Top Up or Top Down? It's More About Exposure Than Safety

Dear Car Talk:

Help! Please settle an argument my husband and I are having.

Is it safer to drive a convertible with the top up or top down on the interstate? We are snowbirds headed south in a 2021 Mustang California Special convertible. -- Marianne

Sounds like a fun trip, Marianne. Let's start by laying out the pros and cons of having the convertible top down on the interstate.

Convertibles have notoriously poor visibility with the top up, so with the top down, you'll see around you a lot better. That'll make it easier to change lanes safely -- although your car is new, so it probably has a blind spot warning anyway. Second, you'll have great air circulation, so you definitely won't get COVID-19 from your husband while driving.

On the downside, your hair will be a mess. And you won't hear a word your spouse is saying to you. I guess that could be in the positive column, depending on how you feel about that. In terms of real safety, however, I actually don't think it matters very much. A convertible top provides only a little more protection than no top at all, at least in terms of things like a rollover or serious accident.

It's cloth. So if, heaven forbid, your car rolls over or a truck carrying a load of axes to Tucumcari has its cargo suddenly break free in front of you, a convertible top is not going to give you much protection. A little, but not enough to base this decision on.

So I think you should do whatever pleases you. You may find, though -- like I have -- that you really can't stand driving a convertible with the top down at high speed on the interstate for any length of time. Between the noise and the buffeting wind, I find it gets fatiguing very quickly. And with all that exposure, I can't yank out my nose hairs in peace.

So, I usually put the top up on the highway. Then, when I get off the highway, I'll put the top down, and it's wonderful. Enjoy your trip and your convertible, Marianne.


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