Exploding sunroofs prompt government investigation

Cars with dangerous defect puts drivers at risk
Posted at 9:51 PM, Sep 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 12:11:39-04

Imagine: You're driving down the road and suddenly it's like a bomb went off.

Turns out, there are several cars with a potentially dangerous defect that could put drivers at risk. The I-Team found hundreds of complaints describing the same problem.

A married couple from Franklin had no warning before their sunroof shattered. We found out this is happening across the country, and federal regulators are now involved.

Rick and Maxine Wahls were driving down the road when they heard what sounded like a gunshot. 

"I ducked. I thought we were being shot at I really did," Maxine said.

The noise was the sunroof on their 2015 Nissan Pathfinder exploding. Tiny pieces of glass were everywhere. 

"When I got out I ripped my shirt off and shook it out," Rick said.

The Wahl's said there was no impact to cause the glass to break. The glass just spontaneously shattered. 

"There were no cars next to us or in front of us that would have thrown something," Maxine said. 

Exploding sunroofs are not as uncommon as you might think.

Federal safety regulators are looking into hundreds of complaints about this happening in Nissan's and other vehicles, scaring and even injuring drivers. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating sunroofs on 2011-2013 Kia Sorentos. As part of that investigation, NHTSA asked four other car makers, including Nissan, for information.

Under the microscope are different models with similar large sunroofs. The Kia investigation is focused on whether there's a defect that presents an "unreasonable risk to safety." 

A local Nissan dealer tried to clean out the Wahl's Pathfinder.

"It just feels like almost like a fiberglass, and it stuck to your hands. And it took 4 or 5 washings just to get it loosened up," Maxine said. 

To be safe, they turned in the car and rolled into a lease on a newer Pathfinder.  

"It's important to have her have a car that she trusts," Rick said.

The sunroof was not covered under the Wahl's warranty. They were told to file a claim with their insurance.  In this case, Nissan ended up covering the Wahl's deductible to fix the sunroof, before the couple decided they no longer wanted the car.

A spokesman for Nissan said the car maker voluntarily participated in the NHTSA peer inquiry and said "No defect was indicated in Nissan's product. Nissan is pleased with the field performance of its vehicles equipped with large sunroofs."

NHTSA is still investigating the Kia sunroofs and will order a recall if it finds an "unreasonable risk to safety."

If this happens to you, contact your car maker and file a vehicle safety complaint with NHTSA. 

To file a vehicle safety complaint with NHTSA, go here.