by Prentice St. Clair
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 vehicle.
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.
First, lets 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 plastic.
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) fibers.
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.
Copyright 1999, Prentice
First published in the June, 1999 issue of Modern Car Care
(Volume 2, Number 6)