sunroof vs. moonroof

All moonroofs are sunroofs, but not all sunroofs can be called moonroofs. Sunroof is a term which refers to a hole cut in a car roof which can be opened or closed. They can be made of steel or glass and they may pop up, slide on tracks on the car roof or slide open between the car roof and headliner. Sunroofs have been around since the 1930s, but moonroofs made their first appearance in the 1970s.

The First Moonroofs

Ford Motor Co. coined the term moonroof in the 1970s, but they did not invent, patent, design or even install the moonroofs on their vehicles. In fact, Ford sent its cars to American Sunroof Company for “factory installation” of the optional moonroof. American Sunroof was the first company to install glass sunroofs and Ford wanted to differentiate their electrically operated, tinted glass sunroofs from the steel sunroofs offered by other car makers. Although Ford was the first car maker to offer optional moonroofs, other manufacturers soon followed.

Different Styles of Moonroof

Today, a moonroof is any sunroof made from glass instead of steel. The glass may be clear or tinted and the mechanism may be manually, electrically or electronically operated. Just like steel sunroofs, moonroofs are available as sliding panels or pop ups. There are sizes which fit most cars although it may not be possible to install sliding models on smaller vehicles since the roof panel of the car is too small to accommodate the tracks for the sliding panel. Panoramic sunroof installation is possible on smaller cars because the panels work as a system.

Steel Sunroofs

Opaque steel sunroofs are still available, but most people prefer the glass panels of the moonroof for appearance and style. The one advantage of the steel sunroof is that it provides protection from the sun and keeps the interior of the car cooler. Since virtually all new cars are equipped with climate control, this is not a big issue for most car owners. Special coatings on glass moonroof panels block ultra violet light which can fade and damage car interiors and tinting films prevent some of the solar energy from entering the car.

T-Tops and Targa Roofs

T-tops and Targa roofs are considered sunroofs since they are not sliding panels. These styles are available in tinted glass, but the panels have to be removed and stored, while moonroofs remain attached to the car. In a T-top, both sides of the roof panel are cut away leaving a center strip. Each side of the roof has a separate panel which can be completely removed from the car. In the Targa style, the center of the roof panel is cut away and a removable panel of steel or glass is fitted between the front and back sections of the roof.

Electric, Electronic and Manuel Operation

Moonroofs and sunroofs may be operated by an electric push button system, and electronic control module (one touch operation) or with a manual lever. The more complex the operating system, the higher the installation cost. OEM sunroof and moonroof kits are available for a cost of about $500, but sunroof installation is not a DIY project since it involves the structural integrity of the vehicle. The cost of labor is often higher than the cost of parts in aftermarket installation of sunroofs.

Moonroofs are always made of glass and usually have an interior sliding mechanism, although glass pop up sunroofs may be referred to as moonroofs. Few manufacturers and installers use steel panels for sunroofs anymore so the terms are considered nearly interchangeable.