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Hood Care

SKY HIGH Published: 27th Jun 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hood Care
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Tom Malcolm reveals how best to look after your classic’s hood and sunshine roof so you can go topless without fear

I remember the moment as though it happened yesterday. My wife and I were touring the West Country some years ago in our Mk1 MX-5 when the heavens opened. The rain came down in torrents and, as we sat in the Exeter traffic, I realised my right trouser leg was getting wet. Very wet.

The convertible hood of the little Mazda had given up the ghost just at the very moment I needed it most.

For some time now I had promised I must do something about the cracks appearing along the fold lines of the vinyl hood above the driver’s side window. My intentions were for the best, but in the sunshine of that particular summer, there didn’t seem to be any rush. There was now!

In such desperate circumstances my thoughts immediately turned to duct tape as a temporary measure. And it worked.  Up to a point.  Which was about 25mph on the M5 heading home. I was pretty cut up about my predicament.  Nothing else for it but to shell out for a new convertible top (it ended up costing me a lot more, as I traded in the car for a new MX-5).

The old car’s hood was just over 10 years old which is about an average life expectancy. And apart from giving it and the car the occasional Sunday morning wash and brush up, had been given no special attention at all. With 20:20 hindsight I wish I had – so here’s how to keep a roof over your head.

OPEN AND SHUT CASE?

Like many other owners, I had taken the hood for granted. As long as it held out the elements and kept me and my passenger warm and dry, well, it kind of looks after itself, doesn’t it? Well no, it doesn’t. A convertible top should be appreciated and carefully looked after all year round, even if laid up.

Most convertible tops are either fabric or vinyl. Vinyl tops are easier to maintain but tend to fade. They are also prone to shrinkage after time. Fabric/mohair-type tops do not shrink but require a little bit more effort to keep them looking factory fresh. But irrespective of material, the experts we have spoken to are all agreed that the first rule of looking after your convertible top is to keep it clean.

But whether your car has a vinyl or mohair roof, never ever be tempted to clean it with a powerful jet wash. You could well do irreparable damage to the fabric and/or the frame.

At this time of year a lot of hoods are coming out of winter hibernation from underneath hardtops.  And, if not careful, this is when hood problems will begin. Vinyl hoods in particular need to be coaxed out of their folded position.  Don’t rush to put it up. The vinyl could be brittle to the point where it will split when stretched.

If your car’s hood is electrically operated, you may want to switch it, if possible, to manual operation on this occasion. That way you have total control over the speed at which it is raised into the fully closed position.

The same rule also applies if your hood has been in the raised position for a number of months over the winter. The first time you lower it, be very gentle. In effect you are teaching the hood how to fold once more.

For this reason, remember that old adage of if you don’t use it you’ll lose it! The fact is that the longer any roof, be it hood or sunroof, is left inoperative, the more chances there are of it jamming and failing. Open and close it at least once a month to keep the mechanisms free.

Perspex rear windows should be given extra-special care lest they crack and tear. One tip is to operate the car’s heater for a while before attempting to raise the hood after winter hibernation so that everything under the hardtop warms up nicely. That should help prevent any ongoing problems.

We’d throw in the towel… Not literally I hasten to add but certainly carrying one around with you will certainly prolong the life of your classic’s hood. Simply folding the hood back and allowing the plastic rear screen to fold will lead to creasing and marking; a towel separating the screen will prolong its useful life. Also, many hoods feature a zipped rear screen and many enthusiasts wrongly assume that it’s for ventilation. Actually it’s also there to allow the screen to stay flat when the hood is lowered!

CONVERTIBLE CARE

Before starting to clean the fabric, lubricate the hood operating mechanism and rubber seals. A few drops of light machine-type oil in the key hinges, catches, etc., will work wonders.  Don’t go daft here as you can overdo things resulting in oil finding its way onto the hood material.  This is especially true with aerosol-type lubricants.

If there are adjuster mechanisms on your hood frame, now is also the time to make sure they are set to give the maximum of wind and watertight seals. The adjusters too should be lightly lubricated.

Check the rubber seals around the hood edges to make sure they are sound and undamaged.  Wipe them down with a damp cloth to get rid of any dirt and dust which has accumulated over the winter.  And finally, give them a light rub over with a silicone lubrication spray.  Again, don’t go daft. If you have found a damaged seal, best to go out and buy a new one.  Repairs are never usually successful over the long term.

Pay particular attention to the zip surrounding the rear window.  Treat it to a shot of silicone spray.  This is time extremely well spent.  (Remember, if your car has a Perspex rear window, you should be unzipping it each and every time you lower the hood.)

At this point, disconnect the latches and pull the hood back a little to reveal the many exterior nooks and crannies, particularly under the rear window, which accumulate dust and dirt.  Best way to tackle these is with a vacuum cleaner extension hose and, for stubborn deposits, a soft brush.  Again, don’t be heavy-handed here.

And finally at this stage, make sure the rainwater rails and drainage holes are clear of any obstruction.  If not, they can be the source of dampness in the cabin and also encourage corrosion inside the metal of the car.  Tip: My favourite tool for clearing the drainage holes is a length of plastic-coated curtain wire. Around three metres long, it cost me the princely sum of £1.20 from my local supermarket.

Now it is time to treat your hood to a thorough clean and re-proofing. Do this at least once a year, twice if your car is a daily driver and exposed to the elements all the time. Many specialist products for cleaning and re-treating vinyl tops are available.  Our experience with them is very positive, although you should never underestimate the wonders of a good wash with a gentle car shampoo, never washing up liquid.

Fabric/mohair really should be cleaned with specialist cleansing products. These are more gentle on the fabric and, when combined with a re-proofing agent, will give the hood an ‘as new’ look and performance.

Another word of caution here for those with mohair hoods. If you want to avoid your top looking as if it has chronic dandruff, do not use a normal sponge or fluffy/microfibre cloth on it.  Tiny parts of the sponge/cloth will become trapped in the fibre of the hood and will be practically impossible to remove.

If the hood has been neglected and the colour has faded, that too can be rectified by using commonly available products to re-dye it. A bit more elbow grease is required but again the results will be pleasing and cheaper than a new hood.

As a rough guide, it should cost you around £50 for two treatments a year.  Some preparations are more expensive than others. But whatever your choice, make sure you follow the instructions provided to the letter.  And don’t be tempted to use vinyl cleaner/re-proofer on a fabric/mohair hood or vice-versa.

A milky, opaque, plastic rear window need not be a candidate for the bin. A 50ml bottle of plastic window polish could make it look as good as new again. Depending on how bad the screen is, it might need two or three goes. At around £12 a bottle, it’s much cheaper than buying a new screen or even hood.



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