Sunroof Drains – A Saab Story
Preventative maintenance is always a top thing to keep up on, and most of us have a list of what needs to be done for each vehicle. Most lists include oil changes, topping off bug juice, maybe an occasional air filter, or general tune-up when the vehicle starts running poorly. But in all seriousness, there are many things that go unaddressed that can become significant issues when left unaddressed. Let’s discuss the one that I forgot about until I started investigating why my car was leaking through my ceiling mount microphone system.
First off, I drive a Saab 97x, which is honestly a Chevy Trailblazer. The only difference, sans the physical body badging, is that they brilliantly removed a fully functioning cup holder from the console to install a ‘Saab’ ignition. Their solution was to replace that cupholder with a semi-functional one that pops out of the dash.
I love my Saab though. My little full-framed AWD mini-truck, which I rebuilt the front end and reinstalled the front drive shaft, along with many other things that the previous owner neglected on her. Then, I realized I needed to deal with my sunroof seal after the headliner got soaked after a particularly bad storm.
Fast forward a couple of months, as I had put that on the back burner because it was only an issue with bad storms, right? Then it was bad after a drizzle. WTH? I couldn’t see any leaks, and yet, the water was traveling through some route and coming out of my microphone… onto my lap. Fed up, I opened the sunroof and investigated. I had standing water across the front of my sunroof frame. Suddenly, a conversation I had with my friend Chuck Yee from Yee’s Autoglass years ago echoed in my memory.
Chuck and I were discussing a similar problem I was having in an old Cavalier Z24, and he was teaching me about the sunroof drainage system. Yes, that’s a thing that needs to be maintained. Why? Because otherwise, one or multiple of these will clog, creating a need for the water to go elsewhere. Depending on the car, the water may run across your headliner to your pillars and onto the floor, or maybe it will simply leak through and destroy your headliner, soak your seats… You get the idea.
Most sunroofs have 4 drains, one for each corner. The major issues occur when even one of these gets plugged, so it is a great idea to periodically check them.
Here is where I have to make a disclaimer. The legal folks don’t like it when we tell y’all how to fix stuff… because of liability, etc. But, I’m going to tell you how “I” fixed my car… you do yours at your own risk.
If you are simply doing preventative maintenance, my recommendation is to find where the hoses exit the car and blow low PSI air through them. The online info I found said no more than 20psi… I may have used more than that in my little puffs of air to dislodge the blockage… but… disclaimers. You can also use curtain spring wire, locate the drain hoses, and push up through them up to the sunroof to ensure it is a clear passage.
The front hoses are pretty easy to find. Mine dump right above the door hinge on my front doors. The rears are a little trickier, and many vehicles dump behind the rear wheels, but above the inner fender where you can’t see it. I will tell you what I would do in PM or repair cases.
For PM, I would use a long blower hose flexible end, push against the drain hole and puff a little air down in the tubes. If you have a friend on the other end and they can hear the air blowing in that region, then use a small amount of water directed to that area and see if it comes out. If it comes out either from the hose you can see in the front door, or the water drips out behind the wheel well, perfect. You have drainage. If not… well, time for step 2.
Step 2. This is where the comedy comes in. If your friend said they heard air come out, but no water, they may have been distracted, and now there is standing water in your drain hoses. Using air at this point is hysterical (and what I did) but makes a mess. But it’s what I did. I only had clogged fronts, so I pushed my air hose flexible end into the hole, and did some more quick bursts. Note: WEAR SAFETY GLASSES! Whatever is clogging will bounce back and get you. It’s funny when it gets stuck on your glasses, but not funny when it hits you in the eye. When the air stops shooting water and “fly shit” (technical term) back at you, you have likely cleared it. Verify with the friend and water test. If it is STILL blocked… See Step 3.
Step 3. There are several schools of thought. I have read Dawn dish soap and really hot water combo down the drain, let it set and it will soften up the FS, and then it will break up and come out. You may need to utilize the spring wire here, although I still prefer the air if needed.
So, to wrap this up: Keep your drains clean, so your car won’t pee on you.