What's the Difference Between a Sunroof and a Moonroof?

Learn why there are two names for what’s often the same thing

A joyful woman sits on the roof of her car after climbing through her moonroofShutterstock

If you're in the market for a new car, there's a good chance something you've looked at has a glass panel in the ceiling referred to by different names, leaving you to ask yourself, what's the difference between a sunroof and a moonroof?

To put it simply, there is no difference. In modern automotive parlance, a moonroof and a sunroof generally refer to the same pane of glass in the roof that allows natural light to enter the cabin of your vehicle. But there are some historical differences.

What's a Sunroof?

Back in the day, a sunroof was significantly different from a moonroof. The sunroof was a removable, opaque panel—usually made of metal—that you had to remove entirely in order to allow sunshine into your vehicle. Think of the sunroof like a smaller version of the convertible top. The removal was generally a very involved, physical process, and it faded from popularity.

That said, some rugged, off-roading vehicles still have sunroof-style fixtures in their roofs as a way to preserve their unique connectedness to nature when compared to other cars. Jeep, for example, provides a sunroof-style option called the Sunrider, a flip-top style roof that opens directly to the air. That, however, is a rarity.

What's a Moonroof?

A moonroof, by contrast, replaced opaque metal with tempered glass so you no longer had to expose your cockpit to the weather if you wanted a little more sunshine. As technology evolved, so did several different styles of moonroof:

  • Built-in moonroof: Offers the option of opening the roof up to the sky and the ability to stow the glass panel between the headliner and the body of the car

  • Spoiler moonroof: Is similar to a built-in moonroof with a glass panel that slides back and remains above the roof

  • Pop-up moonroof: Raises just a little bit at the back

  • Lamella moonroof: Folds back like Venetian blinds but is rare due to the difficulty of engineering that goes into it

  • Panoramic moonroof: Is much larger than most other moonroofs and is fixed into the body of the car

When it comes to modern cars, you can use the words "sunroof" or "moonroof" interchangeably. The two terms generally invoke the same image of a glass panel affixed to the roof of a car that lets in sunlight. But if you want to be as accurate as possible, you'll refer to a moonroof.

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Elizabeth Blackstock
I’m Elizabeth Blackstock, and after growing up around the Detroit automotive industry, I’ve made it my life’s mission to make information about vehicles accessible for the average consumer. Whether you’re a hardcore auto enthusiast or someone looking for a practical machine for the daily commute, I’m here to help you make your most informed decision.