‘Cars don’t melt in the sunshine’: San Antonio woman’s Prius damaged by sun rays

Owner says Toyota points to phenomenon involving sun, energy efficient windows

The back end of a San Antonio woman's car looks like it melted, and the owner thinks Toyota should repair it. But, she says the carmaker blames it on a phenomenon called solar convergence.

SAN ANTONIO – You may not expect a new car to have a meltdown, but the plastic on the back of Melissa Liddle’s Toyota Prius is rippled and distorted.

“We thought, ‘That’s crazy. Car’s don’t melt in the sunshine,’” Liddle said.

She said her daughter had backed the car into a parking spot at her apartment complex in October. Days later, she was stunned by what she found.

“It looked like she had a wet paint job, and someone took three fingers and ran it completely diagonally,” Liddle said.

The family contacted the dealership and Toyota but said they were told the damage was not due to a vehicle malfunction and not covered by the warranty.

“I’ve gone through the warranty and can’t find anything that says ‘Don’t park your car in the sun,’” she said. “Toyota thinks we should pay for it. They said it’s a phenomenon -- solar convergence.”

Solar convergence is a rare but real thing, according to Dr. Jack Leifer at Trinity University. He teaches the concept in his engineering design class.

Leifer said solar convergence can happen when the sun’s angle, energy-efficient windows, and a meltable surface are all in the right place at the right time.

“Luckily, the odds aren’t very high,” Leifer said. “Otherwise, we’d be hearing a lot more of this.”

Energy-efficient windows, typically required by building codes, are designed to reflect the sun and keep the heat out of residences.

But when the pressure outside double-paned windows changes, the glass can slightly bend inward, Leifer said.

“That can cause the windows to curve. In other words, the sheets of glass will almost suck in,” he said. “That is going to create a situation where light rays coming in, bounce off and focus on a particular spot.”

That focused heat beam can get extremely hot.

“It is very much like a magnifying glass,” Leifer said.

Toyota declined to comment on Liddle’s curious car damage but did reach back out to her. However, Liddle said the carmaker is denying her claim.

“A repair -- all we would like is a repair,” she said.

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.