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Consumer Reports: Tracking exploding sunroofs

Posted at 7:16 AM, Nov 07, 2017

Shattering sunroofs. It doesn't happen often but when it does it can be scary and dangerous.

This problem has been reported before and dates back decades.

Now an investigation by Consumer Reports finds complaints have been filed in hundreds of models, including cars with panoramic sunroofs -- a luxury feature that could could pose a risk. They say the industry needs to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to improving standards and design.

One July day in 2015, Steven Kaufman hopped into his brand new Hyundai Elantra GT and went for a drive. He was traveling down a highway when suddenly, "The sunroof exploded. The glass started raining down on me. I thought someone had taken a shotgun and blown out the glass. It was so loud."

His was not an isolated incident. Consumer Reports recently analyzed over 20 years of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and found shattered sunroofs reported in at least 208 models across 35 brands.

Kaufman bought his car in 2015, right around the time when the problem spiked. These are only the cases reported to the agency. Some manufacturers know of even more.

David Friedman of Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, was acting administrator of NHTSA in 2014.

"Although it's not clear exactly why this is happening, the evidence that it is happening is really clear. So automakers should be much more proactive. Just recall these vehicles," Friedman said.

The agency is currently only investigating the 2011 through 2013 Kia Sorento SUV, but Consumers Union would like that to be expanded.

"These sunroofs are shattering. NHTSA has more than enough evidence to consider this a safety defect. They certainly shouldn't wait for a fatality or an injury before forcing the car companies to act," Friedman said.

When it comes to the glass itself, regulators can also call for different kinds of testing and adjust the standards as designs evolve.

"The regulations around sunroofs are clearly outdated. They were designed when they were a lot smaller. Today, they are a lot bigger and sunroof regulation needs to catch up," Friedman said.

While Hyundai declined to comment on Kaufman's incident, they told Consumer Reports, "The safety of our customers is Hyundai's number one priority."

Consumer Reports said if this happens to you, take pictures and video with your phone immediately and contact your dealer about a repair. If they aren't helpful, contact the automaker.

You can also enlist your insurer to help convince them to cover the repair. Also be sure to file a report with NHTSA which you can do at safercar.gov.