by Prentice St.
In our daily
work as detailers, we are not exposed to convertible
tops far less often than other vehicle surfaces. Even
so, maintenance of convertible tops is relatively straightforward.
They may seem fragile at first, but with adequate precaution
can be kept looking as new as the rest of the vehicle.
There are two primary types of convertible top material--canvas
(i.e., "rag top") and vinyl. If there is windowing,
it is usually made of plastic and less frequently glass.
Maintenance of these surfaces, as with all vehicle surfaces,
is part of a systematic approach to detailing the entire
It is always a good idea to check the owner's manual
on the vehicle for manufacturer's recommendations regarding
care of the top. Also ask the customer if he or she
recalls any specific instructions from the dealer. (Please
note that doing so does not show knowledge weakness
but instead, if done with confidence and authority,
demonstrates that you are a professional who is not
afraid to conduct appropriate research so as to properly
maintain this customer's vehicle.) This information,
combined with your general knowledge of vehicle surface
maintenance, will allow you to do the job correctly.
talk about the inside of the convertible top. Check
for accumulations of dust, especially in the folds and
corners near the back of the soft top. This can be removed
by a vacuum with a duster brush attachment, compressed
air, or a damp towel with just a hint of your favorite
all-purpose interior cleaner. Also wipe any rods or
rails that might be part of the top's frame. Clean any
window according to its composition--if glass, just
as you would any other window glass. However, if the
window is made of plastic, special care must be taken
as this material is easily scratched. I recommend using
just a damp, clean chamois (no chemicals!) followed
by a smooth (not terry) 100% cotton cloth, ideally flannel.
(Note that most window cleaners are not recommended
for clear plastic.) If there is heavy grime on the plastic
window, use a cleaner specially designated for clear
Somewhere between cleaning the inside and the outside
of the top, open the top and clean the surfaces that
are unreachable when the top is up (covering the car).
These surfaces include the rear window deck, which sometimes
is a painted surface that can be waxed, as well as plastic
and vinyl panels that are often ignored in maintaining
these kinds of vehicles.
The method to use for cleaning the outside of the convertible
top depends on the material with which it is made. During
your detail prep wash, vinyl tops can be cleaned with
a medium strength dilution of all-purpose cleaner and
a scrub brush . Often, vinyl tops have an accumulation
of dirt and grime that needs to be scrubbed off using
repeated steps. Be sure to spray down the entire vehicle
first to reduce the likelihood of the cleaner streaking
down the painted panels of the vehicle. (Also, be careful
with your brush around plastic windowing--any brush
will scratch this surface in an instant!) This kind
of strong cleaning of a vinyl top should always be followed
by an application of dressing.
Canvas tops are actually easier to maintain than vinyl
tops. Usually, it is sufficient to wash a canvas top
using a mitt and the car wash formula that you are using
on the rest of the vehicle. In the case of stains like
bird droppings and others, use a mild dilution of all-purpose
cleaner and start with a soft brush. If the soft brush
does not adequately remove the stain, go with a medium
brush and scrub lightly. It is unlikely that even the
strongest all-purpose cleaners will cause immediate
damage to a canvas top, but in the case of stubborn
stains, it may be wise to explain to the customer that
the stain can be removed but not without weakening the
fibers of the canvas. Let the customer decide which
is more important--no stain or the longevity of the
top. Canvas tops require no dressing, although dressing
will not harm the top, especially if you consider that
most canvas tops are constructed of nylon (plastic)
Clear plastic windows that are not so clear anymore
can often be polished back nearly to their original
transparency. Considering the cost of replacing this
kind of window, not to mention the safety issue of driver
visibility, the detailer can make a hefty profit on
this type of service. There are clear plastic cleaners
and polishes that, combined with careful use of a small-head
random orbital polisher, can produce amazing results.
Finally, if the customer complains of squeaking or rubbing
noises emanating from the top, use your favorite dressing
to lubricate the seals, grommets, and other places where
the top joins the frame of the vehicle.
With a small amount of caution and common sense, maintaining
convertible tops is a simple part of the detailing process.
1999, Prentice St. Clair
First published in the June, 1999 issue of Modern Car
(Volume 2, Number 6)