Types of Convertible Tops
There are two main types of convertible tops. The difference is due to the material used, either fabric or vinyl.
One type is the classic top constructed with cloth as the covering material. This material looks and feels like canvas, but is actually woven of fibers that are either synthetic, like acrylic, polyester, olefin, or a synthetic and cotton blend. These fabrics are actually breathable but are made water repellant by a chemical treatment process used during manufacturing. The original repellency breaks down with time and exposure to the elements.
The other type of convertible top is made of thick vinyl. Vinyl is a plastic product composed mostly of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and made flexible with the addition of plasticizers.
The vinyl top may look like a canvas material, but upon close inspection, you can see that the "canvas" is simply an impression stamped into the vinyl when it is manufactured. It is normal for the plasticizers to gradually dry out over time, causing the material to crack and eventually split. With proper care, however, this process can be slowed significantly.
Both types of tops are faced with a myriad of potential contamination sources, including acid rain, heat, ultraviolet rays, smog, tree sap, bird droppings, salt, tar, dirt, grease, grit, and mold.
A consistent finding in the research on care of convertible tops is the importance of regular and proper cleaning, which helps to remove the contaminants that can damage the material, as well as regular application of an appropriate protectant, which helps to prevent the contaminants from reaching the material in the first place.
So what Should We Do?
First, it's important, as always, to use the right chemical for the surface of concern. We don't usually use degreaser on the vehicle's paint and we don't use wax to protect leather seats. By the same token, we should use appropriate cleaning and protecting products for the material that makes up the convertible top.
Why is this so important?
Automobile manufacturers are receiving warranty claims from owners of convertibles that have disintegrated prematurely. Often this can be attributed to an unwitting car care professional or vehicle owner who uses strong solvents or other harsh cleaners on a regular basis to keep the convertible material clean. Unfortunately, such harsh cleanings tend to break down the material and the stitching that holds the swaths of material together.
I have personally heard of detailers using a bathroom cleaner commonly employed for removing mold stains from tile grout. Unfortunately, the main ingredient in this cleaner is bleach, which is highly corrosive in nature, especially when used in the concentrations in which it is typically sold over-the-counter. Cloth stitching on a convertible top is not nearly as durable as grout and will break down quickly when exposed repeatedly to products containing strong concentrations of bleach.
The fact of the matter is, use of anything other than cleaners designed specifically for convertible tops can cause damage to the material. Even with a milder multi-purpose cleaner, such damage might be minimal, but the concern is the cumulative effect of repeated cleanings with inappropriate chemicals that might lead to the breakdown of the material or the stitching.
Additionally, convertible tops need protection just like the paint, leather, or carpeting needs. Once again, it is critical to use a product specifically designed for convertible tops and approved by the manufacturer. On fabric tops, it is recommend to use a chemical with a fluorocarbon repelling system. Such a chemical will bond with the fabric and repel liquid and dirt while at the same time providing ultraviolet protection. Look for products that do not contain silicone, Freon, or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
On vinyl tops, a fluorocarbon repelling chemical is not necessary simply because vinyl is not porous. Instead, use an approved product that protects and beautifies the top. Such a product should have ultraviolet blockers that help reduce the cumulative effect of sunlight exposure. It will also enhance the beauty of the top with a dressing effect. However, it is important to not use products that contain silicone, petroleum solvents, or CFCs, all of which can have a negative impact on the vinyl material. RAGGTOPP ® Vinyl Protectant contains no silicone and can be used on all exterior and interior vinyl without streaking.
Additionally, make sure that the products you are using to clean and protect the convertible top are not harmful to paint, glass, chrome or plastic windows. That way, you don't have to worry about overspray or run-off onto the other parts of the vehicle as you proceed with the treatment process described above.
Once you've got the right chemicals for cleaning and protecting convertible tops, the process is quite simple.
Before even getting the vehicle wet, vacuum the convertible top using an upholstery brush to pick up any loose dirt or dust. Next, wet down the top thoroughly and mist it evenly with RAGGTOP ® Fabric/Vinyl Cleaner approved by the manufacturer. If necessary, the cleaner can be lightly agitated using a soft nylon brush.
Rinse the top thoroughly and until all foam from the cleaner dissipates. Allow the top to dry completely. This can be accomplished by simply parking the vehicle in direct sunlight. If this is not possible, you may use forced air from a hair dryer or air mover to assist in speeding up the drying process.
Once the top is thoroughly dry, apply the appropriate RAGGTOPP ® Protectant (Fabric or Vinyl) evenly across the entire exposed fabric surface in three light coats, allowing the product to dry 10 minutes or so between coats.
This service will take no more than an hour and can take quite a bit less than an hour depending on drying times.
Once the initial treatment is complete, it's important to follow-up with regular re-treatment to keep the convertible top looking great and protected for years to come. Vinyl tops should be properly cleaned and re-treated every four to six weeks for maximum protection. Likewise, fabric tops should be cleaned and retreated every three to six months. Re-treatment on both tops can be accomplished by using the procedures outlined in the "Reconditioning Treatment" section above.
Between formal treatments, standard carwashing is acceptable and advisable. Although most automatic carwashes are safe for convertible tops, those using barrel brushes should be avoided. Nonetheless, hand-washing will ensure the least amount of cumulative wear-and-tear on the convertible top.
The more often a convertible top is treated, the easier each treatment process is. Your pricing schedule for regular convertible top maintenance should reflect this. For example, fabric top maintenance every three months should cost at least $100 per treatment. Of course, if you are performing the top treatment as part of a regular detail, you may want to discount the sum of the individual services (detail and top care) into a package price that still reflects the added value of the top care service.