Buying a used C5 or C6, like buying any used car, can be a daunting proposition. But because of the Corvette's high profile and reputation as a premiere performance vehicle, some extra caution and due diligence is in order when shopping for one. In researching this article, I consulted Ron DeSmedt, the owner of Contemporary Corvette in Bristol, PA (www.contemporarycorvette.com), to elicit his views and advice on what to look for and what to stay away from when shopping for a C5 or a C6. In addition to running one of the largest Corvette boneyards in the country, Ron has been in the business of buying and selling Corvettes for more than a decade and is one of the earliest pioneer sellers on eBay Motors, so he knows whereof he speaks. He was kind and generous enough to share his wealth of knowledge with us here.
Determining If The Car Has Been Front Hit
When Corvettes are involved in accidents, more often than not the collision damage occurs to the front of the car.
From 1997 through 2004 GM put the VIN number on the front right side framerail, and from 1997 through 2002 it was also on the front bar as well. So to determine if the car has been hit in the front, the most critical thing to look for is the VIN number on the front right side framerail (and front bar, if applicable). This VIN number has to coincide exactly with the VIN number appearing on the dash plate. Now, if the car was front hit-even a little bit-it would distort the VIN number. Even if the repair facility straightened out the framerail and cleaned it all up, the distortion to the VIN number would still be apparent. And if the front bar or the side framerail had been replaced, the VIN number will not be on it; hence, if the number is distorted or missing, this is proof-positive that the car has been hit in the front.
C5s and C6s are, in effect, unibody constructed, because the body is bonded to the framerails. It's not like the earlier generations of Corvettes where the body could be unbolted and lifted right off the frame-these latter-generation Corvettes are mated and bonded to the frames on the assembly line with a special epoxy that can't be reproduced by aftermarket adhesive makers in the exact same color as that used by GM. Hence, any collision repairs are fairly easy to detect by the discerning eye by checking the bonding lines where the epoxy adhesive shows. An easy place to check for this is on the bonding lines of the inner fenders in the engine bay.
Car History Checking
Checking out the prospective purchase with CarFax (www.carfax.com)is good, but not infallible. According to DeSmedt, if a previous owner had an accident and didn't report it (to keep insurance premiums down), then there would be no record of the collision for Carfax to report. He says that another good reporting service is AutoCheck (www.autocheck.com). Very often things will show up on AutoCheck that don't on CarFax. One of the auctions he regularly buys at in Mannheim, PA, only honors AutoCheck reports and disregards CarFax reports. He advises that if you're very suspicious of a prospective vehicle or if you really want to be cautious before making a purchase that you get reports from both agencies.
The factory door sticker should still be on the driver's side outer door jamb; if it's not, the door has most probably been replaced. And, of course, the VIN number on the sticker should match the VIN of the car as well-if the numbers don't match, it's a replacement door. But this sticker is only affixed to the driver's side door-there isn't any on the passenger door. But don't let the fact that a door has been replaced put you off buying the car-it shouldn't. The presence of the correct door sticker is just a way of knowing that the door hasn't been replaced- and if it isn't there, it's a way of gauging the "honest disclosure" of the seller.
There really aren't any indicators with regards to VIN numbers when it comes to the rear of the car, but, as stated earlier, most of the time the collisions occur to the front of the vehicle anyway.