How to Install a Sun Roof

Steps for Installing a Sun Roof

If your car does not have a sunroof, don’t resign yourself to the dark. You can have a sunroof easier than you think. This is a do-it-yourself project that most people can do. You can get a sunroof kit, allowing you to install one easily in almost any vehicle. Understand that a sunroof is generally a manual pop-up unit. A moonroof is different in that it is a power unit that is much more difficult to install. If you want a moon roof, you should have a professional install it.

Is a Sunroof Right for Your Car?

Some cars are not well suited to aftermarket installed sunroofs. Cars that take a lot of abuse, like Jeeps and other off-road vehicles jostle around a lot. This makes it easy for the caulking around the sunroof to leak, resulting in water damage to your car. In addition, some cars have support braces in the roof that are vital for crash protection and the vehicle’s integrity. Before you put in a sunroof, make sure you can do so without causing permanent damage to the car. Secure a diagram from a parts dealer or body shop.  Also check diagrams for wiring harness routing. Otherwise, you can get a sunroof specifically made for your year, make and model. This way you know that it can be installed safely, without damaging the vehicle.

What You Will Need

To get started, you will need a non-permanent fine point marker, measuring tape, razor blade, electric nibbler or a saber saw, drill with bits and screwdrivers. If you use a saber saw, you will need a special shortened blade made for this application, so that you do not pierce the headliner. Your particular kit will tell you if there are other tools needed. Be sure to cover your car seats with a tarp to protect them and make clean up easier. Disconnect the battery in case you inadvertently cut a wire.

Before you begin the installation, it is a good idea to test out your sunroof kit to be sure it is in good working condition. Put together all the parts in the sunroof kit without permanently fixing them in place. Test the sunroof to be sure it works properly. If the kit comes with a paper template, take it over to your car and make sure the roof will fit. There should be at least 4” clearance on each side of the sunroof. If not, you bought one that is too big for the car and should exchange it for a smaller one.

The sunroof kit should contain inner and outer rings, trim molding, Styrofoam inserts, a flat ring, a roll of weather stripping and caulking, screws, screw caps and glass. Make sure all the parts are there before you begin.

Position and Mark

Finding the right position for your sunroof is easily done with the paper template that comes with the kit. The find the correct position, move the seats to their rear-most position on their tracks. Now align the rear-most edge of the sun roof with the seatbacks. This is the way most sunroof-equipped vehicles come from the factory. This ensures that the sun roof opens directly above your head.

Tape the paper template onto the roof of the car, centered between the left and right sides, keeping the rear frame aligned with the seatbacks as described. Mark the position with the pen.

Now the Hard Part

Take a moment to carefully examine the template. Be sure you are working on the “installation” or “cut” lines, not the outer finished size line. Now use the drill to start a hole in either the front or rear edge of the sunroof, in line with markings. Look again and double check you are on the correct line before you start drilling. Now use the saw or nibbler, beginning at the drilled hole, and cut along the template’s installation lines. This is the hardest part about installing a sunroof. Get it wrong and you’ve got a huge repair on your hands, so be precise and careful where you cut. Remove the cut-out metal when you are done. Smooth the metal edges to remove burrs.

Now you are ready to cut the headliner. Take a razor blade and score into the headliner along the installation line. You may need to make several passes before you get through the liner. Do not try to cut through all of the headliner at once. The inner frame will cover the cut edge once the sunroof is installed.

After the headliner is cut, take out the seat coverings, being careful not to leave any metal shavings behind. Shake out the cover and recover the seats so you can safely work inside the car. This prevents damage to your seats and your hind quarters.

Test Fit Frames

Take the frames you have for your sunroof, both inner and outer, and test fit them to be sure you cut the hole properly. Install the frames as per kit instructions. If the frames are particularly difficult to fit, you will need to adjust your opening and try again. Install the frames so they fit snuggly, but check that they do not bow or distort. Install the remainder of the kit pieces as the instructions direct you, except for the weather stripping and caulking.

Install the glass, being sure it contacts the gasket securely and evenly at all edges. Check that the latch and hinges work properly. If it has removable glass, make sure the glass comes out and goes back in easily. Next, look at the frame where it meets the exterior roof. If there is a gap, you will need enough weather stripping to fill the void.

Disassemble the frames and install weather stripping. Do not be concerned if the sunroof does not curve in the same way as your car’s roof. You do not need to bend it; just fill the voids with weather stripping and caulking. Reinstall the sunroof including all parts. Tighten the screws to the recommended torque per the kit instructions and clean up any excess sealant immediately. Remember, tight is tight. Too tight is broken.

Now you can enjoy a sunny afternoon drive with your new sun roof. Not only will you enjoy the added sunshine, you’ll take great pride in having done it yourself!

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