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Jeep Sailcloth Soft Top

Jeep introduced sailcloth soft tops for the Wrangler almost a decade ago, and they’ve never looked back. Wrangler owners are pleased with the additional quality and ride comfort so much that even hardcore Jeep owners have embraced this refinement. There’s a good reason for the warm reception too… the material lasts much longer than traditional soft top fabric, it’s quieter, and it’ll keep you just a tad warmer in the winter.

We’ll talk about the fabric, and it’s use in soft tops, but first a little history lesson.

2002-2003_Jeep_Wrangler_TJ_Sport_softtop_012002-2003 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) Sport softtop. By OSX (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeep has been refining the Wrangler for decades. Starting with the military, Jeep vehicles have always been known for rugged durability and off-road prowess. As the years went on and Jeep started to become popular with average consumers, the designers and engineers realized that they needed to focus on more than just off-road capability if they were going to sell more vehicles. They set their sights on some refinements to the CJ/Wrangler platform that would enhance the off-road ability and make the vehicle more mass-market friendly.

Some of the goals of that evolution were to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), improve fuel economy and improve safety. Plus, the engineers had to stay true to the Jeep name and maintain or improve the off-road capability of the vehicle. As such, the Wrangler underwent a series of improvements, such as moving from leaf-spring suspension to coil suspension, redesigning the folding mechanism on the soft top and in 2001, replacing the traditional soft top fabric with sailcloth fabric.

During the years 1997 through 2006 Jeep produced a Wrangler with the code name TJ. The TJ was the first Wrangler with coil suspension. As an incremental upgrade to the platform, in 2001 Jeep put 4-ply sailcloth on every Wrangler. The 4-ply material was the heaviest they’d ever used and was extremely durable. So much so, they realized it was over engineered and decided to go with a lighter 3-ply material in 2003 to save cost.

If you own a late model 2001 through present Wrangler, you know what the sailcloth looks and feels like. It fits tight, even after years of use. It keeps road noise and sound outside (like when you’re driving in the rain), and it stands up to the elements.

Fortunately, the company who made those soft tops for Jeep sells replacement tops as well. Bestop has been supplying the soft tops that go on every Wrangler for years. They’re made in the USA by some of the best craftsmen in the industry.

Sailcloth fabric was an immediate hit in 2001 when it first appeared on the Wrangler, and consumers with older Jeeps wanted to enjoy the benefits of this new fabric on their vehicles too. Bestop decided to make it’s line of replacement tops in traditional fabric and the new sailcloth fabric so you could choose. Obviously, the sailcloth costs a bit more, but the added durability and driver comfort more than justify the price.How to choose the right soft top for your Jeep

You need to know the year of your vehicle. It is important to know for sure and not guess since there are subtle variations in the tops that make them fit perfectly on various vehicles.

Figure out what kind of doors your vehicle has. Most likely, you have either Half Doors or Full Doors. Half doors are the ones where the top half of the door is made of plastic and fabric, with a window that zippers open and closed. Full doors are the ones with glass windows that can be opened and closed by turning the knob inside.

Decide if you want clear or tinted windows. Tinted windows are suitable for hot regions and for added privacy. Clear windows are better for driving at night and all around visibility. Some of the available soft tops give you the choice of clear or tinted.

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Aftermarket vs. OEM. Hot Aftermarket Car Parts

The question is “When do I use aftermarket parts and when should I use OEM?” There are several guidelines or “rules of thumb” when trying to answer this question. First, let’s look at repairing your car as opposed to modifying your car.

oem and aftermarket parts
OEM parts come from the same company that built the original parts.

When you are maintaining your car, the aftermarket is perfect for “normal maintenance parts such as belts, hoses, filters, spark plug, and fluids. These parts are typically less expensive than OEM parts and are equal to the OEM in quality. Quality parts can be found at any of the national brand outlets as well as those parts stores affiliated with NAPA.

When it comes to repairs rather than maintenance, the issue is less clearly defined. As a general rule, I would OEM (”factory”) parts for the “internals” of engines and transmissions. This way you can be sure of proper fitment and compatibility with the drive train. The one area where I will look to the aftermarket are those “replaceable” items such as starter motors, clutches, pressure plates and throwout bearings. These are also available from aftermarket suppliers with equal quality and (usually) lower cost. In fact, starters, alternators, etc. are usually “rebuilt” OEM units that are far less expensive than the new factory part.

A few more confusing facts: OEM means that it comes from a manufacturer that is subcontracted to the original manufacturer.  It does not always mean that it’s the same as was in your vehicle originally.  And it might not be labeled with your vehicle manufacturer’s brand.  For example, a hood ornament may have been made in 2015 by the ABC Hood Ornament Company (a made up name) and installed on your 4×4 at the factory.  The 4×4 builder may have changed manufacturers in 2016 to the XYZ hood ornament Company.   If you go to your 4×4 dealer’s parts counter for a replacement, they can sell an XYZ ornament with their logo on it as an OEM.  The same XYZ part might be available at your local parts store under a different brand but still labelled as OEM.