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One of Kelly Blue Book’s top picks for best family car, the Subaru Outback (a multi-year winner), is currently the subject of a lawsuit. The reason? Spontaneous windshield breakage. It sounds unlikely, but numerous Outback and Legacy owners have filed complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding the issue.

The manufacturer responded by extending the windshield warranty, but consumers say it didn’t fix the defect. According to the lawsuit, owners reported that their replacement glass also suffered from spontaneous windshield breakage. Other owners also allege dealers denied them warranty coverage and had to pay for the new windshield out of pocket.

So, how can you, as a consumer, protect yourself in the event of spontaneous windshield breakage, or, the more frequently reported spontaneous sunroof breakage?

What is Spontaneous Windshield Breakage?


Spontaneous windshield breakage isn’t very common, but it does happen, as evident by the Subaru case. Rocks and road debris are often the culprit of windshield damage. This affects drivers approximately once every eight years on average. There’s always a reason for the damage—even when it’s “spontaneous.”

In the case of Subaru, the company sent out windshield recalls stating the breakage was due to the vehicle’s wiper park heater. The wiper park heater area is located at the bottom of a windshield. It helps free windshield wipers in icy conditions by working in conjunction with a vehicle’s defroster.

According to the company, the compound used to adhere the heating element to the glass caused superficial damage that quickly turned into structural cracks.

This mean that there was no evident point of impact. Instead, the damage occurred when the heating element and defroster were turned on at the same time. Bob Beranek, president of Automotive Glass Consultants Inc., says this concentration of heat caused a minor divot which became an unrepairable crack.

He warns that, in this particular case, the spontaneous windshield breakage could easily be confused with a stress fracture or thermal break. This is mainly because the spontaneous breakage occurred where stress fractures and thermal breaks tend to be located which is at the bottom of the windshield.

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Is My Subaru Windshield Under Warranty?

While the Subaru lawsuit is ongoing, it brings to light a few things consumers should know about automotive warranties and recalls, in particular, relating to glass.

First, most auto manufacturers don’t include glass in their warranties. That’s not to say a manufacturer won’t issue a recall for a vehicle’s windshield or sunroof. However, that’s usually due to a design or manufacturing defect. More than likely, you won’t see windshields included in warranty coverage. As Beranek said, “I never knew there was such a thing as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) windshield warranty. But apparently there is.”

Second, if your vehicle’s windshield or sunroof is recalled, the dealer likely will only fix it if it’s an original equipment (OE) part. Therefore, if an Outback owner had his windshield replaced, and the spontaneous breakage occurred, the company would likely not fix it. In short, aftermarket windshields don’t apply to recalls or manufacturer warranties. However, that doesn’t mean you should not have your windshield properly repaired or replaced should it be damaged. Windshields are designed to protect the vehicle’s occupant, and a damaged one will only hurt the vehicle’s structural integrity.

Third, spontaneous windshield damage will not have a point of impact. This can be tricky since the damage resembles stress fractures and thermal breaks, so be sure to check with a certified installer who will be able to determine the type of damage. If the technician finds no point of impact, contact your local dealer or visit the NHTSA website and see if your vehicle is on recall for a windshield defect.

Spontaneous Sunroof Breakage

You may have heard of spontaneously exploding panoramic sunroofs lately, as it’s more common than spontaneous windshield breakage, but it still doesn’t happen frequently.

There are a number of lawsuits against major auto manufacturers for this reason. Most of the plaintiffs in these lawsuits suggest it has to do with the type of glass being installed. Auto glass technicians, however, don’t necessarily agree that the type of glass being used is at fault.

There are a variety of reasons why sunroofs or windshields could spontaneously break, and consulting with a trained technician could get to the root of the problem.

Now What?

If you’ve experienced spontaneous windshield breakage or an exploding sunroof, can help find a qualified technician near you to help resolve the problem. If the technician finds no point of impact, you might be a victim of spontaneous windshield breakage.

In that case, contact your dealership and see if your auto glass is on a recall. You can also search NHTSA’s website for all of the latest safety issues and recalls.

If you’ve experienced spontaneous windshield breakage, we’d like to hear from you. Feel free to leave us a comment detailing your experience. If you have a damaged windshield, be sure to use the affiliate locater service to find a trained technician in your area.

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



Katherine Coig

Katherine (Kat) Coig, editor of WINDOW FILM magazine, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, with a bachelor of science in grammar and English. She is responsible for WINDOW FILM magazine, its e-newsletter, and the award winning FILM’d newscast. As assistant editor of USGlass, she travels to industry events, and writes news and feature articles for the publication. In her spare time, Kat loves to paint (acrylics), and she too is a runner and also has a new-found love of boxing.

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53 Responses

  1. Thanks for all of the comments… I guess… This sucks. I have already filed a claim with NHTSA if that helps.

    Like many of you, I parked my 17 STI in the driveway after work with a windshield without a crack. I wake up to go to work and have a crack originating from the bottom of the windshield between the wipers that goes up and right into the driver’s visions. I can’t emphasize enough that there are no impact marks, no rock chips, and the car was parked overnight (50 degrees) – Yet spontaneously I have an 8 inch crack across my windshield.

    Absolute BS that Subaru cannot do anything about it.. How many times will we replace windshield without impact over the course of owning the car? RECALL!!!

  2. Yesterday I parked my 2016 Outback in front of a friends house. When I came out two hours later the rear window ( hatch window) was smashed. There was a big hole in the middle and the remaining glad was shattered with a thousand cracks going every which way. It was a hot day, 33 degrees Celsius. No baseball, no dead bird, no street hockey puck, and half the crumbled glass was in the back of the car and the other was on the ground. I had to pull the remaining glass out and sweep up the debris. Very sad. The dealership said they had never heard of this happening. Apparently the dealers here don’t do glass replacement. Not sure where to go as this isn’t the windshield.

  3. This entry was posted in glassBYTEs Original Story and tagged 2016 Subaru Outback and Legacy, spontaneous windshield breakage, Subaru. Bookmark the permalink .

  4. 2020 Subaru Forester that I bought just 2 months ago, had a cracked windshield which i noticed first thing in the morning. The prior Lexus that I drove for 100,000 miles had a lot of chips on it because it was 2004 model but never did the chips spread. The forester now has a gash of about 12 inches cracking around the area where the rearview mirror meets the windshield. I know for sure that nothing hit my car. This is ridiculous. I took the car to the dealership and they say they can see a point of impact which caused it. Of course they don’t believe me when I say that nothing of this sort happened. I also told them that even let’s say it is a small chip, it shouldn’t spread like this and cause this amount of damage, but it fell on deaf ears. I thought “love” is what makes a Subaru a Subaru. But it seems like, forget love, this company doesn’t have the basic decency. Upon closer inspection I am finding that there are a few other chips around on the windshield which are waiting in order to become cracks. I bought this vehicle with a lot of interest, I am really disappointed and I sincerely think I did make a mistake in choosing Subaru. Buyers beware. Reported this to NHTSA, I don’t know what else can I do.

  5. We just bought a brand new 2021 Outback Premier.
    Not even 650 miles on it and the windshield cracked while parked overnight in our driveway.
    Dealer refuses to repair.. I would return the car if I could.
    Subaru should do better by its customers.. now I’ve got a 30 k loan on a car I don’t trust with dealers who have already shown they only care about making the sale.. not helping the owners with a known issue.

  6. I agree with everything you just said.. and I am in the same boat.
    Subaru should stand by its product.
    I feel I’ve made a mistake too…a chip does not do this kind of damage.
    And its not just the windshield they get you for.. its the recalibration of the iSight system that is the real double whammy! They wont cover that either.
    The car has 640 miles on it. have NOT EVEN MADE THE 1st PAYMENT yet and cant drive it due to safety concerns

  7. I have a 2019 Subaru Outback. I experienced what I determined was a spontaneous crack within a month of my brand new vehicle purchase. I bought late August of 2019 and had my first crack in Sept 2019. I just recently experienced another crack March 18, 2021. I can’t think of any incident where there was a strike to my windshield. Neither time was my windshield covered by Subaru under warranty. Even if they offer to pay for some of the windshield, this windshield situation really adds significantly to cost of ownership for my car.

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