Not only has there never been a greater range of choice in the used convertible car market but with dropping numbers of affordable convertibles available new, demand is set to rise in future years. So if you’ve made up your mind to buy a used convertible car, what do you need to know and what should you be looking for?
When choosing which model to go for, try to take as many test drives as possible. The amount of wind noise and buffeting with the roof down can vary quite a bit. Be sure you will be comfortable with the kind of driving you intend to do even after the novelty of the new car has worn off.
Manufacturers are making great efforts to keep occupants safe in the event of an accident but some older cars don’t perform nearly as well as the new ones. Reinforced windscreen frames and pop-up roll-over bars often feature on premium models. Roll hoops often seen on roadsters can be just a styling feature and may not offer much protection.
Convertibles have long had a reputation for leaky roofs and this doesn’t just apply to soft-tops, folding hardtops with poor seals can cause serious problems too. The good news is that a modern well-maintained roof can keep the weather out without a problem and keep the cockpit snug and dry.
There are two kinds of soft-top roof materials found on cars. Most common is the fabric roof which is usually a man-made fibre cloth with a vinyl backing. Behind this may be a layer of insulation to keep out the heat and cold, and reduce noise intrusion. Fabric roofs are hardwearing and can last many years but it is important to keep them clean. The fabric (particularly coloured roofs) can stain and get dirty. The nature of the fabric means that lichens and moss can easily get a foothold and grow within the grain. This is encouraged by parking under trees and ingrained dirt which gives it something to feed on. Algae and lichen grow best in damp conditions so cars kept under cover are affected less. Regular cleaning and proofing of the fabric will keep it clean and dry to discourage lichen growth. In the rare situation where the fabric has begun to let through water, then proofing may help. Discoloured fabric can be dyed to recover an as-new look.
Vinyl roofs are the other alternative. These are cheaper to produce and were popular during the 1970s and 1980s. Today they have almost disappeared with owners of older cars often upgrading to smarter looking fabric roofs. Vinyl roofs are easier to clean and maintain but can suffer from cracking if kept in the sunlight without proper maintenance. If you are looking at a car with this kind of roof make sure it doesn’t have any splits that might let in water and if it does, keep a budget reserved for a replacement top. Vinyl can be patched but it rarely looks very tidy.
Some hardtop cars are among the worst offenders for leaky convertible cars. This mainly because owners assume that the solid roof can’t possibly have any problems and do not do any maintenance. In reality, the cause of leaks is rarely the roof itself but the seals and drainage channels around it.
If the car is a soft-top with a removable hardtop, make sure you get to see both roofs in place. The folded up roof underneath could be hidden away poor in for condition.
Seals and Drainage
Rubber seals run all the way around the roof where it joins with the car body and windows. It is important to keep these clean and moisturised with a suitable product. Maintenance is generally very straightforward, involving cleaning the rubber and treating it with a suitable product. In a worst-case scenario, the seals will be damaged and need replacing. Drainage channels can become blocked with dirt and water will back up in these until it floods into the cabin or bodywork. Again, the solution is a thorough cleaning job.
The mechanical parts of the roof vary enormously in their complexity. Electric-Hydraulic roofs are generally reliable but the motors can lose power as they get old. Although it may not be as impressive or convenient, a manual roof is easier and cheaper to maintain should you run into problems. Either way, ensure that the mechanism works smoothly and the roof folds away neatly. A poorly fitting roof could be a sign of accident damage.
In conclusion, most leaking convertible roofs can be cured with a simple cleaning job and it shouldn’t be too off-putting, however, you should check the car for the source of the leaks as it is possible they are caused by a neglected and damaged component. A well-maintained roof is easy to spot, less obvious may be damage to carpets from flooding – tell-tale signs other than dampness being musty smells or overuse of air-fresheners to cover this up.
Time of year
Finally, the time of year and even weather patterns can affect demand and therefore the price of used convertible cars. Depending on your local climate, the end of Summer can often be the best time to start shopping for a convertible. Most dealers will be keen to clear their stocks as sales will be slow over the winter and they won’t want money tied up in a car that may be difficult to sell. If you are buying in the Autumn or Winter, push for a discount.
As with any car, do your research on the weak spots of the specific model and then look at these carefully. Go into it with your eyes open and convertible ownership can be rewarding and trouble-free.
Used Convertible Car Recommendations:
BMW E30 Convertible The original BMW convertible has great build quality, a manual roof and is fast becoming an appreciating classic. Rust-free examples are getting hard to find but a good one will be a pleasure to own and can be enjoyed by a family of four. It’s replacement the E36 is also a fine car. The best ones come with six-cylinder engines.
Daihatsu Copen It isn’t fast and certainly not macho but the tiny Copen is a hoot to drive and has loads of character. Rarity is bringing up the prices of these little roadsters but those with low miles and in tidy condition remain a great bargain. The power hardtop shouldn’t cause too many problems if well maintained.
Toyota MR2 Roadster A simple lightweight yet well balanced roadster. A simple, manual roof that works well when maintained properly. It is better to drive than the equivalent Mazda MX-5 and much rarer. Reliability and running costs are good and spare parts are readily available. Prices for a good one have passed their lowest point but are still very cheap compared with the not too dissimilar Lotus Elise. There’s even an optional hardtop for winter months. Downsides? This is very much a two-seater with little luggage space.