Skip to main content

Moonroof vs. sunroof: What’s the difference?

minute read

    Life can have many small joys — like going for a drive on a sunny day. If your car has a sunroof or moonroof, that just makes the whole experience even better. But what’s the difference between them, and what are the other types of roofs out there? First, we’ll start with the types of car roofs.

    Types of car roofs

    One of the beautiful things about cars is just how many different and exciting choices are available to you, including the type of roof you can get. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most prevalent styles to choose from:

    • Solid or hardtop: This is the fixed, solid metal roof that you see on most vehicles, often referred to as a “hardtop,” and it is generally the default roof option.
    • Convertible: Sometimes also referred to as a “cabriolet,” a convertible gives drivers the option of going roofless. These cars have roofs that either detach completely or stow away. Convertibles can be further subcategorized into two main types:
      • Soft top: Soft top convertibles have roofs made of a flexible, waterproof textile such as canvas or vinyl wrapped around a foldable frame.
      • Hardtop: Not to be confused with a standard roof, a hardtop convertible features a multi-part solid-panel roof. On older models, these would typically be manually detached and stored away. Newer cars feature panels that retract and stow away automatically.
    • Semi-convertible: As the name suggests, this type of roof sits somewhere between a solid and convertible roof. Notable varieties include the T-top, which features removable side panels along a fixed central roof bar. You may have also noticed some sports cars with another variation featuring an open mid-section on the roof while keeping the back windshield fixed in place.
    • Sunroofs and moonroofs: While the difference sounds like it’s between night and day, the sunroof and the moonroof are essentially both roof panels that open to provide extra light and air. However, there are some distinctions between them.

    What is a car sunroof?

    A sunroof is an opaque roof panel you can open up to bring more air and light to the vehicle’s interior cabin. It is traditionally made of metal to match the rest of the car’s exterior.

    What is a car moonroof?

    A moonroof is technically a type of sunroof that features a transparent (often tinted) glass panel, instead of an opaque metal one. On the interior, there’s often a sliding shade panel you can open or close to let in the desired amount of light. The glass panel itself also opens up to let more fresh air in, though the mechanism and degree to which it opens varies by model.

    What’s the difference between a moonroof and a sunroof?

    The biggest technical difference between these two types of car roofs is that a sunroof is opaque while a moonroof is transparent, as we indicate above. There are some qualitative differences as well.

    A sunroof is more of an all-or-nothing: When it’s open, you’ll get both extra air and extra light. When it’s closed, you’ll only get the air and light you get from your regular windows — nothing extra. There is no in-between. A moonroof offers that extra in-between step. If you want to enjoy a sunny day without letting the wind ruffle up your hair, for example, you can just open the interior shade and keep the outer glass panel shut.

    One way to understand the difference is that a sunroof is more like a door, while a moonroof is more like a window. Both are ways to get extra air and light, but only one lets you look outside without also bringing the outside in.

    Maintenance and upkeep

    The finer things in life may best be enjoyed responsibly, and that applies to types of roofs. Since sun and moon roofs create added points of exposure to the elements, both need a little more care than a hardtop would.

    The sliding and opening mechanisms on these roofs may require occasional cleaning and lubrication to keep working smoothly, and any electronic components will likely require maintenance. You can consult your manufacturer’s instructions to see what kind of service they recommend.

    Adding a regular glass cleaning and polishing routine to your car maintenance checklist could also be a smart idea. After all, what good is that extra window if the view is smudged? Finally, sunroofs and moonroofs can leak, particularly if they are old or not closing correctly. If that should happen, a repair specialist may be able to help.

    In summary

    Despite being technically distinct, the terms sunroof and moonroof are used interchangeably by many drivers. But, when thinking about the difference between a sunroof vs. a moonroof, the easiest thing to remember is that sunroofs are opaque while moonroofs are transparent.

    What to read next