Soft-top convertibles evoke images of warm summer nights spent under starry skies. But when old man winter bears his frosty teeth, many convertible drivers opt to add a removable hardtop for cold weather months. These aftermarket hardtops promise to preserve the fun of top-down driving while providing protection from the elements.
In this post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of winter hardtops for soft convertibles. What exactly are they? How do they impact your car’s performance and comfort? We’ll share step-by-step installation guides, maintenance tips, and troubleshooting advice from convertible enthusiasts who have been there.
For quick reference, here are the key points on winter hardtops:
- Provide weather protection allowing top-down driving into colder temps
- Offer increased warmth, reduced noise but some performance tradeoffs
- Installation is straight-forward but has some key fitting steps
- Annual maintenance checks ensure good seals and operation
- Proper storage indoors avoids damage when not in use
- Often used on track cars in auto sport to improve chassis rigidity and aerodynamics
Winter hardtops are removable roof panels made of rigid materials like fiberglass or ABS plastic that can be installed on convertibles in place of soft tops. They are completely waterproof and provide insulation and weather protection to allow for top-down driving even when temperatures get quite cold.
Hardtops attach securely to the windshield frame and body of the convertible. Some use simple bracket systems while others require more complex latches and seals to create a weather-tight seal. Most modern hardtops are painted to match the convertible’s body color.
Benefits of Hardtops
Hardtops offer many benefits during colder months:
- Increased warmth – Hardtops provide superior insulation over soft tops in winter
- Weather protection – Seal out rain, snow and wind
- Reduced interior noise – Cut down on wind and road noise
- Greater security – Prevent the thieves from breaking in
- Maintain resale value and last longer – Prevents the soft top from snow and ice
- Easy to clean and detail compared to soft tops
Impact on Performance and Comfort
While hardtops excel at keeping cold air out, they do come with some performance tradeoffs:
- Added weight – Increase overall mass and raise center of gravity
- Handling changes – Heavier weight and higher center of gravity reduces responsiveness
However, the increased comfort and usability often outweighs small performance penalties. Many drivers report their convertibles feel as agile with hardtops installed.
What Models are They Available For?
They are mostly available for the 90s-2000s convertible cars. The BMW E30 and E36 cabriolets have a wide range of custom-fit winter hardtops to choose from. The E46 cabrio also has a roof-rack compatible OEM option. European makes like Renault also offer opportunities to extend your convertible driving seasons with offerings tailored to specific cabrio models. Such tops are also available for the roadsters like Honda S2000, BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster etc.
Installation and Maintenance
Installing and caring for your removable hardtop properly ensures it survives years of seasonal installs and removals.
Attaching a factory or aftermarket hardtop is generally straightforward but has some key steps:
- Park on level ground and engage the emergency brake
- Lower the convertible soft top
- Lift hardtop into position over car
- Align mounting brackets with receptacles
- Lower hardtop gently, listen for latches to click into place
- Secure any supplemental locks or snap-buttons
- Check seals around perimeter of hardtop
Always install any provided braces or supports and refer to factory service manuals for specifics on your vehicle’s hardtop system.
|One person install
|Two person install
- Inspect seals and lubricate weatherstripping yearly
- Check latches and brackets for signs of wear
- Clean hardtop exterior just like car paint
- Store indoors to prevent UV damage
A few minor maintenance tasks will keep your hardtop looking great for years.
Troubleshooting Common Hardtop Issues
While most hardtops install without issue, problems can occur over time. Here are some common troubles and potential solutions:
- Leaking – Check perimeter seals for damage or gaps. Realign or replace seals to prevent water intrusion. Adjust latches to tighten seal compression.
- Excess Wind Noise – Listen for whistle coming from seals, pillars or rear corners. Add rubber weather stripping to problem areas that can vibrate and pass air.
- Rattles Over Bumps – Inspect mounting brackets, latches andsnaps for looseness. Tighten hardware or shim/lubricate source of rattles.
- Top Won’t Latch Down – Loosen or tighten mounting brackets to realign receptacles. Replace damaged or worn latch components.
- Rear Window Condensation – Treat glass with anti-fog coating. Improve cabin ventilation to reduce temperature/humidity difference.
Don’t hesitate to consult factory service manuals or knowledgeable mechanics if diagnosis proves difficult. Addressing problems quickly preserves hardtop integrity.
When it’s time to swap back to your convertible’s soft top for summer, proper hardtop storage preserves its condition and appearance long-term:
- Store indoors in clean, dry area
- Avoid placing extremely heavy items on top
- Cover hardtop to minimize dust and debris
- Lay on its bottom or purchase storage stand (Position as recommended by the top manufacturer to preserve the original geometry)
Hopefully this overview better informs convertible owners considering hardtops to extend seasonal use. As we head into winter, relish those last sunny drives before hanging up the soft top and embracing hardtop season!
As a convertible enthusiast who has owned numerous drop-tops over the last decade, I can’t recommend winter hardtops highly enough. Though I initially dismissed them as an unnecessary expense, once I installed my first hardtop on a BMW E36 I was amazed by the difference. Top-down drives into early winter were suddenly back on the table, and even with the top up, road noise and wind buffeting were drastically reduced. Models from reputable manufacturers like EZ On and Karman fit most popular convertibles going back 30+ years. Installation can seem intimidating but takes just minutes once you’ve done it a few times. Be meticulous about properly sealing and latching down your hardtop to prevent leaks or wind noise. And don’t forget yearly lubrication of weatherstripping to keep everything fitting perfectly for years to come. Storage stands also help reduce dust and the chance of damage when not in use. While hardtop convenience does come at a cost, gaining several months of added convertible driving makes them an invaluable upgrade I’ll never drive without again. Just take care of them, and your hardtops will take care of you!
Winter hardtops enable soft-top convertible owners to enjoy top-down driving year-round. By providing superior insulation and weather protection, they allow you to fully utilize your convertible even when temperatures drop. Hardtops are a bit of an investment but one that pays dividends in extended seasonal enjoyment of your drop-top. As you consider adding a hardtop to your convertible, be sure to check out our other resources on convertible maintenance best practices and accessories to make the most of your open-air ride.
Still have some questions about convertible winter hardtops? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:
Installation is generally straightforward, but does involve proper alignment and securing of mounting brackets. With practice, most can install a hardtop in 30-60 minutes. Watch online tutorials and refer to factory service manuals. Consider having a shop assist the first time.
Entry-level fiberglass hardtops start around $800 but can range to $2000+ for premium tops with glass rear windows, storage bags/covers and custom paint matching. Shop around online and consider second-hand if trying to save money.
EZ On, Karman, Distinctive Auto Designs (DAD), ASC and LeBra have excellent reputations for quality, fit and finish. Premium European brands like Kaeco and LaRoc also offer high-end custom convertible hardtop solutions.
Always store your hardtop indoors when not in use. Dust, debris and sunlight can damage the finish over time if left outside under a cover. Lay on a blanket or purchase an aftermarket storage stand.
In-house writer and editor at CabrioNation. I've been a lifelong fan of convertibles ever since my first car, a well-worn Bimmer convertible that I learned to maintain from the ground up. Since then I've owned many soft and hard top models, becoming an experienced DIY mechanic and care taker. I also run a small repair shop and rental service in Montpellier, where I get to share the wind-in-your-hair feeling with customers while also helping fellow cabrio enthusiasts on maintenance and top repairs.