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Owning & Driving A Convertible Car: The Joys and Headaches

A convertible car is something also any driver and car enthusiast would love to own, but doesn’t really need. A convertible is like a boat — not very practical, but it’s hella hip, it’s cool, it’s wow-inducing, so you just can’t help craving one. 

And although we all know there are so many disadvantages to driving a convertible, we cannot deny the uniquely refreshing experience you get when you drive in these retractable hardtops. A convertible may be half a regular car considering aerodynamic, rigidity and space, but the driving experience it offers is ten times as exciting. 

That said, before committing yourself to purchasing one of these fun rides, you should be well aware of the discouraging characteristics of a convertible and all the potential costs, including purchase price, maintenance and insurance cost. Many potential buyers would shy away from buying after they learn about the downsides of convertibles. This car reviews article will lay bare all the pros and cons in order for you to make the right call. 

Convertibles: A Brief History 

Those head-turning cars without a roof you see on the roads are convertibles. They are often seen with the roof folded down, since that’s the driving experience the owner was looking for when they bought the car. Many owners who live in agreeable weather all year round even remove the retractable hood entirely to maximize the convertible’s aesthetics. 

The first convertible with a manually-operated retractable hardtop was designed by Ben P. Ellerbeck on a Hudson coupe, but was never put into production. Later, Georges Paulin patented the first power-operated retractable hardtop design, and automaker Peugeot introduced that first convertible in 1934 — the 601 Éclipse with an electrical folding metal roof.

A convertible usually has two doors, but you can start to see more convertibles with four doors driving around town, albeit most of them are high-class rides. Some examples are BMW Z4, Mazda MX-5, Mercedes-Benz SLK Class and Ferrari 458 Spyder.

Why So Many People Crave For Convertibles

More chill in every ride

should you buy a convertible car
All the most luxurious cars in the world cannot beat the cheapest convertible when it comes to driving experience. Photo Credit: F3News

A convertible is not the best thing to drive in, if you prioritize protection from the elements, aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. That said, convertibles are more than a mere means of transportation. There are ample drivers who own a rigid and reliable car for daily commute, and a convertible on the side for those casual drives on a beautiful day. 

In short, when you consider buying a convertible, it should be mainly for the fun of driving them. Even the most expensive and luxurious cars cannot beat the feeling of zipping up and down hilly roads with the top down, the sun on your face and the wind combing through your hair, or having full view of nature on curvy mountain roads with the smell of wild blossoms wafting around you. If this is what you value, then the big price tag is worth all the hassles. In short, all the most luxurious cars in the world cannot beat the cheapest convertible when it comes to driving experience.

Better view of the world around you

Feeling caged in a small box with a restricted view of their surroundings is a feeling that many first-time drivers have a hard time overcoming. For many, it makes them less comfortable handling the vehicle, for fear of not being able to see everything well. This is never a problem with a convertible. You will have a much wider radius of vision to let you have a better view of your surroundings, plus you won’t feel inhibited like a bird in a metal cage. 

Without a roof and door frames, you’ll probably find it easier to maneuver the vehicle. With this unmatched 360-degree visibility, reverse parking and even the headache-inducing parallel parking would be more manageable, since it’s easier to check your blind spots. 

Be a part of the world around you

In addition to more comfortable maneuvering, another one of the convertible’s special charms that comes from the lack of a roof and door frames is you become a part of the world around you in a very visceral way. While in a fixed-roof car, you are simply riding through the landscape, then with the top up, you see things entirely differently. 

More swag, but also sophistication

If you’re a style enthusiast, the typical classic, sporty look of convertibles could be a deal breaker. Many buyers also love the fact that although convertibles have that wow factor when it comes to appearances, they are not at all the showy or arrogant type of expensive. If you like to show off your sense of style, sophistication and status but a Ferrari is not really your cup of tea, then a classy convertible might be the perfect pick.

More head room

A convertible can be a comfortable solution for very tall drivers who need extra headroom but cannot find any car that can accommodate their height.

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Convertible Cars Basics You Must Know But Wouldn’t Like To Hear

We must warn you though, that there are more downsides of this type of ride, all of which are of material importance to any driver. You can skip on such an expensive and impractical purchase if you want a car to drive daily in all kinds of weather, and if you’re serious about your driving.

But then, not all car purchases are made for practical purposes. Proof: Ferraris exist. Like Ferraris, many drivers opt for a convertible largely for the thrill and the chill that its unique driving experience offers, plus its cool-ass aesthetics. Still, even if you already own a reliable vehicle as backup for daily commute, you should still be aware of the downsides of owning and driving a convertible.

Convertibles are noisier and less rigid 

The fixed roof is a crucial part of a car’s overall structural support system. Without this important component, convertibles can by no means come close to the rigidity, quietness and comfort of an enclosed car, although manufacturers have come a long way on improving these limitations. The lack of a hard and closed roof can lead to the problem of “chassis shudder.” 

Chassis shudder is also called scuttle shake or cowl shake. This happens when, due to the lack of a roof, the middle section of the chassis flexes while driving on uneven roads or at high speeds and/or in windy conditions. You will feel it as a noticeable vibration and shudder plus interior noises, as the bulkhead in front of the passenger compartment shakes and vibrates. Many owners describe it as some squeaking noise somewhere in the front, “like windshield moving or something”.

Since a fixed roof is an integral part of a car’s structure, a convertible has to make up for this loss in rigidity by other means, including reinforcements added to the undercarriage. In other words, the most plausible modification is adding extra materials to the lower portion of a convertible’s body at the rocker panels to make them stiffer. Even so, any type of reinforcements cannot replace the roof, so with a convertible, you will typically experience rougher riding over bumpy roads.

Poor insulation and leakages

convertible leaks
Modern convertibles come with better sealing to prevent leaks. Photo Credit: Pinterest

In addition to internal noise due to chassis shudder, not having a hard, fixed and enclosed shell means little external-noise cancellation. Another typical problem with convertibles is that the retractable roof makes for poor insulation. 

There are two types of retractable tops: soft tops and hard tops. Hard tops provide better insulation and do a better job than soft tops at approaching the characteristics of a closed car. However, even though the construction of both soft and hard tops have seen tremendous improvements over the years, including better sealings, convertibles will never have the same sound-cancelling and insulation properties as conventional cars.

If you can live with that, then brace yourself for another typical flaw of convertibles: they can leak. They “can”, that is depending on the quality of the construction and the severity of the downfall. But in general, today’s convertible tops have come a long way to address leaks. They are made with better materials and designs, plus better seals at the windshield header and around the side windows, to better withstand downpours compared to the early generations of convertibles. 

When shopping around for your ideal convertible, make sure to check in-depth reviews from past buyers to see if a particular model is prone to leaks. Unless you live somewhere dry and sunny year-round, leaks are a serious problem in the case of convertibles. The retractable top makes leaks harder to notice, as water isn’t always getting in immediately.

Persistent leaks can lead to interior damage, which is especially vexing in the case of an expensive vehicle like convertibles. Commonly affected areas include dashboards and armrests, followed by other interior trim and carpet. 

A convertible top that leaks is particularly vexing because such leaks are often hard to diagnose and fix. Water isn’t always getting in immediately above the damaged area, for instance. If you don’t detect any visible leaks but notice an unpleasant musty smell in your convertible, it’s likely that the carpet or other interior trim are soggy from leaks. 

Limited passenger and cargo space

Another important consideration is cabin space. Compared to a typical fixed-roof two-door car of a similar size, a convertible offers less interior space, and that is both less cabin space and cargo space. If you are larger than average with long limbs, you might have a hard time finding a convertible with enough leg room to drive comfortably. Otherwise, this might not be the deal breaker for many enthusiasts.

The driver suffers less than the passengers at the back, since the back seat of a convertible has considerably limited head room as well as shoulder and hip room. This is because most of the time, the convertible top mechanism intrudes into the rear seat area. So while the convertible can be about as big as a coupe with a three-person back seat, its rear bench can only accommodate two passengers in reality. 

Trunk space is hurt in the same way because when dropped down, the convertible top also intrudes into the cargo area, resulting in a smaller trunk lid.

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More expensive than fixed-roof cars …

If you’re still comfortable with all these downsides, know that you will need to pay more for a convertible compared to an equivalent coupe or sedan. One reason is every car manufacturer typically makes much less convertibles than the average sedan or coupe due to their impracticalities for driving and maintenance. Another reason is the lack of a continuous roof structure, plus the need to make up for such a lack of roof, require convertibles to have more parts, and thus they are actually more complicated to build than fixed-roof cars.

How much more expensive, you ask? With all else being equal, the minimum premium you can expect to pay for a convertible compared to an equivalent coupe or sedan is about $6,000 to $10,000. Repeat: that’s the minimum premium. An example on the more affordable end of the spectrum is the Chevrolet Camaro, which is available as a coupe and a convertible. With the cheapest trim level, the coupe costs $25,500 while the otherwise identical convertible costs $31,500, or $6,000 more, for both the joy and the headaches associated with not having a closed roof. 

… But can be stolen more easily 

Being more expensive is not a deal breaker, but here’s the catch: compared to closed fixed-top cars, convertibles are easier targets for thieves, regardless of whether the top is soft or metal. 

Maintenance costs more, too

Due to the nature of its construction, a convertible is less rigid and more prone to the elements, such as rains as discussed above. So in general, if you wish to own one of these bad-ass cars, be prepared for more expensive maintenance and repair bills. 

The basic reasons for this include proneness to leaks, plus wear and tear due to exposure to direct sunlight, such as discolouring and cracks to the seats, dashboards and other interior surfaces. Regular maintenance can slow down the sun damage, but this is inevitable, no matter how high-quality the interior is.

Lastly, the basic logic is convertibles have a lot more moving parts than equivalent  fixed-roof vehicles, of which most prone to wear and tear is the top itself. These days convertible tops are made of either folding metal or a variety of increasingly tough fabric and vinyl, and are increasingly well-engineered. Since the top mechanism gets a lot of impact from being folded up and down, it needs extra tender loving care. 

… Plus higher insurance costs 

As mentioned above, convertibles have higher security risks, which is one of the reasons why convertibles often cost more to insure than an equivalent coupe or sedan that is harder to break into. The second, and bigger, reason is that convertibles have more parts and are built in limited quantities, so they should cost more to repair if they ever get damaged in an accident. A convertible that suffered a crash typically requires much more skills and time to repair than a damaged coupe or sedan. 

This is because the body of a convertible and the top mechanism are separated, so if the body is damaged in any way, it takes a lot of time to get the top to deploy correctly without leaks and interior noise problems. Furthermore, the convertible top mechanism consists of many moving parts that must operate in unison. This makes repairing a damaged top a more painstaking process than just putting it together at the factory where the convertible was built.

One More Upside Though …

Safety has improved

One more good news before we close off is convertibles have seen major improvement regarding safety over the past few decades. Before, a rollover crash in a convertible would always be life-threatening due to the lack of a hard, rigid top. Today, modern convertibles have come a long way to better protect occupants with a host of safety and driver-assist technologies and more rigid parts, including sturdy windshield headers and roll-bars that better withstand rollover crashes.

That said, security against theft is still a typical problem with convertibles, particularly those with soft tops, which can easily be cut through. On the upside, there are many models with securely lockable interior storage to store your valuables, while others make it difficult to open the trunk using a lever or switch inside the convertible.

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