We buy Jeep CJs and Wranglers for many reasons, but one of the best is that they make great convertibles. While the soft tops can be a real pain to raise and lower, it is fairly easy to roll up the rear window or remove the rear quarter windows. And, being able to pull the upper soft doors out really opens up a Jeep Wrangler.
But everything has a lifespan, including soft tops. The zippers on the door windows are usually the first thing to wear out. And, typically it’s the driver’s window that goes bad first. Replacement door skins are available and fairly easy to install.
But then the thread in the seams starts to go bad or the top shrinks and the zippers become very difficult to operate. Or maybe the windows crack in the cold.
Eventually it becomes time to shop for a replacement top. So the selection process begins.
- You’ll need to decide whether you want the regular fabric or the sail cloth material.
- Tinted windows or clear?
- Is the color almond, nutmeg, spice, dark tan, or khaki? What’s the difference between black, black denim, and black diamond?
- What if your Jeep came with a hard top? Do you really need to buy the whole factory bow system? And, what does that cost?
So let’s figure this out step-by-step so you get exactly what you want.
We’ll start with an easy one. If you are changing from a hard top to a soft top, an affordable way to do that is to buy a “Bowless" top that uses the roll cage as the frame. You’ll also need a windshield channel to secure the front edge of the top to the windshield. The Bowless tops from Rugged Ridge can be purchased with door surrounds for a better weather seal. The cool thing about these is that the windows can be folded up under the top to create a summer top.
The next decision is "regular" fabric or "sail cloth" material. The sail cloth material is thicker and a bit quieter. It doesn’t flutter and pop as much. Of course, it costs more. You’ll need to look at your budget and how much you drive at highway speeds. The sail cloth will typically last longer and shrink less if it’s left outdoors.
The decision about clear or tinted windows is a case of personal preference. The clear windows offer the best visibility, but also show scratches more. While it may be easier to see out, it is also easier for others to see in. Most people like the look of tinted windows and they do reduce the sunlight coming in.
The fabric color choices can be amazing. But here’s a guide. And, keep in mind that a previous owner may have changed the soft top color in the past.
The term “summer top” covers a wide variety of tops without side or rear windows. Different manufacturers have their own terms for their brand or style, but the common feature of a summer top, is the lack of windows.
Some summer tops only cover the front passengers, while others cover the rear passengers too. Some are made of fabric soft top material, while others are made of mesh.
All summer tops require a windshield header channel so you can attach the front edge of the summer top to the windshield. If your Jeep has a hard top, you must buy or re-install a windshield header channel.
If your 1955-1995 Jeep CJ or YJ Wrangler has a factory soft top, you can usually re-use the existing channel.
The 1997-2006 Jeep TJ and LJ Wranglers use a different style soft top with a header bar built into the top, not screwed into the Jeep’s windshield frame. If you have a 1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler you will definitely need a windshield header channel.
The same is true for the 2007 and newer Jeep JK Wranglers.