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Buying a Convertible Car: Should You Worry About the Roof?

Imagine cruising in a convertible on the open road when it’s a beautiful, sunny day with nothing but blue sky above.

If you’re thinking about buying a car, it’s easy to shift your attention to convertibles. They’re sleek, fun, and exciting. They’re also cool.

And, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, convertibles are surprisingly safe. So, why wouldn’t you want a convertible?

Actually, we can think of a few reasons, and we’re listing the pros and cons, so you know what you’re getting into before signing the papers on a new or used drop-top.

Convertible Roof Types

Convertibles come with either of two types of roofs: hardtops or soft-tops. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at a few.

Hardtop Roof

Advantages

One of the biggest advantages of choosing a convertible hardtop roof is the secure protection for your car against elements and vandalism. Simply put, a metal roof will provide toughness that a fabric roof cannot.

Another advantage, at least to some, is the appearance of the hardtop roof. It looks much more seamless and can often not easily be detected as a convertible. Soft-tops are usually easy to spot because of the contrast in color and texture with the rest of the car’s body.

Additionally, hardtops cut down on the wind and road noise that is prevalent with soft-top convertibles. The quieter ride is worth the higher price tag that generally accompanies hardtops compared with soft ones.

Disadvantages

Hardtops, because of the components and mechanical systems involved in their construction, almost always cost more. And because of those mechanical systems, if something malfunctions, repairs cost more.

Hardtops also weigh more than soft-tops, which contributes to lower fuel efficiency and less nimbleness in performance driving. You can’t whip around twisty roads as deftly in a heavier car as you can in a lighter ride.

Finally, when you retract the roof of a hardtop, it heads straight to the trunk, as there is no other area in a convertible that offers suitable storage space. That can mean less trunk space for luggage or groceries, or any other cargo you plan to haul.

Soft-top Roof

Advantages

A key advantage of a soft-top includes lower cost because the fabric is cheaper than metal and the more complex components found in hardtops.

If something goes wrong with a soft-top, it’s usually easier and cheaper to fix because the mechanical system isn’t as intricate.

And, some people like the contrasting look of a soft-top, with the differentiating color and texture that easily identifies it as a convertible.

Disadvantages

A key disadvantage of a soft-top is the roof can get easily damaged by someone with bad intentions. Even though the convertible fabric is highly durable, if someone were to puncture it with a sharp object, they could cause significant damage and gain access to any valuables stored inside your vehicle.

Another disadvantage is greater wind and road noise. The fabric top can’t insulate you as effectively from the outside elements as a hardtop can.

Then there’s visibility: Although it’s easy to see out of a convertible when the top is down, it’s a whole different story when the top is up.

Visibility can be such a challenge that we think you should try parallel parking with the top up before you buy any convertible — to see if you can live with the visibility.

The final drawback is unique to vehicles with canvas tops rather than convertible hardtops. Even with the top in place, the vehicle is a lot more exposed to the elements than a standard car, as it’ll get colder faster and take longer to warm up.

Other Things to Consider

In addition to malfunctions of convertible roofs’ opening and closing mechanism, understand that you might need to deal with leaks. Water intrusion can be a hassle, and it’s more likely to occur in a roof with moving parts.

To test against this before you buy the car, consider hosing it down to see if you notice water dripping into the interior. While the individual seller or dealer might not favor this type of test, if they’re confident the car is in good condition and know that you’re a serious buyer, they should allow you to check it out. Both hardtops and soft-tops can be prone to leaks.

Also, as with anything mechanical, a convertible roof’s opening and closing function can deteriorate over time because of wear and tear. So, if you are considering buying a used convertible, be sure to check out the open and close function repeatedly to see if it operates smoothly.

It’s also a good idea to do some research on the model you’re considering to determine if it has a history of malfunctioning. Read consumer reviews and talk to mechanics and folks who have owned the model before to see what their experience was with the vehicle.

Taking the Leap

For many people, it’s a lifelong dream to own a convertible. However, researching the convertible’s make and model, knowing the issues that can arise, and thoroughly testing the individual car you’re thinking of buying can help you determine the right vehicle for you.

If you buy a convertible, take pride in your choice and enjoy many years of driving fun under the sun.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Rob Douthit contributed to this report.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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4 COMMENTS

  1. All of your points are absolutely valid.But the most overwhelming problem that I faced was the wind buffeting and windnoise. But thankfully, my Cabrio got unbelievably tranquil after mounting awind deflector. Thanks to the TopDown windscreen now I can relish al fresco driveseven at highway speeds!

    • Yeah, a wind deflector is a must-have addition for every roadster. I have something called Zefferus windscreen affixed on my ride. Now the top down drives are not just noise-free but also don’t wear us out after a long al fresco cruise.

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