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Shattering sunroofs: Audi latest to issue a recall

Hyundai Veloster
A Hyundai Veloster at the Chicago Auto Show in February, 2012. Hyundai has issued several recalls of the model because of the danger of the sunroof shattering.Nam Y. Huh / AP file

Sunroofs are intended to give you a clear view of the heavens above without the hassle – or cost – of buying a convertible. But few owners are likely to anticipate the problems that have so far snared at least three automakers, according to reports on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Audi is the latest manufacturer to order a recall because the sunroofs on several models can unexpectedly shatter – creating not only a crisis in a rainstorm but also the risk of an accident, warns NHTSA.

Hyundai has already had to order several recalls due to a problem with shattering sunroofs in its Veloster line, and its sibling Kia brand is now facing an investigation by federal safety regulators looking into reports of a similar issue with the smaller Korean carmaker’s Sorento model. NHTSA is also looking into similar problems reported by owners of other brands’ products

The Audi recall covers all 2013 and 2014 A8 premium luxury sedans and the sportier S8 version. According to a statement from NHTSA, a shattering sunroof could be a serious problem, noting that, “Should the sunroof's glass break while the vehicle is in use, the falling glass could injure the driver or passengers. It could also distract the driver, increasing the risk of a crash.”

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The number of vehicles affected by the Audi recall is relatively small, about 1,120 in all. In the case of the new investigation into Kia sunroofs, as many as 64,117 vehicles could eventually be targeted by a recall should federal and corporate safety investigators determine the problem is severe enough.

The feds have so far received 15 consumer complaints that the Sorento’s optional sunroof has shattered unexpectedly. At least one motorist reportedly suffered minor cuts as a result. Kia says it has launched its own investigation, noting that, "To date, the identified cause of investigated sunroof breakage has been debris impact or hail."

The problem is not entirely new. In earlier years, when many motorists had to purchase sunroofs through aftermarket vendors, there were a number of problems with poor design and installation. Water leaks were common, and shattering was not unheard of. The problem can be triggered by a poor design, especially in vehicles with body rigidity issues that might cause the frame of the sunroof to flex, putting pressure on glass panes.

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But there has been a burst of incidents since last year, Hyundai recalling 13,500 of its Veloster models after NHTSA investigated claims by some owners that their sunroofs had “shattered or exploded.” The majority of the cases on federal files occurred at highway speeds when any sort of driver distraction can be most dangerous, beyond the actual potential for injury from flying glass shards.

Hyundai expanded its sunroof recall in March, adding another 6,100 Veloster hatchbacks to the list.

A number of other manufacturers have had complaints filed about sunroof problems though there are no current open investigations beyond the one at Kia.

In the case of Audi, all repairs will be made by dealers at no charge to owners.