What to Know About Sunroof Maintenance

Here's how to keep your car's sunroof sliding smoothly all year round.

Two people sit in the front seats of a vehicle with an open sunroof above them.Shutterstock


For buyers who don't want to commit to a fully open convertible car, a sunroof — which opens a section of the roof to the outside air instead of simply letting in more light behind an immobile glass section — can make the cabin appear larger, let hot air escape, and even allow for some stargazing at night. But without proper maintenance, a sunroof can also break down, leading to frustration and costly repairs.

Sunroofs Are Simple to Operate but Still Need Maintenance

Any part of a vehicle with moving parts, a rubber seal, or a drain should probably get a little extra attention to ensure that it's consistently working the way it was designed to. Sunroofs are often exposed to sunlight and pelted by rain, snow, and other road debris, making it important to stay on top of maintenance.

Whether you have a sunroof that hinges at the front or slides back to open up the area above the passenger compartment, you should consider setting aside some time and money for regular maintenance.

Key Sunroof Components to Watch

Sunroofs rely on a rubber seal (or gasket) between the glass and the car's metal roof opening. The seal is designed to be weathertight, keeping debris and moisture from getting past the edges of the sunroof's glass panel and into the passenger compartment. It's also constantly exposed to UV radiation from the sun, which can cause it to dry out and crack.

Cold weather is another culprit that can shrink the rubber seal, causing it to pull away from the glass portion of the roof. Both of these issues can lead to your sunroof leaking during bad weather or while washing your car.

Another area to regularly inspect is the sunroof's drain system. This channels any water or moisture that gets past the seal (or when the sunroof is left open) away from the cabin's interior and straight to the ground outside the vehicle. These drains can easily clog up, especially when your vehicle is parked under a leafy canopy where pine needles, seeds, pollen, and leaves may get stuck inside. Once this happens, water can back up and spill into the vehicle, staining the headliner and potentially dumping water on the cabin's floorboards.

A sliding sunroof relies on a track that pulls it forward and backward to open and close. A sliding sunroof needs proper lubrication, as with any piece of hardware comprising a collection of gears and motors. Dirty sunroof tracks can also cause the glass panel to slip off, freeze in the open position, or prevent it from opening or closing.

An Annual Inspection Can Help Keep Your Sunroof Operating Smoothly

It's wise to mark off an afternoon once a year or so to check up on the condition of your sunroof. If the sunroof's seal looks and feels dried out or has visible cracks, it's time to replace it. Depending on the size of your sunroof and its mechanical complexity, replacing the seal might be a relatively easy DIY project you can take on yourself.

If you decide to go to a professional, a simple sunroof seal replacement will generally cost you in the neighborhood of $100 to $300. If your particular vehicle has a more complicated setup, however, it could be more.

It's usually fairly straightforward to unclog a sunroof drain yourself. You can send high-pressure water from the top of the sunroof, which often dislodges the blockage. You can also use compressed air instead of water or run the thin cable from a weed trimmer through the drain until it pushes out the dirt and debris that kept it from emptying properly. Be careful not to use too much air pressure, though, as high pressure could burst a rubber or vinyl drain hose or cause it to pop off from its fitting.

A sunroof motor that burns out because of a stuck or broken track can easily cost as much as $800 to fix at a repair shop. The best way to stay ahead of this issue is to ensure the mechanism stays adequately greased up and free of debris such as leaves, pollen, or built-up road grime.

Cleaning the tracks and the slides with a vacuum and a soft cloth before lubricating them is essential. A lithium grease or a sunroof-specific lube could help prevent future lock-up problems.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.