• Buying Guides

Moonroof vs Sunroof - What's the Difference?

By Evan Walton | November 3, 2022

Many consumers today utilize the terms sunroof and moonroof interchangeably. With the introduction of the panoramic roof, consumers are understandably confused.

Gone are the days of simple hardtop vs. convertible decision-making when visiting a dealership, as there are many types of sunroofs, moonroofs, and panoramic roofs for today's consumers to choose from.

With so many roof options from various automotive manufacturers, consumers should educate themselves on the different types of roofs and their designed functions.

The ultimate guide to choosing the right roof is finding one that best suits your needs. Here is how to tell the different roof types apart.


A sunroof is unique as some models allow for complete removal from the roof of a car while still functioning to tilt or be retracted completely when attached. A sunroof provides light and fresh air into the vehicle's cabin when tilted or retracted, helping occupants feel less enclosed.

Panoramic sunroofs offer a glass roof made of multiple panels that can often operate independently of one another. Adjustable panoramic sunroofs provide ultimate passenger flexibility.

Examples of panoramic sunroofs are displayed in the Kia Soul, Hyundai Tucson, and the Ford Flex, which all offer an optional panoramic sunroof design.


  • Completely removable roof panel option
  • Harder to break into than a canvas soft-top


  • A small glass panel in comparison to other roof styles
  • Not all sunroofs are adjustable.


Moonroofs are similar to sunroofs in their design and function. A moonroof, however, can not be removed from your vehicle like some sunroofs but functions in the same sliding or tilting capacity.

Moonroofs include an interior panel that you slide to access the moonroof itself, and the panel color often matches the interior headliner color seamlessly.

Ford marketing manager John Atkinson coined the term moonroof in 1973, and it was first introduced on the 1973 Lincoln Mark IV. In technical terms, a moonroof is a variant of a sunroof, but a sunroof is not always a moonroof. Panoramic moonroofs are often fixed, non-adjustable glass roofs that let light into the cabin but do not offer adjustability for open air.

Automakers like Honda offer moonroofs as a standard option in their flagship Honda Civic across several models and both the coupe and sedan body styles.


  • Included interior headliner panel
  • Passengers are less exposed to the elements as they are in a convertible but garner the same benefits.


  • Not completely removable
  • Headroom is limited due to the glass panels, seals, frames, tracks, and motors utilized.

Panoramic Roofs

Panoramic roof systems can stretch the length of a vehicle's roof, offering unprecedented views of the city or countryside. Panoramic roofs can be built with either fixed or operable panels, allowing for fresh air and sunlight within certain cabin sections.

Most panoramic roof systems are found on luxury new vehicles. Still, auto manufacturers like Toyota are beginning to integrate them into their flagship RAV4 and Highlander models at the upper trim levels.

A handful of used vehicles built before the panoramic popularity offer the original panoramic sunroof panel, such as the 2016 Volkswagen Golf and the 2016 BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon.


  • Beautiful natural views for all passengers
  • Offers increased headroom


  • When not adequately equipped with a sunshade, it could become too bright throughout the cabin and cause headaches.
  • Adds mass high up on the vehicle, raising the vehicle's center of gravity

Different Types of Moonroofs and Sunroofs:

Built-in roofs stow the glass panel between the roof and the headliner. They include raising the rear panel to allow fresh air into the vehicle's cabin.

This type of roof offers the same pop-up rear panel as built-in roofs, but the panel remains above the roof in the raised position as it slides back on the car's roof.

Finding popularity in the aftermarket arena, the pop-up style roof allows the rear of the panel to rise, allowing for ventilation. Unique to the pop-up styling, the entire glass panel can be removed in some cases.

A rare roof design, the Lamella roof features numerous glass or opaque panels that can both vent and slide rearward. Lamella roofs can be found on the Mercedes-Benz ML-class and Pontiac G6.

Panoramic roofs have gained popularity in recent years with the rise of electric car manufacturers offering Panoramic roofs as standard equipment. Panoramic roofs offer an open-air view for front and rear passengers, but most do not retract to provide fresh air. A caveat to this statement lies in the Lincoln MKZ, which offers a large glass spoiler-type Panoramic Retractable Vista Roof.

Price Difference Between Moonroofs, Sunroofs, and Panoramic Roofs

The price a consumer pays for a moonroof, sunroof, or panoramic roof depends on the type of roof their vehicle is already equipped with. As alluded to above, many new cars are built with standard moonroofs or panoramic roofs from the factory, leaving the additional roof cost wrapped up in the overall MSRP of the vehicle. Purchasing a vehicle with the roof type you desire or as a factory option is the most cost-effective method of obtaining your desired roof style.

Most auto manufacturers offer factory-optioned sunroofs and moonroofs as a premium add-on to your vehicle order. Depending on the type of roof chosen and the vehicle it is installed on, a factory-optioned roof can cost consumers $1,000-$2,000.

Aftermarket moonroofs are a common installation consumers make on their vehicles if they do not opt for a vehicle with a sunroof. Consumers should expect to pay a bit more for an aftermarket moonroof installation than a factory-optioned installation, as prices range from $1,200-$2,500.

Panoramic roofs are the most expensive roof variant, whether factory-installed or purchased as an aftermarket option. Panoramic roofs use an increased amount of glass, offering multi-paneled sunroof access that often spans the length of the vehicle. With the additional glass and technology, panoramic roofs can range anywhere from $1,500-$3,000.

A standard sunroof as an aftermarket installation is the most cost-effective way to reap the benefits of increased natural lighting and airflow. Ranging from $400 to $900, tilt-up and pop-off sunroof panels are the least expensive options.

A properly installed, high-quality sunroof system can be expected to last for 15-20 years. Still, its longevity ultimately depends on the material used and the level of installation expertise. Paying for a professional installation allows for the opportunity to get an installation warranty on top of your roof system's manufacturer warranty.

Some manufacturers will not honor their warranties, however, if you do not have a licensed professional install the roof system. Consumers should invest in high-quality glass and hardware and find a reputable installation technician. After installation, ensure you take your vehicle for a test drive, ensuring all roof pieces are sealed and operate properly.

History of Sunroofs:

Cadillac produced the first fully enclosed cabin on a production vehicle in 1910. Before Cadillac introduced the fully enclosed cabin, cars were made with folding canvas tops and side curtains; essentially, only convertible top vehicles were produced.

Europe introduced canvas and metal panel roof openings in the 1920s, eventually leading to the plethora of roofs available today. With the rising popularity of sunroofs and moonroofs, automakers have begun to offer increasingly larger tinted glass panel roofs throughout their lineup.