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?
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 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.
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.
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.
If you’ve experienced spontaneous windshield breakage or an exploding sunroof, Glass.com 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 Glass.com affiliate locater service to find a trained technician in your area.
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