Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Owning a Convertible

From soft vs. hardtop to the safety factor to the need for sunscreen, here’s your guide.

Gif of a convertible opening the top

More than just a mode of transportation, the automobile is a form of expression. But no matter which model you buy, any car with a top down expresses freedom, excitement, fun, the outdoors—that’s just what convertibles do.

Soon, people can even put themselves behind the wheel of an electric convertible. New models will be grabbing everyone’s attention in the coming years, as makers including Audi, VW and Maserati all have electric convertibles in the works.

So what’s it really like to own a convertible? How do they differ from standard cars? And what does it take to maintain a vehicle that’s more vulnerable to the elements than others? Here are the essentials.

Choose your type of top.

First, when selecting a convertible, you need to choose (if there’s an option) between a soft or hard top. You can raise or lower either kind, depending on the model. Soft tops offer a lighter ride, while hard tops can give you better crash protection.

When it comes to keeping your car clean, the car wash is generally a safe bet. “We love convertibles,” says Mike Matthews, Director of FINS Car Wash. “Whether hard or soft top, we wash convertibles every day. Most car manufacturers have tested and approved their convertibles for use in an automated wash. But just to be certain, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or contact them directly.”

Put safety—and security—first.

While cruising through town in your convertible, you likely feel as safe as you would riding in any other type of car. And there’s a reason for that: Convertibles have improved greatly in terms of safety over the past decades. Still, should you get into a crash, they may provide less protection than other cars, so it’s more crucial than ever that you wear your seatbelt at all times. Some models come with a visible or hidden roll bar in the backseat that pops up in a crash; others allow you to add one after market.

There’s also another type of safety you need to worry about: that of your property. Don’t park your convertible with the top down overnight, and don’t leave valuables in the car (or glove compartment or trunk, if it can be opened by an interior lever). The plastic back window on some older models also offers opportunity for theft. Fortunately, many convertibles have an interior container that can be locked and/or a trunk that cannot be opened from the inside.

Protect yourself from sun, wind and rain.

But for a swath of hair blowing in your face, almost nothing can get in the way of you enjoying a sunny day with the top down. Well, that’s not true—you can get a nasty sunburn. The convertible’s greatest asset can also be a threat to your skin. So whether the sun is shining or not, apply plenty of sunscreen, wear sunglasses and don a hat that won’t fly off.

Many convertibles, meanwhile, come with a built-in wind deflector, which reduces noise and cuts down on wind churning in the front seat. You can also add one as an (essential) after-market purchase.

If you live in a rainy region, though, a convertible might not be the right fit for you. The top has the potential to leak (not like in the old days, but it can happen), and you won’t have as many good opportunities to joyride.

Pay a little more.

You’ll look great in that sleek convertible. But you’ll most likely pay more for it, too. Because of the complicated mechanics of the top and the fact that convertibles are made in much smaller quantities than other models, car makers charge more. Likewise, because of the top and associated parts, maintenance also tends to be pricier. You’ll also pay a bit more for car insurance.

You don’t have to invest in a convertible for the long term, though, to enjoy the perks. Many people choose to lease them for a short time or simply rent them for a vacation or weekend jaunt.

Owning and maintaining a convertible is not cheap and not especially easy. Nonetheless, the appeal endures. Whether you want to cruise along a coastal highway with the wind in your hair or drive on a curvy mountain pass while your favorite song plays, nothing can match the experience or iconic status of being behind the wheel of a convertible. 

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