Let Joe Know: What caused an exploding sunroof?

Posted at 7:46 PM, Oct 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-02 22:46:11-04

Exploding car sunroofs may not be as rare as you think, but the cause and blame behind those explosions is more complicated.

Travis Hawthorne says he and his family thought someone with a gun was after them when they heard an explosion on a Valley highway.

"I grabbed the steering wheel and said hit the gas," Travis told us, talking to his wife.

When the family pulled over, they said they just saw a lot of glass.

Travis told us he searched the car and found no rock and no bullet, but the sunroof on their 2011 Kia Sportage had shattered. Thankfully, the glass missed their 7-year-old child in the back seat.

A check of complaints in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database shows a dozen owners of 2011-2014 Kia Sportages complained about shattering sunroofs, including Travis.

They said things like "I heard a loud pop" and  "sunroof blew out almost causing an accident" and "it just exploded for no reason."

Travis tells us Kia wouldn't take responsibility when he took the car in. That's when he let me know.

We asked Kia about the situation, and in a statement to us about Travis' car, a Kia spokesperson said:  "Not enough panoramic roof glass remained to permit an impact inspection."  

Kia also says they identified "impact points to the hood, windshield, and roof" consistent with "impacts from objects hitting the vehicle" and there was "no evidence" of any other cause.

Travis told us there is a crack in their used car windshield near the wipers, but also says that was from a previous incident and had nothing to do with the roof.

So how common is this? There have been sunroof breakage recalls involving Audi and Hyundai vehicles, but there's been no similar recalls for Kia model cars.

Records do show NHTSA has an ongoing investigation into 26 reports of sunroof breakage involving another Kia SUV, the 2011-2013 Kia Sorento models.

NHTSA records also show that Kia told them the same thing as they told us about Travis, that the 26 breakage incidents "were occurring due to road object impacts."

With another baby on the way, Travis says the $2,300 price tag for a new sunroof is too high for them. He told us he would be happy with Kia paying their $500 insurance deductible.

A class action lawsuit was filed against Kia involving 5 Kia models, including the Sportage, and shattering sunroofs.

Click here to check the NHTSA database for recalls.

Here's Kia's full statement to ABC 15:

Kia Motors America (KMA) places a priority on safety and takes reported customer concerns seriously. Automotive sunroofs are subject to breakage due to impact damage from rocks and road debris, but claims involving damage to any Kia vehicle sunroof are still reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Based on physical inspections of the customer's vehicle, not enough panoramic roof glass remained to permit an impact evaluation. During these inspections, Kia identified a series of impact points to the hood, windshield and roof which are consistent with significant impacts from objects hitting the vehicle. There was no evidence that any cause for

this incident other than an external impact existed.

This conclusion is consistent with KMA's evaluations of the performance of its panoramic sunroofs as part of ongoing vehicle monitoring activities conducted as a standard practice on all models. Only foreign objects such as rocks and road debris have been identified as the cause of sunroof breakage, supporting the fact that Kia sunroofs are appropriately designed and manufactured. Kia has shared all of its information and findings with NHTSA and will continue to do so in the future.
Based on KMA's evaluation, it recommended the customer file an insurance claim for road damage to cover the cost of repair.

If a vehicle is determined to have failed to function properly during normal use, and is within the warranty period, KMA provides for parts and/or repair(s) at no cost to the customer. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact KMA's Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).