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What Is the Difference Between a Sunroof and Moonroof?

Updated: March 2021

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.com. 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.

Two friends driving with sunroof.

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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.

According to MotorTrend.com, a sunroof was traditionally an opaque panel that matched the color of the car's body. Drivers could tilt it open or remove it completely. But, an opaque, movable sunroof is not commonly sold on vehicles anymore, MotorTrend says.

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 USNews.com.

Unlike a traditional sunroof, moonroofs are not designed to be removed from the vehicle, although they usually slide or tilt open, reports USNews.

Many moonroofs come with an interior sliding panel that matches your car's interior, says USNews. When it is closed, no light comes into the car. Once this panel is open, the moonroof is revealed.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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