There’s nothing quite like driving a convertible with the wind whipping through your hair and the warm sun on your face. They’re the perfect summer cars and the daring will still be driving with the top down even when the leaves fall and temperatures drop.
There are lots of considerations when you’re picking a convertible, but the biggest decision you’ll need to make is whether you want a hardtop or soft top roof.
Soft top convertibles have fabric roofs and offer several advantages over hardtops. This starts when you’re sitting in the showroom making the deal because soft tops generally cost less than their hardtop counterparts.
Soft tops also weigh less and are less prone to the mechanical problems that happen with complicated hardtops. If something does go wrong with your soft top roof, it’s usually cheaper to fix.
These cars also look more like a convertible. The contrasting color of the fabric roof makes them unmistakable even with the top up while hardtops could pass as fixed roof vehicles without a closer look.
Although today’s convertibles come with well-insulated roofs, having a piece of fabric over your head isn’t the same as having a piece of metal for a roof. Soft tops are colder cars to drive during the winter, especially when you first start out for the day.
They can also be noisy with the roof closed. It’s worth taking a test drive in whatever car you consider, preferably in rainy weather, to see how noisy it is riding with the top up.
Another significant disadvantage to soft tops is that they aren’t as secure as hardtops. Whether vandalism just for the sake of it or to break in and steal anything left in the car, soft top convertibles are an easy target.
Hardtops eliminate the problem of thieves taking a knife to your roof and slashing their way inside. If you often leave your car parked in a sketchy area or in unattended overnight lots, then it’s worth considering a hardtop.
They’re are also much quieter with the roof up. Road and wind noise aren’t the issue they are with soft tops and neither is cold weather. It takes time to warm up a soft top on a cold day with the roof letting cold air through the fabric, but a hardtop warms up quickly.
The styling on a hardtop is also more appealing to many because it’s streamlined. There’s no seam between the car’s body and its roof so it’s more pleasing to the eye.
You’ll pay more for a hardtop because the materials used to make the roof are more costly. Same goes for the complex mechanisms that break the roof into sections to stow it away.
This also makes a hard top more expensive to repair. It’s not only a matter of the physical parts, but of the sensors and computerized technology that make the whole thing work.
You can also say goodbye to trunk space when you put down your hardtop. That roof has to go somewhere so your trunk is its home whenever the top is down.
Weight is also an issue. Hardtops weigh more and no one wants a sporty car with added weight. The lighter the sports car the better. That weight affects acceleration and it can negatively alter the weight distribution of the car. If you’re focused on performance, then hardtops are not your best option.
A big concern for many is the safety of a convertible versus that of a car with a fixed piece of metal for a roof. Especially with the top down, the thought of a rollover is frightening.
Convertibles usually have either a pop-up or fixed roll bar to protect passengers in the event of a rollover. The fixed rollbar is behind the headrests and is integrated into the vehicle design as a part that is always visible.
Pop-up roll bars are hidden until they’re needed. When the car senses that a rollover accident is occurring, these roll bars will deploy to protect passengers.
There are also unique side airbags available in some convertibles. They extend out from the sides of the car and also upward to protect the head in an accident.
Since convertibles have very small rear windows it can be extremely difficult to see behind them, despite their often smaller size. Blind-spot warning, parking sensors, and rearview cameras are invaluable safety features.
Manual Top vs Automatic Top
Hard tops are always power operated, but you have a choice with soft top convertibles. Most have automatic tops that operate at the touch of a button, but sometimes these still require manually latching and unlatching the roof.
A center latch is easy to reach and means you can simply stop, release the latch, and open your roof. Larger models may have two latches that require either help from the person in the passenger seat, stretching across the car, or even getting out if you don’t have long arms.
Manual soft tops can be even more difficult. Even with a single latch that’s easy to release from the driver’s seat, sometimes the roof needs an extra push to set it firmly in place when it’s open. You may even have to step out of the car to do the job.
Make sure you can easily open and close the roof so you’re not stuck fighting with it instead. If you opt for a manual top, open and close it a few times to make sure you’re comfortable with the process and that it isn’t frustrating or awkward.
Buy in the Winter
Snow might have you thinking about buying a 4-wheel drive beast, but if you’re holding off until spring for that convertible, then you might be making a mistake. Though the selection of convertibles on the lot may be limited in winter, they’re not going anywhere and dealerships are anxious to move them off the lot in the off-season.
The drawback is that the number of choices on the lot isn’t as extensive as it is in summer months. You might have to wait to get exactly the model you want to buy.
Carefully Consider Features
Perhaps you’re a minimalist and don’t care about bells and whistles, but you should rethink that with a convertible. A heated steering wheel and heated seats can extend the number of days when you can drop that top and enjoy the sunshine even when the weather is cooler.
A wind deflector is also worth the price when it’s an option, especially during highway driving. The same goes for a good stereo. The wind mutes the stereo’s abilities, so paying extra for a high-end system with better speakers is worth the cost.
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