An automotive sunroof is a fixed, hinged or sliding opening in an automobile roof which allows light and/or fresh air to enter the passenger compartment. Sunroofs may feature a transparent or opaque panel, may be manually operated or motor driven, and are available in many shapes, sizes and styles. (see sunroof definitions below)
Historically, European factory installed sunroofs have been opaque, and slide open to allow sunshine and fresh air into the passenger compartment. Most factory sunroofs offered today feature a glass panel, and are often referred to as moonroofs, a term introduced by Ford in the 1970s.
Variations have become the norm in both factory installed and aftermarket offerings, creating a wide range of features and choices.
Sunroof systems may be manual or electric. Manual sunroofs may be lever actuated, as in venting type pop-ups, manual lever or crank operated for sliding systems. Electric sunroof are usually cable driven by a motor and feature some form of sliding opening. An electric sunroof will often have the facility to be closed manually if the motor or control circuitry fails.
Sunroofs may be original equipment factory installed options, provided by the car company, or installed aftermarket by a sunroof professional for the car dealer or retail customer. Once the vehicle leaves the assembly line, the factory option can no longer be integrated into the roof, making aftermarket the only option.
Sunroofs are available in many shapes, sizes and styles, and are known by many names. The generally accepted sunroof industry terms are as follows:
- Pop-up sunroofs are simply a manually operated tilting glass panel. These panels are usually removable, and like T-roofs, must be stored when removed. The tilting action provides a vent in the roof, or a full opening when the panel is removed. Pop-ups can be installed in most vehicles, and are relatively inexpensive.
- Spoiler sunroofs (tilt-&-slides) combine the features of a pop-up with those of a sliding sunroof. They tilt to vent, and slide open above the roof, requiring little headroom or roof length. Spoilers do not provide as large an opening as other sunroofs, but offer the convenience of a self-storing panel. Most are power operated, with optional features like integrated sun shades and express open/close. Spoilers are ideal for short roof vehicles where other types of sliders can't be installed. They were fitted to Porsche 944 cars for example.
- Inbuilt sunroofs have a panel which slides between the metal roof and interior headliner, requiring some loss of headroom, and providing a full opening in the roof. All inbuilts slide inside the roof, while some also include a rear venting feature, and/or express open/close functions. Inbuilts don't fit every vehicle as the panel must slide and store completely within the vehicle roof. Inbuilts were historically a metal panel, painted to match the vehicle roof. American Sunroof Company is often credited for creating what is commonly called a moonroof, as they were the first to offer a glass paneled inbuilt sunroof with interior sliding shade.
- Folding cloth sunroofs (often called rag-tops or cabrio coach) are a European tradition. They offer the convenience of a sunroof, with an opening more like a convertible. The panel is made of fabric (often vinyl), which folds back as it slides open. After a long absence in European and North American Markets, folding sunroofs have experienced a resurgence with several new factory installed options. Aftermarket versions were once only manual, but are now also available in powered versions. They were fitted to Citroen 2CV cars for example.
- Top-mount sliding sunroofs (rail mount topslider) have been a popular factory option in Europe for many years. A large glass panel slides open in tracks on top of the roof, with no loss of headroom. Most feature an integral wind deflector to eliminate wind noise.
- Panoramic roof systems are a new type of large or multi panel sunroofs which offer openings above both the front and rear seats and may be operable or fixed glass panels. Large operable openings are often accomplished with topslider (tracks in the top of the roof) or spoiler type mechanisms.
- Removable roof panels (T-tops or targa roofs) open a vehicle roof to the side windows, providing a wider opening than other sunroofs. T-roofs have two removable glass panels, and leave a T-shaped structural brace in the roof center. Targa roofs, like those on today's Corvette, include only one (often opaque or acrylic) panel and leave no cross brace. Aftermarket kits are no longer made, but several companies sell replacement and remanufactured panels, parts and accessories.
- Electric vs. Electronic Motorized power sunroofs may be operated by a simple push-and-hold switch, or may include an electronic control module (ECM) to provide single touch express open, express close and/or auto-close on ignition off.
- Solar sunroof Solar sunroofs are made of glass, and include a photovoltaic solar insert, or solar panel, making the glass totally opaque. While they operate identically to conventional factory fitted glass sunroofs (tilting and retracting), the solar panel provides a charge of electricity to power the interior ventilation fans, for the purpose of cooling the car interior on hot days when the car is standing outside in the sunlight. These are available as a factory fitted option on most Audi cars.