ARE SHATTERING SUNROOFS THE NEXT NATIONAL SAFETY RECALL?
In the last two years, automotive safety recalls have taken center stage in a ways that we have never seen before. Coming on the heels of a major GM botched safety recall over its faulty ignition switches and the Takata airbag recall. Most recently Chrysler has announced a buy back program for 200,000 dodge pickups over a steering issue, and nearly 1 million Jeeps over a gas tank issue. Now the NHTSA is investigating new safety issue- Exploding sunroofs.
In sunnier areas of the United States such as right here in Patchogue New York, more cars are sold with sunroofs than those without them. We are also exposed to more extreme sun and heat issues. So it is an alarming thought that the NHTSA has received over 400 new claims of exploding sunroofs. And the NHTSA has taken notice, calling for a National investigation into the problem.
The exploding sunroofs are not specific to one particular make or model, however recently Audi and Kia have performed small scale recalls on their sunroofs including a the Kia Sorrento from 2011 to 2013.
Types of glass used in Auto manufacture
When it shatters, it will sound like a gunshot. Unlike windshields which are made of a laminated safety glass, sunroofs are made of tempered glass, the same as your side windows and rear windows. Tempered glass is baked at high temperatures at the factory and shatters into millions of small pieces upon impact. While strong initially, the glass becomes very fragile once it is hit from a sharp object, or twisted or contorted as if in an accident. This is designed for safety, to keep the occupants from getting cut by large sharp shards of glass, and also to make glass breakage easy for rescuers and first responders.
On the other hand your windshield is actually two layers of glass, non-tempered, with a thin plastic layer sandwiched between both layers of glass. This s designed to protect you in an impact and to keep the glass shards from entering into the cabin upon impact. Laminated glass is also a structural element to modern cars.
Possible causes for sunroof explosions
Early investigation found hundreds of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the problem which lead Audi and Hyundai to issue voluntary recalls on some models.
Due to the relatively small number of complaints filed, all other manufacturers so far have waived off any responsibility claiming that external impacts from rocks or other foreign objects are causing the damage.
One researcher who investigates crash scenes for insurance companies claims that the problem is that the sunroofs and the mechanical structures are too light for their purpose.
The glass in the structure around the sunroof is being made thinner in vehicles these days as part of weight savings.
Car-makers are under increased pressure from the federal government to make vehicles with better fuel mileage, and they’re doing that by using lighter metals for the frame and auto bodies.
Kia’s own investigation found no evidence of a defect, however federal regulators at the NHTSA have started their own investigation stating that the recent influx of reported incidents is concerning. That investigation that started in May 2014, and it’s still open.
How to prevent your sunroof from shattering in New York
Here in New York, where the sun and heat are very intense, experts suggest that when it’s really hot out, you should leave the shade to your sunroof open when you’re not in the car. This prevents extra heat from building up between the glass and the shade that will put more pressure on the glass.
They also suggest that getting your sunroof tinted on the inside would prevent glass from showering down on you if the sunroof did break.
You can search for your car’s make and model in NHTSA’s database online to find out how many times others have complained about this issue happen.