How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)


How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)

Jeeps are well known for their adaption to a variety of terrains as well as their unique customization options that are quite diverse. Depending on what occasion you are planning on or how the weather may appear, you may be interested in changing the top of your jeep from hardtop to soft top or vice versa.

How Can You Replace A Jeep Top?

How can you replace a jeep top? The top that is going to be replaced must first be removed, in the correct fashion that is specific to the kind of top it is, and then the new top can be installed in place of the other. The removal of a hard or soft top and installment of another can vary in method depending on whether or not the jeep was intended to be transitional.

Replacing jeep tops can be relatively simple if the jeep was designed to easily transition between two top types. However, if the jeep did not come with this feature, the process can become a bit more involved.

Replacing a Hard Top with a Soft Top

If your jeep is transitional, then you’ll want to follow the instructions specific to your jeep on how to replace the top properly. Some transitional jeeps include tool kits that will provide all of the tools necessary for the transition. The instructions of all replacements for transitional type jeeps should be similar.

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Removing the Hard Top

Although there may be a few differences between brands, here are the basic steps involved in removing the hard top:

  1. The first step is to remove the freedom panels located in the roof of the vehicle right above the passenger and driver’s seats.
  2. Many jeeps have bolted down tops, so in order to remove these, you must use a T40 Torx bit to unscrew these out of place. The bolts will be located on the top of the hardtop and in the interior as well, connecting it to the vehicle in some way).
  3. Remove any connections between the top and the actual vehicle, such as the electrical connectors (wires) and the water hose.

*Since you are removing many small pieces from the jeep at this point, you should safely store them to ensure that nothing goes missing. Some transitioning jeeps actually have compartments specifically made for the bolts and connective pieces.

4. You can now remove the hard top off of the vehicle.

*Although it is not a requirement, you can invest in a pulley system or a hoister that can help pull the hard top off of the vehicle. Hard tops are very heavy and large, so this may help depending on how much you want to lift off of the car.

Installing the Soft Top

The soft top bought should be specific to your jeep, so that the measurements are not off. Applying the soft top to the jeep may seem daunting at first, due to the size, so it may be helpful to have another person helping the first few times or so so that the process runs smoothly:

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  1. Install the frame of the soft top. This framework as a sort of skeleton so that you can simply just roll the fitted soft top into place. The frame will typically just snap onto the various parts of the car and/or bolt-on.
  2. Align the metal appendages of the soft top to the back of the jeep and bolt them in. This step is better done with two people, so the aligning process can be done hassle-free. Both people can hold and bolt in the softcover into the proper place on either side.
  3. Pull the soft top over the vehicle, all the way to the front, and latch it in the front of the roof. If the cover does not reach to the front of the roof properly to latch, the softcover should be realigned because that is most likely where the problem lies.
  4. It is entirely dependent on your vehicle for it to have snap or zip windows, but regardless, once these are into place, the seemingly looser and problematic aspects of the frame should become tauter and waterproof.

What If My Jeep Did Not Come with a Soft Top Feature?

If the vehicle you are working with did not come with the option of transitioning into a soft or hard cover, you can buy a soft top kit with all of the necessary tools and materials needed to appropriately cover your jeep.

It is important to note that you should not simply just lay a soft top over your current top because the point of any cover on a jeep is to be fitted to the vehicle. Putting a hard top over a soft top can also damage the soft top by ripping it or by keeping the hardware from working properly.

 A hardtop over a soft top’s framework may also break the frame itself, calling for an expensive replacement.

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Replacing a Soft Top with a Hard Top

Replacing the soft top of a transitional vehicle with a hard top is mainly the same process above but in reverse.

Removing the Soft Top

Removing the soft top is just a matter of taking away the cover and the skeleton the reveal the “bare bones” of the jeep:

1. Unzip or unsnap your soft windows carefully.

*Soft windows are prone to scratching, so you may want to do this step with a soft cloth in hand to safely handle and store these items.

  1. Unlatch the soft top in the front of the vehicle’s roof, and pull the top back over and down off of the hood off of the roof of the vehicle.
  2. Remove the bolts from the metal appendages of the soft top to disconnect the top from the frame, using the T40 Torx bit.
  3. Unbolt any bolted aspects of the frame using the T40 Torx bit and remove any snapped in pieces carefully so as not to damage the frame.

Installing a Hard Top

Installing the hard top of a jeep will require the pieces that were previously stowed away, such as the attachments and the bolts:

  1. Place the hard top of the vehicle on the roof and reconnect the electrical wires and water hose.
  2. Bolt the hard top back into place.

*When tightening the bolts, do not tighten them too much, or they may crack or damage your hard top, which can lead to leaks and other issues in the future.

3. Take the freedom panels, and snap them back into the designated areas right above the passenger and river’s seats.

How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)

What if My Jeep Does Not Come with a Hard Top?

If the jeep that is initially bought is a soft top there is a way that you can replace the soft top with a hard top. The door surrounds will need to come off (which will just be a matter of unbolting them) as well as the soft top frame (which are more bolts to loose).

*The process of removal will be easier with another person because the soft top and its accompanying framework are heavy and large, but it should not be a difficult process.

To replace the soft top with a hard top, you must buy the hard top and its essential hardware. Some kits are available that provide all of the hardware and equipment necessary to fully install a hard top onto an originally soft top jeep. The hardware and hard top itself must fit all of the measurements of the vehicle for the best success.

*It is also crucial to follow any directions included that the manufacturers of the hard top you purchased have given, to allow for the easiest possible transition.

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Storage

Both the hard top and the soft top take up a considerable amount of space when they are not on the vehicle. Proper storage can not only prevent damage from occurring to the top but also save up some space in your garage.

Hard Top Storage

Hard tops are cumbersome, heavy, and awkwardly shaped. These characteristics can make it difficult to store, but not impossible.

The typical hard top weighs a good 150lbs so, when you remove your hard top from the vehicle, it is good to have a dolly waiting for easy transportation. This platform will make moving the hard top to any desired space easier and will also prevent scratches or water damage that being on the floor may warrant.

Soft Top Storage

Soft tops are a bit easier to store because while they are large, they are also a bit more malleable.

Soft tops can be rolled up (much like a rug) and stored on a rack or on brackets placed on the wall. To keep any elements from damaging the soft top during its storage you can wrap the top in other fabric as towels or maybe even use a plastic bag to repel water.

Maintenance

To protect the integrity of either of these tops, you will need to maintain and clean them to get the full use out of them. Both soft and hard tops need to be cleaned and maintained differently.

Soft Top Maintenance and Cleaning

Soft tops are a bit high maintenance, mainly because they are made of fabric or fabric-like material, and because they do not do well in extreme temperatures (but more on that later).

To properly clean a soft top, you must clean it by hand. If you take the car through an automated car wash with the soft top, the high pressure of water hitting the roof at all angles will cause leaking to occur. Cleaning the soft top with a rag or soft brush should do the trick; just make sure that no dirt is dragged across the windows to prevent scratching.

Vinyl and/or fabric cleaners work best for soft tops, but you can use regular car soap as well.

Keeping a soft top clean, in general, will prevent stains, abrasions, holes, rips, and tears from happening on the daily. I also recommend using a lubricant on the zippers to keep the zippers from jamming and potentially breaking off or pulling and ripping the fabric.

Mud will stain any soft top, so in order to remove this, you can use Purple Power (a strong cleaner with an abrasive smell, so be sure to wear a mask) mixed with some dish soap to get rid of the stains and then let it dry. Once the top is dry, you can apply a soft top protectant.

Cleaning a Jeep and Jeep Soft Top

Hard Top Maintenance and Cleaning

Keeping hard tops clean is fairly easy since you can just drive into any car wash and instantly have your hard top cleaned.

Probably one of the best features of a hard top is that it’s low maintenance. Hard tops are made out of metal, typically an aluminum mix, and they can be washed with no problem. They don’t need to be “maintained,” so to speak, just occasionally washed and kept from scratching. It should be treated just like the exterior of any regular car.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Hard Tops and Soft Tops

There are pros and cons to each of the tops. The two are made to fulfill qualities that the other does not have, which leaves some things to be desired in each.

Hard Top Pros

  • Hard tops are more resistant to inclement weather.
  • They are easy to clean and very durable.
  • Hard tops are also very well insulated, which makes them ideal for the wintertime.
  • You also won’t have to worry about hearing the wind too much on the highway (or at high speeds in general).
  • Hard tops give the jeep a bit more overall security.

Hard Top Cons

As it would turn out, the benefits of the hard top on a jeep are also its downfalls: the hard top is heavy duty.

  • The hard top cannot be drawn back for air access.
  • Its large and awkward shape makes it hard to store.
  • Taking it off can prove to be a challenge because it is very heavy.

Soft Top Benefits

  • Soft tops were made for the summertime. Since soft top jeeps have a convertible like ability, they are ideal for taking out on sunny afternoons and camping trips.
  • They are easy to remove and replace.
  • They can be stored within the jeep itself for on the go.

Soft Top Cons

  • Soft tops lack integrity when it comes to anything but perfect weather.
  • Soft tops are also harder to clean than hard tops.
  • Soft tops tend to bit a bit higher maintenance and easier to break.
How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)

Soft Tops and the Weather

Soft tops are good for perfect weather but not so great in imperfect weather, so there are a few precautions to take and a few important factors to consider when taking your soft top jeep out for a spin.

  • Extreme temperatures can cause shrinking and stretching in the material of the soft top.
  • If snow piles up on the roof of the jeep and it is a soft top, that weight can easily stretch, tear, and/or stain the soft top
  • Cold and freezing temperatures can make your soft windows brittle, and when any amount of pressure is applied to these stiffened windows, they can easily break. Do not wipe off or scrape soft windows in the wintertime.
  • If temperatures hit 40 degrees or below, it is not a good idea to bring your soft top down since the cold weather will cause the material to shrink, and you may find that you are not able to put it back up.
  • Soft tops are water-resistant, but only for so long so, you can keep an emergency cover in your jeep for garageless nights to ensure that no water gets into your jeep if there is an unexpected rainstorm.
  • Too much sun and water exposure during the summer can make the soft top start to wear and fade in color, so to prevent this, try to keep to the shade when you park.

To keep the damage to the roof of your jeep to a minimum during the winter, you can apply what manufacturers like to call reinforcement bows, which work as supports to the soft top to keep snow from putting too much pressure on the soft top.

Frame and Frameless Soft Tops

It is important to know that there are two different kinds of soft top applications. The one that is good for transitional purposes is the framed option, while the one that is not optimal for transitioning between soft and hard tops.

Framed Soft Tops

Framed soft tops have a frame to uphold the vinyl cloth material and make up the structure of the top as a whole.

Frameless Soft Tops

Frameless soft tops are different in the sense that they are installed in pieces, not as a whole. The roll cage of the jeep has metal rails attached to it, and it is from these rails that the soft top panel is hung off of.

So instead of pulling the entire top back, like a convertible, you can remove individual panels like a sunroof. This allows you to control how much outdoor exposure that vehicle gets but may make it harder to install a hard top in the future since the interior is different.

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Soft Top Options

There are a variety of soft tops to choose from, and each has different qualities, but they all have the same objective: to let in some air. It is up to the driver to decide what type of soft top that they want.

Wind Jammers

Windjammers are temporary solutions to uglier weather. They are made of lightweight material and are similar to an emergency cover on the road. They can be installed through a series of buckles and belts and still allow for access into the backseat.

Dusters

Dusters aren’t quite soft tops, but they work as covers for the back of jeeps. Dusters prevent debris and water from getting into the back of the jeep and also make for great storage. They can be easily attached and can also prevent leaks. Many hunting and fishing enthusiasts favor this type of coverage.

Sun Riders & Flip Tops

Sun Riders and flip tops are the most transformative of the soft tops due to their ability to easily flip open to the sunlight and outdoors but are simultaneously ready for the occasional hard wind and rain. These sturdy soft tops can last for a good long while with the proper maintenance and cleaning.

Modular Soft Tops

Modular soft tops are made for the harsher aspects of weather, mainly: the cold and the rain. Modular soft tops are thicker and, therefore, warmer and they can also withstand heavy rain. They are resistant to water and mold and hold up pretty well to the elements.

Bikini Tops

Bikini tops are ideal for extremely hot sunny days. They give the front two seats the most cover and the back seats none whatsoever, and they feature a snap sunroof that allows for maximum sunlight to get in.

These are perfect the beach or slow cruising, but since they do not provide a lot of cover (no cover in the back seats’ case), they are not ideal for rough and rugged road trips. Bikini tops also lack storage which may also cause a pause for this rather breezy option.

Jeep Protection

Taking care of your soft and hard tops are crucial to your jeep’s overall health. A faulty top can lead to leaks, freezing, and other damage that the elements can cause without the protective layer of the top to help. The main thing that could go wrong in the event that your top was left off of your jeep or faltered in properly covering your jeep is:

How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)

Water Damage

Water damage can cause the controls and the electronic aspects of the jeep to malfunction which can be dangerous while driving. Water damage can also cause mold and mildew to grow within the vehicle, which can be very hazardous to your health over an extended period.

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If this does happen, there is some action you can take against the malfunctioning and mold.

  1. Installed on the jeep floor should be some drain plugs, pull all of them open so that the water can quickly drain out of the vehicle.
  2. Pull out any seats that can be taken out of the car and allow them to dry separately.
  3. Take a few towels to the interior and pat down the floor and seats until they are as dry as possible.
  4. Leave the jeep to air dry, preferably in the sun, for at least 24 hours.
  5. To prevent mold and mildew, you can spray disinfectant spray, such as Lysol or Febreeze, onto the seats and carpet to ward off any mold or mildew that may try to grow during the car’s damp period.

So while leaving the top off of your jeep over a rainy evening is not ideal, the manufacturers of jeeps did anticipate this happening to some degree, and there are some fail safes in the actual vehicle itself, like the drain plugs, to keep your car at its best.

Other Things to Look Out For

Even if water wasn’t a huge deal, after leaving your jeep open or exposed overnight, leaving your jeep vulnerable overnight can allow other issues, not including the weather, to occur, for instance: 

Theft when driving a Jeep with a soft top vs hard top #jeep #wrangler

Theft

Many of the people that own a jeep find when they leave their jeep open or exposed overnight things go missing. Rummaged through glove boxes and stolen stereos seem to run rampant and unfortunately, there’s no recovering the items taken.

 So if you are prone to leaving the cover off of your jeep, then check to make sure that you leave nothing of value in your car for others to steal.

Animal Encounters

Anything from an open vehicle to a small hole ripped in the top can lead to an animal or bug making its home in your car, and with a jeep, there are so many places for it to hide. The last thing you want is for something to go and build its family in your backseat.

The only things you can do to make sure nothing biological is taking place in your jeep is to make sure that your top is secure and that there are no rips or tears in the surface. And if the issue was forgetting to bring your top up the night prior, I would suggest making a conscious effort to check and make sure that every night it is up.

If an animal does get into your jeep, you should call animal control, or you can open all of the doors and wait for it to leave itself; once the animal is removed, you can begin disinfecting the car with disinfectant spray, rubbing alcohol, soap, and any other detergents and repellants you feel may be in order.

How to Replace Jeep Hard Tops with Soft Tops (and Vice Versa)

Kern Campbell

Hi, I'm Kern! I've owned Jeeps since the early 1990's and I am passionate about sharing some of the tips and tricks I have learned along the way. What Jeep do you have? --> Let's Connect! Twitter | Facebook | Instagram <--

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