Convertibles are awesome cars to drive around in the Springtime with the wind blowing and the warm sun shining. On the other hand convertibles are notoriously more costly to maintain than hardtops, and they are not the best vehicles to drive year round.
When I owned an old convertible top BMW and used it as a daily driver the last thing I wanted to worry about was replacing the back plastic or GOD forbid the entire convertible top. Bills like these can kill anybody’s hopes and dreams for top down therapy. In this article I will discuss tips on how to make your convertible last longer in significantly better shape than the average convertible top out there.
How Long Do Convertible Tops Last?
A properly maintained convertible top can last from five to seven years. Of course this is just a general rule, there are plenty of examples of keeping convertible tops for significantly longer than seven years. My cloth top BMW had it’s original convertible top up until I parted it out in 2019. To be fair though the top had seen far better years and probably should have been replaced at least five years before 2019.
On the other hand I have seen garage kept convertible tops stay in relatively good shape for fifteen to twenty years! It all depends on how these vehicles are maintained.
Vinyl or Cloth Top?
The first thing to consider is whether your vehicle has a vinyl or cloth soft-top. How do you find out which one you have? Drop a couple beads of water on the top, if the water soaks into the canvas it’s a cloth top. If the bead mainly lies on the surface and beads off it’s a vinyl top.
Some people prefer the vinyl top because of their shinier look and the fact that they are harder than cloth tops. However as vinyl tops get some age on them they tend to peel or crack, and unfortunately there is nothing to repair this issue but replace the top.
Cloth tops do not crack and they are not at risk of mildew spots like vinyl tops. However, cloth tops require more maintenance as they do not stay clean as easily and they do not handle adverse weather nearly as well.
So How Do You Push the Needle Closer to the Fifteen Year Mark?
Depending on what material your top consists of will determine what maintenance is necessary to elongate its life. Vinyl tops are “waterproof” whereas cloth tops are only “water-resistant”. Is there a big difference? Oh yes, a huge difference, unfortunately my BMW convertible was a cloth top and it’s amazing how significantly they fall apart overtime if they are not treated with waterproofing from time to time.
Clean It Frequently
The very best place to clean your top is underneath a carport, but it is not necessary. Admittedly, I rarely ever cleaned my top convertible underneath a carport and it lasted a long time. The reason cleaning underneath a carport is preferential is because you do not want the cleaner to dry out on the cloth top as this can leave stains.
If you have a cloth top you should invest in a scrub brush for your top. A regular scrub brush is typically a big NO NO, as they can damage your top. Instead, your best option is a medium length bristle brush.
If you have a vinyl top there is no need for a specialty brush as these tops are harder than cloth tops. However you should still avoid stiff brushes, instead you should stick with a soft cloth to clean your vinyl top.
For Cloth Tops: There are specially designed cleaners for convertible tops that you should use on your cloth top. Using a cleaner along with your scrub brush will go a long way in maintaining your top.
For Vinyl Tops: No specialty convertible top cleaner is necessary or even recommended. You can use the regular car shampoo that you use on the rest of your vehicle. Wash the top every time you are washing the rest of the car.
**For any type of convertible top vehicle you should stay away from harsh cleaners such as bleach, ammonia, and buffing compounds!!!
**For God’s Sake stay away from car washes. The day many people discover that EVERY convertible top leaks is when they drive their vehicle through a pressurized car wash. Pressurized car washes will quickly blow through the rubber seals on a convertible top and leave you and your passengers with as much of a shower as your car!
Treat the Top
**There is no need to treat your top every time you clean it. In the Spring I often clean my convertible top once a week alongside the rest of the car, but I only treat my top with waterproofing once every few months.
**Whether you have a cloth or vinyl top, treatment should only be applied after you have cleaned the top and it has had a chance to dry.
Cloth tops are chemically treated during manufacturing to repel water and make them chemical resistant however this treatment diminishes with time. To give your cloth top a boost you need to treat it during the “in-season” with water proofer. How frequently you need to waterproof your top really depends on where you keep your convertible and how frequently you drive your convertible.
In another article, I strongly advise that convertible owners use them as secondary cars and only when the weather is favorable. If this is how you use your convertible and it is kept in a garage you will only need to waterproof it twice a year; once at the beginning of your convertible driving season and once late in the season.
The other extreme is if you are using your cloth top as a daily driver and it is not garage kept. If this is the case, I strongly recommend that you waterproof your top at least four times a year, once every seasonal change, but five or six times would not be a bad idea!
For Cloth tops: There is a multitude of specialty water-repellent treatments you can use on your cloth tops. Personally I have had a lot of good experiences with 303 Top Cleaner, but there are plenty of other great convertible top protectants.
For Vinyl tops: Vinyl tops do not require waterproofing, however vinyl tops have unique problems with discoloration that cloth tops do not have. To address this issue, you should be using a Vinyl UV protectant spray after you have cleaned the top. I personally have never owned a vinyl top, however some of the top-rated brands that my friends recommend are RaggTopp Vinyl Protectant and 303 UV Protectant.
Another thing to note is that vinyl tops actually need more frequent protecting, the typical recommendation is to apply the UV Protectant once a month to keep the top in good working order!
Cleaning the Window
When a brand new convertible first comes off of the dealer’s lot the convertible top back window is gorgeous. It is perfectly clear and even has a bit of a reflection. Fast forward ten years and that same back window looks like absolute shit. It has this yellow discoloration to it, it has creases and it might even have a crack or two!
Nobody wants their plastic window looking like that so how do you avoid it? You should be using a specialty plastic cleaner on your back window. You can usually find these spray cleaners at your local autoparts store, and while you are there you can pick up a terry towel or a microfiber towel to use in conjunction with the cleaner.
You should be cleaning your convertible back window every time you clean the rest of your car. I know it might sound like a drag, but it honestly takes like five minutes and it will keep your back window looking great for years to come!
An additional aspect to consider in your cleaning repertoire is the rubber seals on the underside of the top. These seals often leak at the front corners over time and trust me it sucks having to drive around in the rain while water is dripping down on your leg (been there, done that).
One thing you can do to help with the longevity of your rubber seals is to apply silicone lubricant to the seals once a year. The lubricant will help prevent the seals from dry rotting or cracking!
Avoid getting wax on your convertible top when you are waxing the rest of the vehicle. Wax can be very difficult to get off and will discolor the convertible top.
Always store your convertible top in the up position, storing the vehicle in the down position overnight will shorten the life expectancy of your top.
On cloth tops you will know that the waterproofing protectant has worn off because water will stop beading up on the top. This is a sure sign that it is time to apply some protectant!
Don’t put a convertible top down when the temperature is below 60 degrees.
Overall, the best way to extend the life of your convertible top is to regularly clean it and apply protectant to the top from time to time. Housing your convertible in a garage and only using it in good weather will also work WONDERS for the life of your convertible top.