by Rick Rotondo
One of the Jeep CJ, Wrangler and Gladiator’s best, and most fun, features is their soft top option. Sure, some people roll with hardtops because they think it quiets the cabin a bit more, but these days soft tops can be just as quiet as hardtops. Plus, they are way easier to deal with when you want the top off.
Over the years, Jeep soft tops have changed quite a bit thanks to newer, higher tier components, including fabrics like Sailcloth and Twill, overall aesthetic design and quality, and attachment mechanisms that allow for a simpler removal process.
The freedom a soft top offers is unparalleled, especially when you are driving with that top down on the trails. But with this freedom comes a responsibility for proper upkeep and maintenance of your soft top—that is, if you want it to last a long time on the vehicle.
There are several components of a soft top. For those with factory-type, or non frameless versions, you have the main frame and bow assembly hardware that provides support for the canvas top. This bow assembly includes pieces that attach both to the Jeep, and to the other components such as the canvas and windows.
The hardware really requires little upkeep and maintenance as you simply need to confirm bolts and screws are tight and the metal finish isn’t being overly worn down where components come in contact.
It is also a good idea to visually make sure that those hardware pieces are not wearing down the canvas and window material. Overall, that’s really the upkeep required for the soft top hardware.
As mentioned earlier, the fabric canvas is a huge component of your soft top, and is typically made of vinyl, denim, Sailcloth, or a Twill material. In short, these are placed in order of thinnest and least expensive (vinyl) to newest, thickest, longest lasting and most durable (Twill). We won’t go into detail on the basics of each material, but you can check out more information on these in our Differences Between Soft Top Materials article.
One thing all of these have in common is they are fabric that will wear down over time. That is just the nature of fabric. However, with attentive upkeep, you can enhance that fabric’s lifespan by quite a bit.
Something to remember though, when trying to clean a dirty soft top it is a great idea not to take the thing through a touchless automatic car wash. While the top may make it through, chance are the spinning brushes and high impact water sprays will do some damage to the material and vinyl windows.
Instead, it is far more efficient to do the cleaning yourself using products from companies like Bestop, Novus, Softtopp and Mothers that all offer soft top cleaners and protectants for all types of soft top material. These cleaners gently remove soils and stains from fabric or vinyl while not leaving any residue, and are also biodegradable. Then, the protective sprays will help repel dust, grease, dirt and impede mildew growth. They also help prevent damage from UV rays—all to keep your top clean and looking great.
As far as your soft top windows and upper doors (if you have them) go, these all definitely require the most attention as they can be prone to scratches or breakage if not properly protected when on or off the vehicle. So, when taking those windows off your Jeep, think about utilizing a protective soft top window storage bag solution from brands like Master Top, Bestop, Mopar, Crown, Rugged Ridge or Rightline.
You will also want to protect those vinyl windows when they are on the vehicle with proper cleaning using a Vinyl Window Cleaner. Here is a great explanation on how to Clean Your Soft Top Windows.
One last thing that many Jeep owners use daily, but few consider maintaining, are soft top window zippers. If you are someone who constantly removes and reinstalls your soft top windows, then it is important to keep those window zippers cleaned and lubricated. If not, they can soon become extremely tough to work with, and eventually one (or more) of the teeth will damage which could cause the tab to break if you try to pull too hard.
Additionally, keeping the zippers lubricated also prevents difficulties of sliding the zippers on colder days and nights when the fabric doesn’t really stretch. Quadratec, Bestop and Mopar all offer zipper cleaner and lubricant.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much to keep that soft top in optimal condition. But it is also something that really can’t be ignored either. With minimal effort, you should expect to get many years of use out of your soft top and soft top components, as well as enjoying many more of those warm summer days as intended. After all, that’s what owning a Jeep is all about, right?