Exploding sunroofs: A look at why the investigation has dragged on for half a decade


    Photo: Circa

    WASHINGTON (CIRCA) - Imagine driving down the road and having your car’s sunroof suddenly explode.

    It’s a terrifying experience, not to mention a serious potential hazard, and it has happened to hundreds of drivers nationwide.

    Check out this Volkswagen.

    The sunroof explodes, blowing gas into the air at highway speeds. A Circa investigation found this happens more than you think.

    Chris Pelesky | Photo: Spotlight on America


    "I just hear bah-boom, Chris Pelesky told us," Christ Pelesky was on his daily commute when he says his sunroof spontaneously shattered. "It was literally like a shotgun, he said. When something happens when you’re going 65 miles per hour like that, wow."

    The explosion littered Pelesky's car with chunks of glass.

    Photo: Spotlight on America

    "That was a day that my life flashed before my eyes, Pelesky told us."

    We found this is not a freak accident. We first uncovered problems with exploding sunroofs back in 2014 with our sister station in Washington, DC.

    Back then, we dug up complaints related to exploding sunroofs filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). There are nearly 900 complaints right now in their system, 200 of them from just the last two years.

    Photo: Spotlight on America

    "It’s not just happening frequently, it’s happening across manufacturers, said Jason Levine from the Center for Auto Safety."

    And across the country with drivers telling the Feds their horror stories. Those records show injuries, although no deaths have been reported.

    NHTSA launched an investigation. At this point, though, it has been open for half a decade with no resolution. And the agency won't answer questions. The investigation at this point spans about five years. We asked Jason Levine if this was a priority for the Government.

    Jason Levine | Photo: Spotlight on America

    "It certainly doesn’t seem to be, he said. This many number of years later, there should be more answers."

    You can find some in the NHTSA documents we scoured through. They include manufacturers breaking down by make and model the hundreds of incidents they're aware of where sunroofs have exploded.

    "This appears to be, from all accounts, a defect that is well documented," Levine said. "And when something is defective, it’s on that manufacturer to take care of it. And, if not, people do have the ability to go to court."

    Circa found at least half a dozen ongoing class action lawsuits related to exploding sunroofs. They claim manufacturers are aware of a defect and don't disclose it.

    They lay blame for the explosions on several things:

    • The use of tempered, not laminated glass
    • Ceramic coating that compromises strength.
    • Tight installation, which creates pressure.
    "It’s not something consumers can really do something about," Levine said. You can’t drive more carefully and have your sunroof not explode. That’s something that needs to be dealt with at the manufacturers level or at the regulatory level."

    A handful of manufacturers have done voluntary recalls, acknowledging a problem in limited makes and models.

    "Nobody should have to fight the way I did to get a situation resolved, Chris Pelesky said. It’s a really big safety issue.

    Drivers like Pelesky say NHTSA needs to act before there's a tragedy. They want to take the pressure off the sunroofs and put it back on the manufacturers. To see an expanded version of this investigation, just go to Circa.

    News In Photos

      Loading ...