Heads up: Hundreds of sunroofs spontaneously exploding

Last updated: 03-30-2020

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Heads up: Hundreds of sunroofs spontaneously exploding

A Central Florida man says he nearly crashed when the sunroof above his head violently shattered while he was on the road. "We heard a loud bang, and it sounded like a gunshot that went off,” said Justin Rinson, whose sunroof exploded. Rinson said he was driving on the Florida Turnpike when the sunroof exploded. Rinson is far from alone. Drivers across the country have their own frightening stories of sunroofs mysteriously exploding. “This sort of incident is inherently dangerous and deserves to be investigated,” said Consumer Reports reporter Jeff Plungis. Plungis pored through years of government complaints and found that between 1995 and 2017, 859 complaints of exploding sunroofs were made with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The reports cover 35 auto brands and at least 208 models. Seventy-one percent of those incidents have happened since 2011, with the growing popularity of larger panoramic sunroofs. The NHTSA has been investigating the claims since 2013 and could force manufacturers to follow standards in how they make and install glass roofs. "NHTSA's investigation into exploding sunroofs is still open. NHTSA encourages the public to report any safety concerns to the agency,” NHTSA spokesman Derrell Lyles said in a statement. Plungis said the NHTSA has been dragging out the investigation. “We want them (NHTSA) to conclude their investigation that's been dragging on for seven years,” Plungis said. So why is this happening? And what's being done about it to keep you safe? To help explain it, WESH 2 Investigates was given permission to break different kinds of glass, thanks to GreenStar Auto Salvage in Orlando.Auto safety groups point to the type of glass used in most sunroofs. It's tempered, which means it's designed to break into small pieces, instead of shards.That glass is different than what is used in windshields, which are laminated. They have a film coating that keeps the glass together when it breaks. The fact that sunroofs are breaking at all could be the result of road vibration, temperature changes, pressure from the mounting hardware that holds the glass or a combination of all three.Some automakers like Volvo and Tesla have begun using only laminated glass in their sunroofs. Other manufacturers, including Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Subaru, are using laminated sunroof glass in some models. Drivers should ask the dealer before purchasing a vehicle.“It's not clear whether NHTSA is doing something right or doing something wrong. We're just not sure what they're doing,” said Jason Levine, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. Levine said that if the government doesn't act, manufacturers owe it to consumers to extend sunroof warranties or compensate owners when an explosion happens.“It's happening enough that you could point to this as a manufacturer and say, you know we've got an issue here, it seems to be happening occasionally, let's make this consumer whole. Let's pay for the replacement here,” Levine said. At least 27 sunroof explosions have involved BMW, though not all of them the model 320i that Rinson drives. BMW is offering to pay half of his sunroof replacement cost, but he thinks car buyers deserve a safety standard that ensures the glass overhead will stay in one piece.

A Central Florida man says he nearly crashed when the sunroof above his head violently shattered while he was on the road.

"We heard a loud bang, and it sounded like a gunshot that went off,” said Justin Rinson, whose sunroof exploded.

Rinson said he was driving on the Florida Turnpike when the sunroof exploded.

Rinson is far from alone. Drivers across the country have their own frightening stories of sunroofs mysteriously exploding.

“This sort of incident is inherently dangerous and deserves to be investigated,” said Consumer Reports reporter Jeff Plungis.

Plungis pored through years of government complaints and found that between 1995 and 2017, 859 complaints of exploding sunroofs were made with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The reports cover 35 auto brands and at least 208 models. Seventy-one percent of those incidents have happened since 2011, with the growing popularity of larger panoramic sunroofs.

The NHTSA has been investigating the claims since 2013 and could force manufacturers to follow standards in how they make and install glass roofs.

"NHTSA's investigation into exploding sunroofs is still open. NHTSA encourages the public to report any safety concerns to the agency,” NHTSA spokesman Derrell Lyles said in a statement.

Plungis said the NHTSA has been dragging out the investigation.

“We want them (NHTSA) to conclude their investigation that's been dragging on for seven years,” Plungis said.

So why is this happening? And what's being done about it to keep you safe?

To help explain it, WESH 2 Investigates was given permission to break different kinds of glass, thanks to GreenStar Auto Salvage in Orlando.

Auto safety groups point to the type of glass used in most sunroofs. It's tempered, which means it's designed to break into small pieces, instead of shards.

That glass is different than what is used in windshields, which are laminated.

They have a film coating that keeps the glass together when it breaks. The fact that sunroofs are breaking at all could be the result of road vibration, temperature changes, pressure from the mounting hardware that holds the glass or a combination of all three.

Some automakers like Volvo and Tesla have begun using only laminated glass in their sunroofs. Other manufacturers, including Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Subaru, are using laminated sunroof glass in some models. Drivers should ask the dealer before purchasing a vehicle.

“It's not clear whether NHTSA is doing something right or doing something wrong. We're just not sure what they're doing,” said Jason Levine, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

Levine said that if the government doesn't act, manufacturers owe it to consumers to extend sunroof warranties or compensate owners when an explosion happens.

“It's happening enough that you could point to this as a manufacturer and say, you know we've got an issue here, it seems to be happening occasionally, let's make this consumer whole. Let's pay for the replacement here,” Levine said.

At least 27 sunroof explosions have involved BMW, though not all of them the model 320i that Rinson drives.

BMW is offering to pay half of his sunroof replacement cost, but he thinks car buyers deserve a safety standard that ensures the glass overhead will stay in one piece.


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