Summer Cars: Are Convertibles Safe to Drive?

young people in convertible car

Imagine driving down the coast with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and vacation in your future. (Go ahead, hold that thought for a second.) For a lot of folks, this image involves a real car lover’s car: a convertible. While some might argue they’re not practical—they tend to hold fewer passengers than hardtop cars and they usually have less cargo and passenger area—owners of convertibles will usually tell you practicality isn’t the draw.

“I like the openness—the wind, seeing, hearing and smelling everything around me,” Marc Kruskol of Los Angeles says of driving his 2000 Mustang convertible. “Heck, it even makes me feel a bit younger.”

The appeal is apparent. But much as we might love how open and freeing they are, convertibles lack much of the physical framework that keeps closed cars safe. So how safe are they really?

old red convertible profile

Are Convertibles Safe to Drive?

After an extensive crashworthiness test of convertibles, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) put it simply: “Death rates aren’t higher in convertibles, but a roof still is safer.”

IIHS president, Adrian Lund, explained: “In part it shows that the auto manufacturers are applying the same crash protection knowhow to their convertible designs,” but he added that the similar death rates between convertibles and regular cars is also because convertibles are driven differently. Lund also said, “and you have to remember that when you give up the fixed roof of a sedan you give up some protection in crashes. A closed car keeps your arms and head inside the vehicle in a crash, and if you’re in a rollover, a roof is always better than no roof.”

IIHS: Death rates are not higher in convertibles, but in a rollover, a roof is safer than no roof.

The LA Times reported that although convertibles overall are safer than they used to be, many lack some of the protective features that are more common in sedans, such as side curtain or airbags that deploy from overhead. And although some convertibles have an automatic roll bar that pops up when sensors detect an imminent crash, most do not.

Historically, most convertibles have not been crash-tested, reports And even though many convertibles are derivatives of non-convertible vehicles from the same manufacturer, drivers should never transfer non-convertible crash data to convertible versions since the convertibles lack the rigid roofs that are so critical to how a vehicle fares in a crash.

Seat belts are important no matter what the vehicle type, but they’re even more important in open vehicles, like convertibles and Jeeps, because there’s an increased chance of ejection with open cars.

Panoramic Sunroofs: Are They Less Safe?

First, the good news: all cars, no matter what their special features, must meet federal safety standards—that includes sunroofs and moonroofs of all kinds. However, the growing trend of massive sun/moonroofs that take up nearly the entire top of a car could be cause for concern.

Russ Rader, vice president for communications of the IIHS, told the New York Times that they found no indication that panoramic sunroofs weren’t as strong as roofs without them. Rader added, “However, this doesn’t mean that vehicles with glass roof panels would be as safe in rollovers as vehicles without them.” The concern is that glass roofs could break or pop out in serious accidents.

If you’re thinking of buying a car with an extra large sunroof, check out the crash data for the specific model you’re interested in.

Massive sunroofs that take up the entire top of a car could be cause for concern.
Lincoln MKX 2012
Lincoln MKX panoramic roof

Do Open Cars Cost More to Insure?

Convertibles are often high-end, luxury vehicles, and more expensive vehicles are more expensive to insure in general. As for whether the fact that the roof rolls down or comes off impacts your rates, the answer is: not so much. We’ve evaluated pricing from various insurance companies and found negligible differences in premiums for similar sedans and convertibles. (As always, though, we recommend you compare rates to make sure you get the coverage and pricing that fits your needs.)

Convertibles Inspire Love

There’s something about summer cars that creates a loyal following: people who own convertibles and other open cars tend to feel very strongly about them. To celebrate that love, we asked owners to tell us all about why their convertibles are so special:

Monte Mathews, from New York City, says he’s driven BMW convertibles for 25 years, and he and his family are now on their third 4 series, which they love. Mathews said that while shopping for his current convertible—a hardtop—the dealer told him that most convertible owners preferred soft tops because, even with the top up, they want everyone to know they drive a convertible.

red convertible driving in sunshine

Alan Muskat—a  Miami transplant now living in Asheville, NC—says his 2002 Solara convertible is a business expense. If you’re picturing wining and dining and ostentatious display of wealth for business contacts, think again. Muskat hunts wild mushrooms, and he teaches others to do the same. He says he scouts from his car with the top down. Gracing his back bumper is the perfect sticker: “I brake for mushrooms.”

And Melissa Dahl, from Hudson, WI, shares her convertible love. She tells Quoted she is part of a “two convertible family.” And both cars have been well loved. In 2002, Dahl’s sister got a new car and gave Dahl her 1990 Saab 900 Turbo convertible, named “Saabiana.” Dahl had loved driving the car up and down the coast when visiting her sister in Sausalito, California, and she still drives Saabiana today. Dahl’s son inherited his father’s 1965 Mustang Convertible in 2012—a car his father received when he was 15. Dahl tells us, “We love our convertibles!”