The sun rises higher in the sky and its light lasts a little longer every day. Windows are open and winter coats finally find their way back to the closet. Spring is in the air!. And as the temperatures go up, convertible tops come down and auto enthusiasts enjoy the open-air experience anew. Now that the convertible is no longer stored in the garage, how do you go about taking care of its top?
Think about it: the body is made of metal underneath layers of protective coatings and a hard plastic paint finish. Moldings are made of plastic and aluminum or are covered with chrome. The glass is, well, glass. Each surface requires attention. Still those materials are pretty durable.
Your car’s soft convertible top is subject to the same harsh conditions as every other surface, but it is not nearly so tough. The material is far more delicate than steel panels or acrylic clearcoats. If it is possible to cause damage to those hard surfaces through improper handwashing at home, how much more so might you harm that soft top? If it is important to protect those hard surfaces with polymer sealants and waxes, how much more so might the soft top need protection? And if it is essential that you clean your car’s underbody to guard against sludge, salt, dirt, and debris from causing corrosion, wouldn’t you need to address the effects of contaminants on your convertible top too?
The truth is, your convertible top is pretty durable. Maybe not to the same level as other vehicle surfaces, but it is amazing just how tough that collapsible roof can be. And yet, it does need specific care, different from that of the rest of your vehicle. That care varies slightly depending on what type of convertible top your car has, whether vinyl or cloth.
Originally made to simulate the look of leather, vinyl tops have a shiny appearance compared to the muted matte of cloth tops. A vinyl top is smoother, harder, and easier to clean than cloth. But if a vinyl top deteriorates or gets damaged, it needs to be replaced – it is not easily repairable. A cloth top, while more subject to staining and contamination, is much easier to repair. Both suffer the effects of sunlight: vinyl can fade, dry out, and crack; cloth can fade and shrink. Both require consideration – to clean it and to preserve it. Here are some tips to keep your convertible top in excellent shape.
Clean it quickly.
One of the surest ways to allow environmental contaminants to wreck your ragtop is to allow them to sit on and soak into the material. A cloth top is especially susceptible to contaminants becoming embedded in the fabric. But both vinyl and cloth tops should be cleaned as soon as you notice bird droppings, bug residue, sap, or other impurities. Inspect your top regularly for signs of soiling, and treat the problem quickly, before it has time to set in.
Stay out of the sun.
The ultraviolet rays of the sun can do damage to any surface on your vehicle, not the least of which is your convertible top. The sun might make for a nice day to get your car cleaned, but it does not aid in the process. A vehicle should never be washed in direct sunlight. Car wash soap and other cleaning chemicals (and protective coatings) dry far too quickly on a hot surface in direct sunlight. Your convertible top should always be cleaned and conditioned indoors or in the shade.
Bring on the brushes.
Any professional car detailing technician will tell you that it is essential to own an array of car wash brushes to properly clean the interior and exterior of a vehicle. That advice holds true for your convertible top. Not just any old brush will do. Your wheels need a different brush than the tires; the top requires a different brush than the wheels. A soft bristle brush (made of horsehair or Nylex, for example) is gentle on the fabric and will not mar the pattern on a vinyl top.
Draw out the debris.
Dirt and debris become trapped along the seams, around the rear window, and under the bottom edge of a convertible top. Before getting the top wetted for washing, it should be blown off and brushed. A vacuum with a brush attachment can also help to remove dirt and debris. Cloth tops especially are affected by dirt and dust that settles into the weave of the fabric and acts as an abrasive.
Wet the whole top.
Anyone who has attempted to clean a spot from a cloth car seat has found that, although the spot may disappear, a larger spot, a ring, forms around the original spot. So, you have to treat the whole seat, wet the entire section you are cleaning. The same goes for a convertible top. Attempts to “spot treat” a top often leave behind larger spots or rings when the top dries. Wet the entire top with water and keep it wet while you are cleaning it. Rinse it off when you are done and allow it to dry.
Careful with the chemicals.
Just as there are designated brushes for wheels and tires and seats and tops, there are specialized car care chemicals for each area being cleaned on a vehicle. Whether you take a trip through an automatic car wash or schedule an appointment for professional hand washing or detailing, a host of cleaners, conditioners, and protectants – chemicals – are needed for a quality job. This can range from pH-balanced car wash soap all the way to polymer sealant for your wheels or conditioner for your leather seats. It is important to use appropriate chemicals to clean, preserve, and protect your convertible top. A vinyl top can be cleaned with the same car wash soap used on the rest of your vehicle, as long as it does not contain gloss enhancers. The cloth gets its own cleaner. Dish soap and other household products (ammonia, bleach, alcohol, vinegar, detergent, etc.) should never be used on your convertible top.
Whether you are vacuuming or dusting off the dirt, scrubbing with soap or convertible top cleaner, or even drying with a microfiber towel, you need to be gentle. No surface on a vehicle can stand up to aggressive and abrasive buffeting with brushes and towels, or with pressurized air or water. That is why a soft-touch car wash features cloth and foam brushes (versus the old-school vinyl brushes of the past) that gently agitate contaminants and aid the chemical cleaners. Coarse brushes and towels will only leave behind swirl marks in the paint and abrasions on a convertible top. The window fitted in the top can be cleaned with clear water and a microfiber towel or with a clear-plastic cleaner to prevent water spotting or scratching.
Hit below the belt.
This is not a call to be aggressive, but rather a reminder that when your convertible top is up, it covers the areas along the tops of the quarter panels and ahead of the trunk lid. While you are cleaning the top, take the time to clean along the beltline, underneath the lower edge of the convertible top. It is necessary to partially retract the top to do so. It is common for dirt and debris to collect here.
Let it dry before you apply.
A vinyl or cloth top is treated from the factory to resist the effects of UV light. Unfortunately, that treatment wears away over time. Once you have thoroughly cleaned your top with appropriate cleaners, allow it to dry completely before you apply any top dressing or protectant. The top should be up while it dries to prevent spotting and mildew. Once dry, it should be coated with a protectant specific to the type of top, vinyl, or cloth, to restore UV protection and waterproofing every six to eight weeks or so.
Unprotected cloth and vinyl convertible tops will deteriorate over time. That is why it is necessary to be proactive – clean up contaminants quickly with appropriate products and treat the top consistently with protective coatings. Your vehicle owner’s manual will contain maintenance recommendations for care for your top, including whether or not you should drive through an automatic car wash. While it is safe to take a convertible through a soft-touch car wash, there are some models for which it is not recommended.
Your convertible top is best enjoyed when it is opened up and out of the way. The open-air experience is what a convertible is all about. But to enjoy that feeling of freedom, you need to make an investment to make sure that the top is in tip-top shape!
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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