Convertible Top Buyer's Guide
- Convertible cars allow open-air driving experience. They are popular especially in coastal areas where owners get to enjoy the fresh breeze outside.
- A convertible top refers to any vehicle top that folds or retracts. Usually made of vinyl or canvas, these tops are fitted over steel, aluminum, or plastic frame.
- A convertible top can be classified into two: hardtop or soft top. Hardtops are usually made of metal, while soft tops are made of softer materials like polyester, vinyl, rubber, cotton, or canvas.
- A convertible top will cost around $500 to $1000. They are either sold individually or as part of the whole convertible top kit.
Not all vehicles have convertible tops installed but when they do, it surely indicates a fun riding experience. Convertible cars allow open-air driving experience. Imagine driving through a scenic route and enjoying the fresh breeze. How fun can that be? If you own a convertible vehicle such as the Jeep Wrangler or the famous Ford Mustang GT convertible among others, you will know what I am talking about.
Convertible cars, sometimes called cabriolets or roadsters, are popular especially in coastal areas where car owners get to enjoy the fresh summer breeze. At present, almost all vehicle manufacturers have drop-top variants available in the market. One important component of convertibles is, of course, the convertible top itself.
How does a convertible top work?
Before going into the details of how a convertible car top functions, let us first define the term. A convertible top refers to any vehicle roof that folds or retracts. It is usually fitted over steel, aluminum, or plastic frame. Modern convertible tops have a durable rear window installed as compared to older models that were equipped with plastic ones.
The exact detailed functional specifics of your convertible top will depend on your year, make, and model. In general, they are classified into two: electrical and manual convertible tops. How do they differ from each other?
As the names suggest, manual convertible tops will require the driver to unfasten the latches before he can manually pull the top up or down. Electric convertible tops, on the other hand, work with the help of an electrical mechanism. Normally, the driver would only have to push a button or a switch, and the top would automatically go up or down.
What are the types of convertible tops?
There are different kinds of convertible tops depending on your vehicle’s year, make, and model. However, these tops can further be classified into two general categories: hardtop or soft-top.
Usually, convertible tops under this category are made of rigid and sturdy materials such as metal. They usually have the same color theme as the rest of your vehicle’s body. Since these tops are mostly made of metal, they cannot be easily removed by car thieves. Aside from that, a hardtop can provide better protection for you in extreme weather conditions when a car roof is a must.
It can also significantly reduce outside noise due to its solid nature, making it an ideal roof for convertibles. However, a hardtop can add more weight to the chassis and the body, making your vehicle even heavier. It also consumes boot space when the roof is open.
There are two kinds of hardtop available in the market: detachable and retractable. Detachable convertible tops were popular in the past, especially for sports vehicles. From the word detachable, these convertible tops can be completely removed from the vehicle. These tops come in a single piece.
Retractable tops, on the other hand, are multi-piece units. They operate through a mechanical system for them to work. This kind of hardtop is more expensive than detachable ones but it is more convenient and as a plus factor, it adds a distinct look to your vehicle’s overall aesthetics.
Soft Top convertibles
These convertible tops are made fabric-like materials. Unlike hardtops, soft tops do not take up much space when stored. One advantage of having soft tops is that it can be deployed and folded back much faster than hardtops. They also add less weight to the chassis and vehicle body, making it more practical than hardtops.
However, since it is made of fabric materials, it may feel less secure compared to having a metal roof. Soft tops are also hard to maintain. These fabric-like materials can get worn out easily over time. It is recommended to clean any dirt or dust right away to avoid further damaging your convertible top.
Soft tops are usually made of polyester, vinyl, rubber, cotton or canvas. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, vinyl or polyester fabric is a good choice for durability, making it a popular choice among other fabrics. Rubber, on the other hand, is easier to clean compared to other fabrics such as cloth and cotton. However, if you're aiming for good aesthetic quality, a cloth and cotton fabric may be the best option for you.
How will I know if my convertible top is worn out?
Usually, it is easy to spot if your convertible tops are already worn out. Since these tops are equivalent to a vehicle roof, they are often exposed to the elements. If you notice any damage such as fading for soft tops or dents for hardtops, have them replaced right away. A well maintained convertible top will usually last for about five to seven years. If you think your convertible is already worn out, you do not need to worry because there are many convertible top replacements available for you to choose from, depending on your vehicle’s year, make, and model.
How much does a convertible top replacement cost?
Usually, a convertible top will cost around $500 to $1000. The price is greatly dependent on the kind of vehicle you own as well as the materials used for your convertible tops. Some convertible tops are sold as part of a kit along with other components.
Finding the right fit
To ensure that you are getting the right fit for your vehicle, enter the correct vehicle information in our search engine. Make sure to read up on convertible tops and check your vehicle manual before buying a replacement for your vehicle.
Aside from taking care of the top itself, other components of your convertible top may also stop working. Make sure that you also keep them in good running condition. Other components such as switches, lift solenoids, and fuses are part of the mechanism that makes your convertible top work. If you notice anything wrong with your convertible top, such as a movement that is slower than usual, have it checked by your trusted mechanic.
What to Consider When Buying a Replacement Convertible Top
Unlike hardtops, a convertible top gives drivers the freedom to choose to lower down the roof for a more enjoyable driving experience. However, this also comes at the cost of the tops being more prone to damage. It's not uncommon for convertible tops to be replaced at least once - or even twice - in the lifetime of the vehicle.
Changing a worn or damaged convertible top can be expensive and exhausting, but it's necessary for protecting for those days when the sun doesn't shine while driving. In this guide, we will share with you some buying tips for convertible tops.
Two-part vs. unitary
One of the things that must be considered by buying a replacement convertible top is whether it is a two-part or unitary type. Two-part convertible tops are divided into two sections - the main top and the rear window “curtain” - that allows for flexibility and makes it easier to raise or lower the fabric. Unitary tops, on the other hand, have a partial seam between the main top and the curtain, making them sturdier than their two-piece counterparts.
OEM vs. aftermarket
Another choice you will encounter when shopping for convertible tops is that of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aftermarket tops. OEM convertible tops are made under the supervision of the car manufacturer, while aftermarket tops are made by third-party manufacturers. OEM tops are made under strict quality standards set by the automaker, resulting in near-zero problems in installation. However, they also tend to be expensive and limited in design choices. Aftermarket tops, on the other hand, tend to be cheaper and come in a variety of colors and designs, but they may not fit as well as their OEM counterparts.
Replacement convertible tops were typically made in canvas of vinyl, although the latest offerings have a more varied fare. Today, one can find waterproof vinyl tops, pinpoint synthetic leather tops, layered herringbone tops, and “Stayfast” canvas tops that offer distinct benefits and disadvantages.
Convertible tops also come in different thicknesses, and this can affect how it functions. If the convertible has a top that's too thick, for example, may end up crumpled or pinched once it retracts into the back of the truck. A convertible that uses a top made of a fabric that's thinner than its stock may also wear and tear faster than intended.
A Handy Guide to Installing a Convertible Top in Your Vehicle
A convertible top has the advantage of being retracted for a more exhilarating driving experience. But unlike a hard top, the convertible top's fabric construction makes it more prone to damage or wear. And while most nicks and tears on the top can be repaired, severe damage and wear will necessitate replacement.
Finding a shop that can replace the top in your convertible won't be hard to find nowadays, especially if you live in or near the bigger cities. However, changing the convertible top is actually easy enough to do in your garage. In this article, we'll guide you step-by-step on how to replace the convertible top in your ride.
Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult
- Wrench set
- Utility knife
- Staple gun
Step 1: Remove the interior panels to expose the top fastening points. The panels are generally secured by screws, “pop out” fasteners, or a combination of both. Keep in mind that the plastic fasteners are likely to snap during this procedure, so have some spare ones on hand.
Step 2: Remove the rear window. Use a wide flat screwdriver or a plastic putty to lift the rubber trim to expose the window edge. The window is often held in place by stitches or zippers. If the window is stitched in place, you may need to undo the stitches with a sharp knife or a similar tool.
Step 3: Remove the top from the front, sides, and window frame. Start by removing all the screws from the front of the top, then work your way to the side trim. Some tops may be secured by screw mounts which you will need to pry off very carefully with a small screwdriver. In the case of pop rivets, use a 1/8” drill bit to bore out the center and remove the rivet.
Step 4: Detach the rear trim stick and the old top. Cover the rear of the vehicle with blankets and have someone help you pull out the rear trim and the top.
Step 5: Clean out the channels and rear area of your car. Make sure that the years' worth of dust and gunk is removed before moving on to the next step.
Step 6: Install the new top. Follow the instructions stipulated in the manual on how to mount your new top into place. Work your way from back to front for a tight fit.