The tag here states:

The opening in the roof of a car. Usually a glass panel that opens by sliding down and back.

However, the owner's manual of my 2006 Mazda 6 refers to the opening only as a moonroof, and never mentions a sunroof. I've never heard the term moonroof before. To the best of my knowledge, everyone here in Australia refers to it as a sunroof. Are they synonyms, or is there some difference?

For what it's worth, the opening in my Mazda is electronic, and both slides and tilts.

Is there a difference between a sunroof and a moonroof?

  • Great question. When I was a kid I always assumed a moonroof was darker (what I would eventually learn to be called 'tinted') and a sunroof was not. Jun 20 '16 at 22:19
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    Moonroofs are sunroofs, but sunroofs aren't moonroofs. Moonroofs have the sliding/tilting mechanisms while sunroofs are either enclosed or will come out like t-tops. The term is pretty much interchangable since you don't see sunroofs anymore really and people just call moonroofs sunroofs.
    – Ben
    Jun 20 '16 at 22:25

After a little digging, I have found pretty much what Ben said in the comments above: A moonroof is a sunroof, but a sunroof is not a moonroof.

The difference is not in how the mechanism moves, but what it holds. A sunroof consists of a metal panel that can either tilt up, and/or slide back into or above the roof of the car. A moonroof, on the other hand, consists of a glass panel with the same movement functions, The difference being that a moonroof can be closed while still permitting light to come through.

I assume they were named this way because a sunroof was a logical name for the device when it was first invented in 1937 (according to this Wikipedia article). The moonroof, invented in 1973 ('37 and '73 - coincidence!?!?), was named as a play on the word 'sun'roof.

  • 2
    Moonroof, that's just silly. Jun 21 '16 at 8:05
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    The glass is usually tinted, so it can shade you from weak moonlight, but not from harsh sunlight. Moonroof it is.
    – Agent_L
    Jun 21 '16 at 9:44
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    I don't recall moonlight ever blinding me so badly that it needs shading. Or cooking my forehead. Jun 21 '16 at 9:57
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    I always just figured they were brand names.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 21 '16 at 13:48

In UK usage, an opening glass panel over the front seats is a sunroof whether it tilts, slides or both. A second such opening over the back seats was sometimes called a moonroof (this was common when the Espace first came out, so late 80s).

  • This is my understanding of the terms as well (I'm in the UK). I remember the Land Rover Discovery being the first such vehicle that I heard this talked about: minimodelshop.co.uk/picture/New-RayToys-54683DG/…
    – Matt Wilko
    Jun 21 '16 at 13:43
  • This was my understanding too. I first encountered a Moonroof in a 1985 Mitsubishi people carrier. Jun 21 '16 at 14:00
  • My Kia Venga has a moonroof that is a single large glass panel covering both front and rear seats. When opened it slides back over the luggage area.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 21 '16 at 14:29
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    @Chenmunka if there's only one, it's a sunroof (to me).
    – Chris H
    Jun 21 '16 at 14:32
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    Its a moonroof according to the handbook. I'll go with that.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 21 '16 at 14:48

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