Toyota Highlander Shattering Sunroof Problem

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

Updated on Author: Brian Jones

 

Lemberg Law is investigating complaints that the 2020 and 2021 Toyota Highlander has explosive sunroof failures. Vehicle owners report that they hear what sounds like a shotgun as the sunroof explodes and the glass shatters without impact of any sort. 

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Is There a Problem with the Sunroof Shattering in the Toyota Highlander?

The many complaints from 2020 and 2021 Toyota Highlanders are evidence of a major problem with the sunroof. Most say they hear a bang or what sounds like a shotgun as the roof explodes and then shatters. Similarly, RAV4 owners also seem to be facing this same issue with shattering sunroofs.

Another problem is that Toyota reportedly refuses to cover ongoing explosive sunroof failures under warranty.

A particularly alarming part is that this is not a new problem. Exactly the same exploding sunroof problem has been recorded by Toyota Highlanders owners for every year model since 2012.

The many complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are filed under Structure, Unknown or Other, and Visibility.

What Problems are Toyota Highlander Owners Experiencing with Sunroofs?

When the Toyota Highlander sunroofs fail and spontaneously shatter, most complaints state that they hear a loud explosion like a shotgun going off. Generally they state that there is no impact from anything. Some people have been cut by the shattered glass.

For example, an owner from Washington who owns a 2020 Highlander states:

“While driving around 60 MPH all of a sudden I heard a loud explosion like a shotgun going off and then my sunroof exploding and shattering all over me and the interior of my car. There was no impact from another vehicle, rock, tree, anything. It just exploded into thousands of little pieces out of nowhere. It was terrifying. I was able to safely pull over.” One person was injured (cut). It is not clear if it was the driver.

A large number of complaints include fears that exploding sunroofs could have resulted in severe accidents.

The New York owner of a 2020 Highlander states: “The front portion of the panoramic sunroof/moonroof blew out with a loud boom while my husband and I were driving on interstate 75 south in Florida. The flying glass could have injured us had the shade not been closed or if it had been raining and possibly caused an accident.”

Here are excerpts from some of the other complaints.

An owner from Virginia states:

“Sunroof exploded – like the sound of a bomb, without warning, on 7/21/22, while (I was) driving the vehicle. The shards traveled upward, and broken tempered glass protruded towards the sky. Size of hole (largest points) approx. 16″ X 9″. It was not a rock or any other debris that caused this – it was internal force. I reached out to the dealer on 7/21/22, and today with pictures, who will reach out to Toyota. No damage was done to the vehicle, to the best (of) my knowledge, other than the sunroof.”

“While driving at approximately 45 MPH on a multi-lane parkway in Virginia, my wife and I heard a loud explosion which I immediately assumed might be a tire blowout. However, the steering system seemed normal as I slowed the car and began a move toward the road’s shoulder. Within 10-15 seconds we began to hear the sound of ‘rushing air’ above our heads.”

They stopped and discovered “a large hole in the sunroof forward panel” where the tempered glass had shattered.

They closed the cover and continued driving to their home, which was a few miles away.

“ As we drove, more and more ‘glass shards’ were falling to the topside of our head cover. Fortunately, with our fabric head cover closed when the sunroof ‘failed’ we were not showered by glass. However, had we had the sunroof exposed, I believe we would have had small glass pieces fall into the cabin area and on our heads.”

“I called my Toyota Dealership which told me the sunroof is no longer under warranty. I can only speculate that the failure was caused either by a “micro-defect” in the sunroof which over time and temperature changes (summer heat, interior cool from A/C, winter freeze, etc) caused a sudden failure; or, it’s possible a rock/pebble kicked up by a vehicle somewhere in front of us had a trajectory high enough (higher than our front windshield) and then impacted the sunroof at a sufficient angle to cause its failure.

“Following this incident with my car, I went on-line and discovered that I’m not alone. Apparently many other motorists have experienced what they describe as ‘explosive’ sunroof failures… and some have been showered in glass. Not good!”

An owner from Washington states:

“In April 2022, the sunroof on our 2020 Highlander Hybrid spontaneously exploded (without impact) while driving on the freeway. It was like a loud shotgun went off in the cab of our SUV. We were showered with glass and (there was a) small cut to my wife’s hand. Thankfully there was no traffic otherwise it could have easily caused an accident, putting us and others at risk.”

The local Toyota dealership’s service representative “originally advised us that Toyota would likely pay to replace the sunroof and pay for our rental car (as we had just begun a 2-week trip).” But this changed later, and the dealership claimed “that the sunroof must have had a chip in it or was impacted (which were absolutely false claims). They stated that I must submit it to my insurance who they billed for $2,410 (sunroof assembly remove & replace, new glass, clean-up detail glass shards, supplies/materials, labor), and $500 of which I would have to pay for a deductible.”

Eventually, Toyota Corporate finally agreed to pay the $500 deductible. But later they produced a Goodwill Settlement Agreement for the owner to sign, stating the matter is resolved and I would take no further action.

“I refused to sign it, because I had a $1,900 Car Rental bill (less $450 from my insurance), that Toyota refused to pay. There were no warning messages or symptoms. It is a manufacturing defect that Toyota refuses to acknowledge so that customers and their insurance companies get stuck with all of the bills.”

An owner from Alabama states:

This owner’s sunroof exploded on a sunny day while traveling at about 55 mph.

“The sound was that of a shotgun, followed by wind noise and tinkling noises of shattered glass just beyond the shade cover.”

They found that “100% of the glass sliding moonroof was shattered.” About a third of the glass had blown out from “a forward and central portion of the glass area. The remaining glass was bowed outward.”

The complaint states that the dealership body shop estimates repairs at $4319. It also complains about the safety threat. For example, if the shade had been open at the time of the “explosive incident,” shards of glass would have fallen onto the driver and passengers. This may have caused the driver to lose control of the vehicles and people could have been injured. People in vehicles or on motorcycles nearby might also have been injured.

Is the Highlander Sunroof Covered by Warranty?

The Maryland owner of a 2021 Highlander states that the vehicle was parked when the sunroof exploded. “The fixed moonroof appears to have exploded on its own while parked. No alarm was set off and no objects were found inside the vehicle suggesting an impact. There was no debris around the car.” There were no storms and the vehicle wasn’t parked near trees or ball fields. But, the “dealer denies any known occurrence and states this must be from an impact and is not covered by warranty.”

The Texas-based owner of a 2020 model was driving “on a straight highway on a hot Texas day with no other vehicles in the vicinity and no debris on the road. The moon/sunroof exploded (sounded like a gunshot in the car). The car was brand new and only had 4,000 miles on it.”

He also stated that the local Toyota dealer evaluating the incident is “denying it as a warranty issue. This could have been life-threatening.”

The owner of a 2021 model from New Jersey has similar feedback. While his wife was driving at 65 MPH, she heard a loud abnormally horrific sound coming from the roof of the Highlander. She immediately pulled over and discovered that the sunroof had shattered without incident. She drove the vehicle to the dealer and left it there.

Days later, the dealer informed the owner that it appeared that “previous damage to the sunroof had caused the failure and that the damage would not be covered under warranty.”

What Should You Do if Your Toyota Highlander Sunroof Shattered?

Of course, if it explodes or shatters, the first thing you’re going to want to do is have your sunroof replaced. But if Toyota refuses to repair it under warranty you’ll have to claim on insurance. If your insurance doesn’t cover replacement, you’ll have to pay out of your pocket.

Whatever the outcome, if your 2020 or 2021 Toyota Highlander sunroof has exploded and/or shattered into pieces, you vehicle might qualify as a lemon. To see if you qualify, complete our case evaluation form or call us at 844-928-4443. Our services are free because the law says Toyota is liable for the legal bills of lemon law cases.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

See more posts from Brian Jones
8 COMMENTS
  • Stephanie A

    Similar happened to me last night! Driving in the freeway last nigh with my 2023 Highlander XSE and my sunroof just shuttered. I didn’t heard any rocks or pebbles hitting my car, my glass just shuttered. The dealer is claiming that is due to outside forces, but if a pebble or rock hits the windshield it doesn’t shutter it just made a dent or a speck. That just shows that the material used on the moonroof/ sunroof is a weaker material if that is that case (glass cannot withstand the thermal expansion of the different outside element) – there for it is a defect that Toyota need to own and replace and compensate.

  • Mohammad

    I was driving on the highway with my family when suddenly I heard a terrible sound like a shot, I thought that we were shot or had an accident. But the sunroof glass was broken. The car is a Toyota highlander 2021 hybrid.

  • Patrick L

    This happened to me last night in my 2017 Highlander while on the freeway. Literally sounded like a shotgun blast. Spoke with the dealership and they said they have never heard of this and said that Toyota won’t cover this but they’re happy to repair it….

  • CM

    We also just had our sunroof explode 3 days ago on our 2022 Toyota 4Runner. Driving down the interstate, no other vehicles on the road near us. We had the same scary experience of hearing the “shotgun” sound. We were lucky that we had the sunshade closed, but we had glass shards fall on us when we opened it, trying to figure out what happened. We just returned home from 2 separate Toyota dealers – trying to get some help in dealing with the shattered sunroof. The same group in Romeoville, IL that was happy to sell us a $50,000 vehicle, are not so eager to help us resolve our problem. We went to two different Toyota dealers- and no one had heard of this happening- must have been a rock. This is a very dangerous situation. Had we had our sunroof shade open, had we been in traffic- someone could have been seriously hurt.

  • Nancy N

    This just happened to us yesterday almost identical to the experiences described. Thank goodness our grand boys had just been dropped off and the slide was closed. Even though it’s a 2013 Highlander, I believe it’s the same type problem. Our insurance covers with no deductible but the bigger issue is Toyota accepting responsibility for a possibly dangerous defect.

  • Andy B

    Diana D, exactly the same thing on the same day with me! My 2021 Highlander Hybrid Platinum had the front part of the panoramic sunroof violently explode as I was driving my step son home from school. The same shotgun-blast and the hole was centralized in the front movable panel. I have not had my sunroof open in over a year. The glass around the hole was tilted upwards indicating that the glass blew out, not in. Luckily, my insurance is going to cover it (USAA) minus the $1000 deductible. I was going to take it initially to the dealer, but I expected to hear the same story you were told.

  • Karen G

    I had the same thing happen to me on the same day of your incident. I’m a travel nurse and my travel partner and I were just getting on the interstate, had not even made it off the on ramp onto the interstate when we heard a very loud bang. I immediately thought something had come through the windshield but then heard the wind noise above our heads. My friend thought we had been shot. Thankfully I had the shade pulled so no glass came in on us. But it could have been bad. We had to turn around and go back home and get her car then she had to follow me home so we could swap all our stuff over. We were very late arriving to our hotel and then had to get up very early to go to work. My car currently is in my driveway with a tarp over it until I get home and can deal with it. Not only is the issue a possible car wreck waiting to happen, it’s a very big inconvenience to all who have to deal with it. I have owned multiple Toyota vehicles and currently have 4 in sitting in my yard. As a loyal customer or a first time owner, we expect quality and shouldnt have to pay out of pocket for a problem that appears to be an ongoing issue. My car is a 2017 Highlander.

  • Diana D

    My son and I was driving down the the road and heard like a shotgun fire above our heads we pulled over immediately and never seen anything so looked on the top of my car and my sunroof had shattered with a hole. The window was bowed out. There were no other vehicles around us. So the next day on Monday I went by my insurance company and they don’t repair sunroofs. So I called Toyota to tell they and they said to bring it in as soon as possible. All the meantime I had to take my son to school and glass is flying off the back of my car. The hole keeps getting bigger. After I talked to Toyota and set appointment at 1 so I had to drive about 60 more miles. Altogether I drove about 130 miles all together since it exploded. After I got to Toyota and sit for awhile they came back and said they wouldn’t replace it that a rock hit it. I said no vehicles were even around us. Then they come to say my son might have hit it. Well! I haven’t even had my sunroof opened since I bought it. I only have 7,500 miles on it. I told him I have had no shattered glass inside so my son never done it or it would have fell inside. Was on the phone with a couple of Toyota higher up people but they are not liable they are saying. I need some help on this matter. My car is 2022 Toyota Highlander.

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