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'Recall these vehicles': Group calls for expanded investigation of exploding sunroofs

Posted November 15, 2017 5:15 p.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2017 5:56 p.m. EST

A consumer group is calling for an expanded federal investigation and recall after years of reported car sunroof explosions.

Complaints about exploding sunroofs involve more than 200 models and dozens of car brands. Drivers across the country report sudden loud and scary booms before the glass from the sunroof shatters.

Consumer Reports says the industry needs to improve standards and design.

“All of a sudden, it was like I heard a gunshot, and it was so loud,” said driver Niki Wheeler.

The bang was the sunroof on Wheeler’s brand new Kia Optima, which exploded in 2012 as she drive on U.S. Highway 1.

In 2015, the sunroof on Bacc Alexander’s two-year-old Lexus exploded while he was driving, as did the sunroof of Steven Kaufman’s brand new Hyundai Elantra GT.

“The sunroof exploded. The glass started raining down on me. I thought someone had taken a shotgun and blown out the glass. It was so loud,” Kaufman said.

Consumer Reports recently analyzed more than 20 years of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which shows the problem spiked in 2015, with shattered sunroofs reported in at least 208 models across 35 brands. Those are only the cases reported to the agency, and some manufacturers know of even more.

“Although it’s not clear exactly why this is happening, the evidence that it is happening is really clear and so automakers should be much more proactive. Just recall these vehicles,” said David Freiedman, who was acting administrator of the NHTSA in 2014 and now works with Consumers Union.

The agency is currently only investigating incidents with the Kia Sorrento SUV that occurred between 2011 and 2013. Consumers Union wants that investigation to be expanded.

“These sunroofs are shattering. NHTSA has more than enough evidence to consider this a safety defect, and they certainly shouldn’t wait for a fatality or an injury before forcing car companies to act,” Freiedman said.

Experts said possible causes for the explosions could be pressure put on the glass by air-tight cars, or temperature changes, as many of the explosions happened on days that were extremely hot or cold. Experts also noted that glass now manufactured in places like China and Mexico is thinner and lighter.

Consumers Union also wants federal agencies to do different and updated testing of the glass used for sunroofs.

Toyota, which owns Lexus, said they were unable to provide detailed information about the 2015 sunroof explosion because of an ongoing lawsuit, but said they are “committed to the safety and security of our customers and to responding rapidly to developments in the field.”

Kia said it has been evaluating the performance of tempered sunroof safety glass as part of ongoing vehicle monitoring conducted regularly on all models.

"Kia sunroofs are designed to withstand impacts from road debris, but all sunroofs will break when the impact force is greater than the sunroof's ability to withstand such force. When a cause of breakage is identifiable, it is always road debris or projectiles, even in cases involving users who insist no road debris caused the breakage," Kia said in a statement.

Anybody who experiences a sunroof explosion should immediately take pictures and contact their dealer. If the car dealership is not helpful, contact the automaker and file a report with the NHTSA at safercar.gov.