Are convertible cars a bad idea?
December 27, 2008 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I want a Mini Cooper. I want a convertible Mini Cooper. My wife tells me convertibles are a bad idea. (Especially in Oregon.) I'm not convinced. Hasn't convertible technology advanced to a point where they're pretty hassle-free? Help me convince her a convertible is a fine idea!
posted by jdroth to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I can't speak to the Mini itself, but in general YES convertible technology is wayyyy beyond the 1970s Beetle.

I had a 1992 Saab convertible for a few years (until about a year ago) and I loved it. Here in sub-zero Montana winters, it had no problem kicking out enough heat to keep me warm and toasty, and draft-free. Winters here regularly get to 15 below zero, and colder, and not once did I have an issue. And I always take my coat off in the car. If current Mini convertibles are anything close to 16-year old Saab convertible technology, you will have no problems whatsoever.

Just follow the manufacturer's directions for care and you will be fine. Yes, they take some care, and after x number of years you will need to replace the canvas. But it is SO worth it.

And now some preaching: GET THE CONVERTIBLE!!!!!!! Mine was the most freakin' fun I ever had with any car ever in the history of ever! I only got rid of it because the engine needed more work that it was worth. I plan on getting another convertible as soon as I can. Life is too short to live with car regret, and we spend too much time in our cars to not make it as pleasant as possible. Get the convertible.

Do it.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:43 AM on December 27, 2008

I got to drive a circa 2006 Mercedes Benz convertible - it was like some sort of Alien Transformers technology. I don't know if the Cooper is similar, but yes, convertibles (at the high end) are way, way beyond what I had imagined. Absolutely no leaks, air or water.
posted by zippy at 10:44 AM on December 27, 2008

Hasn't convertible technology advanced to a point where they're pretty hassle-free?

If you're in an SLK, yeah. Towards the lower end -- the MX-5 / Miata or the MGF -- there's leaks and mildew to consider. The Mini is better than those, but you still sacrifice a chunk of boot space. (The MGF's boot could fit a holdall, and that's about it.)

Anyway, the standard complaint with convertibles is that the handling suffers because of the extra stiffening required on the chassis. Convertibles are also really bloody noisy at freeway speeds with the roof down. Soft-tops attract wankers with razorblades, so your insurance would likely be much higher.

I've loved my drives in roadsters. The people who take out their old Triumphs and Spiders and MG B GTs on the Blue Ridge Parkway on bright Sundays make me envious until I think of the six evenings of maintenance required to make those Sunday drives possible. So I'd suggest renting a convertible for a week -- not just for a road trip, but for the commute or errand run -- to see whether you'd be comfortable with one as something other than a weekend runabout.
posted by holgate at 10:44 AM on December 27, 2008

What aspects of owning a convertible are you (or your wife) most worried about? The weather, maybe? If you can keep the car garaged and only take it out in decent weather, then you're good to go. That said, my inlaws have owned two convertibles (not Mini Coopers, though) in Kansas' extreme weather fluctuations and didn't have any problems with them.
posted by amyms at 10:45 AM on December 27, 2008

My wife says she is most concerned about wear and tear caused by weather, and about comfort. She thinks mechanical problems are a concern, too.

Note that I'm still at least two years from affording a Mini. We're just having this "discussion" today because the in-laws are in town...
posted by jdroth at 10:50 AM on December 27, 2008

Correcting myself: the GT was the hard-top, the B the roadster.

Fuzzy Skinner's point holds with one proviso: there will be times that having a convertible pisses you off. You just need to ensure that it gives you enough fun to compensate.
posted by holgate at 10:53 AM on December 27, 2008

The MINI is a cool convertible as the top opens in stages. You can just open it as if it was a sunroof, or you can take it all the way down.

I don't have one (I've got a hardtop MINI, though), but I know a couple of people that do. One is a British ex-pat who had a classic Mini when he was a kid, so if it's good enough for him, I'd say it hasn't lost that much character or handling prowess.

Downsides: The blind-spot is huge. There's a tiny rear window, and they try to keep the same lines as the hardtop model, so there's a lot of flat canvas in the rear-quarters with no glass. Also, the already small luggage space is even smaller.

But leak-wise and mechanicals, I've heard no complaints.
posted by hwyengr at 10:58 AM on December 27, 2008

The big problem with having a convertible is parking. If you are going in somewhere for any amount of time, you will have to check the sky. And no matter how careful you are, you will get your car rained in at some point. (With a shop vac and some fans, you shouldn't have any problem with clean-up.)

And anything you want locked, you have to lock in the trunk.

If this is the only car, and your wife is against it, I say no. There are just two many little things that are going to drive her extra crazy because she never wanted in the first place. Also, your wife is female and may not like the extra attention that comes with driving top down. Especially the attention from cops.

If you do get your mini cooper, don't park under trees or phone lines or anything birds perch on.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2008

Sorry to rain on your parade, but she's right. It's not the hassle of putting the roof up or down, it's the following;

when you're in non-convertible mode, the roof is hella noisy
when you're in convertible mode, the wind is hellaciously noisy - I've blown out multiple speakers trying to rock out above wind noise
you can't have a convertible and a hairdo - slow moving air in car vs fast moving air above = vortex; this is why everyone driving a convertible looks like they're being buffetted from behind; they are
is the rear window in the roof glass? if not, it's opacity will increase with age
how about the blind spot - huge or what?
when you're in convertible mode everyone stares at you (good or bad depending on your ego status)
driving in convertible mode in hot weather - ie when you usually drive with the roof down - will cause you to sweat, particularly where your back meets the seat, so when you get out you have a big a$$ sweat stain down the back of your shirt
convertibles entice people to drive up the coast. this is grand until you realize that a day driving up the coast with the roof down = sunburnt on one side of face only.
I don't know the facts - I'm sure someone will correct me - but I believe cars without rooves are structurally less secure which impacts performance and decreases safety. I do hope you've considered the ramifications of being in an accident in a Mini convertible.

All that said, having a convertible is riotous fun if you live somewhere like LA, you have short hair, you're not using it for commuting and you don't have a death wish. The answer here really is to buy a Mini Cooper, and rent a convertible for road-trips etc - because at the end you'll be glad to give it back and climb into your car with a roof.

On preview: yeah, if you want a convertible without the hassle, you want one with a hard roof like those little Mercedes - you can pick up the old shape pretty cheap these days.

On preview2: I heart your blog too.

(former Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible owner, 12 months, that was enough)
posted by The_Partridge_Family at 11:05 AM on December 27, 2008

On preview3: it'd be a real shame to spend 2 years saving up for a Mini convertible, buy it, drive it, get out and go, "that was fun, but eh."
posted by The_Partridge_Family at 11:08 AM on December 27, 2008

If you have a convertible, you can drive it across the Fremont bridge and over to Sauvie Island on a summer afternoon, and then you can drive around Sauvie Island at dusk, listening to Iron & Wine, and then drive back across the Fremont Bridge right as the sun sets. And your wife would have to have a heart of stone not to love that.

Also, driving down to California in a convertible would be the shiznit.
posted by redsparkler at 11:10 AM on December 27, 2008

And if your wife has long hair, or if you have long hair, that's what scarves and bandannas are good for.
posted by redsparkler at 11:12 AM on December 27, 2008

Oh, and North American Motoring for all things MINI.
posted by hwyengr at 11:18 AM on December 27, 2008

Lessons learned from owning a convertible as my first car:

1. They are not for women (or men, for that matter) with long hair. The chic silk scarf trick only works in the movies and at very low speeds. In real life, your face is continually stung by whipping hair, and your hair gets so snarled that it is actually damaged.

2. They are not for people who want to avoid sunburn and skin cancer. It's amazing how much more sun exposure you get when driving a convertible. And unlike deliberately sunning yourself on a beach, you can't just roll over when you feel yourself starting to burn. Stuck in traffic on the freeway? Too bad.

3. They are not for people who are bothered by great lungfuls of truck exhaust. There is no such thing as "recirc" mode when the top is down.

4. They are not for people who value a quiet ride or conversation. I haven't ridden in a Mini Cooper convertible, but I have driven a regular Mini, and it's a very loud car to begin with. I would imagine that the convertible would be especially noisy.

When I was six years old, my dad had a convertible. After spending Christmas at my grandparents' house, we stopped at a convenience store on the way home, leaving the top down with the car full of our stuff (this was in Florida). Just that quickly, someone came along and stole all of my brand-new Christmas presents! So I guess I would add:

5. They are not for people who mind the hassle of putting the top up and down all the time.
posted by HotToddy at 11:35 AM on December 27, 2008

(Hidden bonus of convertible owning: ability to transport lumber from Home Depot which otherwise would not fit in a sedan.)
posted by The_Partridge_Family at 11:46 AM on December 27, 2008

I looked into a Mini Convertible and what I read over and over again and heard from people was that the blind spot in it was absolutely terrible.
posted by k8t at 11:49 AM on December 27, 2008

I have a mini convertible and looooooooove it. I bought it while the dogdad was out of town and there was a lot of eye-rolling when he got back. Until he drove it and declared it was the best thing I ever bought. The only thing I don't like is the blind spot, although it has made me a much better driver. Truthfully, if I had test driven it with the top up, I probably wouldn't have bought it- the blind spot is that bad. But the back window is glass, not that evil Miata plastic. I got the "cold weather" package so it's nice and toasty in the winter, and due to the fact that I don't have a garage, I don't park it in one- no leaks. Eventually I'll get a cover for it, mainly because the neighborhood cats love to sleep on it, and it's covered in cat hair. I also worry that they'll claw the top up.

The suspension could be better- it's a bit of a bumpy ride, and they really frown on after-market add-ons (there's a big sticker in my front windshield reminding me that I'll void the warranty if I mess with anything). I average 28 mpg in the winter, and a little less in the summer. There is noise (as mentioned above), and you have to be careful about any little bit of paper in the car (I'm messy, and I have to make sure there's no fast-food wrappers in my car before I put the top down). There is also no trunk space, and unless you're a legless midget, you don't want to get in the back seat- it's purely decorative. It's very easy to put the top up & down, and the sunroof thing is pretty cool. I keep ponytail holders and a baseball cap in the car for top-down driving and it works for me. Of course, I have very low-maintenance hair, so YMMV.

All in all, I really don't regret my purchase at all. It's a fun car to drive- I bought it when gas was $4+ a gallon (oh, the manual specifies the high-octane stuff- something to consider if you're used to paying for regular), so I haven't really road-tripped yet, but it makes me happy to see it in my driveway, so that's good enough for me.
posted by dogmom at 11:51 AM on December 27, 2008

I believe cars without rooves are structurally less secure which impacts performance and decreases safety.

I dunno about this.

It's been my understanding that, in nearly all modern convertibles, the A pillars and the upper windshield frame are massively reinforced to ask as a sort of roll bar. Furthermore, looking at pictures of the Mini Convertible, it appears to have roll hoops behind the back passengers as well.

Assuming you're wearing your seatbelt, I don't actually think that rollover in a modern convertible is going to be any worse than rollover in a hardtop.

And, as for simple impacts... the loss of rigidity brought about by having no roof is generally made up for in extra stiffening of the chassis elsewhere.

But, I'm with the wife on this one. A convertible, while fun for about a month in the summer, becomes a giant pain in the ass the rest of the year. The complete lack of vehicle security is probably the one that kills it the most for me. But, the inconvenience of constantly having to put the top up to park, or when there's a rainstorm on a roadtrip, definitely contributes.

Also, let's all be honest here: the Mini is cute. The Mini Convertible looks like an abomination.
posted by Netzapper at 11:51 AM on December 27, 2008

I drive zipcar Mini Convertible here in San Francisco from time to time when it's the only car available. It does have a HUGE blind spot in the back and sides so I hate driving it in the city, I always feel like I am sitting in a cave.

That said you hardly can tell you are in a convertible otherwise.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:59 AM on December 27, 2008

Do you think you could save maybe a little extra money and rent a Mini Cooper convertible for a week or so to see if you like it?
posted by schroedinger at 12:03 PM on December 27, 2008

I've never owned a convertible, but my primary vehicle does have a sun roof. I only open it a day or two a year. I'll never have another, much less a convertible.

I can't stand the beating sun, the wind buffeting in my ears, the exhaust fumes in traffic, the way it messes up what little hair I have, and the traffic noise on busy highways.

When I have a hankering for those irritants and distractions, I ride my motorcycle.

And, I enjoy the hell out of that!
posted by imjustsaying at 12:08 PM on December 27, 2008

I think you need to rent one for a week or two.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:33 PM on December 27, 2008

I had a Miata with a removable hardtop. It was the best compromise -- a ragtop and a hardtop, just depending on what was wanted for the day. Perhaps the Mini Cooper comes with this option?
posted by Houstonian at 12:34 PM on December 27, 2008

Seconding those who suggest renting it. It's the best way to find out about whether you'll be able to live with the blind spot, the raising and lowering time and effort, etc.

But if you have a passion for convertibles, get it. If it's not going to be the main household car then your wife doesn't have veto power (my opinion only, obviously, YMMV*) because you're the one who's going to be driving it and it's reasonable to let your own desires dictate the details of what you get. (Assuming you can afford it -- if it will destroy the household budget, then yes her input matters.) Personally no matter how nice my car is -- and I've had some pretty nice ones -- I grow weary of driving and end up dreading it more than not. The only exceptions have been convertibles: I'm happy to be driving rather than miserable, and it never passes.

*Your Marriage May Vary
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2008

Great advice everyone. When time comes that I can afford this purchase, I do believe I'll be renting a convertible Mini for a hot week in August.
posted by jdroth at 3:05 PM on December 27, 2008

I have a six-speed 2006 Mini Cooper S convertible, and I absolutely adore it. It's the one reason my daily commute in LA is manageable. That being said, here are my recommendations:

- Get the windscreen. It makes a huge difference - I can have cell phone conversations on the freeway with the top down and can hear and be heard just fine.

- Make sure to stock the glove box with hair bands, hats and sunscreen.

- Get the awesome cold weather package. The top doesn't leak at all, and the Mini is actually more comfortable than my last car. Yay, seat warmers!

- I've found the car to be very reliable, and the service BMW provides is great.

- I'm surprised people think the convertible top is a hassle - it operates literally at the push of a button, right next to the visor. If you want to go all James Bond, the dealer can program the keys to open/close the top remotely.

Two caveats: I'm 5'0", so the scale of the car feels right. Everything is easily accessible and it feels like the car was designed especially for me. Taller folks may disagree.

The blind spot with the top up is absolutely ginormous. You may find that the back up alarm compensates sufficiently for that or - like me - you may use that as an excuse to drive with the top down as often as possible.

Last but not least - only you can decide if it's worth having a car you have to talk your spouse into buying. Good luck and have fun!
posted by Space Kitty at 3:09 PM on December 27, 2008

A buddy of mine had an RX7 convertible in Oregon. Worked fine, & it was very fun, except for the freeways. Even with the top on, they're louder, & the truck noise is a drag. Definitely doable, though, and it was fantastic in the summer.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:31 PM on December 27, 2008

Space Kitty speaks wisdom.

I agree, I don't know why anyone thinks operating the top is a hassle. In a matter of seconds, it's up or down.

Going inside somewhere? Put it up while you are parked. Too hot and sunny, making you stick to the seats? Put it up and turn on the A/C. Too loud with it down, and want to have a conversation? Put it up. Too many fumes? Put it up.

I mean, really, there is no law that says you must at all times keep the top down just because you have a convertible. Having a convertible means you have the option of driving with the top down when it suits you, or your passenger. In my case, my (now ex) wife didn't like riding with the top down. Guess what? This may sound crazywacky, but I put the top up when she was the passenger.

No points are deducted for putting it up or down whenever you want.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:03 PM on December 27, 2008

Also, the acoustics sucked and the back plastic window would rattle when the bass was up. These were minor yet strangely important things. I still say go for it.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:59 PM on December 27, 2008

I have a vintage VW Cabriolet in the Bay Area and while the blind spot is an issue, the other issues are non-issues. I recently cut my long, long hair, so that may cause your mileage to vary.
posted by padraigin at 11:38 PM on December 27, 2008

I've always driven a convertible -- in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Indiana. The only times I haven't had a convertible were when I lived in NYC and Iceland, and I didn't have any kind of car.

I'll always drive a convertible. I have long hair. I burn easily. I don't like noise. I don't particularly like exhaust fumes. I will still never give up having a convertible.

I do recommend:
- a glass rear window
- a garage (mostly to protect the car from falling branches and high winds)
- never locking it (put everything valuable in the trunk - thieves are less likely to rip the top if the doors are unlocked, although it has happened)
- always keeping spare hair bands and a hair brush in the glove box, along with spare sunglasses and sun block
- on rare occasions, treating yourself to driving top-down with the AC on (it's too luxe for words)
posted by Capri at 12:14 AM on December 28, 2008

on rare occasions, treating yourself to driving top-down with the AC on

And very often, I rode with the top down and the heat on. Nice cool breeze in your face, but heat to keep your tootsies and body toasty warm.

Dammit I need to find another convertible I can afford!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:43 AM on December 29, 2008

Whether or not you'll love the car is definitely a matter of personal preference. As to mechanical issues and wear and tear, you should be fine. I had a VW Cabrio in Oregon for the past two years, and never had any issues I wouldn't have had with a hardtop car. I only don't have it any more because I moved to Chicago, where having a car at all would be silly. My dad has a MINI convertible in Maine, and while it is garaged in the winter, he drives it all year and has had no problems at all.

For both of us, having a convertible is totally worthwhile. With the power top, it's easy to put it up or down, and Fuzzy Skinner is so right about the beauty of driving it on a cold day with the heat on. You know how sometimes in Oregon you'll get a day or two even in the middle of winter where it doesn't rain and you just want to be outside because it hasn't been dry for so long? Top down, heat on, down jacket also on, and it is the most wonderful thing in the world. But, as the above responses show, it's apparently not as worthwhile for everyone.

Still, goddamn do I miss my car.
posted by dizziest at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2008

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