Winter Hardtops for Soft Top Convertibles

Winter Hardtops for Soft Top Convertibles

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.

Custom painted hard winter soft top
Mazda Miata with hard top. Photo by Chris Demers

Key Takeaways

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

Understanding Hardtops

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
Mazda MX5 Miata NB with a winter hardtop
Mazda MX5 Miata NB with a winter hardtop. Photo by Ryno Marais

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.

Hardtop Installation

Attaching a factory or aftermarket hardtop is generally straightforward but has some key steps:

  1. Park on level ground and engage the emergency brake
  2. Lower the convertible soft top
  3. Lift hardtop into position over car
  4. Align mounting brackets with receptacles
  5. Lower hardtop gently, listen for latches to click into place
  6. Secure any supplemental locks or snap-buttons
  7. 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.

TaskTime EstimateDifficulty
One person install30-60 minutesModerate
Two person install15-30 minutesEasy

Maintenance Tips

  • 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.

Mazda Miata NC with plastic winter hard top
Mazda Miata NC with plastic winter hard top. Photo by Nika Qufarashvili

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.

Hardtop Storage

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:

See Also
Cabriolet vs Roadster: Key Differences in Open-Top Car Styles

  • 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!

Mazda Miata NA with white racing hard top
Mazda Miata NA. Photo by Chris Demers

Expert Opinion

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!

Conclusion

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.

FAQ

Still have some questions about convertible winter hardtops? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

Are hardtops difficult to install?

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.

How much do hardtops cost?

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.

What are some top brands to look at?

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.

How much does hardtop storage affect condition?

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.

View Comment (1)
  • Love this! My convertible is my baby and I want to drive it all year round. This article makes me excited for cozy winter top-down drives.

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