More cars now include a sunroof, and those sunroofs have gotten larger over the years. Panoramic sunroofs first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-2000s, but some of them pose a risk of exploding. In a study of the problem, 859 complaints were filed with the U.S. government between 1995 and 2017, and of those, 82 involved Nissan vehicles, according to Consumer Reports.
Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Nissan alleging that panoramic sunroofs have exploded and that Nissan knew about the issue but failed to replace them or reimburse owners for repairs even if the vehicle was still under warranty.
‘Janelle Horne, et al., v. Nissan North America, Inc., and Nissan Motor Company, LTD’
Janelle Horne, the plaintiff in one case, leased an Infiniti QX80, according to Car Complaints. She was driving with her husband and four kids when their sunroof exploded. Her husband pulled off the highway and found there was glass in the interior of their SUV.
The dealership first claimed rocks must have hit the outside of the sunroof, but it did agree to replace the sunroof for free after the plaintiff threatened to tell the media. The plaintiff was, however, responsible for other expensive repairs, including to the SUV’s paint.
The 2017 lawsuit alleges that Nissan and Infiniti vehicles from model years 2008 to the present with factory-installed sunroofs made of tempered glass have a risk of their sunroofs exploding. It covered owners and lessees in the state of California, so it ended up being included under the second lawsuit.
‘Johnson v. Nissan North America, Inc.’
In the second class-action lawsuit, plaintiff Sherida Johnson was driving a used 2016 Nissan Maxima to work when its panoramic sunroof exploded. The dealer then wouldn’t cover the cost of replacing the sunroof, even though the car was within the 3-year/36,000-mile warranty period. While insurance covered some of the cost, Johnson still had to pay $185.
A second plaintiff, Subrina Seenarain, was driving a used 2014 Nissan Maxima when its panoramic sunroof exploded as well. A Nissan representative said the warranty did not cover the damage, and Seenarain paid more than $1,000 to repair the sunroof.
The 2017 lawsuit lists a nationwide concern for the following models with affected panoramic sunroofs: 2008–present Nissan Altima; 2011–present Nissan Juke; 2008–present Nissan Maxima; 2009–present Nissan Murano; 2008–present Nissan Pathfinder; 2008–present Nissan Rogue; and 2008–present Nissan Sentra.
Nissan filed a motion to dismiss, saying that broken glass isn’t covered by warranties and therefore broken sunroofs aren’t either. The judge dismissed some claims in certain states but left others to proceed. The case was scheduled for mediation on April 30th, 2019, but results are unknown.
The cause of the exploding sunroof
Both lawsuits explain that the sunroof is made of tempered glass that includes multiple layers. Tempered glass is stronger, but it can explode if there is a problem with one of the compressed layers. A panoramic sunroof uses thinner glass to save on weight and also improve the vehicle’s fuel economy. The lawsuits suggest that thinner glass is hard to properly temper.
In addition, the Nissan sunroofs have ceramic enamel around the edges, which is applied before tempering. The lawsuits allege that this ceramic enamel weakens the structural strength of the sunroof since the glass and paint expand differently.
The dangers of exploding sunroofs
When the sunroof explodes, it can pose a danger to people inside the vehicle. While tempered glass breaks into chunks, a broken sunroof can still send a large amount of glass flying into the cabin, causing injuries. The glass explodes with a very loud sound, and startled drivers are at risk of swerving or crashing.
The cost to Nissan owners
Upgrading a vehicle to include a panoramic sunroof adds roughly $1,000 to the buyer’s price. Repairing or replacing one of these sunroofs can cost owners $1,000 to $2,000. While insurance may cover some of the costs, not all owners were able to have the full amount covered.
According to Consumer Reports, Nissan isn’t the only auto manufacturer facing these concerns. There are 35 brands and 208 models with exploding sunroofs. Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen each are named in class-action lawsuits regarding sunroofs.