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Leaky soft-top

The problem: You go to get in the car after a it has been raining, only to discover that it has leaked water onto the sills, the seats, the handbrake and gearstick surround, the metal floor, the carpet and everything else. You go insane and decide to sell the car rather than put up with this.

The explaination: Luckily, after drying the innards out you get to drive the car again, and you remember why you put up with things like leakyness in the first place.

The soft-top leaks on most S1 Elises. Not all - a few people are lucky and get one that doesn't leak, but most leak. Some leak a little, and the owners can't see what all the fuss is about. Some leak a lot, and the owners get annoyed. Some (like mine) leak really badly, and the owners wonder why they bothered to fit the roof at all.

The soft-top in general is waterproof - the fabric and the seams don't allow water to seep through them. The plastic clip seal at the front of the screen generally doesn't leak unless broken, and neither does the overlap with the roll bar at the rear. The seals along the side between the window and the roof-bar doesn't leak either, as long as the windows are properly adjusted. The only bit that seems to leak is at the front of the windows, where the roof-bar, the roof fabric, the window glass and the A-pillar all meet.

Having examined several soft-tops from several different Elises, it appears that there are at least two subtlly different designs. In the type I have the fabric with the poppers on it doesn't seem to come far enough forward to meet the end of the rubber seals:

Because the fabric does not come far enough forward, there is a gap between the glass and the rubber seal of the A-pillar and roof-bar. This gap looks like it is covered by the overhang on the roof, but as soon as the fabric saturates with water it seeps round and drips inside the car, onto the sill.

In strong winds, drops of water are blown from the overhang into the car and across the interior, leaving splashes of water everywhere. Water also drips onto the sill protectors forming a puddle. When the puddle if large enough further drips cause water to splash across the interior. This splashing is the main culprit for soaking the important bits like the seats and floor.

The solution: There are lots of solutions that people suggest. None of them worked for me, so I had to invent my own solution. Your mileage may vary of course, so below are all the ideas I know of, in rough order of expense:

Solution Description My experience Effectiveness Rough cost
Fitting the roof properly Sounds silly I know, but there's a couple of subtlties. Always do up the allen-key bits at the back. I have met people who don't do that, and they report leaks and the roof occasionally blowing off at high speed. Duh!

Less obvious is to make sure the overhangs by the leaky bit of the windows is as large as possible. Locate the centre lug correctly by sliding the roof from side to side until it locks in place. Then fit the edge flap bits, and pull them out towards the side of the car before doing up the poppers.
This doesn't stop the leaks on mine, but it does make them considerably more managable. 6/10 0
Sill splash protectors An invention of mine! You use a couple of old microwave dishes and a few blobs of blu-tac to make shields that deflect leaking water towards the doors, rather than letting it splash all over the seats. When the roof leaks, these things stop the water from pooling under the leak. That stops the splashes when more drips land. This works really well except when you forget to put them in place. Check out this image to see how to make your own and where they go in the car.

This solution works for me, but they're hardly stylish!
8/10 0
Fabsil You liberally coat the roof with Fabsil fabric sealant. This is meant to stop water penetrating the fabric. You can buy this stuff in spray-cans from camping shops. I found this stuff just made the water run off the roof and into the car even faster. It made things far, far worse. Some people have reported it working well though - worth a try for the few quid the can will cost you. -5/10 3
Gaffer tape Black gaffer tape is carefully applied to the top of the windows in layers. The idea is to build up just enough to seal the gap. I didn't try this - I thought it would make a mess of the windows, stop them winding fully down and hold the window away from the rest of the seal, making the rest of it leak. You might find it works perfectly. Try it if you dare! 4/10 (estimated) 4
Foam tabs Another idea I came up with. Tailored foam tabs fill the gaps that Lotus left. I coated the tabs with fabsil to try to waterproof them and bonded them in place with an impact adhesive.

See an image of them here
Not a single drop in the car on one side after this, and only light leakage on the other side. Unfortunately they don't last forever with the battering they get from the windows going up and down and the high speed winds hitting them, and eventually they fell off and had to be re-done. They're very fiddly to make too. I was never quite able to get them working as well as my first efforts did again. 7/10 5
Bathroom sealant Several beads of silicon bathroom sealant are used to fill the gaps. See an imperfect image here. Tricky to control the silicon. Sealent pealed off rubber seals too easily. Left grubby marks on the windows. Looked ugly. I think this could work for some people, but it didn't work for me. It did reduce the problem a little. 5/10 8
Autoglym Hood Waterproofer Autoglym do a kit for cleaning/restoring/waterproofing fabric roofs. Like most Autoglym stuff, this works pretty well. I was surprised at how well the waterproofer worked. After applying, water beads on the top of the fabric rather.than soaking in. This seems to reduce the leak rate a lot. I don't know why this should work better than the Fabsil idea, but it does. It doesn't last very long though, is time consuming to apply and is fairly expensive. Best combined with other anti-leak methods. 7/10 20
Shower cape These can be fitted over the roof of the car to protect it from rain. General consensus is that the Elemental version is about the best. Try here for details. I haven't tried this - I thought it would be too much effort for me to put the cape on and take it off during heavy rain. I'd have to keep the wet cape in the car somewhere too, adding to the moisture problem. 10/10 (estimated) if you use it, 0/10 if you're too lazy like me! 90
New soft-top roof You try to get hold of a soft-top roof that fits better, and has a long enough piece of side fabric. I haven't tried this due to expense, but it's probably why some people say their cars don't leak at all. 10/10 (estimated) 200
Hard-top roof You bite the bullet and buy yourself a hard-top roof. I haven't tried this - I can't justify the expense and don't have anywhere to store it when it isn't in use. Most people think these work well, but some still report leaks. I think I'd be lazy about fitting it because it takes a while. I'd leave it on for too much of the summer. 7/10 (estimated) $1,500
House with garage You buy a house that has a garage, and ensure your workplace has somewhere covered to leave the car. Since the roof doesn't really leak whilst you're moving, keeping it under cover would probably work quite well. I don't have such a place and can't afford such a place, so I have to make do with the other ideas here. 6/10 (estimated) - you can't keep it indoors all the time 250,000+, depending on location

If it's not foggy switch off your foglights (ns)