2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Click image to enlarge
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By Chris Chase
Chevrolet Corvette, 1997-2004
It’s difficult to argue against the Corvette’s status as one of the best performance car values on the road today. This Chevrolet flagship can run with some of the hottest sports cars and GTs from Europe but costs much less money.
Stylistically, the fifth-generation Corvette – the C5 – that went on sale in 1997 was a better fit with the model’s image than the C4, which, while it was cool in 1984, was looking quite dated by the end of its run in 1996. By contrast, the C5 still looks great more than a decade after it was introduced. Chevrolet must think so too: the subsequent C6 model didn’t stray too far from its predecessor, in terms of appearance.
Like the C4, the C5 Corvette was powered by a 5.7-litre V8 engine. Here, it produced 345 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque in base form. Transmission choices were a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic; either way, the gearbox was mounted at the rear of the car, integrated into the rear axle, for improved weight distribution and increased interior space, particularly in the footwells.
The 1997 model was sold in coupe form only; a convertible re-joined the Corvette lineup in 1998.
1999 Chevrolet Corvette hardtop. Click image to enlarge
In 2001, the base engine got a bump in horsepower to 350, and the high-performance Z06 model joined the lineup. It used a 385-horsepower version of the 5.7-litre engine and came exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. In 2002, the Z06’s power output jumped to 405 thanks to some minor engine modifications, and that power figure remained the same until the end of the C5’s run in 2004.
Near the start of the C5 Corvette’s run, its official fuel consumption numbers were 14 L/100 km (city) and 8.7 L/100 km (highway) with the four-speed automatic transmission, and 13.7 L/100 km (city) and 8.0 L/100 km (highway) with the six-speed manual.
That’s not bad at all, considering a 1998 Chevy Lumina (3.1-litre V6; four-speed automatic) was rated at 12.3/7.8 (city/highway).
By 2004, however, the Corvette’s ratings had improved to 13.2/8.9 (city/highway) for automatic cars and 12.3/7.7 for six-speed models.
2003 Chevrolet Corvette. Click image to enlarge
According to Consumer Reports, overall reliability varies year-to-year, and even the actual problems reported are all over the map, which probably says something about how each Corvette owner buys the car for different reasons: a classy cruiser with some power to back up its looks, or as an all-out performance car that will spend much of its time at the drag strip, are a couple of plausible scenarios.
One of most common problems with the C5 is relatively minor, yet can render the car undriveable. Many of these cars were equipped with a failure-prone electronic steering column lock. This informative thread at CorvetteForum.com explains the device, what happens when it fails, how to fix it and how to avoid the problem altogether. This issue was also addressed by a Transport Canada recall.
Another thread offers advice on how to track and solve water leaks in the C5 Corvette interior.
1998 Chevrolet Corvette convertible (top); 1997 Chevrolet Corvette. Click image to enlarge
The C5’s oil pressure sending unit (this is the little electronic device that activates the low oil pressure light in the event of engine trouble) is apparently a finicky piece; read this thread for a couple of ways to make it easier to replace when it does go.
Here’s an interesting thread about C5 electrical problems.
If you like to work on your own car, read this thread for all kinds of how-to articles.
Here’s a thread at DigitalCorvettes.com called “C5 secrets” that’s got a list of neat-to-know things about the C5 Corvette.
Another great all-around Corvette site is the CorvetteActionCentre.com.
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have conducted crash testing on the C5 Corvette.
The Corvette holds on to resale value better than the average Chevrolet, but it’s still a strong value used. A 1997 model is worth $18,825 according to Canadian Red Book, and a 2004 Z06 coupe carries a value of $33,175. You could conceivably pick up a 2000 or 2001 base model coupe for about $25,000.
For a car with this much performance potential and visual horsepower, those prices are a good deal no matter your reason for wanting one of these cars.
CorvetteForum.com is a very useful Corvette information resource, as is DigitalCorvettes.com; both cover every generation of Corvette. IdaVette.net offers a list of Corvette clubs. Most are U.S.-based, but there’s a list of Canadian clubs at the bottom of the page. Other Canadian ‘Vette clubs can be found here.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997063; Units affected: 36
1997: These vehicles may exhibit a condition in which a rear suspension tie rod assembly may fracture at the inboard bearing. If this were to occur while the vehicle was in motion, it could result in loss of directional control and a possible crash. Correction: dealers will replace the left and right hand rear suspension tie rod links.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997126; Units affected: 94
1997: These vehicles may have a torn seal between the fuel tank and sending unit pump. This may cause a fuel odour and/or leakage at the attachment location. In the presence of an ignition source, a fire could occur. Correction: left and right hand fuel tank assemblies (including fuel sending unit and pump) will be replaced.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997127; Units affected: 118
1997: These vehicles do not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 208 – seat belt installations. The seat belts on these vehicles incorporate an energy management loop that may not perform as intended. This could increase the occupant’s risk of injury in the event of a crash. Correction: both seat belt retractor assemblies will be replaced on affected vehicles.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000107; Units affected: 2,228
1997-2000: Certain vehicles may exhibit a condition in which the lap belt webbing may twist, allowing the webbing to become jammed in the retractor. When the belt webbing becomes jammed in the retractor, the belt may be unuseable. In a vehicle crash, and unbelted occupant may receive more severe injuries. Correction: Dealers will install inserts to the belt web guide of each lap belt retractor.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004052; Units affected: 5,132
1997-2004: On certain vehicles equipped with Electronic Column Lock systems (ECL), when the ignition switch is turned to “Lock”, the ECL prevents turning of the steering system. When the vehicle is started, the ECL unlocks the steering system. The vehicle is designed so that if the column fails to unlock when the vehicle is started and the customer tries to drive, the fuel supply will be shut off so that the vehicle cannot move when the vehicle cannot be steered. If voltage at the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) is low or interrupted, the fuel shut off may not occur and the vehicle can be accelerated while the steering system is locked. Correction: On vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission, the dealer will disable the steering column lock by removing the column lock plate. When the ignition key is removed, the transmission shifter will lock but the steering column will not lock. On vehicle equipped with a manual transmission, the dealer will reprogram the PCM. The steering column on these vehicles will continue to lock when the key is removed.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004206; Units affected: 1,411
2004: Certain vehicles were produced with lower control arm ball stud nut/washer assemblies with washers made of the wrong steel material. The washers may fracture and become loose or fall away from the vehicle, reducing clamp load. Separation of the control arm ball stud and steering knuckle, due to disengagement of the tapered attachment and retaining nut, is possible and may occur without prior indication to the vehicle operator. If the control arm separates from the knuckle, the affected corner of the vehicle will drop and the control arm would be forced downward, contacting the wheel. The affected wheel could tilt outward and create a dragging action that would tend to slow the vehicle and create a tendency for the vehicle to turn in the direction of the affected wheel. In extreme situations, the affected wheel assembly could separate from the vehicle. Separation of the wheel assembly would also sever that wheel’s hydraulic brake hose and result in diminished braking performance of the vehicle, which could result in a crash. Correction: Dealers will install a new nut and washer, and if required, replace the ball stud and/or steering knuckle.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.