Many people avoid or discount the first year(s) of a new body style, waiting for the bugs to be worked out, but when the 97 C5 Corvette was first released, it was a very well-engineered vehicle. While there are a few items to look for when considering a purchase of an early C5, they arent major, considering it was a completely new body style featuring an entirely new engine, drivetrain, and suspension.
As with any car, there are routine things to check out.
Inspect the fluid levels and their condition. The automatic transmission will need to be checked on a lift, and there is a specific procedure for it.
Inspect brake-pad condition. You should also road-test for any pulsation of the pedal at low and high speeds.
Check exterior bulbs like headlamps, parking lamps, brake lamps, and such. The fog/driving lamps have a tendency to burn out.
Tire wear. The C5s have always had a tendency to wear or cup on the inside edge of the front tires. If the Corvette youre looking at has new tires, plan to have it aligned by a good alignment shop that knows C5s, unless the owner has documentation that it has been done.
Ask for all of the maintenance records the owner has to see how it was taken care of previously.
Accident repairs. Being in an accident does not automatically make a car bad, but proper repairs dictate value. Check for paint mismatch and overspray.
Dont be afraid to ask questions!
There were a few safety campaigns released on the early C5s. Two of them to check for sure are:
A potential leak at the sending units for the fuel tanks. This required replacement of both fuel tanks.
Inspection (and replacement as needed) of the tie-rod ends on the rear suspension. To see if your particular C5 needs these repairs before a purchase, take the VIN to a GM dealer. They can run the number to see if any campaigns pertain to that car. If there is an open campaign, Chevrolet will repair that Corvette, free of charge, regardless of miles or time.
There are also a couple dozen complaints that spurred repair bulletins by GM to help in repairing these vehicles. Here are the most common:
Serpentine-belt rumble (noise) when shifting from Park or Neutral to Reverse or Drive when parked and the brakes are applied. There have been several updates on this problem, which included belt and tensioner replacement, PCM reprogram, and alternator replacement.
Louder than normal fuel-pump noise heard from the driver seat. Although some noise is normal, a few are pretty loud. An updated fuel-pump/sending-unit assembly was released, along with some minor insulation of the tank, body, and tank retainer plate.
Air conditioning/heater-blower motor run-on after the key is turned off. This required replacement of the blower-control module (similar to a high-blower relay or resistor.)
Loose or missing headlamp-bezel adjuster plugs. The bezel assemblies were replaced with 2000-and-up units.
Premature wear of the seat bolster. This is the piece on the outside of the seat you rub against as you enter your C5. An updated seatback cover was released to guard against wear.
Key chime sounds with the key out of the ignition. A new ignition-lock cylinder and/or switch was installed.
If any of these items need attention, they can be repaired at a Chevrolet dealer that has the proper info. There will be a charge for any of these repairs if the Corvette is no longer under warranty.
A few other common problems Ive run into are minor leaks in the drivetrain. Problem areas include the rear-gear output seals (differential axle seals), front-pump seals and/or gaskets on the automatic transmissions, and the front seal or case sealer leaks on the manual transmissions. These problems arent widespread and are easily fixed, but Ive seen a few of each.
Also, on the convertible models (98), check the top rear corner of each door glass to see if its touching the top. Look at the top to see if it has been damaged from the door glass rubbing as the door is opened or closed. The door glass will need to be adjusted, as well as repairs made to the top. Check the top in this area, even if the glass isnt touching. A window adjustment could have been done and the top left alone.
If youre buying a modified Corvette, try to get at least copies of the receipts on whats been done so you can contact the shop that did the upgrades. This is for two reasons: to verify what has been done, and to have a source to go to for repairs or advice should a problem arise with any of the modifications.
Its always a good idea to have your potential C5 purchase inspected by someone who understands them and knows what to look for. It may cost you $75 to $150, but its well worth it considering the $25,000 to $35,000 investment youre about to make.
Good luck and happy hunting!