I-TEAM: Mom's sunroof flies off, becomes 'highway bullet'

Car owner wants to warn others about potential dangers

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONIVILLE, Fla. - A local mother of three is afraid what happened to her could leave the next victim hurt -- or worse. Theresa Childs and her husband where headed from Jacksonville to a concert in Tampa, when her sunroof suddenly flew off and became a dangerous highway bullet. 

"It flew off in a rain storm near Orlando on the way to Tampa," Childs told the I-TEAM. "You should be able to drive down the road and expect that your sunroof isn't going to detach, fly up and hit the vehicles behind you."

Childs was driving 70 mph on I-4 when the sunroof on her 2005 Infiniti G35 flew off. She called the News4Jax to sound the alarm for other families.

"This type of thing could have killed somebody, like really could have killed somebody," she said.

Childs said she bought her sports car brand new in 2005, using it as a second car for just her and her husband. She left it under tarp, lock and key -- except for the occasional road trip.

"All of a sudden it sounded like somebody opened the door on an airplane it was just 'eeeccchhhh,' and we were just stunned," Childs explained. "You can see little spots where the adhesive is left behind. Just little dabs of it, but most of it is gone."

Childs said she reached out to Infiniti on Twitter, but said she was unhappy that the company only offered to pay half of the $1,100 repair bill.

"I said, 'What part of half of this is my responsibility?' I'm an Infiniti owner who was just simply driving down the road and my sunroof flew off, and the adhesive clearly has failed," she said. "It's a big fail by a big company."

Childs said what she really wants to see is a recall.

"What happens going forward as this adhesive on these sunroofs continue to fail?" she asked. "I think everybody needs to be really cautious about driving down the freeway behind a G35. I wouldn't do it now."

The I-TEAM reached out to Infiniti and Kyle W. Bazemore, Director of Infiniti Americas Corporate Communications, gave us this statement:

INFINITI met personally with the customer and reviewed her concern and the circumstances of her situation. While the customer’s vehicle has now been in service almost a dozen years and is more than seven years outside of its warranty, INFINITI offered to pay half of the repair cost. We continue to hope that the customer accepts this goodwill offer."

We read Infiniti's statement to Childs who responded by saying it's not completely accurate. She said no one from Infiniti met with her personally, adding she received one phone call from a representative.

Childs said her insurance company ended up paying for the repair.

Hundreds of sunroof complaints made to NHTSA

The I-TEAM began investigating sunroof explosions in January after a combat veteran in Jacksonville contacted us about the sunroof on his 2015 Volvo S60 suddenly shattering.

"I started feeling glass falling on my face," J.P. Ortiz said. 

The Purple Heart recipient, who suffers from post-traumatic stress, said it was distressing when his sunroof exploded while he was driving on I-95.

"Your PTSD kicks in and you just don't know where you're at," Ortiz explained.

He said Volvo offered him no refund -- citing a projectile likely hit his car causing the sunroof to shatter. It's something Ortiz denies happened.

SEE: Original story on veteran's sunroof shattering

The I-TEAM has been digging through National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records and have found over the last 10 years, more than 900 complaints involving sunroofs where they "exploded," shattered or flew off.

During that same time period, 10 reports made to NHTSA involved Infiniti vehicles and 9 reports involved Volvo vehicles. Of those Volvos, three were specific to sunroofs shattering during car washes. 

If your sunroof suffers damage -- which you believe is due to a defect -- the NHTSA recommends you take pictures and report it immediately to NHTSA. You can file a report either online or by calling the agency's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. You should also report the incident to the dealership where you bought the vehicle as well as the manufacturer.

As far as recalls go, Audi and Hyundai have both issued recalls for exploding sunroofs. And, aftermarket manufacturer Webasto recalled hundreds of thousands of sunroofs out of concern they could spontaneously break.

You can search your own vehicle's safety issues and recalls two ways:

Car owners can take preventative action

For drivers concerned about their sunroof shattering or coming loose from its adhesive, there is an option that could add a layer of protection.

"If you put an aftermarket tint on it, which is actually a film that you apply on the inside, it may make it a little darker of a glass. However, if the window did shatter, it would keep those shards of glass from coming down on you," explained auto repair specialist Aaron Nelson, owner of Aaron's Car Care.

I-TEAM: Checking your car's safety

Nelson said, while you can't predict a sunroof mishap, adding tint to the glass can help keep your family safe if it were to break.   

"I just can't imagine going down the highway and [the sunroof] shattering, and all the shards of glass just blowing through the car. And if you had kids in it, it can be a bad thing," added Nelson. "If it's over your head, you're driving, it could cause you to have an accident."

WATCH: Aaron Nelson's full interview on sunroofs

We called around to local tinting companies and found there can be pros and cons to tinting a sunroof. One company told us, depending on the tint, it could cause the glass to become more prone to breaking. Another told us it does recommend it and has been using reflective tint on sunroofs for more than a decade at an average cost of about $40.

The I-TEAM found a high percentage of the sunroof reports made to NHTSA were from owners in hot and humid environments, which Nelson wasn't surprised to hear. He said temperatures inside a vehicle can climb to 130 degrees and higher, causing materials to expand and contract. He said tinting the glass not only helps keep the glass intact if it shatters, but can also keep temperatures down inside the vehicle.  

One a side note, Nelson told us his wife's vehicle has a sunroof, and he plans to have tint added for her protection. 

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