May 30, 2011
For Sale: 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, good condition, 41,000 miles. Make an offer.
This is how our long-term test of the 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 began. We were knee deep in used Z06 research when this advertisement caught our eye. No flash. No empty promises. It was just the facts.
We scheduled a meeting. An older gentleman answered the door and small talk ensued. Times were tough and he could no longer juggle the two-car lifestyle. He was forced to part with his 400-horsepower weekend road tripper. His loss was our gain. After a short test-drive of the Z06 we offered him $20,000. This was a fair price based on comparable used Corvettes at the time. The poor guy couldn't hand over the keys fast enough.
In hindsight, after discovering the engine ping at full throttle, we might have viewed his reaction differently. But we honestly don't think he realized he had a problem. Well, he didn't have one anymore. It was ours to deal with now. So we bought a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with a detonation issue.
Why We Bought It
We introduced our long-term 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 12 months ago. At the time our purchase was accompanied by a litany of question marks. How well was this car maintained? How much mileage does it really have left? What do 40,000 miles do to a 405-hp fiberglass tub that had questionable fit and finish even when it was new? But question marks didn't drive our purchase. It was excitement, mostly.
For years, Corvettes have offered the most horsepower for the buck. The 2002 Z06 fit this persona exactly. Used versions were selling around $20,000. Back in 2002, these Z06s were competing with Dodge Vipers and Italian exotics costing two and three times as much. This was affordable American muscle.
We never owned a Corvette. To purchase one would finally end the debate over their long-term durability. It would bring to light the distinct personality of this car and explain how it could hold its own on the track, yet be civil enough to drive hundreds of miles on the highway. Corvette had a lot of history we wanted to experience first-hand. Love it or hate it, we would live with this car every day. We would drive it in every situation. How would our preconceived notions hold up?
From a practical standpoint, the Corvette did not win any awards for how it drove around town. The front air dam scraped on everything. Its low stature made ingress and egress a challenge and took a toll on the seat bolsters. But this was a Z06.
Editor in Chief Scott Oldham forgave the Chevy's impractical nature, "Our 2002 Chevy Corvette is freakin' fast. Like snap your head back, blaze the tires, scare old ladies, land in jail, sorry officer, tear the skin off your face, maybe I shouldn't do that again but it was really fun fast. It explodes with speed in any gear at any rpm. Redline more than one gear and chances are you're well over the speed limit. Nail it off the line with any kind of rapid clutch engagement and its rear Goodyears are worthless. In other words, it's exactly how cars should be."
Inside the cabin the Z06 was about driver, wheel, clutch and shifter. We adjusted to the tall, graceless shifter. We forgot that the rear hatch only opened when it wanted to. We almost even overlooked the under-supportive seats. Inside Line Editor Ed Hellwig reflected on what life in the cockpit was really about, "The LS6 in our Corvette is an amazing piece of work. It not only sounds great through the titanium exhaust, it makes great noises from inside too. There's just enough valvetrain noise to remind you there's a serious V8 sitting not too far from your feet. It's a sound that's rarely heard in modern cars these days, so much so that passengers sometimes think something is wrong. Nope, it's just fine I tell them. In fact, it's just about perfect." We were smitten.
We did not buy a perfect specimen. As any reader of the long-term blog remembers, IL spent some time sorting out the Z06 before we could confidently enjoy it. Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh described his first encounter with our new Z06, "Knock, knock. Who's there? Detonation. Oh, s#&@."
One thing was clear. Our LS6 was pinging at full throttle. But we struggled to locate the root of the problem. We ran three tanks of 91 octane through the Vette to confirm the fuel wasn't octane deficient. It made no difference. A visit to the dealer for an ECU reflash set us back $98 but to no avail. We pumped 100-octane gas into the reservoir and the pinging ceased. A bad knock sensor? We spent a DIY weekend replacing the knock sensors. The problem remained. Frustrated, we called in the pros at Bothwell Automotive for diagnosis. Bothwell inspected the engine, ECU, injectors and ultimately, the mass air flow (MAF) sensor. Low and behold, repairing the MAF finally remedied the issue. It was a long process to say the least.
With our detonation concern addressed, we hit the road. Regular maintenance took place at prescribed intervals of 45K, 52.5K and 60K. There were a handful of additional hiccups along the way. At 57,000 the water pump had a sudden urge to pee coolant. Right about that time we also experienced a stability control error. The solution was a $300 steering position sensor. By the end of our test the brakes were toast. So, we swapped out both front rotors and pads all around prior to its sale. That was a well-spent $800 if you ask its new owner. And, unfortunately, our maintenance story wouldn't be complete without a $1,500-body shop visit to repair a damaged rocker panel. The Z06 does not have any ground clearance, people. Don't try it.
Total Body Repair Costs: $1,551
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $285
Additional Maintenance Costs: $3,159: knock sensors ($50), MAF sensor repair ($280), 4 new tires ($1,043), wheel alignment ($110), water pump ($543), steering position sensor ($291) and brakes ($842)
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace knock sensors, repair MAF sensor, replace water pump, replace steering position sensor and replace brakes
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 3 for MAF sensor, steering position sensor and brakes
Days Out of Service: 32
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
Once the Z06 was healthy we wasted little time putting it to work. We sent it off for dyno testing, to the track for standard instrumented testing and then entered it into our inter-generational Corvette comparison, affectionately dubbed Corvettemageddon.
This 2002 Z06 was no slouch. We recorded a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout) and a quarter-mile of 12.5 seconds @ 116.1 mph. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton commented, "Launching a Corvette isn't particularly difficult unless its rear tires are beat. As such, the launch requires more finesse to achieve the optimal wheel spin/chatter without boiling the rubber. The shifter feels not just heavy, but also binding as if it needs some sort of lube thrown down the shift boot and into its guts. The transmission gates are unmistakable with definitive slots/stops. Power is linear all the way up to 6,500-rpm fuel cut-off where you'll find a hard rev limiter. The car made a faint pinging/detonating sound on the first run that thankfully went away subsequently. Also, this thing is damned loud — and I mean that in a good way."
Dynamic tests similarly highlighted the Z06's capability. It passed through the slalom at 68.8 mph and generated 0.92g of lateral force around the skid pad. Walton continued, "Steering loads quite a lot in transitions, and with ESP off, it's neutral up to the point when it understeers wide of the circle. With ESP on it keeps the car spot-on the painted line with both brake application and throttle closing."
Most Z06s aren't going to spend their lives on the track. So it's nice to know that on the road back home, you can still have 400 hp at your disposal and average 17 mpg. We did that for 18,000 miles. Our best single tank was 29 mpg while we recorded just 9 mpg on the other end of the spectrum.
Best Fuel Economy: 29.0 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 9.4 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 17.4 mpg
Just over one year ago we found a 2002 Z06 with 41,000 miles for sale. It needed some attention. We invested the elbow grease and cash to restore the Vette to proper working order. From that point forward it satisfied the role of resident smile inducer in our test garage. This was a fun car.
After 18,000 miles, it was time to part ways. Our ad ran on Autotrader for three weeks beside numerous other Z06s before we got a hit. A 23-year-old part-time student answered. After a test-drive he asked, "How flexible are you on the price? I'm thinking $19,000." We informed him that the lowest we could go was $20,000. He shrugged and replied, "I guess I can do 20." Our test was over.
True Market Value at service end: $17,000
What it sold for: $20,000
Depreciation: $0 or 0% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 59,690
We bought a used Z06 for $20,000 and drove it for 12 months and 18,000 miles. Then we sold it for the same $20,000. We invested about $5,000 to keep the bells ringing and the whistles whistling. In the moment, those bills were a big headache. In retrospect, our investment was well worth the fun
One year with the Z06 left an impression on us. We already knew the car was fast and loud. That was why we bought it. Somewhere along the way we also learned to appreciate its idiosyncrasies. This was an impressively compliant highway car. Maybe that is why we saw those Corvette Club guys on Interstate 5 in the middle of nowhere. We didn't find any Porsche or Viper Club folks with them.
Yet flip a coin and the Z06 was equally as cumbersome in everyday situations. The front air dam scraped on everything. The side bolsters were restrictive when climbing in and out of the car. It was low. But old cars, especially old sports cars, require patience.
Our experience with the Z06 wasn't perfect, yet it was enough fun to make us want to do it again. Heck, we turned the clock back even further and bought a 1985 Porsche 911 with the proceeds from the Corvette sale. We recommend everybody goes out and buys an old car. You know the one. You've had your eye on it for nine years now. It's time to pull the trigger.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.