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Types of Jeep Wrangler Tops & How to Care for Them

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As one of the world’s most versatile vehicles, Jeeps appeal to drivers of all stripes. One of the aspects that makes them unique is their convertible aspect. All Jeep Wranglers have removable tops whether a soft top or a hard top. Changing out your factory top for the right aftermarket top can enhance the experience for drivers and passengers alike. These popular accessories are available in a wide range of styles and materials and are designed for specific driving activities. We are going to explain the different uses for each type and provide some insight as to which type of top is right for you.

Wrangler Hard Top Overview

Unlike soft tops, Jeep Wrangler hard tops are incredibly durable and provide excellent insulation when the weather gets cold. They are very popular in colder regions that experience low temperatures and receive a lot of snow during the winter months. Since hard tops are obviously more rigid than their soft cousins, they are stronger and should last longer than softer models.

You can buy a hard top as a 1-piece, single body, or 2-piece versions, but they are much heavier than other tops. It takes at least two people to remove a hard top, and installation times are much longer. Because they cannot be folded up like soft tops, finding a place to store them may also be an issue.

2007-2017 Wrangler JK with a Black One-Piece Hardtop
JK with a One-Piece Hardtop

Wrangler Soft Top Overview

Arguably the most popular type of top is the Jeep soft top which can be removed or replaced in short order. And you won’t need any help from a friend! Made of tough materials, they keep the elements at bay and let drivers open them up when the weather is agreeable (or not if you're feeling adventurous).

The soft top is much easier to install and to customize than its counterpart. Most models come complete with roll back sunroofs, storage pockets, interchangeable materials, and skin colors. While they do provide adequate protection from the elements, they are not designed for more extreme climates. Their soft materials simply cannot keep out the cold as well as hardtops. Wind noise may also be an issue when traveling at high speeds. Soft tops are, however, much less expensive than hard tops.

If you are replacing your Jeep Wrangler’s existing soft top, check the hardware for a matching fit. A sun rider’s hardware will allow you to peel back the top. The framework for a Jeep factory soft top will not be the same as one that has been replaced by a custom dealer. Other considerations are whether your soft top has half doors with plastic windows, full doors with roll up windows, or half doors with glass slider windows.

Jeep Hard Tops vs Soft Tops

Hard Top Pros and Cons

  • Durable
  • More Insulated
  • No Wind Flapping at Highway Speeds
  • Easy to Clean
  • Heavy
  • Takes up More Space in Storage
  • Can't Go Topless on the Fly

Soft Top Pros and Cons

  • Easily Removed/Replaced
  • Customizable - Uncover Front, Rear, or All Passengers
  • Storable in the Jeep
  • Summers are hotter and Winters are Colder
  • Zippers can Fail
  • Harder to Clean
  • Stretches and Shrinks Depending on Temperature

Can You Put a Hard Top On a Soft Top Jeep?

Yes, you can put on a hard top on any Jeep so long as the hard top is made for your year and model Jeep. 

If you're contemplating putting a hard top over your existing soft top, we would heavily advise against it. Hard tops are designed to fit seamlessly with your Jeep's body. Soft tops, although flexible, are designed the same way. At the very least if you try to fit a hard top over a soft top, you'll damage the soft top and potentially the hardware keeping your soft top operating properly.

Switching your Jeep from soft top to hard top is "as simple" as removing the soft top components and replacing them with the hard top components. Same with swapping back from a hard top to a soft top. We cover that aspect in greater depth later.

For more information on how to install a soft top on your Jeep, check the installation guides on the top you're most interested in. Each manufacturer and each soft top type has specific hardware considerations and installation instructions.

Our 3 Best Jeep Soft Tops for 2-Door JKs

Framed vs. Frameless Wrangler Soft Tops

A framed soft top offers an aluminum skeletal frame that maintains and supports the cloth/vinyl material making up the top itself. The frame is attached to the Jeep’s roll bar and uses clamps and anchoring points to secure it. Removing/lowering a framed soft top usually requires unzipping and removing the windows, followed by unclamping the attachment point and finally lifting and rolling it back. The process has some pros and cons that should be considered.

Pro:

  • Strong and secure method of attachment
  • Easy to store safely
  • Modular capability offering a variety of options for exposure

Con:

  • Harder to retract/remove, especially on 4-door models
  • When retracted makes loading things into the cargo area difficult
2007-2017 2 Door JK Wrangler Soft Top Frame Kit
Soft Top Frame Kit

The major difference between a framed and frameless soft top is the supporting/attachment system. A frameless soft top, also known as a bowless top, utilizes a series of rails attached to the Jeep’s roll cage. The cloth/vinyl cover is attached to the rails in several modular pieces, each independent of each other, allowing the ability to remove only the panels necessary. Generally speaking, a frameless or bowless top has no reinforcement except from the windshield header, the tailgate bar, and the doors or windows.

Pro:

  • Removal of one or two panels is easier and faster
  • Storage is easier and cleaner looking
  • Replacement of panels is easier

Con:

  • More time consuming when removing all the panels.
  • Storage space for all the panels could be a problem
  • Ensuring a secure fit could be a problem
2007-2017 JK Wrangler with a Frameless Soft Top
Jeep Wrangler JK with a Frameless Soft Top

Wrangler Modular Soft Tops

Soft tops are a delight for their versatility, light weight, and ease in removal or sliding back into place during unfavorable weather. However, most soft tops are not suited to heavy rains or plummeting temperatures on an Alpine slope.

The modular soft top is made from several sturdy layers of heavy fabric, giving your soft top a greater insulating factor than traditional models. It is mold and water resistant to tackle the challenging weather found in rain country. If you are planning a trip into terrain where extreme weather is a dominating factor, a Jeep modular soft top is your best choice.

2007-2017 Wrangler JK with a Modular Soft Top

Wrangler Bikini Top Overview

Designed specifically for warmer climates, Jeep bikini tops keep the cabin covered while the back is left open. These popular soft tops are a cinch to install and feature folding sunroofs and zip down windows. They are perfect for summer driving, either on road or off.

The main complaint some drivers have about bikini tops is they leave the rear passengers open to elements while the front seat is protected. If there's a sudden summer storm, your buddies in the backseat may not be pleased. Bikini tops also lack storage space which may be an issue for outdoorsmen. These tops are not made for rugged outback country driving. They offer no protection from flying rocks or mud splatters, but they will increase your cruising enjoyment on the beach or road when temperatures begin to soar.

2003-2006 Wrangler TJ with a Bikini Top
TJ with a Bikini Top

Wrangler Dusters

Designed to protect the rear of your Jeep from the elements, dusters are not tops but rather cargo area covers. They are built for warmer climates and are particularly popular with hunters, fishermen, and campers. Dusters easily attach to the rear sport bars and prevent leakage into the cargo area. They also keep valuables hidden from plain view and improve gas mileage on blustery days.

Choosing which top is right for you comes down to how you use your Jeep. Many off-roaders and enthusiasts have a few different types of Jeep tops and change them by the season, or for a particular event. Be sure to take into consideration your local weather, off-roading habits, and budget when choosing your Wrangler’s next top.

Wrangler Sunriders and Flip Tops

By far the most versatile of the soft tops, the sunriders and flip tops allow you to enjoy the golden days of sunshine with your top flicked back, or full enclosure for protection from wind and rain. If you enjoy a convertible lifestyle, or live in a location where the weather is generally mild but sometimes throws you wind or rain without much warning, you’ll find exactly the type of soft top you’re looking for with a Jeep Sunrider or Flip Top. Stain and mildew resistant, these sturdy soft tops will last a number of years with adequate cleaning and proper storage when not in use.

2007-2017 Wrangler JK 2 Door with a Duster Deck Cover

Wrangler Windjammers

More of an accessory than an actual top, windjammers help owners seal up their cabins when the weather turns bad. They protect it from rain, dirt, dust, and obviously, from the wind. Windjammers are easy to install with only a series of buckles and straps to fasten them into place. They can also be rolled up to give passengers access to the back of the vehicle. Because they are made of relatively light materials, windjammers are not made to withstand harsh weather.

Wrangler Cab Covers and Emergency Tops

Even if you like your Jeep topless, you’ll want to protect it when doing a little over-night camping, or when you’re out wheeling and the weather suddenly turns unpleasant. Rather than let rains or morning dew soak your rig, carry along a cab cover or emergency top for your long distance trips or overnight outing. Use a full cover kit on your Jeep when it’s in storage. A full cover top will protect it in extreme climates with heavy rainfalls or snow and keep dirt and grime from settling on it during periods when it’s not in use.

Water Resistant Cab Cover for 1987-1991 YJ Wranglers

Wrangler Upper Half Doors, Skins, & Hardware

The more rugged the territory you’re going into, the more protection you’ll want for you and your Jeep. It’s only practical to use a full soft top in regions that often times have adverse weather conditions, such as mountainous areas, places prone to high winds with their accompanying dust, and during seasonal rains. Replace your upper half doors when the weather begins taking its toll with upgraded upper half doors, skins, and hardware. Easy to install, the large aftermarket selection of skins and upper half doors allows you to customize your Jeep’s doors to meet whatever adventuring you do in your Wrangler.

1997-2006 TJ Wrangler with Upper Door Sliders
Upper Door Sliders on a TJ

Choosing the Right Soft Top for Your Style

Growing up, my dad was a Jeeper, and his favorite place to vacation was dead center in the middle of the local sand dunes. His Jeep was equipped with sand paddles, coil overs, and a safari top. I once asked him why he liked the safari top over the hard top that he always kept in the garage, and he explained that while in the desert he needed a full view of everything around him while keeping the sun out of his eyes. A hard top or even a factory soft top didn’t make any sense to him for desert running.

My mother, on the other hand, preferred windows (we were a multiple Jeep family). Her Jeep ALWAYS had a soft top on, rain or shine. She explained she liked the soft top because she could take it off quickly anytime she wanted, but we all knew she didn’t want to very often because she liked to keep her hair from getting messy.

The story about my mom and dad illustrates a very important point. What is the primary function your soft top is going to serve? An average person (read: NON-JEEPER) would say to protect your stuff, but we know better. If we wanted our stuff protected, we install lock boxes and security trunks. I’ve found there to be a couple primary functions of a soft top: to keep out the elements or to look cool.

2 Door TJ Wrangler out on the Trail

Top Quality vs. Top Cost

As far as quality goes, for most it’s about having a top that is easy to take off in the sun, easy to put back on in the rain and snow, and all the while keeping mud and dirt from collecting in the crevices of the interior. When choosing a top for this reason, cheaper is not always better. Your top needs to have a history of sealing properly and becoming waterproof; otherwise there isn’t much point. Just keep the hard top on instead. Looks play a huge role too, and for that you don’t need to break the bank. Most types of safari top or mesh top looks really amazing, and they’re still functional.

Most of the time, you get what you pay for. If you see a top that is more expensive than all the others, there is usually a reason. It’s always best to do your homework, but more often than not, the pricier they are, the higher quality you can expect. This would stand to reason the warranty would be better as well, but this may not be the case for all companies. Do your homework when it comes to quality. Read the reviews, and take them to heart.

Roll Bar Curtain for 1997-2006 Wrangler YJs and TJs

Soft Top Material Differences

Vinyl: Vinyl is the thinnest material, weighing in at 18 oz. fabric weight, and usually associated with earlier Wranglers like the YJ. Vinyl, as you might expect, has a plastic feel to it with a glossy appearance when cleaned. The underside of the top is a thin cloth layer. If you're after a classic off-roader look while not minding a bit of extra road and wind noise, a vinyl top will do just fine. Vinyl is generally weather and UV resistant while being an easy to clean option.

Denim: Denim is how it sounds, but don't worry. You won't be putting a pair of jeans on your Jeep. Denim tops have a vinyl coating for weather resistance, otherwise you'd be swimming in mildew. Beneath the coating, is your denim material, a polyester/cotton hybrid. Aftermarket denim tops are usually thicker than their vinyl cousins, weighing in between 18-23 oz. Generally, OEM replacement denim tops will err on the 18 oz. side. Do yourself a favor and reach for the sturdier aftermarket options. Denim tops are ideal for those looking to maintain a factory appearance but want a quieter ride.

Sailcloth: FCA introduced sailcloth tops midway through the TJ line in 2001. These tops usually weigh in around 28 oz., making them substantially quieter than denim and vinyl. Sailcloth tops have three layers to them, two vinyl layers to boost weather and UV resistance over the previous two top options, and the interior layer is the polyester/cotton weave. These extra layers do mean a higher cost. Something to keep in mind if you're not after that all-weather protection in favor of sunny topless days. 

Twill: Arguably the best of the four, twill is most certainly the thickest at 30 oz. Twill is the material used for luxury sedans and the like, so you can expect the quietest ride with this type of top. This is the top of choice for daily driven Jeeps as it provides the best insulation from weather as well as noise. The secondary selling point of twill is its flexibility. With twill, you won't have to deal with the characteristic creases and tears with more rigid, vinyl based tops. With all of these perks, expect a high price point.

Hardware Differences Between Tops

Aside from the bag of fasteners you'll receive when you buy an aftermarket soft top, There are a few unique pieces that differ from brand to brand. The first of these is the windshield header. The header changes from top to top in terms of how it fastens to the top. It's important to understand windshield headers are sold separately from aftermarket tops in most cases. 

The biggest difference in hardware from top to top is the bow or frame system. Stock JK frames, for example, are more reinforced in the roof portion, with a union at the B-pillar for 2-door models and the tailgate bar for the 4-door models. Aftermarket tops will generally change the joints in the frames, making folding down an aftermarket top more complicated, or in the case of some bowless tops, more limited. Some aftermarket frames will take advantage of the rear deck/tailgate area to reinforce their tops.

Something else to consider is if you decide to go with an aftermarket top that replaces the stock frame, it would be wise to keep the old frame in the case you change your mind. At the very least keeping the old frame opens you up to having more top options when it comes time to replace it again.

Soft Top Window Considerations

If you are in the market for a soft top, you are in the market for easy access to that open-air experience. While having a Jeep soft top is a must for certain environments, you don't want to lose that feeling you get out on the open road, which makes window options one of the most important factors of the soft top. A broken zipper can wreak havoc on your windows, so look for options like self-correcting zippers, windows that can be fully removed while leaving the top on, and UV stable or protected vinyl.

Your two choices for soft top windows is vinyl and glass. Glass windows are easier to clean, but they're heavier and more expensive. Vinyl windows are lighter, so zippering them on and off is less of a hassle. The downside to vinyl windows is they're easily scratched. If the trails in your area are tight, glass windows will serve as less of a pain point assuming you decide to keep the doors on at all.

The Annoyance of Sudden Rains

While wheeling in Moab last year, my Jeep club decided on an impromptu topless, door-less excursion through Poison Spider Mesa. It was a beautiful day. Halfway through the trail, the clouds started getting ominous, and sure enough, the rain came hard, and without warning. A couple people left their tops back at camp, so they were hosed off nicely, but the rest of us scrambled to put on whatever soft tops we had brought. I personally keep a safari top hidden in the Jeep for just that reason, and mine is very easy to put on.

The nice lady in front of me appeared to have the same type of top, and she had never used it before. I started helping her put hers on and noticed that although they appeared to be the same, they were different manufacturers, and getting her top on was like solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. The inside of her Jeep ended up just as soaked as the people who didn’t have tops. It was a good lesson for her though. Never bring untested equipment onto the trail, and always practice putting your top on. Make sure you practice a couple of times, and look for reviews that say your top is easy to put on and take off.

4 Door JK Wrangler with Roll Back Sunrider Top

Can You Take Your Top with You on the Trail?

If you do a lot of camping or traveling, some tops are better than others. The Jeep Wrangler has limited space for gear in general. Although the new Wrangler Unlimited has more cargo room than ever before, it is still lacking compared to other SUVs. Some of the more popular tops effectively cut the available cubic feet by a third. If you are just out grocery shopping or have only two people total on your camping trip, the loss of space doesn’t cause much of an issue.

If you are planning on being outdoors for longer than a week, that extra space could mean a world of difference. You may also want to consider purchasing a storage rack or some other form of added storage for your Jeep. Before buying a soft top, do your homework, read reviews, and ask questions. You will be happy you did.

Window Storage Bag for 2007-2017 JK Wranglers
Window Storage Bag

How to Remove a Wrangler Hard Top

If you have a JK Wrangler, the Jeep will have freedom panels in the front half. Start by releasing the clamps securing the panels, followed by unscrewing the (2) attachment bolts on the sound bar. You can now remove and properly store the freedom panels in a storage bag

Next, remove the (3) T30 Torx bolts along each side of the hard top. If you have a 4-door, remove the (2) additional bolts on the top. After the bolts have been removed, unclip the defroster harness and washer tubing connected to the hard top along the back window.

With all the connections removed, you can now remove the hard top. You can remove the hard top with the help of someone else, or you can use a variety of hoist solutions that could be found in the hard top accessories section. Hoists are a great solution if you have a garage with enough vertical space. The systems are typically bolted to the ceiling and can be attached to the hard top through a variety of straps. Then with the help of ropes and pulleys, one person can easily lift the hard top and lock it into position.

Wrangler Hard Top Hoist in Action

How to Store a Jeep Hard Top

Once you’ve successfully removed the hard top, storage space could be a concern, due to the large, awkward space the top takes up. Another storage solution is with a carrier dolly. Once the hard top is removed, it can be propped onto a carrier dolly and secured into position with tie straps. This solution offers the ability to move the top around easier. It still demands a good amount of storage space, but can be easily moved out of the way.

Wrangler Hard Top on a Dolley

How to Remove a Soft Top

To remove the soft top, start by unzipping and removing all the windows. These can then be stored in a clean flat area where you can place a small towel in between each window to prevent any scratches.

Next, unclip and lower the soft top. While lowered, you can neatly fold the soft top fabric and wrap it with some bungee cords to keep it neatly bundled.

Next, remove the (2) torx bolts securing the metal frame to the roll cage of the Jeep. This will allow you to remove the soft top from the Jeep. It can be carried and handled by one person.

Wrangler Soft Top Bracket

How to Store a Jeep Soft Top

The best way to store a soft top is by hanging it from brackets vertically on a wall. This ensures the top is off the floor and no pressure is placed on the frame of the soft top. You can wrap the soft top fabric in towels for further protection.

Wrangler Soft Top Rolled Up for Storage

How to Swap from Hard Top to Soft Top

During the seasonal shift in temperatures, you’ll face the need to transfer from hard to soft top. During that transition there are several items that you’ll need and others that will make the job easier.

The first step will involve removing the hard top. In order to do so efficiently, the following items are suggested.

  • T40 torx bit: This tool is a requirement in order to remove the bolts fastening the hard top in place
  • A hoist: A hoist/pulley system is not a requirement but will make the job of lifting the hard top easier, especially if you’re alone
  • Storage Dolly: Once the hard top has been removed, it will need to be properly stored for the season. A storage dolly makes storage easy and maneuverable

Once removed, you can position the soft top. The soft top should have the following items

  • Frame: The frame is the skeletal system of a soft top, consisting of a series of aluminum tubes and swivel joints, the frame is attached to the Jeep’s roll bar
  • Cloth cover: attached to the frame is the actual soft top itself, often made of a vinyl/cloth material
  • Soft windows: vinyl side and rear windows are often attached to the top via zippers or a modular snap–in system

Once safely secured and positioned a soft top can be easily retracted/removed during warm weather, allowing you take full advantage of the season, before repeating the process and transitioning to a hard top again for the colder months.

Maintaining a Wrangler Soft Top

Like anything else, your soft top needs to be properly cared for in order for it to last. The most important part of maintenance is keeping the top clean. This helps prevent stains, holes, abrasion, and will reduce the likelihood of scratches on your windows.

All of the zippers on the top should be treated with zipper lubricant to prevent them from seizing, breaking, and ripping. If your window zippers are seized, do not pull them hard. This will only destroy the zipper or rip the fabric it is sewn to.

Another important maintenance tip is to not smack any part of the top during the winter. When the soft windows get cold they can shatter like glass when hit.

How to Clean a Jeep Soft Top

One nice thing about a Wrangler hard top is you can drive right through an automatic car wash without an issue and come out clean on the other side. With a Wrangler soft top, automatic car washes must be avoided. A brush type can easily scratch soft windows because of either stiff bristles or from dirt left on the brushes from a vehicle that went through before you. A touchless automatic is unlikely to damage your top, although it is very likely to get some leakage due to the high pressure nozzles pointing at your top from various directions. Another downside to automatics is it would be extremely loud from the sounds of the high pressure water.

Cleaning a Jeep soft top is best done by hand. If you use the manual wash station at a carwash be sure to wash your top first. Start with the roof and then wash off the foam brush or wash rag thoroughly before moving on to the soft windows. Make sure the brush/rag is clean as any dirt left on the brush/rag can severely scratch your windows. After you finish cleaning the top rinse off all of the soap to prevent soap from drying on it. Additionally, if you would like to prevent water spots on your windows wipe them with a soft, dry cloth. An important thing to remember about your soft windows is under no circumstance should you wipe dirt them off with your hand or a towel. This must be done with a soft wet cloth so the dirt is picked up and not dragged across the windows, scratching them.

A common misconception with vinyl based soft tops is that they require extreme care and caution when cleaning. You can use general car wash to clean your top, but there are vinyl specific cleaners that do a much better job. There are also specific fabric cleaners for twill style tops, but again, you can use a basic car soap on these. For the best results, a soft horse hair brush and a dedicated vinyl or fabric cleaner is the way to go. Remember, a soft cloth is the only answer to vinyl windows to avoid scratches.

How to Clean and Maintain a Wrangler Hard Top

Everyone wants that new shine on their Jeep but keeping it that way after a long day off-roading isn’t the easiest thing to do. A lot of Jeep drivers have concerns about keeping their hard tops clean, but we like to keep it simple. At every wash, treat it no different than the rest of the body. A mild cleaner, water rinse, and tower dry will do the job. Since the hardtop is made of fiberglass, we like to avoid using harsh cleaners in case they deteriorate the material underneath the paint.

Winterizing Your Wrangler Soft Top

Soft tops are great during the summer, but they aren’t as great during the winter. They can be easily damaged when cold and don’t retain heat as well as hard tops. If you are going to run your soft top in the winter don’t raise or lower your top. Don’t brush or scrape your windows. Don’t try putting down your windows, and absolutely do not punch your roof or windows to try to knock snow or ice off.

At temperatures under 41 degrees Fahrenheit, your top shrinks and flexes less, so if you try putting your top down during the winter, you might not be able to put it back up. If you do somehow manage to get your top back up, you will probably destroy it from trying to stretch a stiff fabric.

When your windows are extremely cold they get very stiff. This makes it very easy to break them during the winter, and if you try hitting or scraping them you will likely end up making a nice hole in the window. If you live in an area that gets a large amount of snow, you should try to brush off your roof only, this will reduce the amount of snow pushing down on the top. More snow means more weight, and more weight pushing down on fabric is not a good thing. If you would like to reinforce your soft top, several companies sell reinforcement bows that help support the extra weight of snow and will also reduce noise from the top flapping.

JK Wrangler in Snow
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