The convertible (cabriolet) is a special type of car. Nothing compares to taking to the road with an open roof. Sun, fresh air and enjoying life go hand in hand in a convertible. To enjoy it as long as possible, its top needs special care. Read everything you need to know about the convertible top in this article.
Two types – one function
Two competing systems of convertible tops were in use at the very start of the cabriolet: the convertible metal top (hardtop) and the soft top. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.
When up, the hardtop is as good as a standard car roof, made of metal or plastic.
– Car can be used all-year round
– Expensive construction
This construction enables use of the car during all seasons and considerably enhances the user value.
Car parts for your convertible
In order to make optimal use of the convertible experience with the retractable hardtop, these tops are equipped with a complex mechanism an expensive, though comfortable construction. The folding top has an electric or electrohydraulic support, simplifying its opening and closing. Depending on car type the top can even be opened and closed during driving.
Its construction is nevertheless complex and expensive. Retracted, the roof reduces the boot space to an absolute minimum. If large objects are left in the boot, the folding roof could sustain damage when retracted.
Renowned convertibles with a retractable hardtop are:
Peugeot 206 CC
Ford Fairlane (1955-1959)
2. Soft top
A soft top is a flexible, fabric cover consisting of one or two layers. In the past, impregnated fabric was standard, giving this cap its name. Nowadays, several fabrics are commonly used: real leather, leatherette, vinyl, coated fabrics and even glass-fibre reinforced materials have been processed to a convertible soft top.
– Much cheaper than retractable hardtops
– Limited life span
“Cheaper” than a retractable hardtop is accurate. Yet it is important not to get a false idea of the costs for replacing a fabric soft top: replacement is always an expensive occasion of at least several hundred euros. In case of a worn fabric top of a budget convertible this might turn out to be a financial disaster. With the proper preventive measures the life span of a soft top can be extended, though sooner or later the moment arrives, when replacement is the only option.
Soft-top convertibles often have a functional boot and in case of good weather therefore have a higher user value than hardtop convertibles. The low weight of the soft top makes the car lighter. This advantage is only fully available when the convertible top is up. A folded top compromises the aerodynamics to such an extent that fuel consumption is unavoidably higher.
Sun, wind, salt sea air, UV radiation and temperature changes may affect the top. Mechanic impact rips tears or holes in the fabric. Furthermore, gradual embrittlement of the plasticiser ads to the damage. Sooner or later the convertible top rips open. Replacement is the only option.
Fabric tops make life very easy for thieves. A cheap Stanley-knife is sufficient for quick access to the car interior. Therefore: Don’t ever leave valuables in the car!
If the convertible is in use all year round, a hardtop is compulsory. In detachable version, only a hardtop is able to carry a snow load. Furthermore a hardtop creates a closed passenger cabin which can be adequately heated. A hardtop is generally not available for less than £1800. Depending on the convertible this could exceed the value of the entire car.
Convertible top maintenance
Convertible hardtops need little special care, save from the occasional lubrication of the folding mechanism. This is preferably done in a garage due to the professional expertise regarding the neuralgic points. Merely spraying abundant WD-40 has only a short-term effect and could attract a lot of pollution.
The soft top on the other hand, requires special treatment for an immaculate appearance, preparing it for extensive use. The fabric top has a rough surface allowing dust to settle. As a result, moss spores can grow in the fabric. The UV radiation of the sun, the chafing influence of fabric and even the microscopic roots of moss, lichen and algae can completely ruin a soft convertible top within a few years. This specifically affects the impregnation and the rubber layer. Both dissolve, making the roof brittle. With proper treatment this process can be slowed down considerably. You need:
1 spraying bottle with soap solution
1 thick paint brush or wallpapering brush
1 water hose
1 hard brush
A fabric top is vulnerable. Therefore it should be washed manually and certainly doesn’t belong in a car wash!
Start by rinsing the roof with the water hose. Never use a high-pressure cleaner! A normal low-pressure garden hose suffices. In addition to rinsing off the worst dirt, it is specifically important to adequately soak the roof. A high-pressure cleaner would do more damage than good. Leave the Kärcher where it is!
The dirt should be washed from the pores of the fabric roof by applying as little force as possible. With the paint or wallpapering brush the soap is rubbed in with linear movements. Working crosswise causes the best results. Subsequently, the foam with the absorbed dirt is rinsed off. This procedure should be repeated until the spot is beautifully black and no longer has the mouldy green-brown shine.
The hard brush is only intended for those spots inaccessible with the paint brush such as the seams under the rear window where moss is apt to settle. When applying the hard brush, refrain from excess force. Swiping the seam a few times should be sufficient to adequately clean it.
After careful deep-cleaning the convertible top, allow it to dry. Let the sun take care of it help a bit with an airstream. Pressured air is only useful for seams. Surfaces can be dried with a strong blower dryer. Do not use a hot-air blower! When the roof is fully dry, spray it with impregnating spray – ready.
Weak spot rear window
The rear window of a folding top needs special care. Over time it gets dull and obtains a nasty yellow layer. This doesn’t necessarily signify a death sentence for the top. A special plastic cleaner is available to improve the rear window’s condition. Even if the original situation can no longer be repaired, careful cleaning can restore an acceptable appearance and sight.
If tears and holes due to accidents or vandalism occur, you are surely start considering some repairs. Repairing brittle and porous soft tops makes no sense, as the roof is already dissolving. Retailers offer sets of stickers and patches for repair of holes and rents although the result never looks optimal.
We recommend contacting a professional repairer.
When a new top is necessary
Equipping an old Ford Escort, VW Golf or Vauxhall Astra Cabrio with a new convertible top is financially not feasible. An original replacement is generally so expensive, exceeding the remaining value of the car. There is another possibility:
In the USA was developed an industry for the manufacture of replacement tops for convertibles. For almost every convertible series, fitting replacement tops are available in several price classes. For a cheap convertible which has to last another one or two summers, vinyl tops are a practical alternative. They have an acceptable appearance and offer full functionality.
The one-layer vinyl can of course not be compared to the two-layer coated fabric top. For an experienced DIY’er, the installation would take up a Saturday afternoon. If the roof is somewhat tight at assembly, careful application of the hairdryer might help. Some tension is nevertheless desired for optimal adjustment over the bars.
The sun will do the rest: park the car in the sunlight with closed, yet not bolted roof. The vinyl ultimately yields, enabling the bolting of the roof. This solution is available for ca. £. 200 – 300.
Foto: Vladyslav Starozhylov, fourth try, Yuri Schmidt, Sista Vongjintanaruks, Thomas Sandberg, baranq, sylv1rob1 / shutterstock.com