Danger overhead: exploding sunroofs a surprisingly common proble - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Danger overhead: exploding sunroofs a surprisingly common problem

Shattering sunroofs have been reported from countless car owners across the country. (Source: WAFF/RNN) Shattering sunroofs have been reported from countless car owners across the country. (Source: WAFF/RNN)

All across the country, there have been thousands of reports of exploding sunroofs. Some vehicles have even been recalled for it.

Kristy Cantrell was leaving work last summer when she heard rain pouring into her car.

"The first thing you think of is, 'Oh my goodness, they were cutting grass or a rock flew up and hit it,' or something like that, but after you looked at it more, nothing went in it - you could tell that the glass went out, it was kind of bowed up," Cantrell said.

Cantrell is still driving around the same sporty, black, newer-model sedan. She can pinpoint where the glass exploded out from the center; it happened while her car was parked.

"It was so hot in the car that it just expanded and exploded," Cantrell said.

Former Alabama State Trooper David Dockens' sunroof exploded while driving in Colorado.

"It sounded similar to hearing a blow-out on an 18-wheeler going down the road next to you, or maybe a gunshot," Dockens said.

Montgomery Attorney Nicholas Hughes has a theory on why it's happening.

"I think that it is temperature-related and pressure-related," he said. "I don't think the sunroof glass is able to withstand the environmental differences outside the car versus inside the car."

Hughes, an attorney at Argo Hughes, started researching the "exploding sunroof" phenomenon after the incident happened to his wife.

"My kids were in the car, and they heard a loud pop. They thought a balloon had busted," Hughes said.

Since then, he has represented several clients, and he believes there's a common thread.

"The explosion is always an outward explosion; it's not like something you would see from the top, where an object hits it and causes a downward impact. It's always an outward explosion. The sunroof actually bows outward. It's like someone blowing up a balloon from inside; the car causes the pressure to go outward, and the sunroof just follows the pressure and goes outward." Hughes explained.

Unless you find a rock or some other telling evidence, it's hard to pinpoint what causes the sunroof to explode. 

Some experts blame cheaper foreign glass, or tempered glass - a safety glass designed to break a specific way.

Others with insight into the problem say there's a heat buildup between the sunroof sliding panel and the glass.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration directed us to their website, www.safercar.gov. There are pages and pages of people describing a similar situation in all makes and models.

One complaint read, "It sounded like a gunshot. The sunroof apparently exploded and rained glass."

Another said, "We experienced an extremely loud boom in the vehicle. Nothing hit us, nor did we hit anything. It was spontaneous."

Amy Paul was driving to Prattville to take her dad to the doctor when she heard a loud boom overhead.

"Thank God I had the cover closed, or glass would have gone everywhere," Paulk said.

Paulk describes the same effect in the glass that many victims see. "It was just like a big ol' hole where the glass had gone through, and then it was spider-webbed the whole rest of the glass," Paulk said.

That spider web effect was most likely the result of tempered glass, a type of safety glass designed to shatter into pieces as opposed to large shards.

The other problem aside from danger and inconvenience - the cost of a new sunroof can top $1,500 or more. That's why Paulk has driven around with duct tape on her car since February.

"I have to duct tape it all the time when it's raining and make sure it doesn't leak, because then it would ruin the inside of my car. It's just way too much to get fixed right now," Paulk said.

Paulk says she never wants to own a car with a sunroof again.

Hughes adds that the exploding sunroof problem is a much bigger problem than people realize.

"I don't think anyone expects "Hey, my sunroof is going to explode,' it's ridiculous to think of," Hughes said.

Sunroofs have shattered in both parked and moving cars, across many different makes and models. There was not a specific vehicle manufacturer that experienced this problem more than others.

So what should you do if this happens to you? Take pictures and report it to the dealership where you bought your car, and to the manufacturer.

If you had the glass installed yourself, you should reach out to that company to discuss repairs and replacement.

Before you buy a car with a sunroof, be sure to ask questions about its age and any recalls.

Officials say you should also alert the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can file a complaint at http://www.safercar.gov/ or http://www.nhtsa.gov/

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