One of the great joys of having a convertible is taking it out in the winter, cranking the heat up to the max, and putting the top down. There’s very little else that feels quite as good as the contrast of the brisk, cold air all around you as you whizz about in a fun little mobile tub of warm air. If you have a convertible and haven’t done this, by all means, do it. Unless you have a Camaro convertible, because it won’t let you.
I was in Boston doing something secret this week, and part of that involved driving a Camaro convertible. It was cold, somewhere in the low 40s, but I put down the top, cranked the heat, and enjoyed that wonderful sensation of top-down winter driving.
The next day was a bit colder, but the Camaro’s heater was pretty capable and blew genuinely hot air, so I figured I’d give it another go.
I figured wrong.
This time, when I tried to put the top down, I was confronted with this message on the dash:
Being an adult, I did what I always do when confronted with something telling me I can’t do what I want to do: I screamed “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD” at it, and threw my Capri-Sun at the dashboard.
This, of course, did nothing, and nothing I could do would convince that top to go down. Who the hell was this car to tell me—Jason Fucking Torchinsky—when I can or can’t drive with the top down?
I tried yelling at the Camaro some more, calling it a candy-ass little garage-sleeping precious ragtop that can’t handle a widdle bit of being chilly. I thought that’d really get it, but no. So I reached out to Chevrolet to find out what the hell was going on.
I mean, after all, I’ve driven all kinds of convertibles in the cold—old Beetles, new Beetles, old and new Miatas, MGs, Mustangs old and new—all kinds of cars, and I’ve never encountered this before.
Here’s how Chevy explained it:
“We have this message in place when the temperature of the roof module falls below 38 degrees F. The reason is because the fluid used in the kinematic structure of the top doesn’t build up to full pressure in colder temperatures.”
Wait, what? Fluid? There’s convertible fluid? That sounds like a joke, like blinker fluid, right?
Well, no. It’s not a joke. And, after thinking about it for a minute, I realized that, oh yeah, complicated modern powered convertible tops use pressurized hydraulic fluid to do all their complicated roof-origami. So, if it’s cold enough for the fluids to get all thick and molasses-like, I can see how this would be an issue.
But wait—I know I’ve been in modern, power-top convertibles in the cold before—is this really some industry-wide limitation now? To find out, I reached out to the makers of the Camaro’s most obvious rival, the Ford Mustang.
I asked if the Mustang had any sort of temperature-related restrictions on convertible top operation. Here’s what I was told:
“No temperature restrictions on Mustang convertible.”
So there you go. The Chevy Camaro convertible doesn’t like the cold.
I don’t know about you, but this would be a deal-breaker for me, if I was shopping for a topless muscle car.
UPDATE: Chevy reached out to me to add this:
Wanted to offer a slight correction and some context to your Camaro convertible story; we mistyped. The temperature threshold is 32 degrees F, not 38. And though we do restrict the automatic operation at freezing temperatures for the motor’s durability, there is a manual override if you are so inclined. But the other 99% of the time, Camaro owners can cycle their tops at up to 30 mph, while Mustang owners basically need to pull off to safely operate theirs.
While I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 32 degrees out, I do have to admire Chevy’s bit of Mustang shade-throwing.