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Shattered Sunroof Explained: Here’s What To Do

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Your car’s sunroof is a great feature, but it does require some maintenance. Watch out for leaks, malfunctioning buttons, or worst of all, shattered glass. Nobody wants to deal with a shattered sunroof, but if it does happen to you, has some steps you can take until you schedule its replacement. 

Can Sunroofs Spontaneously Explode?

You’re driving down the road and suddenly you have a shattered sunroof. It’s certainly a dramatic and jolting experience. Although it may seem like a freak accident, it’s not a unique experience. There have been several news reports of families who have experienced this scenario. One major story involved a family in Virginia who reported that, while driving along Loudoun County Parkway, their SUV’s sunroof shattered without warning. Some automakers have even issued recalls over a faulty sunroof. All kinds of autos have been involved in recalls, so it’s a good idea to regularly check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database to see if your vehicle’s model has been recalled. 

Other Sunroof Issues to Watch Out For

Sunroofs and moonroofs, regardless of the vehicle make and model, are not entirely maintenance-free. Before we dive into those glass breakage problems, let’s understand some of the other things that could happen to your sunroof.

Sunroof Water Leaks

The most common problem is water leakage. Avoid a wet mess inside your vehicle by routinely opening your sunroof and inspecting the drain holes in both front corners. Leakage can be caused by clogging in these drains. Thankfully, this problem is easy to solve with a shop vacuum to remove debris. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to contact an auto glass shop to help with the repair. You definitely don’t want a leak to get out of control. This can lead to more problems including stains, mildew, and rust.

Sunroof Won’t Open

Try as you might, sometimes your sunroof refuses to operate properly. This is usually caused by one of three things:

  1. A bad switch
  2. A dead motor
  3. Faulty wiring

None of these are quick fixes, so it may be time to take your vehicle to the shop where they can make adjustments. In the meantime, it’s important to clean the sunroof tracks regularly to minimize dirt and debris. Not only can this lead to leaks, it can cause your sunroof to get stuck either open or closed.  

What Kinds of Sunroofs Are There?

The type of sunroof in your vehicle depends on the make and model. Some styles have a straightforward manual operation while some power options can be very high-tech. 

  • Panoramic sunroof. Sometimes referred to as a moonroof, this large type of sunroof allows both front and rear passengers to enjoy the fresh air and view of the sky day or night. 
  • Pop-up sunroof. This type of sunroof includes a tilting panel that is operated manually. This is a typically older style that doesn’t require electrical control. 
  • Spoiler sunroof. This type of power sunroof features a panel that tilts up and slides backward on the exterior of the car, providing a partial opening and maintaining a sleek look.
  • Top-mount sliding sunroof. This sunroof panel is mounted on rails and slides open on the exterior of the vehicle.

Why Do Sunroofs Shatter?

The number of complaints about a shattering sunroof may be rising, which may be due to more vehicles being manufactured with sunroofs, especially larger sunroofs, than ever before. Sunroofs aren’t new, but there has been a surge in popularity, and the larger glass sizes can come with higher statistics of breakage.

While some blame size for contributing to more and more broken or shattered sunroofs, others blame the switch to a different type of glass. Still, others blame it on physics, change in temperature, or any other number of factors. 

Other causes are easier to explain. Accidental breakages from rocks, tree branches, severe hail, or debris are not unheard of. Sports accidents like a baseball through the glass are also known to happen.

Spontaneously Shattered Sunroof

More dramatically, sunroofs are known to shatter with no warning – generally while the vehicle is being driven. Some people describe the sound of a shattered sunroof as an explosion, which is understandable since the shattering can be quite loud when the fragments of glass rain down. Many say it sounds like a gunshot, which can be very frightening.

Whenever one of these situations occurs, it always seems to make the news, perhaps making it seem more common than it really is. Recently, Consumer Reports published a research report, which gave these cases even more visibility. 

Consumer Reports analyzed complaints listed in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database. Since 1995, there have been at least 208 car models and 35 automotive brands listed in complaints to the federal government about exploding sunroofs. Hyundai, Ford, and Nissan were the top three automakers against whom consumers filed complaints. The Scion tC, Hyundai Veloster, and Kia Sorento were the top three models. 

Remember that despite these situations, there are millions of cars equipped with a sunroof, and the actual probability of a spontaneously shattered sunroof remains very slim.shattered-sunroof

What Causes a Spontaneously Shattered Sunroof or Break While Driving?

Spontaneous breakage can happen to any glass in a vehicle, including the side windows or back windshield. However, it’s most common with sunroofs. Spontaneous auto glass breakage occurs because these types of auto glass are made from tempered glass. The tempering process, which involves extreme heating and cooling temperatures, adds durability to the glass, but it does make it more brittle. This type of glass is meant to break into millions of tiny pieces instead of large jagged shards, ultimately minimizing injury during an accident.

The shattered sunroof doesn’t necessarily mean the glass was hit by a piece of debris or any other object. Any flaw in tempered glass can cause the pane to shatter under pressure. Some of these flaws may have occurred during manufacturing.

Retired glass consultant Bob Brown says that if tempered glass shatters spontaneously, it’s because a contaminant has found its way into the glass. This contaminant then escaped to the surface or the edge of the glass. In a recent article in Auto Glass Repair and Replacement magazine, sunroof installers say the cause is likely a matter of physics or torque or both.

Neal Ailstock, an installer with Seatco in Springfield, Virginia, says the way the glass is held in place has a lot to do with the spontaneous explosions of tempered auto glass. Ailstock says the glass is usually held in place by “two beads of high-strength urethane. That glass can’t move.  [But] it has to flex.” His theory is that this ability to flex is important to the vehicle in motion. “When a car goes too fast around a corner, the body starts to flex,” Ailstock explains. “But the glass is glued in and can’t move so something’s got to give.”

5 Steps to Recovering From a Shattered Sunroof

You should always take your vehicle to a reputable auto glass repair shop for sunroof repair. An incorrectly installed sunroof is at risk of more damage, leaks, and other problems. 

In the event of a shattered sunroof or glass explosion, take the following steps to ensure a complete recovery.

  • Make sure you are safe.

If your sunroof broke while you were driving, pull over to a safe area immediately. Most drivers are shocked by the sudden gunshot-like sound of the breakage, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be injured because the tempered glass is intended to shatter “safely.” Call 911 if you are injured or seriously concerned for your safety. Exit the vehicle and thoroughly check yourself and your passengers for any glass fragments that may be clinging to your clothes.

  • Transport your vehicle.

If you can safely drive yourself back home, cover the sunroof opening and take your vehicle into an enclosed garage if possible. If the vehicle is unsafe, unusable, or you are too far from safety, call a tow truck. They can transport your vehicle to a shop where your sunroof can be correctly repaired.

  • Clean up the broken glass.

Even though tempered glass is meant to shatter into pieces small enough that they are unlikely to cause serious injury, it is still possible to be cut by the broken glass. To clean up broken tempered glass, wear safety gloves to pick up large pieces of glass and dispose of them in a heavy-duty garbage bag. You may wish to layer two bags together so the glass doesn’t cut through. Be very careful of sharp shards. Next, use a high-powered vacuum cleaner with a vacuum bag to clean the entire area where the glass has fallen. Vacuum the area again and dispose of that vacuum bag as well using the same method.

  • Cover the exposed opening.

If you have a shattered sunroof, there are multiple schools of thought on the correct way to cover an open sunroof. Choose the method that makes the most sense for your situation:

  • Call an auto dealership detail area and ask for automotive carpet plastic film.
  • Contact an auto body shop for a piece of crash wrap.
  • Check with your local hardware store for a durable plastic sheet to combat the elements until you can get the vehicle repaired. You can cut the sheet to fit and use automotive tape around the edges to secure it. Silicone tape is more water resistant but may be harsher on your car’s finish than automotive tape.
  • In a pinch, duct tape makes a straightforward solution.
  • Schedule the sunroof repair. 

Use to schedule your sunroof repair through a reputable glass shop. offers nationwide coverage through its sunroof specialist. 

Finding a Company That Can Help with a Broken or Shattered Sunroof

While replacing the shattered sunroof glass isn’t a difficult job, not all auto glass repair and replacement shops can do it. With the multitude of sunroofs available on today’s market, it may be difficult to find replacement parts to fit your particular model. You may have the choice between an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) sunroof or an aftermarket version. The option you choose depends on your needs, budget, and the availability of your vehicle’s replacement parts.

Over the years, there have been a variety of style changes in sunroofs, so some models may be discontinued. If your required part is unavailable, you may need to visit a specialty shop.

If you find yourself in this situation, search for a quality replacement shop, find out how much it will cost to replace the glass and get the broken sunroof glass replaced quickly. 

Remember – a spontaneously shattered sunroof is rare. If you enjoy the view through a sunroof, don’t let this improbable event deter you from splurging on that option when purchasing your next vehicle. But if you do find yourself facing any issues with your sunroof, know that is here to help. Our locator tool makes it easy to find a reputable sunroof replacement shop in your area.

Please note, this article may contain links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate, earns from qualifying purchases.



Carrie Smucker

Carrie Smucker is a contributing writer for She enjoys reading, hiking, exploring new places, and trying new recipes. When she's not writing about glass, she is committed to finding a complementary sauce for every dish. Find out more about Carrie on Linkedin.

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