How to Install a Replacement Convertible Top

by Annmarie Keller

Replacing a convertible top on a car can be a difficult job and is frequently done by a professional. However, with good directions, a few hours of your time and a little hard work, it is possible to do at home yourself. The size of the convertible top needed to complete the job will depend on the make and model of your car. Foreign cars and domestic cars built after 1999 have an attached window. Fortunately, for those who like to do their own repairs, the technique for replacing a convertible top is virtually the same for every car.

Check the convertible top's frame prior to removing the top itself. Do this by putting the top up and down a few times to look for areas that may be binding when the fabric collapses. Thoroughly check the frame from the inside of the car to make sure it is collapsing properly. Lay the unfolded new top over the old top to check the size and fit.

Raise the top up halfway and then remove the wire-on, a type of fabric molding used to hide staples and tacks, from the bow header strip. The bow header sits on top of the windshield frame when the top is closed; it is what the latches attach to when the top is closed. Stapled together, the strip removes easily. If there is metal strap screwed over the edge of the top, remove the screws along with the strap and then set both aside.

Remove the side rail weather strips on both sides of the top. These bolt from the backside of the roof rail. Depending on the maker of the car, there may be a screw in the ends on the weather strip side. These embed into the weather stripping itself over time. You can use a screwdriver to facilitate the bolt removal if it is stuck to the weather strips.

Locate the ends of the side cables, also known as tension or hold down cables, and decide which one likely will come off the easiest. You will then remove the end of the cables on one end and leave the opposite end attached. Pull the cables through the pockets in the edges of the top and then drape them across the inside of the car.

Check the remaining bows to make sure there are no screws still attaching the top to the frame. Remove them if there are and then slide the metal bars completely out of their pockets and put them aside. Once done, raise the top completely and latch the front shut.

Detach the wire-on from the top of the rear bow and remove any remaining staples. Some may have become embedded over time and be difficult to see. Use your hands to probe, removing staples you find as you go.

Go inside of the car loosen or remove the well liner so you are able to reach the underside of it. The well liner is a pocket that sits behind the back seat and catches all the moisture and debris that are on your top when you retract it. You will see a metal strip one to one and one foot in height with between 11 and 15 bolts through it. This is the rear tack rail. Using the correctly sized socket, remove all of the bolts. They go the length of the tack rail. With all of the bolts removed, the top back will be loose.

Step outside the car when the top is loose and place a blanket over the rear of the car near the convertible top opening. Lift the rear tack rail out and place it on the blanket. If you are replacing the window, also known as the curtain and it is not already part of the new convertible top, you are now ready to do so.

Remove the rear window, or curtain as it is also called, by taking out all of the staples along the rear tack strip as well as from across the rear bow. You should be able to lift out the window.

Find the middle of the rear bow and mark it. Look for the notch along the top of the curtain that marks the exact center. Staple the middle of the curtain top strip to the middle of the rear bow, lining up the edge of the rear window top strip to the front edges of the rear bow.

Staple the rest of the window top strip to the rear bow. While you are stapling, pull the curtain toward the outside of the car gently to smooth out wrinkles as you go.

Line up the middle hole in the bottom of the window with the corresponding hole in the rear tack strip. Securely staple the middle of the rear window to the middle of the rear tack strip. Work your way out to the edges of the window the same way you did previously stapling as you go so that the curtain is properly attached.

Bolt the rear tack strip in using only a few bolts, preferably one in the middle and one at each end of the curtain. Close and latch the top. You are now ready to detach the old top and remove it.

Remove all of the staples that go through the top on both sides. This will be the last thing holding the convertible top to the car. Remove the top and set it aside but do not discard it. Before installing the new top, spread out the old one on the floor or a table and drape the new unfolded top over the old one, lining up the edges on both sides.

Bend a wire coat hanger into a "u" shape on one end and then slide the hanger through the side pocket of the top. Use the hook end of the wire to pull a side cable back through the pocket. Repeat this procedure on the other side of the top.

Move the convertible top frame to the up position and latch the front. The cables will be tight, aligning the top from side to side while stretching out some of the wrinkles it will have from when it was packaged.

Slide the top forward or backward to place the quarter flaps in their proper places. The seam holding the quarter flaps to the top will line up with the edge of the top's frame. You must staple the rear of the top to the corresponding tack strip. Pull the top around the bend in the tack strip, stretching to remove even more wrinkles that may be in it and then firmly staple the other end. Do not stretch so tightly that you tear out the staples on the opposite side. Stretching slowly but firmly will remove the wrinkles without causing additional work.

Pull down the top, repositioning it as needed until your pen alignment marks are in the right places and then staple the top to the tack strip until there are enough staples to hold the top properly in place. Do this on both sides of the convertible top.

Bolt back into place the rear tack strip just as it was before. Pull the side of the top forward until most of the remaining wrinkles have disappeared and then raise the top up halfway. Pull the front of the top around the front bow, fold it under and staple it down between edges and seam. Close the top and lock it down. You should see the sides and quarters relatively smooth and the rear bow lining up with the darts.

Apply contact cement to the quarter flaps and front side flaps. You will need to let the contact cement get tacky, but not dry. With the top still latched, pull the flaps into the proper position and glue them down. Raise the top up mid-way and then attach the weather stripping.

Staple the wire-on across the rear bow with the flap of the wire-on facing toward the front of car. Bend the end of it over the top of the rear bow and then hammer it down flat. Make sure you have applied it straight, and then you can install the end caps.

Replace any remaining bolts inside the car that are still out and put the well back into its original position. You must now leave the top up for two days, longer in colder or moister climates, to allow the contact glue to properly set.


  • check Wrinkles that remain in the convertible top after the installation is complete will straighten out over time. However, most proud car owners, especially those who braved the installation on their own, want the wrinkles out. You can use a heat gun set at low. Hold the heat gun over the wrinkles in a back and forth motion to assist in their removal. DO NOT PULL on the heated material, as you may stretch it. Allow the wrinkles to "melt" out of the material themselves.

Items you will need

About the Author

Annmarie Keller has been a writer for more than 20 years. She has published her work in "Redbook," "Parenting," "Sunset" and "Good Housekeeping." Keller earned a bachelor's degree in English from California State University, Hayward.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera VOITURE CABRIOLET (aile) image by Marie-Thérèse GUIHAL from