Easy Jeep Soft Top Upgrade

An upgraded soft top brought this Jeep Wrangler back to life

One of the finer things about driving most Jeeps is the ability to drive in harsh weather and drop the top to let in some fresh air and views when you want. The existing top on this 1998 Jeep TJ Wrangler had seen seven long years in the Arizona sun and weather. The cloth was still mostly intact, but some of the seams and other areas were starting to fail.

Bestop offers factory-style replacement tops as well as variations, depending on the Jeep model. There are options whether your Jeep had an original soft top, hardtop, or no top when you purchased it. There are fastback versions for some, and ones that eliminate the top bows so that removing the windows converts it into a bikini-style top.

Along with the various styles, Bestop offers several types of fabric to suit your budget and needs. Higher-cost options use fabric of increasing quality and durability, all the way up to a 30-ounce twill fabric that is thicker with a softer feel. It's combined with thicker window panels as well. The combination retains more warmth in the cabin in colder months, while not adding to interior heat in hotter months.

The old top had served the Jeep well. But after seven long years in the sun and weather, the exposure had taken its toll on the window plastic and other areas. The driver window had been stitched closed for at least a few months after the aged zipper failed.

For this vehicle we opted to install a Bestop sailcloth Replace-A-Top for 1997 to 2002 Wranglers that uses the factory steel half-doors. The sailcloth version is an upgrade to Bestop's traditional replacement top, and it uses a heavier multi-ply fabric to add a bit more isolation from the noise and weather outside. The side and rear window curtains can be ordered in clear or tint. We opted for the tinted versions. This kit reuses the factory original hardware, so is cost effective in that respect.

Life is made easier if installation is done at temperatures above 72 degrees F, as colder temperatures can cause the fabric to contract, making it difficult to stretch everything into place. In fact, we sometimes find it useful to let the top warm in the sun a bit to make it more flexible and easier to drape and stretch where needed.

Bestop offers care and maintenance tips to help owners keep the fabric of the top looking good and lasting for years. They recommend simply washing with soap, warm water, and a soft bristle brush. If you live in a climate where corrosion is prevalent, it's a good idea to lube the snaps with a bit of silicone spray to keep them from sticking to the studs over time. Zippers can also be cleaned and lightly lubed to keep them moving freely.

The first order of business was stripping the old top off. The door surrounds, factory bows, and hardware were all in operating order, so they were reused.

In our experience, the window panels have several enemies. One is the rubbing of abrasives (dirt) over the plastic, and another is folding the window panels. When possible, it's best to lay the panels flat and separate them from other surfaces with a clean towel to keep them from developing rub marks, which will cloud and/or discolor the panels. Bestop recommends cleaning them with a water-soaked cloth or sponge with mild dishwashing detergent and to avoid ever wiping them when dry. In extreme cold weather, the panels can crack if rolled or folded.

Installing a new top on this TJ Wrangler took two of us about two hours, and having a second person is not entirely necessary, but it makes the job quicker with the extra hands. Depending on the model you're working with, the install details will vary, but this account should give you a quick idea of what is involved.

With a fresh top on, we could once again fully see traffic out all of the windows and could zip down a side window at the fast-food takeout window. The interior of the Jeep was quieter and better sealed against the outside elements. In a few hours, we restored the true open- and closed-top options for the Wrangler.

The corners of the upper doorskins were cut open with a utility knife to free them easily from the factory metal-wire frames.
Installation on a TJ Wrangler starts at the rear of the Jeep by attaching the new sailcloth top to the factory front header assembly with a handful of factory screws.
The main top fabric gets pulled over the Jeep using the factory bows.
The rear bow is captured by snapping the fabric in place over it.
The front header latches are snapped into the windshield frame.
This is where you'll start to appreciate installation during warm weather as you tug on the various fabric pieces to stretch them into position.
Bestop guides you through a sequence of assembly where plastic strips sewn onto the edges of the fabric top are tucked into metal retainer channels on the body.
The side and rear window panels are installed and zippered to the fabric of the main top.
Plastic strips also tuck into the channel in each door surround. It helps to work the fabric evenly on each side of the Jeep as you go to center the top and best align all the sections to fit the body.
New upper doorskins are stretched over the metal-wire frames. Bestop offers a specific order of assembly to make fitting the tight skins possible.
Thank you, Bestop, for providing this handy fabric tab at the last corner to be assembled. We used a set of pliers to pull on this tab and to get the final fabric stretch done before closing all the hook-and-loop flaps around the wire frame.
Then, the completed upper skins drop back onto the metal lower doors.
A tubular weatherstrip runs the perimeter of the upper doorskins. Once installed on the Jeep, the ends need to be trimmed to fit the doorjamb.
Once the top has been fully installed and allowed to sit for at least a few hours, wrinkles and creases in the fabric and window panels will start to fade as the materials relax. At that point, any further minor adjustments can be made to fine-tune the fit.
Bestop included this small packet of zipper cleaner and lubricant. Silicone lubricant can also be used on the zippers to keep them moving smoothly.
Should your top develop a tear in the fabric, it can be patched from the inside with commonly available Bondex iron-on patches. For any eventual water seepage at the fabric seams, apply 3M Scotchguard to the inside of the seams.
Some of the tops, such as this Trektop NX, have a sloped rear window panel. While this does sacrifice some interior space at the rear, it offers a distinct look and rear corner clearance.
The Trektop Pro can be a good option for those that need quick entry to rear storage often, as it offers easy access to tools, gear, or other cargo.
By combining top components, such as a bikini top, Windjammer rear panel, and bed duster cover, it's possible to keep the rear tub area closed while also reducing the cab volume.
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