Moonroof vs. sunroof: What’s the difference between the two?
Last updated: August 2023
The terms "sunroof" and "moonroof" are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Both are panels in the roof of the car that allow sunlight and fresh air into the vehicle, but that's where the similarities end, says CARFAX. When shopping for a new car, people may refer to a sunroof when they really mean a moonroof. Cars today typically have moonroofs because traditional sunroofs are not very common anymore, according to CARFAX.
Whatever you call it, here's how you can tell the difference between a sunroof and a moonroof, so you can pick a vehicle that offers the options you like best.
What is a sunroof?
A sunroof is a panel on the roof of a car that either slides back or can be taken out to allow light, air or both to come into a vehicle, according to USNews.com.
A sunroof was traditionally an opaque panel that matched the color of the car's body, according to MotorTrend. Drivers could tilt it open or remove it completely. But, an opaque, movable sunroof is not commonly sold on vehicles anymore, MotorTrend says.
Why is it called a sunroof?
The term sunroof came before moonroof and was added as a feature by car manufacturers to allow sunlight in through the car’s roof when it was open. Thus, the term “sunroof” was created.
What is a moonroof?
A moonroof is considered a type of sunroof, says CARFAX. But a moonroof usually has a tinted glass panel, much like an extra window, on top of the car. It is designed to let in light without having to let in the elements, according to U.S. News. Again, most modern cars today have a moonroof, rather than a sunroof.
Unlike a traditional sunroof, moonroofs are not designed to be removed from the vehicle, although they usually slide or tilt open, reports U.S. News.
Many moonroofs come with an interior sliding panel that matches your car's interior, says U.S. News. When it is closed, no light comes into the car. Once this panel is open, the moonroof is revealed.
Why is it called a moonroof?
The term “moonroof” was introduced in 1973 by John Atkinson, a marketing manager at Ford for the Continental Mark IV, according to KBB. Over time, it became the more commonly used term for any transparent glass roof panel.
What are panoramic roofs?
In recent years, panoramic roofs have become popular, says CARFAX. This type of roof features large glass panels on the entire length of the vehicle roof. These let light into both the front and back seats. This type of roof comes in two styles: fixed in place or with glass panes that slide open and closed, according to CARFAX.
Pros and cons of having a moonroof or sunroof
Here are some reasons you may or may not want to get a moonroof or sunroof on your next vehicle, according to MotorTrend.
Some advantages include:
- Sunlight/sunshine in the car
- Another source of fresh air
- Making the interior feel bigger
- Being more secure/theft-resistant than convertibles
- Not needing storage for a removable top (T-tops, Targa tops, etc.)
But they do also have disadvantages, like:
- Added vehicle weight from the glass panel and parts (frame, motor, rails, etc.)
- A raised center of gravity from that extra weight, which could impact handling
- The glass can absorb heat, so you may need to run your AC more in hot weather
- An additional feature on your car that may be expensive to fix if it breaks
Safety considerations for sunroofs and moonroofs
Although having a sunroof or moonroof can give the feeling of being in a convertible, they provide more security than a canvas convertible top, according to MotorTrend. Even when they are up, canvas tops make the vehicle more accessible to thieves because they can be slashed, says FindandFundMyCar.com.
Government crash-test results have shown that the effect of a sunroof is insignificant to the overall strength of the roof, explains Consumer Reports. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also rates vehicles for roof strength as part of its vehicle ratings – you can check your specific car’s rating on their vehicle ratings page.
On the other hand, leaks are one of the most common complaints about moonroofs and sunroofs, and can be caused by debris clogging the drainage system, says YourMechanic.com. This can be especially true if you have an aftermarket moonroof or sunroof installed.
Another drawback of the sunroof and moonroof is that they add noticeable mass at the top of the vehicle, which raises the center of gravity — which in turn can affect handling, says MotorTrend.
Maintaining a sunroof and moonroof
Sunroofs or moonroofs can be expensive to repair or replace, according to YourMechanic.com. AAR Auto Glass recommends that they be vacuumed and washed regularly. They also recommend that all moving parts be lubricated regularly and that vehicle owners schedule yearly maintenance to help prevent problems.