Look out above: Drivers, watchdogs warn of exploding vehicle sunroofs

April 24, 2019 08:23 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Drivers and consumer advocates are warning vehicle owners of an explosive surprise that could strike without warning -- not tires below but exploding sunroofs overhead.

Consumer Reports and the National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledged that they have been receiving complaints about sunroofs abruptly shattering for no apparent reason.


Lisa Schmaltz says she was driving normally when she was startled by the noise of the sunroof on her new Audi suddenly breaking.

"You hear this loud... like a gunshot, and look around like kind of thinking, 'I was in a wreck, somebody hit me, or a wreck next to me,’” she exclaimed. "And every time I tell someone that, I always have to repeat it. Because I'll be like, 'My sunroof exploded.’ They're like, 'What? Say that again. I'm like, 'Well, my sunroof exploded.'"

The trend had become a familiar one for Tracy Lenczowski, owner of Rose City Sunroofs who had been doing sunroof work for decades.

"It happens a lot more than you think. You'll be driving down the road, it'll pop!"

Lenczowski couldn’t explain the exploding sunroof phenomenon but he had some theories: Sunroofs have been getting bigger, the glass is shaped with the car’s body lines, the glass is tempered or new installations create pressure on the glass. He was certain that it has meant more work for him.

"When I first started, I'd do like probably three to five [sunroof replacements] a month,” he said. “Now I'm doing 15 to 40. A lot of people just say they blew out, driving down the road and they just popped."

The watchdog of Consumer Reports says there have been almost a thousand similar complaints involving hundreds of models from dozens of carmakers.

The NHTSA has managed to track some recurring names. It reported the models most often affected seemed to be Scion TCs, Kia Sorentos and Optimas, Hyundai Velosters and Nissan Muranos. But the agency could not cite any cause for the failures and had not called for any recall.

With no official designation of a manufacturing defect, drivers could be stuck having to pay for repairs themselves or file claims with their insurance policies. 

"If you yell and scream enough, you might get the dealership to pay for it,” Lenczowski said. "Otherwise you can call your insurance.”

Scmhaltz talked with her dealer.

“They asked which way I wanted to go,” she recalled.  “If I wanted to go with my insurance or warranty possibly. And they did cover it with the warranty.”

The NHTSA says it's investigating the issue, but so far has offered no resolution.


Charles Molineaux

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