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The Ultimate Convertible Buying Guide


If you’re ready to feel the wind in your hair and take in the summer breeze, it’s the time of year to buy a convertible. We’re celebrating the first month of summer with a comprehensive convertible buying guide to help you pick the perfect convertible. Convertible buying can be difficult when you know you want a convertible, but don’t know much about them. Here’s everything you need to know before you hit the dealership in search of the perfect convertible for you.

Convertible Tops

The “Top” of a convertible is the section that can be hidden or removed. There two primary types of tops: Hardtop and Soft Top.

Hardtop Convertibles

Hardtops are best for protection from the elements. They usually provide superior insulation and protection from leaks. Hardtops are also more secure, as it’s difficult for thieves to get inside your vehicle without damaging hard surfaces. On the downside, they are more expensive to buy and fix than other tops. They are also heavier, which can affect fuel efficiency. When a hardtop is closed, the vehicle can often resemble a regular coupe, eliminating the convertible look, too.

2015 Volkswagen EOS Hard Top
2015 Volkswagen EOS Hard Top

Soft Top Convertibles

Soft Tops are usually the least expensive to buy and repair. Convertible buyers love the look of the soft-top because it’s possesses the convertible look no matter if the top is up or down. While automakers are constantly improving the all-weather capabilities of soft tops, they tend to provide less insulation and are more prone to leaks, which may not be ideal in all climates.

2014 Nissan 370Z Soft Top Convertible
2014 Nissan 370Z Soft Top Convertible

Other Types of Convertibles

Meet the Targa Top! It was first used on the Porsche 911 Targa in 1966. The term is still a registered trademark of Porsche. This semi-convertible body style has a removable roof section and a car-width roll bar behind the seats.

Targa Top Porsche
Targa Top Porsche

Roadster, also known as a Spider or Spyder, is a term used to define an open two-seat car that focuses on the sporty appearance. They can be either hardtop or soft top vehicles.

Maza MX 5 Miata Roadster
Maza MX-5 Miata Roadster

What to Look for When Buying a Convertible

There are a variety of things you should look for when buying a car, and all of those standards hold true when buying a convertible, with a few additions.

Look Under the Hood

Like with any other car, always check under the hood of a convertible you are thinking about buying. You should always give the car a once over, checking the oil, engine, hoses, and belts. If you’re unsure about the quality of any of these parts, be sure to have a mechanic look at it before signing your name on the dotted line.

Check the Details

Looking at the exterior of the convertible can tell you a lot about a vehicle’s history. Minor scrapes and scratches can be covered up, but you may notice uneven spots or rust under the car if you look close enough. These minor details can be tell-tell signs that a car has been in an accident or experienced some kind of water damage.

You should also thoroughly check the interior of the convertible. Use a flashlight to look under and in between the seats to find stains or tears. Replacing your upholstery is not a cheap task, so be sure to talk to your dealer to ensure you’re getting a fair price if you find anything unsightly.

If you see any red flags, be sure to ask for a vehicle history report before moving forward with your purchase!

Test the Top

The primary area of concern for convertibles is the top itself. Repairing or replacing a convertible top can be quite expensive, so it’s imperative to check the condition of the top inside and out. One of the biggest problems with convertible tops is leaks. It may sound silly, but the best way to check for leaks is to pour water on the top. Some sellers may balk at the idea, but if you present yourself as a serious buyer, the seller should allow it. Don’t forget to double and triple check the functionality of the convertible top while you’re there, too.

What Car Should I Buy? Cool Mom Car Edition

Convertible Buying FAQs

Are convertibles safe?

The majority of modern convertibles achieve respectable, if not great safety ratings. With that said, convertibles will be slightly less safe than a solid-roofed counterpart. While convertibles are less likely to be crash tested, automakers have dramatically improved on the safety technology and design of convertibles. According to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), convertibles don’t have any more fatalities than hardtop cars. When convertibles were first introduced, they were found to be much more dangerous than a non-convertible counterpart. For the most part, this is no longer true.

Are convertibles expensive?

In general, a convertible will be more expensive than a non-convertible counterpart. However, for many, the thrill of driving with the top down is worth the price. Keep in mind, the resale value of your convertible is highly dependent upon your climate and the season you choose to sell it in. Selling during the warmer months will produce a higher sale price, as will selling in a state with a warmer climate.

When you get ready to buy a convertible today, you can expect the price range of convertibles to vary from $20,000 for a used VW Beetle to well over $100,000 for a luxurious ride.

According to Hemmings, back in 1968, a FIAT 124 Spider convertible cost $3,181. Today, the same car brand new will cost you closer to $20,000-$30,000.

Do convertibles get bad gas mileage?

Convertibles are less efficient with the top down. The difference will vary significantly between models. Carmakers are constantly improving convertible efficiency, but you may experience anything from a 5% to 20% decrease in fuel efficiency with the top down.

Can a convertible go through an automatic car wash?

Especially for soft top convertibles, avoid traditional (non-touchless) automatic carwashes. Many touchless automatic car washes claim to be convertible safe, but if you wash your vehicle frequently, this could still cause your soft top to weaken. Your safest bet is hand washing, as you can manually handle the top with care.

Is a convertible okay to own during the winter?

With proper maintenance and care, a convertible is fine to have during all seasons. Before winter, always double check your top for leaks prior to storing it or leaving it out in the elements. Know that even a well-sealed convertible will probably provide less insulation than a regular car. Always brush excess snow and ice off a soft top, as the extra weight could damage the top’s frame.

girl driving convertible with dog

Now that you’ve read our convertible buying guide, what are you waiting for? The warm weather won’t stick around forever! Take a look at convertibles for sale near you.

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Erin Maxson

Erin loves nothing more than a good road trip. To her, getting behind the wheel is one of the biggest adventures you can take because it can lead to anywhere. Alongside her Toyota Tundra, you'll find her co-pilot pup, Rory, and a 1976 Airstream Argosy in tow. Her motto: Life is a scenic road, take your time and enjoy the ride.

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    Darrek Olson June 13, 2016

    Convertibles give a great experience! It is not quite as exhilarating as riding a motorcycle, but that trade off comes with more safety and year-round practicality. Great article! Go buy an MX-5 Miata.


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