Top up or top down? It’s more about exposure than safety

This photo provided by Ford shows the Ford Mustang convertible, a high-octane pony car. Its four-seat configuration makes it more practical than many rivals. (Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP)

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This photo provided by Ford shows the Ford Mustang convertible, a high-octane pony car. Its four-seat configuration makes it more practical than many rivals. (Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP)

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

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Ray Magliozzi

Ray Magliozzi

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Ray Magliozzi

RAY: 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 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.

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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.

Better passenger seat comfort may require a whole ride upgrade

Dear Car Talk:

We own a 2014 Honda Accord V6 with the top trim level. My wife no longer drives due to a bad back. Since switching to the passenger seat, she has become painfully aware that the passenger seat does not have the same level of controls and adjustments as the driver’s seat.

Is there an aftermarket seat upgrade that can be integrated into this car? Or is there an affordable vehicle that has a comparable passenger seat to the driver’s seat that does not cost a fortune? -- Raymond

RAY: Not really, Raymond. Many passenger seats don’t have the same variety of adjustments as driver’s seats. It’s discrimination, pure and simple. It’s passengerism.

And it’s not easy to just find a driver’s seat from another Accord and plop it where your passenger seat goes. For one thing, the electronic controls and motors aren’t there.

There are aftermarket seats, but the good ones, from companies like Recaro, cost upwards of $1,000 to $1,500 before installation.

And there are two challenges with those seats. First, it’s hard to find a place where you can really test them out -- a crucial step for your wife. You’ll also find that a lot of them are geared more toward sporty driving and racing, rather than folks with back issues.

So, my suggestion would be to upgrade your whole ride -- seats and all. Some manufacturers just use better seats than others. I’ve always found Volvo seats to be more comfortable than anything I sit on in my house -- including the cat, occasionally. BMW and Mercedes seats are also terrific.

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Try shopping around for a used luxury car and see if you can find one with seats that make your wife more comfortable.

In that range of cars, you’re also more likely to find passenger seats with more adjustments -- although perhaps still not as many as the driver gets. But you might get lumbar support on the passenger side and even seat cushions with separate front and rear height adjustments. But most of all, the seats themselves will be better made and more supportive.

You don’t have to take a long test drive before making a decision. But do take a good, long, test-sit. Bring a copy of Anna Karenina with you and sit in the car with your wife for an hour or more. And if the salesman forgets you’re there and goes home for the night, consider the car yours.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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