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Convertible Topping Material: Vinyl vs. Cloth

When cars first began appearing at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, almost all models were open-air, or topless.? Early cars were basically modified horse buggies and were short on innovative extras such as windshields and roofs. As car engines became more powerful, however, the need for the protection offered by windscreens and tops became apparent. The first tops were generally made from leather or fabric, such as canvas, similar to those used on wagons.

The Dodge brothers offered the first steel roofs in 1915, but most cars didn't sport steel roofs until the 1920s and 30s. Today, steel roofs are most commonplace, and while convertible roofs have gone in and out of fashion during the past 100 years, the open-air, wind-in-your-hair driving experience afforded by convertibles has always remained somewhat popular. If you choose to have a convertible top on your car, you basically have a choice of two materials: vinyl or fabric.

Vinyl Convertible Tops

Vinyl has been used for car tops since the earliest days cars had tops. It was used to mimic the leather often used on horse buggies and was found to be easier to maintain yet still quite durable. During the 1970s and 80s, many cars were made with hard vinyl tops, with manufacturers believing that their customers thought that particular look would improve their status.

Vinyl convertible tops are easier to clean than the cloth alternative, which is one main reason that drivers choose them. Some owners also say they prefer the glossy look a vinyl top has compared to the dull matte of a fabric top, especially after just being cleaned and treated. You can use regular car shampoo to wash your vinyl top, and always wash your top when you wash the rest of the car.

While vinyl convertible tops have traditionally been black, white or tan, today's products come in a range of colors, including purple, yellow, blue, orange and more. These tops may have a rear window made from either plastic or glass. Vinyl tops hold up well to weather and are a good choice if your car is often parked outdoors. Unfortunately, damage done to your vinyl top can't be repaired, and if it occurs, the top must be replaced.

Cloth Convertible Tops

Cloth tops are the most popular type of convertible top and can be found on such cars as the Mazda Miata and Nissan 370Z. They can also be found on Camaros, Celicas, Vipers, Firebirds and a variety of European cars. Most cloth (canvas) convertible tops are made using three plies: an acrylic square-weave outer layer, a butyl rubber inner material and a cotton drill lining layer.

These tops are available in a range of colors, such as several shades of blue, several shades of white, black, beige, tan, gray, green, brown and burgundy. Cloth tops require a bit more maintenance than vinyl tops because they're more susceptible to absorbing dirt, but if they become damaged, it's often possible to repair rather than replace them.

Special brushes are made for cleaning your cloth convertible top, and using the wrong type of brush can cause damage such as small tears or rips. These tops are chemically treated during manufacture to repel water, but through time, this repelling capability is lessened and you'll need to treat your top with a special fabric guard. Using a special protectant monthly on your top will keep it looking good and add to its long-range durability.

When it has come time for a replacement convertible car top, a first thought will be what fabric to go with.

Car lovers can argue for days about whether a canvas or vinyl convertible top is the better choice for a vehicle; however, it seems that the decision between the two will actually be based less on the durability or longevity of the two top fabrics and more on personal taste.

At the end of the day, a convertible will look great with either material, and you will still be able to enjoy the best part of the car: riding with the top down.

Convertible Tops: Vinyl vs. Cloth

To put things in perspective, here are some factors to consider when choosing between a canvas or vinyl convertible top:


The canvas convertible top will arguably win in the looks category because it more resembles the classic convertible look. Obviously this depends on the brand used, but the canvas convertible top still maintains that classy look that a lot of car owners are trying to achieve. The vinyl top looks great too but can't offer that soft-top appearance of the canvas.


For some car owners, a quiet ride is of utmost importance. Canvas may be the winner here because the wind won't bounce noisily off of it as it may with a vinyl top. However, since many riders will generally drive with the top down as often as possible, this may not be an issue.

Maintenance & Upkeep

Maintenance can be a main factor when choosing what material is best for your car. The vinyl top is well known as easy to clean. Substances like tree sap or bird droppings, that will generally adhere deep into canvas fabric, can easily be cleaned off a vinyl surface. Yet with proper maintenance, both tops can be kept looking their best for many years.


The price difference between the two can be upwards of $100, with canvas having the higher price tag. This can be a big issue for some, but you may find yourself willing to pay the extra money if you feel canvas is the right look for your car.


The environment the car will be exposed to may end up being a deciding factor as well. If the car will be kept in a garage when not in use, then you will be able to keep a canvas top looking its best for a long time. This isn't an issue with a vinyl top, which can resist more of the wear and tear the outdoors throws at it. Obviously, the optimal situation for any convertible owner would be to live in a Southern Californian climate, which allows for top-down riding all year round and won't cause as much wear when the top is up.

Clearly, regardless of which fabric is chosen for your replacement convertible top, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of your car for years to come. Your convertible top supplier specializes in replacement convertible tops and can help you choose between quality vinyl or canvas tops.