How to Buy a Corvette in 7 Easy Steps

Corvette Stingray
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What Do You Want?

5 Generations of Corvette
The first step to buying a Corvette is to figure out what kind of Corvette you want. With almost 60 years of production to choose from, it's like a trip to the candy store. Photo courtesy of General Motors

Buying a car is generally one of the biggest and most involved decisions that people have to make. Buying a Corvette is extra-important because chances are good that you're making a substantial cash investment, and a Corvette isn't just a grocery-getter. Your Corvette is a special purchase, and you want it to be a decision you can look back on with pride and joy. How can you buy a Vette with peace of mind? 

The best way to start the Corvette buying process is with research and reflection. Ultimately, you'll have to attend to practical matters but right now, just let your imagination run free. Get yourself a book about Corvettes or read the Corvette history pages here and around the internet.

Chances are good that you've already got a good idea of your dream Corvette, or you will find that one era of 'Vette speaks to you more than the others. The point of the exercise is to narrow down your search to a range of several years and a body style -- maybe with a list of desired features.

Ask yourself if you really want an automatic or manual transmission, do you want a car to modify and race, or just a classic cruiser? Perhaps most importantly, do you plan to do a lot of restoration work to make this Corvette truly your own creation, or do you want a turn-key "new car" experience?

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What Can You Afford?

1964 Corvette Coupe
This 1964 Corvette is my idea of the perfect car, but unfortunately it's out of my price range. Photo courtesy of

When you're buying a Vette, prepare to pay up. A good Corvette of any year is a desirable sports car that many people will line up to buy at the market price, and that drives up costs across the board. Since the 1980s there has been a huge run-up in the price of collector cars, so Corvettes older than 1975, in particular, have been seeing prices that would have been considered astronomical just a few years ago.

Take a long, hard and brutally honest look at your budget. There's more to this than the initial purchase price of your Corvette. Depending on the age of the car and the particular car you choose and the desired finished state for your project, the purchase price can be trivial compared to your total outlays.

You need to look at your financial ability over time. If you're buying a Corvette as your only car, what happens if it breaks down? Corvettes are reliable, but any car can have an expensive engine or electrical trouble, especially an older car.

If you're buying a new Corvette (1997 to present), chances are better that the purchase price is the biggest expense you'll have for a while. The oldest C5s from 1997 to 1998 are getting into maintenance and repair territory, but most Corvettes are well-cared-for.

If you're buying an older car, chances are higher that the car needs work. You need to be ready to pay for that work or ready to let the car sit idle for periods while you save up for parts and labor.

After you really know what your budget looks like, you can compare it to your desires and see if you have any hope of your dream car.

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Start Shopping

Swap Meet C4
You're more likely to find an affordable 'Vette at a local swap meet than at a fancy sports car auction. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Once you know what kind of Corvette you're looking for, and you have some hope of actually finding some examples in your price range to choose from, it's time to start your search.

There are many options when searching for a Corvette, and you should make your search as broad as possible. If you're looking for a brand new C6, just head to your local Chevy dealer, or buy the car like any other new vehicle through a buying service. But if you're looking for an older, pre-loved 'Vette, you've got options to consider.

Your local Corvette club is a good source of buying information. Members of Corvette clubs usually advertise their cars to their fellow club members before the general public, and since club members tend to know what's what, asking prices are usually not insane. Corvette swap meets are also a pretty good place to shop for a reasonably priced car.

Magazines like Hemmings Motor News tend to specialize in rare and expensive 'Vettes. If you're looking for a very special car, those publications are a great place to start but you have to be willing to travel to look at cars and then to have them shipped back to your home. If you're planning to buy a $100,000 NCRS-certified classic Corvette, that's worth the time, effort, and expense. If you want to buy a track day and summer fun car, it's a bit on the high side.

The big-time classic car auctions offer great Corvettes for sale, but most often those sales happen at premium prices, and you have to pay a buyer's premium to the auction house on top of the purchase price. Plus, your opportunity to have the car checked out is very limited at an auction. If you do want to shop for a car at an auction, make it a local one. You can also keep an eye on the police and towing yard auctions, but you won't find the best cars there.

Newspaper classifieds have all but disappeared with the advent of eBay and Craigslist but check them anyway. You may be the only person who notices a bargain Corvette in your local paper! You can also check publications like Auto Trader and Corvette Trader and other regional online and printed auto sales listings.

The richest source of Corvette listings these days is going to be Craigslist and eBay. Craigslist is a free online classified ad website that has local ads for just about every community in America, and much more worldwide. Services such as Craiglook allow you to search all the Craigslist sites within a specified range of your home. And of course, eBay allows you to see Corvettes up for auction all over the world.

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Choose a Couple of Candidates

1972 Corvette Stingray
When you have a leading candidate or two, you're ready to have the cars checked out thoroughly. Photo courtesy of General Motors

When you've done all this homework, chances are you've found at least a couple cars that meet your criteria. Don't be afraid to seriously consider the first car you encounter, and don't be afraid to wait months and keep your eyes open for the right car. You never know when it will come up.

But whatever the market looks like, pick out at least two or three top candidates and make time to go and kick the tires. Sometimes you'll drive up and know as soon as you see it that this Corvette is not the right car. Sometimes the cars are substantially worse than the advertisement indicated. 

If the car you want is plentiful (say, a base C5 coupe) you should be able to come up with several candidates in a weekend. If you're looking for a rare model, it may take some time to find more than a single candidate.

One rule to follow: Never buy a junker unless you really know what you're doing. While it's true that virtually every part for any Corvette is available, the expense and time and effort of rebuilding a car from scratch is unbelievable. It doesn't matter how cheap the original purchase price is; a junker costs more than it's worth.

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The Test Drive

1961 Corvette convertible
Don't expect someone to just let you drive off in a car like this because you showed up to answer an ad. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

For most cars, a test drive is no big deal. But for Corvettes, because of the value of the car and the performance potential, sellers are sometimes justifiably wary of letting you drive off in their car. Don't be offended if the seller insists on coming along for the ride, even though that means your spouse or friend has to wait.

On the test drive, don't get crazy with the car. You know the performance is there if the car runs well. What you need to concentrate on is how the car runs. Does it start up easily and run smoothly? Do the brakes work? Does the transmission shift well? Are there any noises or non-functioning components? Make a list of questions to ask the seller and to ask the mechanic in the next step.

Be alert for danger signs on the test drive. Does the car pull to one side or another if you loosen your grip on the wheel? Does the car pull to one side under braking? When the drive is over, take a moment and write down any concerns you may have.

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Get Everything Checked Out

1988 Corvette Coupe
Don't buy a Corvette before you've had an expert mechanic look at it to help you understand the maintenance or repairs it will need in the near-term. Photo courtesy of General Motors

When you've got the candidates narrowed down, you have to spend some money on getting them checked out. This is especially important with newer used cars, as those can be the most expensive to fix. Plan on taking each car (or asking the seller to take the car) to a reputable mechanic who knows Corvettes. You should choose the mechanic, just for your own confidence. If the seller balks, just walk away from the transaction.

For $100 to $200, a mechanic should be able to check computer codes, test emissions, the compression, brakes, air conditioning, and other functions, and deliver a report on the state of the car. Mechanics aren't psychics and they can't catch everything all the time, but they will spot the biggest problems. Mechanics can also spot repaired crash damage, which is critical.

You can also request reports on the car's VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) through services like Carfax. These services collate data from thousands of repair facilities and insurance and government agencies and can tell you if the car has suffered a previous accident or flood damage, gone through extensive repairs, and inform you about other facts you should know. You can order up to five Carfax reports online for less than $50. That's a bargain when you're potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars on the car.

Some buyers insist that the mechanic's report is theirs alone because they paid for it. They don't share the report with the seller and have been known to exaggerate the report to negotiate a lower price. 

Before you move on to the next step, make sure that the seller has a clear title to the car and all appropriate documentation. As I mentioned before, this is not a rock-solid guarantee, and in some states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will run a check on the VIN to be sure that it has not been reported stolen or branded as wrecked. If the seller says, "I lost the title. You can get a replacement," the correct answer is "No, you get the replacement and then we'll talk." Similarly, if your state requires an emissions test or vehicle inspection certificate, it's the seller's job to provide that before you buy.

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Pick a Car and Negotiate the Price

2010 Corvette Convertible
The best part of the process is when you first get into your Corvette and begin your journey together. Photo courtesy of General Motors

Vincent Black ShadowChances is that when you get the mechanic's report and Carfax report, you'll know which candidate Corvette you want. Now comes the stressful period where you negotiate the purchase price. Sometimes it's easy and the seller says "This is the price. Take it or leave it." But more often, there's an asking price and you have to decide what to offer.

Some people believe the old adage that the first person to name a price "loses" the negotiation. So they dance around with "what's your lowest price?" or "Make me an offer." I think those habits are silly because everyone knows their bottom line price already. You might pay a little more than the seller's rock-bottom price, or the seller might take a little less than he or she was hoping to get, but it's really all about whether you get the car for a price that seems worthy and fair to you. In five years, will it really matter if you paid $20,500 or $21,000 for your beloved 'Vette?

One rule to remember: if you're buying a lower-priced car, paying in cash always works to the buyer's advantage.

More often than not, it's possible to negotiate a price that works for both buyer and seller, and you can conclude the transaction amicably. If possible, get the seller to meet you at the DMV office so you can conclude the title and registration transfer paperwork on the spot. Then you get to drive home in your new Corvette.