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What Are the Differences Between the Types of Convertible Tops?

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The word “convertible” comes from the root word “convert,” simply referring to a car with a roof that isn’t stationary. However, any automotive enthusiast could tell you that there’s much more to a convertible than simply that–and we’re not talking about the “essence” of a convertible. There are, in fact, many types of convertibles based on their material and the way they are removed.

Here’s a quick, simple guide on the different types of convertible tops.


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Nice Top: Are You a Softie or a Hardie?

The biggest distinction between types of convertible tops is if it’s a hardtop or soft-top.

Hardtop convertible roofs are made of sturdy, rigid material–typically metal that’s the same color as the car body. They provide better protection from weather and security against thieves.

  • Detachable hardtops function as a single piece that can be removed entirely from the car and stored elsewhere. These used to be popular in sports cars in the latter-half of the twentieth century, but faded out during the 1990s.
  • Retractable hardtops are multi-piece units that rely on mechanical systems to collapse and store them in the back of the car. They’re costly to fix and purchase but are the most convenient and attractive when they work.

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Soft-top convertible roofs are made of pliable, fabric-like materials that can compactly extend and retract without taking up much storage space or relying on a mechanical system. Fabric-based soft-top covers only last 3-6 years, depending on upkeep, and are easy to cut through. But, they also match the aesthetic of convertibles and aren’t horrendous to replace.

They’re offered in a variety of material combinations of plies, inlay, and lining. These often involve:

  • Polyester or Vinyl- good for durability and are most popular
  • Rubber- good for protection and ease of cleaning
  • Cotton or Canvas- good for visual elegance

You’ll also find some detachable soft-top roofs on off-road vehicles, such as bikini tops that consist of fabric stretched and strapped over a utility vehicle’s frame.

In some cases, the original soft-top on the vehicle might not be very good quality and it might be a good idea to have it replaced with a better after-market product.