It seems that more and more cars or houses now have a sun or moonroof built into them. Most of the time, these roofs are to give a better and nicer view of the sky. However, they differ in some ways, which explains why they have different names. So what is the difference between a moonroof and a sunroof?
Generally, no light or air enters the cabin once you close the sunroof. A moonroof is a glass you can see through at all times. However, the term is used interchangeably today, as most carmakers offer a combination of both with their cars.
This article explores the differences between a moonroof and a sunroof. We start by looking at what moonroofs and sunroofs are before trying to differentiate them.
What Is A Moonroof?
A moonroof is a type of sunroof. Unlike conventional sunroofs, moonroofs only let outside light into the cabin, not fresh air. This is because it is a piece of glass that forms part of the automobile’s roof. It may have a cover underneath it that you can close or open to let in external sunlight.
A moonroof is essentially a piece of transparent or slightly translucent glass that is part of your automobile’s roof. Moonroofs are not removable, nor can they be operated to tilt them open.
Most moonroofs have a piece of removable cover underneath it. When you slide it open, the cover exposes the moonroof, allowing sunlight to enter the passenger compartment. The cover usually slides in between the metal roof and the interior headliner.
Some more modern moonroofs, such as photovoltaic solar panels, may have added additional technology. This allows the moonroof to generate power, usually used to cool down the car’s interior when parked under the hot sun.
Some people consider moonroofs a type of sunroof, while others consider it a different type of roofing. However, it is common to hear people mention that the moonroof is a sunroof, but it cannot be opened.
Moonroofs are becoming more popular, with modern carmakers such as Tesla and Volkswagen offering them. This could be attributed to many car owners preferring sunlight, but not external air, into their cabin.
What Is A Sunroof?
A sunroof is a piece of removable paneling part of an automobile’s roof. The opening allows external air and lights to enter the passenger compartment. Some sunroofs are manually operated, while some are motor operated. Some sunroofs have solid metal panels, while some have glass, with a sliding panel underneath them.
A sunroof is essentially a higher-specced moonroof. Rather than being static like a moonroof, a sunroof is a movable panel that you can open up. This allows light and fresh air to enter your car’s cabin.
Sunroofs can be manually operated or operated with a motor. They also can come in many shapes and sizes. The glass roof slides backward in most sunroofs, although you may see sunroofs that open up in half or other ways. You may hear sunroofs called Sunshine Roof, Sliding Head, and Sliding Roof.
There are many types of the sunroof. However, popular types of sunroofs include designs such as pop-up, spoiler, inbuild, folding, solar, or T-top.
Pop-up sunroofs usually tilt up when opened, allowing fresh air and sunlight. You usually can also remove the panels, to maximize fresh airflow and sunlight. Popup sunlights are also common as aftermarket installations. Popular Pop-up panels include those on Porsche 944 or Mazda RX-7.
Spoiler sunroofs are named as such, and when opened fully, they resemble a spoiler. When operated, they first tilt up like a pop-up sunroof and then slide to the back, above the roof. Most spoiler sunroofs are not big, as they need to accommodate the roof pieces, but they are usually motor-operated. You may see spoiler sunroofs on models such as Honda CRX or Toyota Celica.
Inbuilt sunroof operates similarly to a spoiler sunroof, but the panel slides in between the metal roof and the interior headliner instead of sliding open above the metal roof. The first inbuilt sunroofs were introduced in the 1960 Ford Thunderbird.
Folding sunroofs may be more popular in Europe. It offers the convenience of a sunroof but opens up like a convertible. The panel is commonly made of vinyl and folds back when it is opened. You may see folding sunroofs on cars such as Renault Twingo or Jeep Liberty.
Solar sunroofs are a relatively new concept, basically a standard sunroof, but with photovoltaic solar panels. This means when closed, the solar panel may provide electricity to power the car, usually the HVAC system, to cool the car on hot days. You may see solar sunroofs on cars such as the 2010 Prius, Renault Zoe, or Mazda 929.
T-top is essentially a removable roof, which usually opens up the roof and the side windows, turning the car into essentially a convertible. Most cars with T-Top roofs have a T-shaped structural brace in the roof center. You may see T-Top sunroofs on cars such as Toyota Supra, Honda NSX, Porsche 914, or Pontiac Firebird.
How Do The Sunroof and Moonroof Differ?
Sunroof and moonroof differ in many aspects, such as complexity, price, aesthetics, transparency, operation, and long-term reliability. This causes people to have a preference for either a sunroof or a moonroof.
|Complexity||More complex, with more parts||Less complex than the sunroof|
|Price||More expensive||Cheaper than sunroof|
|Aesthetics||Panels look similar to roof metal||Glass panels look different than the roof metal color|
|Translucent||Usually opaque||Usually transparent|
|Operation||Manual or motor driven||Usually manual, with some motor driven|
|Long Term Reliability||Less reliable long term||More reliable long term|
Generally, sunroofs are much more complex than moonroofs. This is because of the nature of how the sunroof works. At its most basic, sunroofs need to be removable or tiltable manually by hand.
More advanced sunroofs need to tilt up and then slide away, often with the help of a motor. As such, there is a need to include more parts, such as motors, seals, gears, and rails.
Compared to that, moonroofs are essentially a static glass panel sealed into the car roof. This makes the construction simpler, with fewer parts required. The only movable parts are a piece of panel cover under the glass, and it is common to see it manually operable.
As such, if you prefer to keep the parts in your car simpler, always go with a moonroof. You will appreciate the peace of mind.
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Generally, sunroofs are more expensive than a moonroof. The reason is simple, it takes more time, parts, effort, and engineering prowess to install a sunroof than a moonroof.
Expertise is needed to design and engineer a proper sunroof. Sunroofs need to be open to retain the rigidity of the chassis in case of an accident. The seals may need to be better than usual, as they do not form a permanent seal that can handle water from seeping into the car.
When you compare this to a moonroof, it is essentially a piece of glass or plexiglass that is permanently sealed to the car roof. It has simpler engineering and hence is usually cheaper.
Aesthetics can be a rather subjective topic, but sunroofs and moonroofs tend to bring a different aesthetic value to a car, which makes them appeal to different people.
If you are of the kind that likes a uniform look on your car roof, then you may appreciate the sunroof better. This is because sunroofs usually have the top panel in metal and a similar color to the roof. This means the color may look uniform and similar, with only some lines.
If you do not mind color uniformity and like something that looks more modern, you will likely appreciate the moonroof. Since it is essentially a piece of glass on the roof, it will not look uniform in color with your car roof.
However, the glass and metal combination may remind you of tall glass metal modern skyscraper buildings in big cities. This means the look may give you that sense of modernity and future.
If you are into such a look and design aesthetics, then a moonroof will be better for you.
Suppose you enjoy translucency and bring sunlight into your car cabin without introducing outside air into your car. In that case, you may appreciate moonroofs better.
This is because moonroofs are usually translucent, allowing only sunlight but not the air. You can always pull in the covering panel and close off the glass if you do not need the light.
Sunroofs usually do not let any natural sunlight in when it is closed, as the panels are usually opaque. If you want sunlight, you need to open up the sunroof, which also introduces outside air into the car.
Due to their more complicated mechanism, Sunroofs may require some learning to operate it. For static, removable sunroofs, you need to learn how to remove them, by referring to the user manual.
For motor-operated sunroofs, you may only need to press the button to operate the sunroof. However, you still need to locate the button and how to press it. Some open all the way with a single press, while some require you to press and hold the button.
Moonroofs are more intuitive and easier to operate. Most of the time, the only operable part of a moonroof is the sliding panel underneath the glass. The way it looks may be very intuitive, as you only need to use your hand to pull in or push the panel back.
As such, you may claim that moonroofs are much easier to operate than sunroofs simply because it is simpler and more intuitive.
When it comes to long-term reliability, moonroofs should win hands down. Moonroofs are simply going to be more reliable long term, and break down less often. The reason is simple: It has fewer parts and is mechanically less complex.
Even if it breaks down, you may be looking at a simpler, cheaper replacement work. The likely problematic part may be the sliding mechanism may wear out from constant opening and closing, and the seal around the glass panel may no longer hold off the water.
For sunroofs, the long-term reliability may not be good. There are simply more movable parts, which means more potential points of failure. The motor may wear out, the numerous seals may break down, the sliding mechanism may not work, and many more.
The complex engineering of sunroofs may also result in longer work hours and parts to repair them, causing maintaining a sunroof to be more expensive in the long term.