Jeep Tops: Hard vs. Soft

by Larry Morton

When discussing Wrangler and CJ Jeeps the question often arises regarding the qualities of having a removable hard top or a fold down (also removable) soft top.

Obviously, these fall under the category of personal preference. However, sometimes we Jeep owners have a dilemma as to which way to go. Of course it is possible to have both a hard and a soft top on our Jeep (usually not at the same time), but for most of us this is not practical and often too expensive.

My 1995 Wrangler YJ is currently wearing its original black hard top, although there are many times I wish I could just fold down a soft top and go...well...topless. I could unbolt the hard top and remove it when wanting more breeze in my hair, but that is easier said than done.

Although the hard top can be muscled off by two healthy bodies, it is not the lightest or easiest piece of equipment to handle. Actually it is quite cumbersome, and no one wants to drop this expensive to replace piece of safety glass and fiberglass.

I know one guy who unbolts his hard top, takes out the back seat, crawls into his Jeep, faces the back, and turtle walks the top off and away from the himself. I'm not sure I want to risk the potential doctor bills after doing this method, but to each his own. A more practical option includes setting up a small overhead winch or pulley system to gently lift off the top and drive out from under it.

The soft top is much easier to manually fold down and back up again as desired. It does take more time with a Jeep than pushing a button on a modern car today while electric motors lower and lift the convertible material and framing. However, it is still relatively convenient.

A soft top can double as a full enclosure or a partial enclosure by removing the door skins, window panels, and rolling up the side curtains and rear curtain flap leaving only the top portion to serve as a sun screen overhead.

The hard top has fewer options. Actually, a one piece hard top has only one option other than full removal, and
that is removing the doors to give a more open feel while driving. Of course, there are two and three-piece hard tops available on JK Wranglers, and from aftermarket providers which allow more overhead exposure to the elements simply by removing one or more panels.

The overall advantages of a hard top when compared to a soft top are:

1) better insulation from cold and heat;

2) better sound deadening;

3) less wind noise while driving;

4) better side and back visibility;

5) less overall maintenance; and,

6) better durability and longer life.

The advantages of a soft top when compared to a hard top are:

1) ease of operation;

2) stays with the Jeep when lowered;

3) can be raised or lowered as needed for various weather conditions;

4) much lighter than the hard top; and,

5) has more of a traditional Jeep "feel" and appearance.

I often hear from folks who live in very cold climates who would love to have a hard top available during their harsh winters. Conversely, I hear from people in the southwest and warmer climates who would only consider a hard top if their Jeep had air conditioning so as to hold in the cool air better. Otherwise they are quite content with the soft top.

Finally, the question of durability comes into play. Off road conditions can spell ruin for both hard and soft Jeep tops. Roll-overs do significant damage to both.

Tree limbs and other sharp protruding objects can puncture soft top material, window plastics, etc. The glass in hard tops is also susceptible to breakage by tree limbs, rocks and other trail hazards.

The soft top Jeep on the trail has one advantage in that the top can be folded down on trail runs and raised up later on as desired, effectively protecting it while on the trails.

There you have it. The pros and cons of the hard top vs. the soft top. I'm sure there are some things I've left out, but hopefully you get the picture. Ultimately, it again comes down to personal preference based on local climate, how you use your Jeep, and convenience.

Either way both options help us enjoy our Jeeps the way they were meant to be enjoyed. Be safe.

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