Wisdom > Data

Just how safe is the sunroof on your car?

Check out these statistics from the US market

The discontinued Scion tC has 71 reported cases of shattering sunroofs in the United States. PHOTO FROM SCION

For some car owners, the sunroof feature is a luxury item that they feel adds to the opulence of their vehicle. For others, it is the next best thing to having a convertible, offering them the option of traveling directly under the warm sunlight or the cool moonlight. Just one problem, though: With a gaping hole like that, there are concerns the structural rigidity of the roof might be a little compromised. Which could result in fatal consequences in the event of a rollover.

However, it has been exhaustively argued in some quarters that the integrity of the roof has nothing to do with whether it has an open panel or not. Read this article if you’re interested in the subject.

It seems the only real problem is this: Glass shatters.

In fact, in the United States, there have been a total of 859 complaints about suddenly exploding sunroofs from 1995 to 2017, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as chronicled by Consumer Reports. These incidents are said to have mostly occurred “within the first two years” of ownership.

Here are the top 10 brands with the most reported cases of shattered sunroofs:


Hyundai heads the list with 119 complaints, followed by Ford (85) and Nissan (82). Kia is next with 78 incidents, trailed by Scion (72) and Toyota (61). Honda (53), Volkswagen (38), Cadillac (28) and BMW (27) round out the top 10.

To be fair to Hyundai, Ford, Nissan and Kia, the number one car model on the list is the Scion tC, with 71 cases. As you know, Scion is Toyota’s defunct youth-oriented brand in North America (discontinued in August 2016). Completing the top 10 vehicle models after the tC are the Hyundai Veloster (54), the Kia Sorento (43), the Nissan Murano (28), the Kia Optima (25), the Ford Explorer (23), the Honda Accord (22), the Cadillac SRX (22), the Nissan Maxima (20) and the Hyundai Santa Fe (20).

Note that these sunroof explosions were unprovoked—they happened while the cars were simply cruising on the road. “A shower of glass fell on me,” one unlucky vehicle owner is quoted by Consumer Reports as attesting.

This part of the article is noteworthy:

While experts we interviewed don’t necessarily agree on what is causing the explosions of glass, they align on this: The bigger the expanse of glass, the harder to ensure that it won’t shatter.

Hyundai introduces its industry-first 'panorama sunroof airbag'. PHOTO FROM HYUNDAI

Perhaps to address this, Hyundai’s aftermarket parts subsidiary (Hyundai Mobis) has just unveiled what it claims to be the world’s first-ever “panorama sunroof airbag,” which the company is touting as having a deployment time of just 0.08 second. Registering no fewer than 11 patents for the technology, Hyundai says that “in the event of a rollover, the panorama sunroof airbag system prevents passengers from spilling from the car, and can reduce the risk of them sustaining serious injuries.”

Then again, the reported shattering incidents in the US didn’t happen during rollovers, so it’s unclear if the airbag can help fix the issue. Still, it’s good to know that the Korean automaker is being proactive with the safety of its products. Let’s hope other brands follow suit.

In the meantime, you might want to wait for the arrival of sunroof airbags before purchasing a vehicle with an expansive glass roof.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.