You start seeing them pop up in the early Spring, people rolling around in their sleek cars with the convertible tops down enjoying the 70 degree weather. They have the stereo blaring for all of the neighboring vehicles to hear and it looks like a real joy to be the cool person commuting to your 9-5 in a convertible.
But before you rush to the dealership to check out the convertibles on the lot I strongly advise you to check out the rest of this article. I have owned two convertibles over the past ten years and they were both my daily drivers. Rain or snow I drove my convertible top BMW wherever I needed to go.
This article will discuss the benefits of owning a convertible top car and some of the negatives that I have had to deal with over the course of my ownership of two convertibles.
Nothing beats a convertible in Springtime weather.
If you have ever driven/ridden in a convertible in prime top down weather you have experienced why these vehicles are so popular. Nothing beats cruising around town with a dropped convertible top in mid seventy degrees weather. The sun feels great, the wind is nice and it really makes for a pleasurable driving experience. When Spring blooms you can look around and see all of the drivers rolling down their windows to catch a little bit of that fine weather. Us convertible top owners on the otherhand are spoiled. We do not have to be contempt with simply a rolled down window, no we can put the whole top down and enjoy mother nature for what she really is.
Times like these I could needlessly drive around for hours just enjoying the radio and the breeze.
Visibility is another cool feature about cruising around in a drop top. You can see a lot more around you with the top down and it’s a pretty cool experience that will leave you feeling blind once you put the top back up.
In my opinion not every drop top I see is attractive. But most of them have a certain style that is really appealing to most people (including me). BMW E36s are particularly attractive in my opinion, but I am biased because I have owned two of them.
Convertible top vehicles are awesome to own, at least until a motor breaks or the tensioner straps begin to weaken. Unfortunately many people don’t consider this factor or only think of it as an after thought when they go out and purchase a convertible, but the maintenance is significantly higher on convertible tops than on hard top vehicles. Convertible tops typically last only around 5-7 years until they need to be replaced. Expect to spend around $1-$2k for each new top for a professional to install it. Top replacement is one of those jobs that is typically outside the realm of all but the most experienced DIYers.
Some convertible tops are still manual, but the vast majority nowadays are fully automatic. Fully automatic means that you just hold down a button and the top goes up and down. It’s a nice luxury to have instead of having to manually lift your top and stuff it in the trunk, but an automatic top does come with some drawbacks. Automatic convertible tops are controlled by several motors and electronic switches. When these motors and switches begin failing it means big bucks for replacement. If you do not replace them you will get stuck with a convertible top that does not even drop down. To make matters worse convertibles are continually becoming more complicated, which makes repair more difficult and costly.
For some perspective on how much a new convertible top motor can cost, I was quoted $1,500 by a mechanic to replace mine when it failed.
Does the convertible top your interested in have a leather interior? It might be really nice right now, but expect those leather seats to get a maximum of HALF the life of the hardtop seats that you were looking at. The sun is the enemy of leather and even if you take care of your leather seats they are certain to get significantly more wear in the Spring and Summer than if you had bought a hardtop. When I used to buy and sell 3 Series BMWs I would frequently see BMW ragtops with seat covers because the leather had fallen apart, but on hardtops of relatively the same age the leather would be in excellent condition.
Leather work is also extremely expensive, leaving most convertible top owners to throw a seat cover over their seats after 5-10 years of ownership.
I never thought of the issue of theft in convertibles until my baby brother bought a convertible top BMW. The previous owner had used seam glue along the edges of the clear plastic in the back of the top. When my brother asked him why the plastic had been glued to the top, the previous owner informed him that a thief had cut through the original seams and climbed through the back of the vehicle.
Hard tops do not have this obvious weak point and therefore are more difficult to break into. My rule for parking my convertible in a public area was to leave the doors unlocked and to leave nothing in the vehicle that I did not want to be stolen. Why? Because if a thief wants to get into a convertible he is going to get in. At least I wont have to go get the plastic resewn after the thief cuts through it to get inside of the car.
Remember when I was talking about one of the benefits of owning a convertible is enjoying the nice weather with the top down? Well unless you live in South Florida where it is pretty much year round 80 degrees you will find out how limited top down weather really is. In my hometown it frequently gets well above 90 and sometimes even above 100 degrees in the summer. Combine the heat with high humidity and you have a situation where having the top down is unbearable.
Now the opposite problem, 60 degree weather is okay for cruising around town at 35 miles per hour. On the otherhand, once you get on the highway you need a winter parka to deal with the freezing cold wind.
Do you have a garage or at least some sort of roof to put your convertible top under at night? Let me give you a quick tip, there is NO SUCH THING AS A CONVERTIBLE THAT DOES NOT LEAK. Sure a newer convertible top will handle just fine in a light storm. But if and when you get a powerful thunderstorm with heavy rain you will find a little puddle on the carpet if you left the vehicle out overnight.
Besides the rain, convertibles top life expectancy will decrease if you park it outside because the snow and sun will degrade the cloth ragtop overtime.
A little more on leaks before I move on. The two BMW convertible tops I have owned leaked in the same two spots on both vehicles for the lifetime that I owned them. The most common spot for a convertible top to leak at is in the corners where the top meets the windshield. Unfortunately my vehicles were not garaged so sometimes I would find myself having to sit on a damp towel for my commute to work the morning after a rainstorm. This is the unfortunate and annoying reality of owning a convertible top that is not garaged.
One safety issue with convertibles is that many of them do not have “rollover bars” which protect convertible drivers in the event of a rollover. If your vehicle does not have a rollover bar your chances of being seriously injured or killed in the event of a rollover are drastically increased.
Think it will never happen to you? I have been driving for a little over 10 years and have flipped two cars at this point, both times I was hit by an intoxicated driver. Admittedly, I was driving an SUV in both of those accidents and they are for more susceptible to flipping and my luck sucks, but your two seat convertible sports car can flip as well.
Another practical issue with convertible tops that many people do not realize when they are purchasing their first one is the noise. Raised convertible tops are fine while driving around the city, the noise compared to a hardtop is minimal. Once you get on the highway however that all changes.
Over the years hardtops have gotten better and better about reducing vibration and noise by using more advanced soundproofing material. Not so true when it comes to ragtop convertibles. For long distance driving, convertibles can make for an annoying trip for many drivers that are accustomed to the barrier from the outside world that hardtops provide.
The list of negatives for convertibles in this article is a lot longer than the list of positives. But don’t let that scare you if you are interested in purchasing a convertible. My recommendation is that if you are interested in purchasing a convertible as a daily driver, just DON’T DO IT. Learn from my mistakes, I drove a convertible as a daily for six years.
So when would I recommend that you buy a convertible? When you have the available garage space and you already have a daily driver then it might be a great fit for you to get a fun weekend drop top car. If your convertible is just a pleasure vehicle than you can pretty much forget about the draw backs of leaking, theft and the weather because you are only using the vehicle when it is nice outside anyways!
If you are currently in the market or are interested in buying a convertible I hope that this article helped in your decision-making!