CONSUMER WATCH | BMW owner unhappy about 'exploding sunroof'

27 January 2021 - 16:42
By brenwin naidu AND Brenwin Naidu
A sunroof similar to the one installed in our reader's BMW X1.
Image: Supplied A sunroof similar to the one installed in our reader's BMW X1.

Reader Hulisani Ngobeli writes:

I bought a 2019 BMW X1 in January 2020 from BMW Johannesburg South. On 18 November 2020 while driving on the highway the sunroof exploded. There was a huge bang which could have resulted in an accident.

I then took it to the BMW West Rand dealership, who logged the issue with BMW SA. I am now being told that BMW will not be held liable as the sunroof broke due to external forces. What external forces on the highway? It seems once you have bought the car they no longer care.

There is a problem with the panoramic sunroofs but obviously BMW will never admit such. Their customer services representatives very rudely told me to contact the motor industry ombudsman.

Hailey Philander, spokesperson for BMW SA responded:

Ms Ngobeli’s vehicle was inspected at BMW West Rand on Thursday 19 November 2020 by one of BMW SA’s technical representatives. At the time of inspection, most of the glass from the centre of the front sunroof glass panel had fallen away.

Most of the remaining glass along the perimeter was finely cracked and, due to these cracks, any pre-existing surface damage could not be determined. Stone chips were noted along the front edge of the bonnet and on the windshield, and it was concluded that the cause of the sunroof’s shattered glass was a previous stone chip to the tempered glass surface and not an inherent flaw in the glass.

As glass can crack or be broken, and most breakage is beyond the manufacturer’s control, BMW (or any other vehicle manufacturer) doesn’t warrant against glass breakages, including windshields and side windows. Since the cause of the shattered glass was related to external damage to the glass, BMW SA recommended that Ms Ngobeli refer the damage to her vehicle insurer.

The tempered glass used in BMW sunroofs is accepted in the industry as the optimum material for this application. It conforms to the highest safety standards. All materials, however, have limits in terms of their load-bearing capacity and will fail when subjected to loads exceeding the design parameters, or when damaged.

A stone chip acts as a stressor, even where it does not immediately cause the glass to shatter. Yet, subsequent temperature changes or movement will induce additional stresses in the glass that will weaken it over a period.

Due to the nature of glass, any flaw in the glass that could result in failure from a manufacturing point of view would occur soon after production of the glass panel, typically within the first week or at the first substantial temperature change the panel experiences.