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Combat veteran warns of 'exploding' sunroofs

Hundreds of complaints filed with NHTSA on dangerous issue

(WJXT) It's not something any driver expects, but it has happened to hundreds of people. Drivers are reporting that for no apparent reason, their sunroofs are suddenly shattering, causing glass to rain down on them.

That's exactly what happened to one local Army veteran.

"Your PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) kicks in and you just don't know where you're at," JP Ortiz explained.

He's an Iraq War veteran and no stranger to explosions.

"I survived a number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) there," the Purple Heart recipient said.

Ortiz said he thought he had left all of that behind him. But just a few months ago, when he was driving his 2015 Volvo S60 on the interstate, he heard what sounded like a gunshot.

"I was traveling down I-95 and suddenly my sunroof exploded without reason or cause," Ortiz said. "I started feeling glass falling on my face and I pulled over immediately and realized my sunroof has just shattered."

 

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It may happen more often than people realize. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show hundreds of complaints about "exploding" or "shattering" sunroofs over the last 10 years, with some makes and models having more problems than others.

Audi and Hyundai have recalled thousands of cars because of sunroof issues that could send glass falling onto drivers. Aftermarket manufacturer Webasto recalled hundreds of thousands of sunroofs out of concern they could spontaneously break.

"In all of the years I've worked on cars, I've never seen it like you see it now. I've never heard about it like you see it now," Tony Mossuto, with Everything Automotive, said.

Mossuto said he has replaced hundreds of sunroofs in his time as a master mechanic -- most in the last decade.

"Tony, without a smoking gun, basically a rock in your hand, can you tell if it's a rock that breaks the glass, or if it's a manufacturing defect?" Mossuto was asked.

"I couldn't see how because it breaks into small pieces because of the type of glass it is. It just shatters," he answered.

That's the problem, especially for people like Ortiz. While he believes his sunroof shattered because of a manufacturing issue, Volvo disagrees. He said Volvo told him "something" must have hit the sunroof, so it would not be covered under his warranty.

KPRC Channel 2 News sister station News4Jax contacted Volvo's corporate office and was told the same thing: It was likely a projectile that struck the sunroof and caused it to shatter, and that Volvo has not had recurring reports with the model Ortiz owns. In the end, Volvo refused to replace the sunroof and Ortiz had to foot the bill.

"That's essentially all I can do, is be the squeaky wheel. I'm on social media and I go on Volvo Cars USA and point this out and I also have joined a class-action lawsuit," Ortiz said.

But his main goal is letting others with sunroofs know the risks.

"Are you concerned about other people on the roadway that have these sunroofs, now knowing what you know -- and now that you've done this research?" Ortiz was asked.

"Absolutely," he answered. "I've seen a story about women with infant children in car seats that have this happen to them."

Story after story has been reported across the country. Video has even captured it happening to an Infiniti SUV as it was driving down the highway, just like Ortiz.

So how can you protect yourself? When it's really hot outside, you want to make sure that the shade to your sunroof stays open -- that's going to prevent heat from being trapped between that glass and the sunshade, which can put even more pressure on the glass. 

In addition, you may want to consider getting the inside of the sunroof tinted, that way it could possibly prevent glass from raining down on you should the sunroof crack.

If your sunroof does explode, the NHTSA wants you to:

  • Contact NHTSA immediately. You can do that through its Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or online here.
  • Take pictures of the damage.
  • Report the incident to the dealership where you bought the car and to the manufacturer.
  • Before you buy a vehicle with a sunroof, be sure to ask questions about its age and any past recalls. You can check a model's history in the NHTSA's online database:

    Story borrowed from WJXT-TV.