Summer Fun: Taking Care Of Your Convertible Top
By Susan Frissell
Women With Wheels

Now that warm days are here, we're beginning to see lots of convertibles. If you're the proud owner of a ragtop, there are a few precautions to take when caring for the top, the back window and the parts that make it run.

Hand-washing a convertible top is strongly recommended. Tops made in vinyl covering can be cleaned using a vinyl cleaner, which are widely available. While commercial car washes generally will not harm a convertible top made in cloth or vinyl, never allow a car wash to spray wax on your convertible top. When hand-washing the top, use Ivory or other mild soap flakes in a bucket of lukewarm water. In hard water areas, add Calgon or other water softener until the water feels slippery.

If the top is made of cloth, it can be protected and softened by using Scotch Guard and/or a liquid fabric or softener, diluted in water. The use of penetrating vinyl preservatives, conditioners or dressings on tops is not recommended.

Convertible top windows are either glass or plastic. If the window is plastic, it should be cleaned frequently, using mild soap and water, or a plastic cleaner designed for cleaning plastic products. Be sure to hose or blow off any loose dirt particles from the surface first, and then wash with plain water and mild soap. Apply cleaner with a soft cloth or tissue to gently clean the window. Always clean in a side to side or a top to bottom motion. Never in a circular motion; this can damage a plastic window. There are several good plastic cleaners available (e.g., Meguiar's Mirror Glaze Formula 17).

When washing your convertible top, keep these points in mind:

  • Always wash convertible tops in the shade, never in direct sunlight;
  • Always wash the entire top. Never spot clean the top; this will leave rings or bright spots;
  • Always wet the entire car before washing the top. Use a sponge or soft bristle brush to apply the soap. Do not use a chamois or cloth, because these will leave lint on cloth tops;
  • Always rinse well with a hose, making sure to remove all traces of soap. Wipe off excess water with a sponge, and be careful to hose down the entire car to prevent streaking of the car;
  • Try to dry the top in direct sun. Chamois all excess water off the body of the car;
  • Do not use detergents, bleaches, harsh cleansers, cleaners or abrasives. Do not use dry-cleaning solvents, etc.;
  • Do not lower or cover convertible tops when wet or damp. This can lead to mildew growth and, in extreme cases, can cause discoloration; rotting of toppings also can occur. If the top boot is wet or damp, don't store it.

    When the convertible top is in the "up" position, the chances of damage are greater, due to the elements. Cleaning it routinely with the appropriate products made especially for convertible top fabrics is the first step. Use a vinyl sealant that will protect your top from cracking and fading.

    As a convertible owner, make it a point to read the owner's manual for lowering or raising your top. Remember to keep the top well area free of objects, especially if the top has a glass window. Even something as seemingly harmless as a beach towel can damage a glass window.

    When raising or lowering a convertible top, do it only in weather above 40 degrees. Raising or lowering the assemblies in cold weather can cause damage to the topping, plastic windows and other components. During summer months, if you possibly can avoid it, don't park under any trees.

    It may prove helpful, as a convertible owner, to get in the habit of watching your car's convertible top as it's lowered or raised. Watch for any irregular motion, snagging or other problems. If you notice any problems and your convertible is still covered under a new car warranty, return to the dealer and have the convertible top frame inspected. If the warranty has expired, take your convertible to your local automotive trim and upholstery shop to have the frame examined.

    If/when any problems are observed when lowering or raising the convertible top, owners are wise to respond quickly to avoid any damage to existing parts.

    As convertibles age, top frame, bow links and other frame components may become unaligned. Joints begin to wear, and alignment changes. Weather seals, top frame pads or straps, side and rear cables, rain rails and other parts may need to be replaced to avoid water leakage and damage to tops and glass or plastic window assemblies. Not replacing water seals can result in wind noise and water leakage when you replace the top. If rust develops on the top frame, have it removed and the top frame repainted to protect your top frame and convertible top.

    When you're not driving your convertible, leave the top in the "up" position. This will help retain the original shape of your top, resist shrinkage and avoid crease marks where the top folds when in the "down" position. Leaving your top up when you are not driving also will help to prolong the service life of plastic windows.

    If you've just replaced the top on your convertible, leave the top and glass windows in the "up" position for a few days. This enables them to relax and adjust, or become "seasoned" to the top frame.

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