You’re cruising happily down the highway with the sun streaming through your sunroof when suddenly, there’s a loud noise and glass is exploding everywhere. Sounds scary, right? That’s what Volkswagen owners say in a new lawsuit accusing the company of failing to warn them that this could possibly happen in a slew of vehicles.
A lawsuit [PDF] seeking class-action status filed in a California district court claims that Volkswagen has known sunroofs installed in many of its car models may spontaneously explode, and allegedly failed to warn customers of this before they purchased vehicles.
Noting that “sunroofs pose a significant engineering challenge” — replacing metal parts of the car’s roof with large plates of glass “requires precision in the strengthening, attachment, and stabilization of the glass” — the lawsuit claims that VW has failed to meet those challenges, “and as a result, many of the vehicles designed, and distributed by VW have sunroofs which spontaneously shatter.”
“The shattering events are so powerful that startled drivers compare it to the sound of a gunshot, after which glass fragments rain down upon the occupants of the vehicle, sometimes while driving at highway speeds,” reads the complaint.
Here are the VW models equipped with factory-installed sunroofs mentioned in the case:
• 2005 – 2017 Jetta models
• 2015 – 2017 Golf models
• 2006 – 2015 GTI models
• 2009 – 2010 CC models
• 2007 – 2016 Eos models
• 2006 – 2009 Rabbit models
• 2012 – 2017 Passat models
• 2004 – 2006 Touareg models
• 2011 – 2017 Touareg models
• 2008 R32 Base
• 2009 – 2017 Tiguan models
A litany of reports
The plaintiff in the lawsuit says she purchased her 2013 Jetta at the end of her lease in June 2016. Recently, she says she was driving on the freeway when suddenly, “a loud ‘BOOM’ like a gunshot/explosion went off in her car, followed by a hail of glass falling on her head and the interior of the vehicle.”
The complaint says she noticed a large hole in the center of her windshield, with the edges “pointing outward/upward, indicating that the break came from the inside.”
She had to pay out of pocket for some expenses related to the incident.
She’s not alone, the lawsuit says, claiming VW knew about the alleged sunroof problems before the plaintiff leased her vehicle in 2013, citing reports from “at least” 57 owners and lessees of VW vehicles who have reported similar sunroof-explosion incidents to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, starting back in 2009.
“I was driving on the interstate at about 60 mph and I heard a loud bang, like a gun shot,” one complaint from the driver of a 2010 VW GTI reads. “I looked around, and looked up, and noticed my sunroof had exploded into a million little pieces,” the driver adds, writing that a large chunk of the sunroof fell on them after they drove to an exit, and that they had glass “in the car, hair, and ground into my skin a bit — some of it is very fine and sharp, like sparkly powder.”
The driver says that the dealership said it was likely that a rock hit the sunroof, “but I don’t think a rock could have a velocity in the vertical direction at that speed to hit and smash the glass,” they added.
“Sunroof shattered while driving in the country,” the driver of a 2013 Jetta wrote in another complaint, “no other cars nearby, nothing overhead, no apparent reason, it just blew up, throwing glass everywhere. Luckily my five- and six-year-old were not in the backseat.”
One recall isn’t enough
Not only has VW known of the defect through NHTSA complaints and consumer complaints lodged directly with the carmaker and its dealerships, the lawsuit claims that VW is aware of the issue through its own testing. To that end, the car company has already issued a recall [PDF] related to shattering sunroofs for its 2013-2015 Beetle.
In that recall, VW noted that “glass sunroofs in the affected vehicles may break when the vehicles are operated over a hard road surface or strike a pothole.”
Despite issuing a recall for just that model, the lawsuit claims that VW “has done nothing regarding the far more predominant problem relating to all regular and panoramic sunroof shattering that affects potentially hundreds of thousands or more VW vehicles.”
And while the carmaker has “at times taken the position that the sunroofs in question have shattered as a result of impact from roadway objects,” the lawsuit reads, rocks and other objects thrown up by cars and trucks “would not impact the sunroof with sufficient force to cause it to shatter, let alone shatter outward, a fact that appears in many consumer complaints and of which VW is aware.”
Additionally, the lawsuit claims that driver reports have contradicted VW’s position, noting that “some VW sunroofs have spontaneously shattered (‘outward’) while the vehicles were parked.”
It’s not just VW owners who have had vehicles with sunroof problems, the lawsuit notes: Audi (which is owned by VW) and Hyundai have voluntarily initiated safety recalls as a result, “notifying drivers of the danger and offering to repair the sunroofs free of cost.”
The complaint argues that “a reasonable person considering whether to purchase or lease a VW vehicle would want to be informed” about the alleged sunroof issue, “so that he or she could opt against paying thousands of dollars for a ‘luxury upgrade’ which is clearly unsafe, or simply forego purchasing or leasing the vehicle altogether.”
If VW had told the plaintiff about the alleged sunroof defect, she would not have leased and subsequently purchased the vehicle or she would have paid substantially less for it,” the lawsuit reads. She also wouldn’t have “suffered the economic damages she sustained” from repairs.
But despite the the high number of complaints and the danger posed by the alleged defect, “VW continues to conceal its existence from current drivers and potential customers alike,” the complaint claims, saying that VW doesn’t warn consumers at the point of sale or lease, nor when drivers who have experienced a shattered sunroof bring a car in for repairs, “thus making no effort to alert consumers of the risk.”
“VW knows of the defect yet continues to profit from the sale and lease of vehicles to unwitting consumers,” the suit reads.
In addition, although the plaintiff claims her vehicle was still within the period covered by VW’s new vehicle warranty, she had to pay for repairs herself. The lawsuit alleges that the company has “systematically denied coverage with respect to the defective sunroofs,” and that she and others “have been forced to incur substantial repair bills and other related damages, including being forced to make claims under their automotive insurance policies and incurring substantial deductibles.”
The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial, class-action status, damages and other losses to be determined at trial, and an order requiring VW to adequately disclose and repair allegedly defective sunroofs and one to cease distributing cars with such sunroofs in the future, pending an investigation.
We’ve reached out to VW for comment on the lawsuit and will update this post if we receive a response.