Spontaneously-shattering sunroofs are becoming more common

Sunroofs are made of tempered glass and break differently than windshields.


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More and more people are buying vehicles with sunroofs in them, but that feature could come at a cost.

It turns out that some sunroofs are spontaneously breaking.

Shattering sunroofs are not a freak experience. Federal authorities say they are happening with increasing frequency and the problem isn’t confined to just one automaker.

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“This is a problem that exists among many automakers and on many models,” said David Friedman of Consumers Union.

Consumer Reports began tracking the problem and found the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received at least 859 complaints of shattered sunroofs since 1995.

Repair tech Jimmy Brooks at Auto Interiors in Raleigh specializes in sunroof repairs and says he’s noticed the problem in the extra-large sunroofs. “We’re seeing more (breakage) of the panoramic style where they are making the whole top of the car pretty much a piece of glass,” he said.

When a sunroof shatters, it can be disconcerting. Many report hearing a loud bang or something that sounds like an explosion when their sunroof spontaneously breaks.

Unlike a windshield which is laminated, sunroofs are made from tempered glass which can break differently.

“Sometimes it’ll shatter like a windshield. Sometimes, it will fall inside the car. We’ve seen it both ways. It depends in the manufacturer of the glass,” says Brooks.

CBS North Carolina uncovered documents where back in April of 2016, the NHTSA ordered automakers to start reporting unexpected sunroof shattering incidents.

Recently, Consumer Reports took that shattering data, collated it, and found Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Kia and Scion were among the top 5 automakers with consumer complaints about shattering sunroofs.

Although an investigation by NHTSA is ongoing, the cause of the shattering remains a mystery. No one knows why it’s happening, including those who fix the broken sunroofs.

“The only thing we can figure is its getting too much stress from the glass and it’s cracking,’’ says Brooks.

If you’re worried about your sunroof breaking and raining glass down on you, Brooks offers some simple advice.
“The best thing to do is keep your shade closed so if it does shatter, it won’t fall inside on someone.”

Right now automakers are refusing to pay for replacement sunroofs, so if it happens to you the repair cost is on you or your insurance.

The NHTSA is keeping track of shattering sunroofs. Here is a link to its monthly report dating back to 2014.

If you want to file a complaint with NHTSA on a shattered sunroof, use this link.

Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.

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