Used Vehicle Round-up: Family-Friendly Convertibles

“Dad, can we go get some ice cream?!”

You’ve got two kids. It’s a nice Sunday afternoon, you sort of want a Peanut Buster Blizzard treat yourself, and you feel like a car-ride anyways.

Ice cream for everyone!

“I’d love an ice-cream too, honey, I’ll grab my purse!”

Crap.

“Uh, sure kids, let’s, um, take the family minivan, cause that’ll be fun for daddy!”

If you buy a two-seat convertible, this will be your reality, every Sunday afternoon when it’s nice outside. Pesky two-seat convertibles and pesky multiple offspring, and that pesky spouse, always ruining all the fun. It’s simple math: you’ve got a convertible with two seats, and more than two people want to be part of the drive to acquire delicious frozen treats.

You’ve got two options.

One is to make your family partake in competitive, gladiator-style events involving pool noodles, bike helmets and the family dog, and treating the victor to ice cream.

Or, you could search out a convertible with four seats, and bring the whole family along for the ride. Here’s a look at some popular used four-seat convertible models covering a range of prices and intentions, and how to shop smart for the one that interests you.

Ice cream for everyone!

2010-2014 Ford Mustang Convertible

The Draw: Look for your dream drop-top ‘Stang with a cloth ragtop, 2+2 seating to handle a family of four, a navigation system, Bluetooth, premium Shaker stereo, heated leather, automatic lights, power accessories, interior mood lighting and plenty more. This machine is one of the most recognizable sports cars on the road, and offers up six- or eight-cylinder power to fit a wide variety of needs. The highly recommended 5.0L Coyote V8 is a sweetheart.

The Test Drive: Check the trunk for signs of water, or signs that water has been present. Pull the carpeting up and look in the spare tire well, too. Apparently, a gutter and seal in the convertible system may become dislodged and allow water to leak into the trunk.

Next, feel the manual shift quality, especially from first to second gear under heavy throttle, in any used Mustang equipped with a stick. Many owners have complained of a grinding sensation or rejected shifts, where the gearbox bites back, which could be caused by bad synchronizers in the transmission, or excessive clutch wear.

Signs of a bad gearbox (grinding, biting, slamming or clanking) should be apparent on a test drive if present. Note that although transmission-related issues may stem from abuse and not be more common in any specific year or model of Mustang in this generation, earlier Mustangs (2011 and 2012) with the 5.0L V8 are prime candidates for a very careful and thorough transmission check.

Helpful Tip: Scan for sogginess. Pull up trunk carpeting, look under the floor mats, and feel beneath the seats for signs of dampness which typically evidence a leak. Carpet can be ‘stained’ by exposure to water, so look for telltale white or brown lines on carpeted surfaces low in the car, or around the trunk, which could indicate a former leak. In many convertibles, periodic re-adjustment of the roof panels and lubrication of the rubber seals is vital to keeping water out. 

2004-2010 BMW 6 Series Cabriolet

The Draw: For the classiest of Sunday afternoon ice-cream runs, the BMW 6 Series Cabriolet offered up four seats and performance galore for the discerning shopper. This was a machine with all the leading bells and whistles, and offered up heated and chilled seats, navigation with voice command, a premium audio system, keyless engine start (after 2006) and plenty more.

Power came from one of two V8 engines. Earlier 6 Series models wearing a 645i badge got a 4.4L unit with 325 hp. From 2006 on, a 4.8L V8 with 360 hp was fitted instead, facilitating a nomenclature change to 650i.

Look for rear-wheel drive on all models. A six-speed transmission was available in the driver’s choice of automatic or manual.

The Test Drive: Approach your test drive looking exhaustively for signs of electrical or electronics-related problems. Make sure the iDrive system, climate control, navigation and driver computer all work as expected. Try the motorized seats, all lights, and all accessories – including the key fob and paddle shifters – to confirm sure they’re functioning properly.

Be weary of any model with features that aren’t working, or any model with warning or check engine lights illuminated in the instrument cluster. Further investigation at a BMW dealer will be required.

Avoid a model with the Active Steering system, which some owners suggest is overcomplicated, questionably reliable, and not tremendously beneficial to the driving experience.

Listen to the engine idling with the hood open. A rattling sound, possibly accompanied by a check-engine light, could be caused by a leak in an oil line that drives the variable valve timing system. Have a BMW mechanic look for signs of oil leakage from the valve covers on the 4.8L engine as well.

Helpful Tip: Unclog the drains. Your convertible has a network of special little drain holes and flaps and troughs that collect and guide rain water to special tubes, which divert the water away from the cabin and onto the ground below. It’s like a secret eavestrough system, inside of your car’s body. Over time, dirt, pollen and debris clog these drain holes and the associated tubes, which prevents water from draining properly and can result in a leak. Many convertible owners find the drainage holes and run a piece of weed-whacker wire or some compressed air through them as part of their springtime maintenance.

2006-2014 Jeep Wrangler

The Draw: Toughness, all-season capability and all of the goodness of a four-wheel-drive drop-top are key deliverables of the current generation of Jeep Wrangler. Not only does this one pack instantly recognizable looks and pedigree, it’s the only convertible of our group you can take off-roading. If you’ve never taken a drop-top off-roading, you’re missing out. Ask any Wrangler owner. Go with a 2012 or newer unit to take advantage of the considerably more powerful and efficient Pentastar V6 engine. You’ll get the better part of 300 hp, an available six-speed manual, four-wheel drive and a convertible top. Sounds like a sports car!

The Checks: Thanks to something that Jeep Wrangler owners call the “Death Wobble”, shoppers are advised to budget for a full front-end and steering-system inspection and alignment. This well-documented issue has shocked many owners and ruined many pairs of shorts when a violent vibration throughout the entire vehicle occurs at speed as the front wheels fight one another. According to Jeep Wrangler owner forums, a number of factors, mainly relating to improperly adjusted or worn-out front-end components, are key causes. User maintenance is key.

A mechanic can help ascertain if the model you’re considering has been formerly abused in an off-road setting. A clicking or popping noise from the rear end could indicate a worn out differential, and the paint should be inspected for signs of premature wear, too. Other checks include excessive clutch noise and all electronics, which could get wonky as a result of rusted grounding points or exposure to deep water.

Helpful Tip: Watch for mods. Many used vehicles like this one will have upgrades installed, and with a Wrangler, lift-kits and oversized wheels and tires are fairly common. Improper installation of modified parts, or low quality parts, especially related to the suspension, can be a safety and durability issue. Avoid heavily modified vehicles unless you have the expertise to deal with these issues.

2007-2011 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder

The Draw: This distinctively styled Japanese convertible had an unmistakably youthful and energetic look, offered four- or six-cylinder power, manual or automatic transmissions, and a great big Rockford Fosgate stereo with rear-seat subwoofer implements on display for all to see. The high-performance GT or GT-P variants of the Eclipse Spyder get the big engine and associated upgrades to cosmetics.

The Test Drive: Test drive this one with your ears, listening for unwelcomed popping or clunking sounds over bumps which could indicate worn-out transmission parts, or a metallic grinding or vibration sound from beneath your feet, which is likely caused by a loose heat-shield on the exhaust manifold. Listen for unwelcomed scraping or squealing from the brakes at low speeds, while stopping gently or reversing. These sounds could indicate excessive dirt or dust in the brake system. Further, have all units checked for coolant leaks which could indicate a bad water pump, and oil leaks which will require attention, if detected. Finally, triple check that the climate control system works as intended. If the blower fan only works on its high-speed setting, or not at all, you’ll likely need a new resistor.

Helpful: Run the roof. Motorized or manual, work the roof through its paces, several times. Look for signs of binding, strain on the electric motor, snagging tension cables, and signs of damaged or misaligned panels. Abrasions on roof fabric or paint can indicate that a panel is out of alignment, too. Some convertibles with a motorized roof can detect a malfunction in the roof system, and advise drivers via a warning light in the instrument cluster.

2011-2014 Chrysler 200 Convertible

The Draw: This drop-top is available for very reasonable money in the used car market, and is built on a family-sedan platform, meaning it’s got plenty of space for family cruising. Look for four- or six-cylinder power depending on the model in question, as well as feature content including Bluetooth, heated power seats, navigation, a Boston Acoustics stereo system and more. If you’re a bit of a performance buff, go with the V6 model, as all Chrysler 200s in this generation got V6 power from the new Pentastar engine, with output approaching 300 horses.

The Test Drive: Drive the 200 Convertible with an eye for any clumsiness and harshness from the transmission, which may indicate problems with the programming to the computer that controls it. Usually, updated software fixes the issue. If you provide your local Chrysler dealer with the VIN number of the model you’re considering, they’ll be able to tell you if the updated transmission software has been uploaded into the gearbox of the car you’re considering.

Next, check out the climate control system. Be sure the air conditioner works, and then check to make sure that you get heat out of the vents on both sides of the cabin when called upon. Clogged or leaky heater cores may be a potential issue on a used Chrysler 200, which could negatively affect the ability to deliver heat in colder months. Other signs of trouble here may include low coolant levels, or the smell of coolant in the car. It’s a sort of sugary, sweet, slightly-burned smell. Look for it with your nose.

Finally, if your potential used 200 candidate makes a clicking, popping or thumping noise while you steer at low speeds, or while stopped, the tie rods may need to be replaced. Chrysler issued a technical service bulletin to address this potential issue. Note that bad strut mounts could make a similar sound under similar conditions. If you hear something funny while turning the wheel at low speeds, or while stopped, you’ll need to visit a mechanic for further investigation.

Helpful Tip: Take it in. Ask the seller if they’d be okay with you taking your used family convertible to a nearby dealership for a pre-purchase inspection on your dime. If not, ask if they’ll meet you there for one, or drop the car off. This inspection may take an hour and cost $150 or so—but it may reveal thousands of dollars in problems you may not otherwise see. For maximum peace of mind, a pre-purchase inspection at the vehicle’s dealership is money very well spent.

2007-2014 Volkswagen Eos

The Draw: A unique convertible four-seater designed for year-round use, the Volkswagen Eos featured a sleek coupe body capped by a hard-top motorized roof and sunroof assembly—allowing owners to take in the sun and fresh air even on colder days. Look for all units with a two-liter four-cylinder engine with turbocharger and direct-injection, good for 200 snorty horsepower. Transmission choices included a six-speed manual and a six-speed Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG) with paddle shift. Features for this upscale little four-seat drop-top included navigation, parking radar, Bluetooth, premium audio, xenon lighting and heated leather seating.

The Test Drive: Note that the Eos’s 2-litre turbo engine may suffer from faulty coil packs (an ignition system part), which will be evidenced by rough idle, hesitation, or a check engine light. If performance isn’t smooth and refined at moderate and full throttle, have the engine checked out by a VW mechanic. Bad coil packs are easily and affordably diagnosed and addressed.

Most drivability concerns related to the DSG transmission seem to stem from the computer that controls this gearbox, though as a relatively new and unproven technology, owners planning to keep an Eos for the long-term may wish to consider sticking to a manual-equipped unit. Your local VW dealer can quickly address any concerns noted on a test drive. Note that many owners have reported the need to frequently adjust top panels to keep water leaks at bay, and your local VW dealer will be familiar with the procedure if leaks are detected.

Helpful: Look at the seats. Do you want to know a secret? If you get leather seats really wet and then dry them, they typically dry up, shrink and have the texture of beef jerky. The shrinking can be evidenced by what looks like ‘pulling’ at the stitched seams between the leather seat panels. If the seats in the ride you’re considering resemble this, they’ve probably been heavily soaked, at least once.

“Dad, can we go get some ice cream?!” You’ve got two kids. It’s a nice Sunday afternoon, you sort of want a Peanut Buster Blizzard... 7/14/2015 10:26:43 AM