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5 Reasons to Think Twice Before Buying a Convertible

That open-air, carefree feeling comes at a price that goes beyond money

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​Cruising down the highway with the top down, the wind in your hair, the light glinting off your sunglasses and nothing but blue sky above. It’s the great American car trip dream. It’s the freedom of the open road. It’s James Dean and the Beach Boys.

Still, there are some drawbacks to owning a convertible that might cause older drivers to steer clear. Here are five things to think about if you’re considering a vehicle that lets you put the top down.

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1. Higher purchase price and insurance premiums

Car insurance companies, such as Progressive, warn shoppers that the more expensive the car, the higher the premium will be — and convertibles are usually more expensive than their roofed counterparts. For example, while a hardtop 2022 Mustang Coupe starts at $28,865, the same trim-level Mustang convertible starts at $34,365 — a $5,500 difference. In addition, according to Progressive, many insurers see convertibles as a greater risk for repairs, so premiums can be 17 to 19 percent higher for a ragtop.

2. Sun exposure

One very practical consideration: How much do you really want to be sitting out in the sun? When you’re lounging on a patio or at the beach, aren’t you usually under an awning or umbrella? Exposure to damaging UV rays is the leading cause of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with approximately 4.3 million Americans diagnosed every year. You can certainly lather yourself up with sunscreen — and you should — but you may also decide that having the top down could be too much of a good thing.

3. Noise, noise, noise

Cruising down the highway with nothing above you but sky means you’re also being exposed to noise, and potentially lots of it. There’s the wind, the rumble of the engine, road sounds (e.g., rubber tires on pavement) and the surrounding traffic noise, including well-wishers honking at you to acknowledge what a cool convertible you’re driving.

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Car insurance companies, such as Progressive, warn shoppers that the more expensive the car, the higher the premium will be — and convertibles are usually more expensive than their roofed counterparts. For example, while a hardtop 2022 Mustang Coupe starts at $28,865, the same trim-level Mustang convertible starts at $34,365 — a $5,500 difference. In addition, according to Progressive, many insurers see convertibles as a greater risk for repairs, so premiums can be 17 to 19 percent higher for a ragtop.

2. Sun exposure

One very practical consideration: How much do you really want to be sitting out in the sun? When you’re lounging on a patio or at the beach, aren’t you usually under an awning or umbrella? Exposure to damaging UV rays is the leading cause of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with approximately 4.3 million Americans diagnosed every year. You can certainly lather yourself up with sunscreen — and you should — but you may also decide that having the top down could be too much of a good thing.

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All that noise can cause fatigue similar to that created by the sound of jet engines on a plane, and it can be more than just an annoyance. A study conducted by researchers from Missouri and Texas measured the sound pressure levels in convertibles traveling at highway speeds. At 55 mph with the top down, 80 percent of cars produced noise levels above 85 decibels, which is comparable to the noise of an obnoxious vacuum. At 75 mph, noise levels reached an average of 89.9 decibels. So while driving to a nearby restaurant won’t put you at risk of hearing loss, for longer road trips, the researchers recommend putting the top up, which will reduce the wind noise. Still, it won’t make the car as quiet as a hardtop.

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4. Less secure

Auto insurers point out that it is much easier to slit the roof of a convertible than it is to break into a regular vehicle. That means you should remove all your valuables from a convertible’s glove box, dashboard and anywhere else inside every time you park it, which can be a nuisance. Then there’s the cost of fixing a cloth roof that’s been damaged: anywhere from $900 to $1,500, according to J.D. Power. That may tempt you to make the repair yourself, but an improper fix can lead to leaks, further damage and potentially dangerous situations at high speeds (one more reason insurers charge convertible owners more).

Should you opt for a collapsible hardtop convertible, you will get better security, but it will also add to the price of the car, reduce fuel economy (because of the additional weight) and take up more trunk space when the top folds down.

5. Fair-weather friend

Finally, you should consider the climate in your area, because when the weather turns sour and you have to put the top up, performance goes down. Convertible tops have less insulation, so in colder weather, staying warm is more difficult. When it rains, aging ragtops can leak, requiring additional repairs. And some tops are more structurally sound than others. The cloth tops on some exotic sports cars amount to little more than an afterthought. The designers really only expect you to drive it beneath clear azure skies. So before you buy a convertible, make sure to try it with the top up.

How Safe Are Convertibles?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released its preliminary estimate of U.S. traffic deaths for last year and reported that 42,915 people died in vehicular crashes — a dramatic 10.5 percent increase over 2020. Fatalities among drivers 65 and older were up even more, at 14 percent.

Such statistics could understandably give you pause about those open-air convertible fantasies and make you wonder: Might a more conservative car be a safer choice?

“Our recent study of convertible crashes suggests that there’s no statistical reason to avoid a convertible from a safety standpoint,” says Joe Young, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry nonprofit organization. The IIHS found that newer convertibles (1 to 5 years old) are no more dangerous than hardtops in terms of accidents and traffic fatalities.

The IIHS suggests that while convertibles are not mechanically safer than other vehicles, driver habits and behavior when behind the wheel of a ragtop may account for the numbers. For example, convertible drivers are less likely to exceed the speed limit and more likely to buckle up, according to the IIHS. Or it may simply be that convertible drivers are more likely to take their cars out for a pleasure cruise when the weather’s nice and on scenic roads that have less traffic.

Moreover, while convertibles may look more fragile than hardtops, they are often more structurally rigid. The chassis of a convertible is usually reinforced to make it stiffer — if the frame tends to flex or bend, the car’s handling will suffer. And some models, such as the Mercedes-Benz SLC roadster, have roll bars located right behind the driver and passenger seats. However, buyers should also be aware that while the NHTSA does have roof-crush resistance requirements for cars sold in the United States, convertibles — even those with a folding hardtop — are exempt.

Shoppers should consider proven safety options available on different models, such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot alerts and lane departure warning systems. You can also compare safety ratings from the government’s crash test results

In the end, the primary safety feature in any car is you, the driver. As Young advises, “Watch your speed, avoid distractions and impairment, and always buckle your seatbelt.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify information regarding the safety of convertibles.

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