Industry not acting on exploding sunroofs says CR

Magazine sees correlation between incidents and larger sunroofs

Published: October 12, 2017, 5:10 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:06 PM

2017 Chrysler Pacifica interior

Consumer Reports is raising the alarm about sunroofs blowing in, saying the issue has grown substantially in recent years, apparently as sunroofs get bigger.

The organization went through US federal data on reports filed about imploding sunroofs and found that 859 reports had been logged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the past 22 years, with 71% of them logged in the past six years.

There appears to be no correlation among the complaints — they have happened to 208 models of all bodystyles from 35 brands, and the incidents occurred in every part of the country, over every month, on highways, city streets and country roads. They include 36 injury reports, with no more than minor scrapes and cuts suffered.

It found that most complaints were logged against Hyundai models (119), followed by Ford (85) and Nissan (82), with Kia (78) and Scion (72) rounding out the top five. The car with the most complaints was the Scion tC (71), followed by the Hyundai Veloster (54) and Kia Sorento (43). The Nissan Murano (28) and Kia Optima (25) fill out the top five.

The Kia Sorento (2011-13) is currently under investigation for the issue, admitting to NHTSA that it is aware of 156 customer incidents, as well as 173 incidents involving Optima sunroofs. According to the CR report, Ford has admitted to NHTSA to know about 88 incidents involving its Edge crossover utility, though only 8 complaints were lodged with NHTSA.

NHTSA told Consumer Reports (CR) that it had sought input from 13 manufacturers about the sunroof issue as part of its Sorento investigation, with five filing documents that have been posted on the NHTSA website.

CR notes that automakers, despite being aware of many more incidents than are under investigation by the federal agency, are not acknowledging that there is a problem and thereby, not making any attempts to resolve the issue.

“When you have evidence of a problem like this, regardless of what the standards say, automakers should develop a better approach,” says David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of CR. “They don’t need to wait for NHTSA to prod them.”

Experts interviewed by CR were not in agreement with what was causing sunroofs to shatter, but all did note that the bigger the sunroof, the harder it is to ensure it won’t explode.

“Something is going on. Calling it an act of God feels like an old industry playbook for a new car feature,” Jason Levine, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, told CR. “The fact the roof is half glass instead of a quarter glass or no glass doesn’t change the responsibility of the industry and the individual automaker to make sure the compartment is as safe as possible. The concern has to be for safety first, and then the aesthetics.”

CR is calling on automakers who have repeated incidents of sunroof implosions to order a safety recall, for NHTSA to expand the investigation of the Sorento to include other models, and for automakers to develop stronger safety standards in relation to increasingly larger glass roof expanses.