Taking care of a car’s convertible top requires a bit more care than with other vehicles. Depending on the material the top is made out of, there are different methods you can employ to help ensure your top lasts as long as the car does. If your convertible top is ripped or torn, it will have to be replaced by a professional, but you can prevent much of this damage by ensuring your top is clean and properly sealed. You can purchase a number of cleaners made specifically for convertible tops at most auto parts stores.
Caring for a Vinyl Convertible Top
Wash the top using car wash soap. Vinyl convertible tops are designed to be washed along with the rest of the car using traditional automotive soaps. Follow the directions provided on your car wash soap of choice when mixing it with water to ensure you wash the top using the proper ratio of soap to water to avoid drying the top out. Avoid using any soap with bleaches or strong detergents on your car or vinyl top.
If your vinyl top is in good condition, washing it with car wash soap is a great way to keep it clean.
As with your car, do not wash a vinyl top in direct sunlight, as it may cause the soap to dry onto the vinyl.
Use a convertible top cleaner designed for vinyl. If your vinyl top is particularly dirty, you can use a convertible top cleaner that is specially designed to properly clean and protect vinyl. Read the instructions for use when purchasing vinyl top cleaner to ensure you use it properly and always clean the entire top at once. Cleaning the top in sections can result in the vinyl’s color fading at different rates.
There are a number of brands that offer vinyl top cleaners such as Maguire’s, Wolfgang and Ragtop.
Make sure to rinse the top thoroughly after using a vinyl cleaner.
Use a brush to gently scrub the vinyl. If your vinyl convertible top has hard to remove dirt and debris stuck to it, you can incorporate a medium to soft toothed brush when cleaning it. Spray vinyl top cleaner on the convertible top, then scrub the area gently with the brush until the debris comes loose.
Do not ever use a steel bristled brush on your vinyl top.
Spray on a cleaner that prevents mildew. Vinyl tops can be a breeding ground for mildew in high humidity areas. To prevent mildew from developing, choose a vinyl cleaner that includes an anti-mildew agent designed specifically for vinyl if you live in an area that rains frequently or regularly experiences high levels of humidity.
Vinyl top cleaners that include anti-mildew agents will be clearly labeled.
Do not use a household mildew remover on your vinyl top, as it may damage the material.
Apply a vinyl protectant. Make sure the top is completely dry before spraying on a vinyl protectant. These protectants can prevent the top from fading in the sun and help to maintain its waterproof seal. Vinyl protectants should be applied with increasing regularity on older vehicles.
After about seven years, you should apply a vinyl protectant to your convertible top every few months.
If your vehicle sits in direct sunlight often, you may want to apply vinyl protector more often.
Maintaining a Cloth Convertible Top
Use a cleaner designed for fabric. Cloth convertible tops are not as resilient as vinyl, and as a result, should only be washed using products designed specifically to clean them. Try to avoid getting traditional car wash soap on your cloth convertible top during normal washing, and then apply a cleaner designed for cloth tops after.
You can purchase cloth convertible top cleaners at most auto parts stores.
Regular car wash soap can dry out a cloth top and compromise its water proof seal over time.
Use a moderately stiff brush to scrub the top. If your cloth top has debris or stuck on dirt that won’t come off easily, use a moderately stiff brush to scrub the cloth top cleaner into the fabric. A short bristled, moderately stiff brush will remove the stuck on material without damaging the cloth.
Apply the cleaner to the top, then scrub it in with the brush gently until the dirt comes off.
Rinse the top thoroughly after you’re done using a hose.
Look for signs of failing water repellence. Cloth tops are treated at the factory to water proof them, but over time the cloth’s ability to prevent water from seeping through will begin to fade. Look in your car for puddles or wet fabric after a heavy rain. If the inside of your car has some wet spots, it is likely that the water repellent treatment in your cloth convertible top has worn off.
The inside of your car should remain dry during rain storms. If you spot wet areas, you may need to reapply a water repellent to the cloth top.
Water inside your car could also indicate a failed seal around a window or door. Check to make sure the seals in your vehicle aren’t cracked or torn when you find water inside it.
Apply a water repellent to a clean, dry top. If you think your cloth top is no longer effectively repelling water, you can apply water repellant to it that is designed for cloth convertible tops. Spray the repellent on the top evenly while it is completely dry. Depending on the repellant you use, you may need to apply multiple coats.
Some cloth top sealers require that you allow one coat to dry before applying another one.
Be careful to apply the water repellent sealer evenly to avoid discoloration of your cloth top due to some areas having better protection than others.
Reapply water repellent monthly. If you find that your car’s convertible top needs to have water repellant reapplied to it, you will likely need to apply the sealant regularly from that point forward. If you store your vehicle in a garage, you may be able to reapply the sealant every few months; otherwise you should plan to re-apply the sealant monthly.
The initial treatment of water repellent sealer provided by the factory can last for years, but new applications you do yourself are usually only good for a month or two.
Failing to re-seal your cloth top could result in significant leaks and even mold.
Determining What Kind of Top You Have
Refer to your owner’s manual. If you are unsure whether or not your vehicle has a cloth or vinyl top, an easy way to be sure is to refer to the vehicle’s owner’s manual. The owner’s manual should indicate what type of material the top is made of, as well as recommended actions you can take to prolong the life of your convertible top.
If you do not have the owner’s manual, try referring to the auto maker’s website.
Look for signs of fuzz or lint. Vinyl tops have more of a plastic seeming finish to them than cloth tops do, so they react differently to things like lint. Whereas lint and fuzz will blow right off of a vinyl convertible top, it will often stick directly to a cloth top. If you see lint stuck to your top, it is likely made of cloth.
If you do not see any lint or fuzz on the top, try rubbing a small piece of drier lint on the convertible top. If it does not stick, it is likely vinyl.
Rub a small amount of water into the top. Another easy way to assess whether or not your convertible top is made of cloth or vinyl is to pour a small amount of water onto the top and then rubbing it around with your fingers. Bring a cup of water and a spoon out to your vehicle. Use the spoon to apply a small amount of water to the convertible top, then press you index and middle fingers into the water and rub it around.
You will need less than a spoonful of water to successfully test the material of the top.
You can pour the water directly from the cup, but be careful not to pour too much or it will saturate the top and make it harder to determine its material.
Assess whether the water smears or absorbs into the top. After you pour the water on the top and rub it around with your fingers observe where the water goes. If it remains at the surface and swishes around as you rub it, the top is likely made of vinyl. If the water absorbs into the material of the top, it is made of cloth.
Pouring too much water on the top will result in the water swishing around at the surface regardless of the material.
This test can be conducted anywhere on the convertible top.
Prolonging the Life of Your Convertible
Do not leave the top down overnight. When your convertible top is down, it is folded up tightly in the deck of the vehicle. For a well-conditioned top, this isn’t an issue, but if you leave the top folded for too long, it may result in defined fold lines or even cracks developing in the convertible top’s material.
Always put the top up before storing your vehicle or parking it for the night.
It can be impossible to remove lines or cracks in the top without replacing the convertible top itself.
Check to make sure the deck is clear when putting the top down. Whether your convertible folds up automatically or manually, it can be damaged if it is folded onto something. Always make sure the area the top folds into is clear of obstructions and that there is nothing stored in the top’s compartment, otherwise the material of the top or the metal frame for it could be damaged.
Check the top’s compartment to ensure nothing has fallen into it before folding the top down.
Make sure nothing is resting on top of the convertible top while it is folded as well.
Treat vinyl windows with a cleaner and protectant. Some convertible tops come equipped with vinyl windows. These windows can yellow over time due to exposure to sunlight and accumulating dirt, so use a high quality vinyl cleaner on rear windows if they aren’t made of glass.
You can determine if your top is made of glass or vinyl by seeing if it bends. A glass window will not bend.
If your top is also made of vinyl, you may use the same vinyl cleaner to clean the window.
Reduce yellowing of glazing on vinyl windows with a lens glaze. If your vinyl window has already yellowed, you can purchase a vinyl lens glaze product at most auto parts stores. These cleaners spray onto the vinyl and remove the yellowing, making the window clear once again.
Poorly maintained vinyl windows can reduce visibility out of the back of the vehicle.
If your vinyl window is too dark to see though, you may need to have it replaced by a professional.