Mazda Miata
John Goreham's picture

The ups and downs of convertible ownership

Owning a convertible can be a challenge. Here are some tips for those considering going topless.

Owning a convertible is a challenge. Wishing you owned a convertible is not. It is easy to envision a sunny day, a lonely road and the wind in your hair as you cruise the scenic byways of America. One hand on the top of the wheel, the other draped up on the door. The ideal day with a convertible is one we can all imagine. The truth is there are days just like that for convertible owners, but there are also other days that are challenging in ways owners of cars with roofs do not have to deal with.

Only about 1% of the cars in America are convertibles. That is no accident. Car and Driver recently compiled a list of all the states and even Hawaii, which had the highest percentage of convertibles is under 4%. The reasons the number is so low are more complicated than many might imagine and go beyond cost.

Challenges of Owning a Convertible
Here are the wimpy reasons not to drive a convertible listed by a long-time owner:
- It is too hot
- It is too wet
- It is too cold
- It is the wrong time of day
- Too many people to drive
- Wrong destination (unsafe to park it)
- It is snowing, icing, sleeting, slippery or all of the above
- Too much stuff to pack (week-long trip with kids)
- Too long a drive (car is not comfortable after 2 or 3 hours)

The truth is that when you own a convertible, and also another vehicle, like a sport ute or crossover, you quickly realize that if you try too hard to make the “fun” car the everyday car, it isn’t that fun anymore. On the other hand, if you garage your car when it rains or when it is too hot to put the top down, you might as well skip the whole shebang and save the money.

Ways to Extend Your Convertible Days
There are ways to add more top-down driving days, and to also add more days when you drive the fun car with the top up. Here are some things to consider before buying one. If you live above the Mason-Dixon line think hard about your top. The roof of a convertible can be extremely simple, like the Mazda Miata’s manual soft-top. It can be lowered with a flick of the wrist. However, you can’t put it up by hand while at a stop light. If you will be driving on rainy days go with a power top. If you are going to be parking on the street, particularly in the city, consider a hard-top convertible.

Hard-top convertibles offer the same resistance to vandalism and theft that regular cars do. The also offer more road-noise insulation than do the best soft-tops. However, the hard-tops come with a couple of big disadvantages too. The first being they are very heavy. Convertibles are usually not lighter than fixed-roof cars. That is because they need to be better supported underneath or they go all floppy on the road due to twisting. A hard-top that swings back to the trunk has the effect of shifting a lot of weight to the back. In a touring car that is no problem. Another draw-back is that they are rigid, so the space they take up in the back is considerably more than a soft-top, which can fold up better and take up less space. Finally hard-tops tend to be a little bit creeky and are never perfectly quiet when up.

If bad weather is your main obstacle consider an all-wheel drive convertible. Sounds crazy, right? Maybe not. Audi has been making all-wheel drive rag-tops now for decades and other manufacturers do as well occasionally. They are out there if bad weather is you main concern and you need to be able to get to work in the car on snowy days. Heat is a valid issue, so when you shop for your convertible, get a light colored interior, and if the budget permits, get ventilated seats. That combination will extend your hottest-day top down days considerably. Never buy a convertible without heated seats. You will regret it on fall days. If your main concern is space, fear not. There are four passenger convertibles from many manufacturers that are fun and relatively sporty. Kids will fit back there and you can squeeze a couple of adults in back to get to and from dinner.

Today in New England the weather is forecasted to be mid-70s, dry, and sunny. The pollen is now gone, the kids are still in school, and if you want to take the drop-top out for a road trip things could not be more perfect. What are you waiting for?


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