How to remove/replace sunroof in 1991 Subaru Legacy sedan and stop leaking roof or headliner

This job wasn’t near as daunting as it seemed at first, and as such, I procrastinated for months before doing this, which was accomplished over 24 hours, long enough to let the silicone set up well before we tested it in the rain.

Before we managed to finally resolve the real culprit of the problem, Katt had spent a ridiculous amount of money replacing the driver’s side weatherstripping (which definitely needed to be replaced), as well as the two trim pieces on the driver’s windshield and roof. One of them was broken, and although the leak got better, it didn’t cease. The next suspect was the four drains around the sunroof pan that lead into the A and C pillars. Remember, a sunroof isn’t 100% waterproof – it can’t be, otherwise you couldn’t open it and reseal it repeatedly!

The sunroof assembly sits in a pan that has four drains around the edge. Sometimes, these get obstructed and can be blown out with compressed air (or, a coat hanger works nicely). Again, sadly, all four drains were completely clear.

What we discovered is that the seal between the sunroof assembly and the pan apparatus was completely disintegrated.

This proved to be the source of the leak. Had we not spent $500 dollars chasing the solution, we would have been elated with the solution – a $5 tube of silicone you can buy at a grocery or department store!

So here’s how, in pictures, we easily repaired the sunroof leak!

Total time to remove, fix, and install sunroof: ~ 3 hours, 15 minutes (not including time for silicone to set up)
Total time for job, including waiting for silicone to dry: 22 hours
Time to remove sunroof: ~75 minutes
Time to access and remove old gasket: ~30 minutes
Time to re-silicone and reattach sunroof to pan: ~45 minutes
Time for silicone to set: Recommend at least 18 hours
Time to re-install sunroof: ~45 minutes

Required Equipment List:
10 and 12mm sockets (sunroof)
7mm socket (wind deflector)
8mm socket (rear interior brass nut)
5mm Allen wrench/driver (to open sunroof manually)
wire brush and puddy knife or scraper (to remove old sealant debris)
screwdrivers (interior, etc)
Crescent wrench (just in case)
wedge ‘o wood
compressed air and/or shop vac (to blow out drains and clean up old gasket debris)
WD-40 (to loosen rusty fasteners)
10.1 oz. Silicone Rubber sealant (50 year) and caulking gun (to replace old gasket)
2 16oz cans of Fort George Brewery Vortex IPA – (if you don’t know what this is, you won’t need it)
A dry place to do the repair, or a 100% chance it won’t rain, otherwise you’ll need a tarpaulin (tarp) or plastic sheeting.

Here’s what we used to do the job (photo above)

Level of Experience Required: Medium, Moderate, or good with tools. If you’ve never changed your oil, you should probably pay someone to do this. Again, although it seemed quite daunting at first, it was actually really easy.

Note that we started with the sunroof closed, after the car had dried out inside a garage for several days. This is recommended if possible, as the headline may disintegrate upon removal otherwise.

Step One: Remove headliner and accessories:

Start by removing the negative battery cable from the battery

Remove end caps off the “OH Shit!” passenger handles, exposing screws

Unscrew all four “Oh Shit!” handles

We had difficulty removing a couple of the rusty screws on the “Oh Shit!” handles, despite our best efforts. I didn’t have a way to drill them out, so I cut the headliner with a box cutter.

I’m not sure if this is going to reduce the resale value or not, you decide! (Our Legacy has 270,000 miles on it!)

Unscrew sun visor retainers

Gently pull down on power cord, exposing connector (below)

Unplug power cord (if equipped with lighted mirrors) – Squeeze it!

Remove sun visor retainer clip

Put the screws back in a couple turns (so you don’t lose them, “didn’t your daddy teach you nothin?”)

Gently pry map light covers out (there’s an opening where I have the screwdriver above)

Locate screw behind cover (now you know how to replace the bulb, too!)

unscrew – do the same for the other map light, Duh!

Lower assembly

remove the sunroof power plug (black in this photo)

remove the light bulb power source (white in this photo, squeeze it!)

Don’t simply “break” the rear-view mirror off like we did. If you remove the cover, then there’s obviously three screws that need to be removed here! (We “broke” it off – note that it has a break-away clip to prevent head injury in collisions – and we didn’t hurt it!)

I think there was a plastic clip here holding up the front of the headliner when we removed the rear-view mirror retainer

Pop off the dome light cover with screwdriver and remove two screws inside

pull down the dome light assembly and unplug – that’s it for accessories, now it’s time to take down the headliner trim:

I started with the rear corner – just pull on it vigorously and it will come undone from clips and ledges

pull OUT and DOWN on the side trim and do the same up front – Now the headliner will come out. We pulled it down and had to fold it somewhat to take it out the back passenger door –

note the water stains up near my right foot (top left) – no wonder it would never dry out!

Step Two: Remove sunroof

Unscrew these metal retainers above the doors that the “Oh Shit!” handles were attached to

Remove the front two drain tubes (one seen here) at each corner of the sunroof pan simply by pulling on them

Remove the rear two drain tubes

I was able to pull the headliner down over this end of the handle

Removed drain tube – nope, it wasn’t full of debris – they were all clear

Remove the front center retaining nut holding the sunroof assembly

Remove the side retaining nuts holding the sunroof assembly

Oh yeah, you have to remove all of these “Oh Shit!” retainer assemblies…

Remove the rear sunroof assembly retainer nuts

(11/8/2012 update: You can remove the actual glass via 8 bolts under the 2 plastic covers, making it easier to get the entire assembly out of the car (I was able to manage the whole job on my own) – thanks to Bryson for this tip!)

By now, you’re definitely going to need a second person at this point, if you do not already have one. You will need their help to hold up the sunroof while you remove the final bolts – here I’m removing the front corner nuts – one on each front corner

Remove the ground wire near the rear window

removed final rear center nut – at this point the sunroof assembly is being held up by the two side center bolts – get your help ready!

While your help is standing in the rear floorboard pushing up on the sunroof with their back, remove the two final side bolts.

Warning: The sunroof will be completely free at this point! Be ready!

Lower the sunroof into the back and disconnect the sunroof motor power cable

Sunroof lying sideways

sunroof gone! We took it, sideways, out the back passenger door – clearly it was installed without the doors on! Manhandle it!

You will need to manually open the sunroof at this point, which we did with the 5mm socket driver (Allen wrench will work too) whilst the sunroof rested on the floor on its’ side. Do not open it fully; leave it about six inches from being fully open

Step Three: Pour IPA! Celebrate, the hard part is over!!


Step Four: Release sunroof assembly from pan and clean old gasket sealant off

Remove wind deflector fasteners

Flip up wind guard and remove retaining screws

unscrew sunroof from pan (screw here under wind deflector assembly at front in track)

Remove rear nut from track

Note this sealant dam at the rear corner of the sunroof track – you will need to recreate this with silicone

remove the retainer nuts from the sunroof cable assembly

Note the original gasket is “Ghon-di!”

No wonder it was leaking – the gasket had completely disintegrated – you will need to remove all of the old gasket surface with the wire brush

Lift the sunroof from the pan, hinging at the back where the cables are still attached

Here we’ve bent the sunroof totally back to completely expose the old gasket

Scrape the old gasket off with a puddy knife or, in this case, the one on the back of my wire brush!
Finish cleaning up the gasket surface with a shop vac or compressed air

Step Five: Re-silicone the gasket!

Set the sunroof back in place, and have your partner hold it at about a 45-degree angle. You should have your silcone in a caulking gun and the top cut off, ready to go at this point. You will have to hold it here for a few minutes, so be ready!

Starting from the front, squeeze a wide bead of silicone on the pan side where the track will lie down on both sides, as far back as possible

don’t be afraid to be liberal – you don’t want to have to do this again!

Carefully lie the sunroof assembly down, and wipe up excess silicone from the edges. Remember to recreate the small silicone dam in the back (see photo above) and make sure you get enough silicone under the back of the track where you pivot the sunroof back down

Screw the track back down.

If you haven’t already, make sure to blow out the four drain tubes.

Here we’ve set the sunroof on top of the car for the night, to let the silicone set up. We resumed the next evening, about 18 hours later.

Step Six: Re-install sunroof

Locate the front and rear posts that you will need to line the sunroof up to – we each had a nut, and were tasked to hand tighten these a few turns quickly to retain the sunroof

Katt got inside the car and I fed the sunroof in to her. The rest of installation is the opposite of removal! You did it! Time to pour that second IPA!!

We are trying to tell you something here, I don’t know what! Watch where the wires are? Don’t lose ’em? Who knows, we forgot!

These are the clips that the headliner trim clips onto – remember, push IN and UP to get the trim back on!

This car has been outside in Seattle for the better part of the year, and has been completely dry inside since. We took the time to document this procedure since none of the consumer-grade repair manuals such as Haynes cover this, despite claims of a “complete tear down.”

We would like to thank Tuner Automotive in Bend, Oregon, since without the information they posted on Facebook, we may still be in the dark. You can find them at: Tuner Automotive on Facebook

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