Exploding Sunroofs: Danger Overhead

Consumer complaints about exploding sunroofs have spiked in recent years. How to stay safe and avoid large repair bills.

When it happened, Heather Savage had two of her five children with her in their 2016 Nissan Pathfinder. Four-year-old Eli was strapped into a car seat in the second row, and Raquel, 15, whom they’d just picked up from ballet class, was in the front passenger seat.

They were on their regular route home, in Cache Valley, Utah, going about 40 mph, when Savage heard a loud, powerful explosion. “My heart was racing,” she says. “It’s not something you expect to happen when you’re driving.”

She suspected a tire had blown, but the SUV wasn’t wobbly. When she could, she pulled over and got out to look around, at first thinking, “Hmm, my tires are fine.” Then she looked up and saw that the sunroof had exploded, dropping hundreds of bits of glass onto the sunroof’s shade guard, above her children’s heads.

“I feel really lucky that I had that shut at the time,” Savage says. “When I was looking at cars, I loved the sunroof, but I never imagined in a million years that would happen.”

An exploding sunroof might sound like a freak occurrence, but a Consumer Reports investigation has found that it’s not. These incidents have happened in every month of the year in every part of the country, in vehicles from all over the world; they have occurred on interstates, on country roads, and even while parked in driveways.

Sunroofs have significantly expanded in size in recent years, and they’ve also grown in popularity. And the number of consumer complaints about them shattering without warning has soared.

While this doesn’t happen nearly as often as, say, a tire blowout on the highway, any explosion while driving can present a real safety hazard.

And although the issue is well known to the auto industry and government safety regulators, drivers generally assume that their sunroofs are safe.

Our investigation has found that, with a few exceptions, automakers are not acknowledging or resolving the issue. It’s also clear that the safety standards and regulatory oversight of sunroofs have not kept pace with those dramatic size and design changes and that more needs to be done to guarantee they are safe.

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