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Exploding Sunroof Problems Lead to Questions for Several Car Makers

Lawmakers and a consumer watchdog group are raising concerns about a mounting number of exploding sunroof incidents that are occurring on U.S. roadways, asking automakers to provide information information about tracking the incidents and what is being done to fix the issues. 

Consumer Reports announced last month that it was opening an investigation into exploding sunroofs, following reports of incidents involving dozens of vehicles in recent years.

The advocacy group claims that automakers are not following proper safety precautions and not issuing safety recalls, which could prevent further incidents that could cause lacerations and increase the risk of an accident.

Consumer Reports looked at data data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), indicating that problems with exploding sunroof have increased significantly since 2012, especially for Korean car makers Hyundai and Kia.

According to the NHTSA data chart, the number of incidents self-reported by vehicle owners began increasing in 2012 to roughly 50 reported incidents, and more than tripled in 2014 with 187 reported incidents.

NHTSA officials say they believe the rate of the incidents is significantly under reported after questioning Kia about the sunroof issues.

When the NHTSA asked Kia about the 43 reports involving shattering sunroofs on Sorento models, Kia responded that it had documented at least 156 reports of the issue and was investigating the root cause. Similarly, when the NHTSA asked the automaker about the 25 reported sunroof shattering incidents involving Kia Optima vehicles, the automaker indicated it was aware of at least 173 incidents.

Features like panoramic sunroofs have become increasingly popular over the last several years, especially in luxury model vehicles. Parallel with the recent influx of larger sunroof demands, consumer complaints to the NHTSA have risen annually.

Currently, the NHTSA is still working with Kia to determine the cause of the sunroof defects, and has begun investigating similar reports of shattering sunroofs with other automakers, including Ford, who has reportedly received at least 88 shattering sunroof reports over the last several years.

Consumer Reports has reached out to 17 automakers to investigate the number of sunroof incidents reported and whether any patterns have been noticed among vehicle models. However, some automakers, including Kia and Toyota, have blamed the events on road debris.

The companies with the most recorded incidents of exploding sunroofs include Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Kia, Scion, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Cadillac, and BMW, according to Consumer Reports’ investigation.

The group also found that the regulatory standards set by the American National Standards Institute and SAE International, the society of automotive engineers, have not been revised since 1996, long before supersized sunroofs became a mainstream demand.

Experts claim that today’s vehicles use more curved and three-dimensional designs involving bending glass that leave them more susceptible to mechanical malfunctions and road debris impacts.

Lawmakers have also asked automakers what efforts are being taken to improve sunroof safety and prevent shattering incidents. Senators Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut and Edward Markey, of Massachusetts sent a list of 15 detailed questions about sunroof materials, design, and defects to BMW, Daimler Trucks, Ferrari, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

The letters requested automakers respond with how they are handling each consumer complaint and what was being done to determine the cause of each incident, and whether any safety defect patterns have been recognized that would warrant a recall.

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