Summer is here. It’s hot. It’s muggy. There’s no complaining though – especially after the nasty winter which most recently overstayed its welcome across most of Canada. With the sun shining warmly and the snow and ice melted for another season, the minds of many motoring Canucks shift towards the joy of driving, and this might just be your year to consider doing some driving with the fam-jam in a new-to-you luxury convertible.
A great way to avoid expensive surprises when buying any used car, and especially a luxury convertible, is to assume the worst up front and work backwards from an expectations standpoint.
Luxury convertibles are great – mostly because they’re luxurious and convertibles. And if you’re considering an investment in a second-hand premium-branded drop-top in the near future, you’ve come to the right place.
Below, we’ll look at some general pre-purchase tips, a few popular vehicle choices, and some model-specific checks you’ll want to have carried out for maximum peace of mind before you buy.
Read the following, and you’re well on your way to obtaining a first-class copy of a second-hand luxury drop-top.
Check the Roof
Whether a hard- or soft-top convertible, be sure to run the roof through its paces several times over the course of your test drive. Be on the lookout for any binding, displayed error messages, or failure to open or close fully and consistently with each attempt. Further, note that any abrasion, scraping, or tearing present on the roof panels or fabric may be evidence of unwanted contact between two components while the roof is in motion. This indicates a possible problem, which can likely be repaired, but may need attention from a professional.
If the motorized roof sounds like an overloaded band saw while it’s in motion, it’s best to have a dealer technician check it out before you buy. Many convertible tops have an array of “micro-switches”, which are used to electronically confirm the position of various components to trigger certain actions that open and close the roof. If these micro-switches fail, problems are likely. Finally, note that convertible tops may require occasional adjustments to work properly, and a trained technician is best for the job. The gist? If the roof doesn’t quite seem to work properly, don’t panic – but be sure to figure out why, to avoid headaches down the line.
Check for Leaks
If the convertible top on the model you’re considering is leaking, possible causes include poorly lubricated or damaged rubber seals, an alignment issue with one or more roof panels, or an out-of-adjustment latch or hinge. Check for leaks by pressing your hand (or a rag) into the carpeting at the very outer edges of the vehicle’s cabin – along the door sills and in all footwells, as well as in the trunk, and the area beneath the trunk floor. Be on the lookout for dampness, signs of mould or mildew, or water staining. Leather seats can also reveal a water leak: if the seat material looks dried, crispy, or resembles beef jerky, the leather has likely been very wet, multiple times, in its past. A good soak down from a garden hose, using low pressure, can also reveal top leaks as a secondary check – but note that high-pressure spraying of a convertible (whether via a hose or drive-through car wash) is not advised, as many convertible tops won’t totally seal against a directed, pressurized jet of water. On that note, for car-wash purposes, hand-washing your family’s new convertible is likely your best bet.
Consider Certified Pre-Owned (CPO)
Luxury car dealers typically offer used vehicles, including convertible models, for sale as part of a dealer CPO program. Buying a luxury convertible from a CPO program may cost a few bucks more, though it may well be worth the investment: typically, a CPO-certified vehicle has to meet a higher standard of quality, offers extended warranty coverage and other perks, has all maintenance and recalls up to date, and may have undergone some reconditioning – including some professional assessment and attention to the roof mechanism itself.
Obtain Records and Know the History
Whether buying privately or from a dealer, be sure to obtain full service records for the model you’re considering, as proof that the vehicle has been continually maintained for its entire life, and isn’t overdue for some important servicing or maintenance. On newer, in-warranty used convertibles, late or skipped servicing, right down to an oil change, can compromise the vehicle’s warranty and lead to nasty surprises. Buying a used luxury convertible without a full grasp on its service history, and what maintenance is coming due, is not advised.
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Know the Costs Ahead of Time
In addition to buying the vehicle itself, you’ll also have to insure it, fuel it, maintain it, and replace consumable parts like tires, brakes, and suspension components over time. Especially if this will be your first luxury car, avoid unpleasant wallet-emptying surprises by determining these costs up front. Note that most luxury cars need pricier premium gasoline, may be more expensive to insure, and may have pricier replacement parts, too.
Assume the Worst
A great way to avoid expensive surprises when buying any used car, and especially a luxury convertible, is to assume the worst up front and work backwards from an expectations standpoint. When approaching any potential used convertible candidate, assume, as a bare minimum, that it needs new tires, brakes, a full tune-up, and some attention to the roof mechanism – until you or a professional technician proves otherwise.
General Care Tips
A few general tips can go a long way to help you effectively care for that new-to-you convertible, keeping it tip-top for the long haul. First, be sure to familiarize yourself with the proper product and procedure for lubricating all rubber seals, which should be done on an annual basis. The owner’s manual has the full scoop.
Next, be sure to identify the body drainage channels and drain holes, which are designed to allow water to drain around the vehicle’s passenger compartment and harmlessly onto the ground beneath. Over time, the convertible drainage channels and drain holes can become plugged with dirt and debris, which may result in leaks. Locate these, and clean them annually, perhaps using a blast of compressed air or a length of weed-whacker wire to clean debris from the drainage provisions.
Some Extras to Consider
Budget a few extra bucks for some effective extras that’ll help you enjoy your second-hand convertible for years to come. If you’ll drive your convertible occasionally, a trickle charger is a great thing to have. When your ride is parked for extended periods of more than a few days, you hook this up to the battery to keep it fresh, charged, and conditioned to prevent possible electronic problems and reduction of the battery capacity.
A quality car cover is a great idea too, especially if you’ll store your convertible outside – since it protects your ride’s paint and interior from the sun’s damaging UV rays and can keep all finishes looking great for years to come.
Finally, consider a high-quality leather cleaner and conditioner with UV protection, noting that the sun’s harmful rays can degrade leather over time, and that protecting leather surfaces carefully is ideal for maintenance of their long-term appearance.
Common Models and Must-Do Checks
Below, we’ve compiled a list of family-ready luxury convertibles you might be considering, and a few important cheeks to make of each, before agreeing to buy. If in doubt, ask a professional for assistance. If the model you’re considering isn’t listed below, be sure to check our extensive archive of used car reviews for more information. It’s the biggest collection of used car buying advice on the internet, and you’ll find plenty of useful stuff.
BMW 3 Series
If you’re considering a used BMW 3 Series convertible from the mid-to-late 2000’s, be sure to confirm proper operation of any and every on-board feature that runs on electricity, confirm proper operation of all door locks, handles, windows, and keyfobs, and be sure that the trunk release works properly, too. Further, have any Check Engine lights diagnosed and addressed before you agree to buy.
If you’re considering a model with BMW’s turbocharged straight-six engine (i.e. the high-performing 335i Cabriolet), get in touch with a BMW dealer service department and ask about having the vehicle’s fuel injectors and high-pressure fuel pump (HPFP) inspected before purchase, for maximum peace of mind.
Audi A4 / A5 Cabriolet
Audi’s A4 and A5 Cabriolet models were popular picks in a luxury convertible with room for the family – but make sure the former owner hasn’t jacked up the boost with some naughty computer tweaking, which could turn the engine into soup and void the warranty. On older models, note that a blocked PCV valve or worn-out diverter valve could cause weak or inconsistent performance. These are easy parts to fix, but be sure to have your potential used candidate inspected by an Audi tech if you’re not comfortable with how it’s running.
As most of these units were powered by Audi / VW’s 2.0T engine, be sure to stay on top of maintenance, changing engine oil and spark plugs early and often to help fend off possible issues with valve gunk accumulation, too. Finally, be sure to fuel this one religiously with the highest-quality Top Tier gasoline available, and for the same reason.
Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet
Considering a used E-Class Cabriolet from the mid- to late-2000’s? Consider a PPI to be absolutely mandatory. Check all electronics, down to the climate control and parking radar (if equipped) for proper operation. Run the climate control and A/C through their paces, too.
Avoid models with the air-levelling suspension, and scrutinize the ride quality with your ears and backside on a test drive, noting that any unwelcome slamming, clunking, banging, or popping from beneath the car on rough roads warrants a full and professional assessment of the vehicle’s suspension. Finally, assume the brakes need attention, possibly in the form of new pads and rotors, until you have a technician confirm otherwise.
Lexus’s IS Convertible offers up that oh-so-meticulous Lexus interior and sporty dynamics, combined with a drop-top four-seater body. Just remember to check and monitor engine oil levels regularly and religiously, being on the lookout for signs of excessive oil consumption between oil changes. Change the oil early and often, as per instructions in the owner’s manual.
Note that any clumsy or harsh shifting from the transmission likely requires updated or re-flashed software to the transmission’s computer brain to remedy. Though the IS-C was available with two V6 engine options, the larger 3.5L unit is likely best, according to numerous owners in a popular online forum.
Infiniti G37 Convertible
The briefly available convertible version of the Infiniti G37 took the roof off of one of the most reliable-looking used sport luxury cars on the road. The hard-panel roof disappeared at the touch of a button, giving drivers top-off access to a proven and pleasing V6 soundtrack and plenty of revs. Best of all, shoppers have little to worry about: the driveline on this machine looks very solid, and most commonly reported issues centre around smaller problems with condensation in the headlights and taillamps, and poor durability from the paint finish on some surfaces.
Still, triple-check all remote key fobs and power windows before you agree to buy, and make sure that the vehicle has been properly and continuously maintained throughout its life, to help capitalize on the G37 Convertible’s solid reliability.
Volvo’s take on a luxury convertible offered up standard turbocharged power, plenty of safety gear, and front-wheel drive with a five-speed transmission in the driver’s choice of automatic or manual. If you’re considering this Swedish ragtop, scrutinize the roof’s headliner fabric for signs of sagging, wear, or ripping, which could be caused by one or more failed tabs or adhesives. Check all power windows for proper functionality, several times, as well.
Note that some sellers will try to conceal a worn turbocharger (which will often emit white smoke from the tailpipes) by pre-warming the vehicle before your arrival – so insist on test driving the used C70 when it hasn’t been driven for several hours. Finally, note that C70 uses a timing belt to set the mechanical rhythm of its engine, and this component requires periodic replacement before it fails. If it does, you’ll likely be out an engine, so be sure to determine where the timing belt sits in its service life, budgeting for a timing belt change if it’s near or due.