hundreds of pieces.

"I really thought somebody had shot into my sunroof," he said. "I heard a deafening explosion. Fortunately, the cloth part was closed. Had the (glass) gone in my eye, who knows what could have happened. I could have hit somebody or rolled the car."

Lexus questioned the break, saying something must have hit the sunroof. But Alexander told them the glass was bowed out. There were no rocks or bullet holes in his sunroof, and no other cars were near him.

Lexus said they "are not aware of any specific issues regarding shattered sunroofs on CT's."

"There are many factors which can affect or potentially damage sunroof glass, ranging from flying road debris to extreme weather. As you are aware, we rely on our dealer body to first and foremost determine if warranty coverage is applicable to a repair," Moe Durand, a spokesman for Lexus, said in a statement. "If a customer is not happy with that decision, we would welcome them contact us for additional review and consideration."

5 On Your Side first reported on the issue of exploding sunroofs in November 2012, and since then some car manufacturers have issued recalls. But the unexpected explosions continue to happen and now involve at least 12 manufacturers.

Hyundai announced recalls with certain Veloster models, as did Audi with its A8 and S8, and Volkswagen with its Beetles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating sunroof concerns with the Kia Sorento.

Meg Pounds, a Cary resident, contacted 5 On Your Side after her sunroof exploded while driving down Wade Avenue in Raleigh last week. She had the cloth cover open, and says she had to duck as the glass rained down. Pounds pulled into a parking lot and had her 2015 Subaru Outback towed to the dealer to have it repaired.

The cause of the explosions remains unclear, but experts point to pressure put on the glass because vehicles are more airtight than they used to be. Many of the explosions have happened on days that were extremely hot or cold.

Glass could also be a consideration. Many sunroofs are made in China and Mexico, and the tempered glass used is thinner and lighter, making it easier to break.

"To my layman mind, it's the glass potentially," Alexander said. "And if it's the glass, then there needs to be a recall."

Alexander used duct tape and plexiglass to replace his shattered roof until it was repaired.

"If this happens to somebody and that cover is open and they hit somebody head-on or they roll the car into a ditch, there is not going to be much left of this thing, and nobody will ever know that this is why that happened," he said. "And for all we know, this has happened quite a bit already."

Lexus says one possible solution could be to keep the visor open slightly on hot days so that heat doesn't build up between it and the glass.

4 Comments

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  • Peter Panda Mar 11, 2015
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    big deal-- someone's sunroof broke and they make it sound like a pandemic

  • Janet Clarke Mar 11, 2015
    user avatar

    Happened to the driver's side front window of my Mazda a few years ago while I was driving down the interstate. At first I thought I'd been shot. The weather was a mild spring day during a stretch of mild spring days, so I don't think weather was a factor, and I don't see how a rock would hit the side of the window. My windshield gets things thrown at it all the time and it doesn't shatter.

    I think it's like Jack said, inferior glass installed in the cars. Scariest thing that every happened to me while driving. Glad I didn't have a cup of coffee in my hand at the time.

  • Jack Miller Mar 11, 2015
    user avatar

    This is not raps debris. It's from inferior glass coming from overseas with no quality control. So for every one that breaks on their own, there are a thousand more out there from the same batch.

  • Matt Price Mar 11, 2015
    user avatar

    "As you are aware, we rely on our dealer body to first and foremost determine if warranty coverage is applicable to a repair"

    Of course your dealer body are scum, and rather than approve a warranty repair, they charge upwards of $1,500 to $2,000 to replace defective glass.