Dear Car Talk:
I have a friend who owns a 2009 Nissan 350Z. He's having trouble with the convertible-top mechanism, which puts the top up and down. Periodically, it simply does not work. The cost to diagnose this problem and fix it is estimated to be over $2,000. Can he simply disconnect the automatic mechanism for the top and raise and lower it manually? -- Larry
It can be done, Larry. But it's not easy -- you don't just unplug the motor and, voila, you've got a manually operated top. There's a hydraulic motor and a bunch of hydraulic lines, and removing all that stuff is a messy and difficult job.
Your friend may be able to get it fixed for a lot less than $2,000. Instead of going to the dealer -- where they're likely to just replace the whole system -- he should find a shop that specializes in convertible-top repair. There are shops like that in most major areas, and they do nothing all day but fix convertible tops. That's the kind of place you want.
It's not my area of expertise. My brother had a '74 Caprice Classic Convertible, and when his top stopped working, he just left it down and let the car fill up with water. And then leaves. And then snow. And then, in the spring, a family of raccoons.
But we did ask a guy who's worked on convertible tops for 30 years: James Thompson, of Topless Auto in Chattanooga (who probably has some walk-in customers who are disappointed to discover that he's in the car business). He says the most common problem he sees with 350Z tops is bad brushes on the lift motor. If that's your friend's problem, the brushes may be able to be replaced, or, at worst, he'd need a new lift motor. But either way, it's well short of $2,000.
And it's much more impressive on dates. You simply push the button and the top goes down. That's much more elegant than getting out of the car and grunting while you smear bird droppings all over your tuxedo.