Aha, the golden weather’s coming to an end and widespread rain has been offering a taste of the months to come, so it’s the perfect time to talk about convertibles.
No, Auto Adviser hasn’t lost the plot. Advice often given to house buyers is to see a property at its worst, when the rain is hosing down, the gutters are filling and pools are accumulating – hopefully on the lawn rather than a bedroom floor. The same advice is appropriate for convertible buyers. Most transactions take place in the sunny months, but the best time to buy is when it’s raining. That’s when you can see if it leaks, and how badly; or how quickly the glass mists. How is the outward vision when the top’s up? Is it too noisy, or the top too flappy to be up for weeks on end? Can you get the top into place quickly when the rain starts? Does water leak in from elsewhere? Sometimes, convertible bodies are not as watertight as a fixed-roof vehicle. It can be annoying and frustrating to be drying-out floormats all through winter.
This is the other side to the pleasures of open-air motoring – the sun beating down as air whistles past the open cabin; the years it takes off your age; the weight off your shoulders; and the cares the slipstream blows away. On a good day, open air motoring is invigorating, a tonic; pure joy. It must all be true, the advertisements say so. Car interiors, sat-nav if you have it, and audio systems can be damaged if convertibles are caught short in rain with the roof down, so it’s worth knowing how quickly a top can be put in place. Fortunately, speed isn’t much of a problem these days. The British convertible designers who seemed to think putting the top up or down needed to reflect the complexity of building a model from a No. 10 Meccano set have retired. The last one’s swansong was the removable top on the previous Land Rover Freelander that required two people, a special set of tools and about an hour.
Today’s convertibles mostly have tops that can be pulled up and secured, or dropped, by the driver while still seated. Others automatically lift and retract at the touch of a button. These have been heralded as modern miracles of motoring, ignoring the fact that power tops had been perfected and were widespread in America by the 1950s. Power roofs are a nice luxury touch, but Auto Adviser regards them with a measure of suspicion because their mechanism adds weight and it’s something else to go wrong.
Anecdotal evidence suggests they can be expensive and tricky to repair. A growing number of cars with a hardtop that folds into the body provide what could be the ideal solution, but the arrangement adds weight, complexity and may seriously reduce the amount of luggage space. But if you’re shopping for a convertible, they’re worth looking at and are impressive in wet weather.
Yet another alternative is a vehicle with removable roof panels, often called a targa top. With the panels removed, they provide most of the open-air experience of a convertible. Their drawback is that you need a fair amount of space to stow the panels, unless you dare leave home without them. Here’s another thought: does your insurance policy cover water damage caused when a car has been left unattended with its roof down or panels removed? Never go for a latte with the roof open, even if it’s sunny at the time.
And also: theft claims may be void if the car has been left unattended with the roof down, because it may be deemed as not being left in a secure condition, even if it has an alarm. Always put anything worth stealing in the locked boot or locked console or glove box, if these are available.