Moonroofs vs Sunroofs, Explained

If you’re thinking of buying a car, you might want some special accessories to boost your enjoyment while on the road. Maybe you want to add a bit of sunlight in while you drive, so you can get that fresh feeling of the sun on your skin but without the cost or wind of a convertible. In that case, you might think, “I need a sunroof!” But you may actually mean a moonroof. What’s the difference between a sunroof and a moonroof, though? Read on to learn about the nuances of moonroofs vs. sunroofs and what to consider.

What’s the Difference Between a Sunroof and a Moonroof? | Metromile

What is a moonroof? 

A moonroof is what you might be (mistakenly) calling a sunroof. A moonroof is a small window placed on the roof of your car with tinted glass that can open up. Even with the moonroof closed, some light can come in. However, there is also typically a panel cover that can block the light. 

A moonroof is used by sliding the panel open and letting the light in without actually opening what is basically a roof window. That way, you don’t have to deal with excessive wind or air, debris, or extraneous material that can get into your car. Fun fact, the moonroof was first unveiled in 1973 as part of the Lincoln Mark IV.

What is a sunroof? 

A sunroof is a type of panel on the roof that can open up completely to let both air and light in. You may be able to open the sunroof manually or electronically. Sunroofs are different in that you may be able to remove them or tilt them in a way that brings in light and the outside air to your vehicle. 

What about panoramic roofs? 

On top of moonroofs vs. sunroofs,  some cars have gone an extra step and added a panoramic roof. 

A panoramic roof is a roof that is comprised entirely of glass so you can get more sunshine and light. Unlike a traditional sunroof or moonroof, this takes up far more real estate. Both drivers and passengers can feel the sun and see the light, potentially boosting the overall experience of being in a car. 

Be aware of safety issues with moonroofs vs. sunroofs 

Now you know that even though many people use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between sunroof and moonroof. Given the nuance, it’s important to be aware that while having a moonroof or sunroof might be appealing, it can come with some safety issues that you want to be aware of. 

One thing to consider is that if you have a sunroof that exposes you to the elements (like the outside air, wind, heat/cold), you could get hit with debris while driving. If you’ve ever cracked your windshield from debris, you know this is a possibility — but imagine if your roof window was open. You may be at higher risk of leaks with a moonroof or sunroof as well. 

What’s scarier is that Consumer Reports investigated the occurrence of exploding sunroofs and reported: 

“An exploding sunroof might sound like a freak occurrence, but a Consumer Reports investigation has found that it’s not. These incidents have happened in every month of the year in every part of the country, in vehicles from all over the world; they have occurred on interstates, on country roads, and even while parked in driveways.”

According to a 2017 Consumer Reports analysis, 208 different car models from 35 companies have experienced this issue. Also, reports about this issue date back to 1995 with a total of 859 complaints. What’s more shocking is that 71% of those reports came after 2011. There were also 36 reports of injury, but fortunately no fatalities. So while these options might sound attractive at first, be aware of any and all safety issues before taking the plunge. 

Moonroofs vs. sunroofs maintenance 

Because moonroofs and sunroofs can be glass, they can be costly to replace or repair if there are any issues. That’s why it’s best to keep up with regular car maintenance, including your moonroof or sunroof! 

To keep your sunroof or moonroof in good condition, be sure to wash it regularly and use a vacuum to get out any potential debris. Also, make sure any parts that assist with the moving of the moonroof or sunroof remain lubricated and in good condition. If you start to see or hear any issues, be sure to get your moonroof or sunroof checked out for good measure. 

The bottom line 

If you’ve heard the terms moonroof and sunroof, you might have wondered what’s the difference between a sunroof and a moonroof. Now you know they are often used to mean the same thing when there are some differences. So when you go shopping you can be more specific and know what you want. If you opt for a moonroof or sunroof, just be aware of how it can affect safety and overall repair and maintenance costs if there are issues down the line. 

To help you stay protected and covered, you also want to do an audit and make sure you have the best auto insurance coverage. If you don’t drive that much, you could take advantage of pay-per-mile insurance and pay less for auto coverage. You can get a free quote to see about savings using Metromile. 

​​Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.