PEI·CBC Investigates

P.E.I. couple wants answers after vehicle sunroof shatters while driving

A P.E.I. couple is questioning the safety of vehicle sunroofs after the glass roof on their 2014 Nissan Rogue shattered while they were driving.

Transport Canada part of UN working group, investigating shattering panoramic sunroofs

The sunroof of the 2014 Nissan Rogue owned by Jeffery and Kari Reynolds shattered suddenly, just after they had crossed the Confederation Bridge into New Brunswick. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A P.E.I. couple is questioning the safety of vehicle sunroofs after the glass roof on their 2014 Nissan Rogue shattered while they were driving.

Jeffery and Kari Reynolds say they had just crossed the Confederation Bridge into New Brunswick when they heard the glass break above the sunroof shade, which was drawn.  

"It was just like a loud pop, and it just shattered. This wasn't like one little rock chip," said Kari Reynolds, who was driving at the time.

"All I can say is thank God the [sunshade] was across, because ... we could've gone off the road. It could've been a lot worse than it was."

It was just like a loud pop, and it just shattered.- Kari Reynolds 

The Reynolds immediately pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and got out of the vehicle. 

"And there [were] all the tiny fragments of it sitting on top," said Jeffery Reynolds. "It was a bright sunny day, nothing on the roads, nobody around us. So I was like 'what happened?' I was shocked. I'm still befuddled."

Kari Reynolds was driving when she suddenly heard a loud 'pop' overhead. She says she immediately pulled over and found the sunroof had shattered, with tiny pieces of glass sitting on the sunshade. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

When contacted by CBC, a spokesperson with Nissan Canada said in a statement: "Nissan does not have evidence of any issue related to the design or manufacturing of moon/sun roofs equipped on Nissan vehicles. Owners with damaged moon/sun roofs should submit comprehensive claims to the owners' insurer."

Transport Canada agrees with Nissan's statement. While the government agency said it has recorded four complaints about shattered sunroofs on the 2014 Nissan Rogue, the "department has not identified any specific defect with sunroofs in Nissan Rogue vehicles."

Shattered sunroofs spark complaints 

But it's clear it doesn't take a defect for a sunroof to shatter.

Since 2000, Transport Canada said it has recorded 457 complaints about shattered sunroofs on a range of makes and models of vehicles, 36 of which led to "minor cuts or abrasions." 

Nearly all, 426 of those complaints, have come in since 2013.

"Sunroofs are becoming more and more common," said Victor Van Hul, manager of Good Guys Auto Glass in Charlottetown. 

"As more Canadians buy more cars with these sunroofs, you're going to get more of these cases. Some sunroofs will fail ... It could easily happen."

Transport Canada said it "inspects shattered sunroofs to identify a possible cause, documents consumer complaints and relays this information to the motor vehicle industry to help identify trends or commonalities that could determine whether safety defect exists." 

Most cases from external damage

The agency said 10 of the 457 complaints were tied to defects in Kia Sorento 2011-2013 sunroofs, and two to defects in Hyundai Veloster 2012 sunroofs. In both cases, those sunroofs were recalled. 

But a spokesperson for the agency said "the majority of cases appear to be the result of external damage from contact with debris or damage from usage — for example, stress scratches from loading objects onto a roof rack."

The agency also said it's part of the United Nations informal working group for panoramic sunroof glazing that was "established to investigate potential causes of shattering sunroofs, and develop improved global testing and evaluation methods for sunroof glazing."

While it hasn't given any timelines, Transport Canada says it plans to evaluate the findings of that UN group, which could lead to "potential regulatory changes" to sunroof safety standards. 

Victor Van Hul, manager of Good Guys Auto Glass in Charlottetown, says the laminate glass used in windshields will chip and crack, but is less likely to shatter than the tempered glass used in most sunroofs. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Transport Canada said that under current standards, all automotive glass must meet minimum strength requirements. The agency said windshields must be constructed from laminated glass while allowing other glass to be tempered. And tempered glass must be designed to break into small pieces to avoid injury. 

The agency recorded just 35 complaints of shattered windshields since 2000.  

Automotive glass repair shops that CBC has spoken to say many vehicle sunroofs they deal with use the tempered or toughened glass, which shatters into tiny, dull pieces when it breaks. 

CAA calls for review

The Reynolds' concerns are shared by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), which advocates for Canadian drivers and wants Transport Canada to review its safety standards for vehicle sunroofs. 

"It absolutely needs to be looked at, to see if we do need to change the rules around what kind of glass is used in sunroofs," said CAA spokesperson Ian Jack. 

"If your sunroof shatters on top of your head as you're driving down the highway, clearly you're going to be in some distress at that point," he said. "So even if the shattered glass doesn't hurt you, there's the possibility of something else bad happening shortly thereafter."

The Canadian Automobile Association is calling on Transport Canada to review its safety standards for sunroofs. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The Reynolds said it's disconcerting to know sunroof glass can shatter. 

"Whenever I came home, I Googled it and [saw] all these other cases," said Kari. "I was like, 'Oh my God. If I had done better research before I bought a vehicle, I never would've bought one with a sunroof.'"

About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.