What to Look Out for When Buying a Used Chevy Camaro


The Chevrolet Camaro went into production in 1966 as a 1967 model year and was designed as a direct competitor to the Ford Mustang. Because it’s been around for so long in six different generations there are a lot of them out there for sale used, but what do you need to look out for when buying a used Chevy Camaro?

To help you out if you’re considering buying a used Chevrolet Camaro and you want to know what to look out for, I’m going to cover:

  • History of the Chevy Camaro
  • First Generation Camaro
  • Second Generation Camaro
  • Third Generation Camaro
  • Fourth Generation Camaro
  • Fifth Generation Camaro
  • Sixth Generation Camaro
  • Are Used Camaros Expensive?
  • Potential Issues with used Camaros
  • The Competition
  • Should You Buy a Used Camaro – and if so which one?

History of the Chevrolet Camaro

The very first Chevy Camaro rolled off the production line in 1966 as a mid-size pony car rival to Ford’s incredibly successful Mustang. The first Camaro went on sale on 29th September 1966 and it shared a platform at the time with Pontiac Firebird that also went on sale for the 1967 model year.

It first arrived as a coupe, but a convertible variant also appeared just a year after the launch of the coupe. Both body styles were available in SS (Super Sport) designation, and a 1967 Camaro SS is now one of the most sought-after “barn finds” you could come across.

Four generations of the Camaro were produced by Chevy until the nameplate was discontinued in 2002. The Camaro name wasn’t consigned to the history books for long though, and a new Camaro was revived in concept form before eventually evolving into the car’s fifth-generation that went into production on March 16th, 2009.

To date, more than five million units of the Camaro have been sold and the current car is part of the sixth-generation that went on sale as a 2016 model year in late 2015. Although the sixth-generation Camaro shares the Alpha platform it’s built on with its GM stablemate the Cadillac CTS, more than 60 percent of the Camaro’s architectural components are unique to the Camaro and not shared with any other GM model.

First Generation Camaro

1967 Camaro SS

Because Chevy was rightly concerned with the runaway success of Ford’s relatively new Mustang, it came up with its own rear-wheel-drive 2+2 that was made available in two-door coupe and convertible body styles. Chevy already had the Corvair, of course, but due to its declining sales and rear-engine format, Chevrolet knew it needed something new to take on the all-conquering Ford Mustang.

Built at the time on GM’s F-body platform, the first-generation Camaro was available with a choice of two inline-six engines of 230 and 250 cubic inches (3.8-liter & 4.1-liter) and five V-8s that came in 302, 307, 327, 350 and 396 cubic inch versions (4.9-liter, 5.0-liter, 5.4-liter 5.7-liter & 6.5-liter).

If you are looking to buy a first-generation Camaro you’d better have deep pockets, especially if you want a good one. The most collectible version is the original 1969 ZL-1, but a 1969 Z/28 is another great option if your budget won’t run to an eye-wateringly expensive ’69 ZL-1.

There are only a few common issues to watch out for with a first-generation Camaro, and one of them is inevitably rust. Always be mindful to carefully check the provenance of what you’re buying, and if anything seems too good to be true it probably is. Rust can be a particular problem for those cars with a vinyl roof, and rear window regulators can be prone to freezing up due to lack of use.

Weak motor mounts could be a problem with early models, so check that they’ve been replaced or factor in the cost of replacing them. The mono leaf rear springs of the very first year models could damage the spring and shock mounts, but most of these things will have been sorted with any car you’re likely to buy today.

There are a lot of fake or ‘cloned’ Camaros out there, especially badged as SS or Z/28, so beware!

A first-generation Camaro is one of the greatest pony cars ever to be made. They’re relatively simple and straightforward to restore and maintain, and when properly looked after they’re only likely to increase in value.

Second Generation Camaro

The first-generation only stayed in production for three model years, so it never had the opportunity to get bloated, be watered down, or to be made relatively impotent through the imposition of emissions regulations. There were some real high points for the second-generation Camaro that can make some of them extremely desirable, but there were a lot of low points too, so you have to be careful which second-generation model you go for.

When the second-generation arrived in 1970 it had had to overcome several production problems relating to its styling, which was exotic, to say the least for a car coming out of Detroit at the time. The styling was muscular, curvy, complex and aggressive, and there was more Italian flair about it than anything we were used to seeing from American automakers.

Base engines were pretty underwhelming 250 cubic-inch inline-sixes that produced just 155 horsepower, so avoid these if you’re looking for an investment opportunity rather than a cheap second-generation model because you’re on a tight budget. The rest of the second-generation models came equipped with powerful V-8s, the car looked great, the chassis was stiff for good handling, the brakes were superb and the car went like a beast.

Unfortunately, new government regulations that were introduced in the first year of the second-generation production started the process of muzzling the Camaro. The Clean Air Act of 1970 instigated a ban on leaded gasoline by 1975 which lead to the drastically lowering of engine compression ratios and the loss altogether of some high-performance powerplants like the LT-1.

Amazingly, despite the neutering of the Camaro to meet the legislation and Chevy contemplating dropping the Camaro altogether, a strange thing happened as Camaro sales actually began to increase as competition fell away.

The Ford Mustang had been reborn as the Pinto-based Mustang II compact, AMC had taken the Javelin out of production, Chrysler discontinued the Dodge Challenger for the time being, and the likes of the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger had morphed into personal luxury coupes. To all intents and purposes, the muscle car was dead, and that pretty much left the dumbed-down Camaro in a field of one. Even the detuning appeared to have a positive effect as it made the Camaro appeal to a wider audience than it did in its more fire-breathing form previously.

Although second-gen Camaros don’t have quite the cache of their first-generation predecessors, they’re still very collectible and desirable cars, especially if you can get your hands on a 1970 model with the original un-muted V-8 engine.

Rust is still the main problem you’re likely to come up against with a second-gen Camaro, but these are still pretty old cars so all the usual wear and tear items have to be looked at. If you can get one at a decent price though, these are cars that make great projects for restoration.

Third Generation Camaro

Third Generation Camaro IROC-Z

The third-generation Camaro was in production between 1982 and 1992, and you only have to look at one to realize that this was very much a product of its times. They were the first Camaros to offer buyers the modern tech of fuel injection, as well as four-speed automatic transmissions, five-speed manuals, a hatchback body style, and horror or muscle car horrors – a standard four-cylinder engine!

Although the base engine was a meager 2.5-liter inline-four that produced just 90 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque, this third-gen Camaro managed to shed around 470 pounds from the previous generation so the power-to-weight ratio wasn’t as disastrous as it might have been.

As the years went by the transmissions got better and engines became more powerful, and a 1985 facelift brought us the IROC-Z which is now regarded as the most iconic and memorable Camaro of that generation.

Common problems to look out for include cracking paint, headlight motors failing, noisy and badly fitting t-tops. The interior relied heavily on plastic trim which cracks and breaks easily, and getting replacement trim pieces can be difficult and expensive. Apart from that, just look at a third-gen Camaro as being susceptible to the same ravages of time as any car that’s 30 to 40 years old.

Fourth Generation Camaro

When the fourth-generation Camaro was unveiled in 1993 its styling was a definite upgrade on what had come before with the previous generation. The exterior threw off the boxy, clunky look of the 1980s and instead embraced a much sleeker, sportier look that still stands up well today. The fourth-generation Camaro stayed in production until 2002.

Four-cylinder engines were nowhere to be seen this time around as the standard powerplant was a 3.4-liter V-6, and a 3.8-liter V-6 was then introduced in 1995.

Although a celebratory 35th-anniversary edition was produced for the 2002 model year, production of the F-Body platform and the Camaro that used it was discontinued because of dwindling sales, a shrinking domestic market for sports coupés in general and production overcapacity.

Other than usual used car wear and tear issues, the only common issues reported for fourth-generation Camaro models were similar to those of the third-generation such as cracked plastic interior trim and rust in the usual places, although rust is less of an issue with later fourth-gen models.

It has to be said that there were quality issues with the fifth-generation, and as these cars age, these problems obviously don’t get any better. This generation of Camaro is still very much an aging car rather than a classic, but if you can get a low mileage model in good condition it might become a minor classic in years to come as long as you sort out some of those quality issues.

Fifth Generation Camaro

It’s probably not a very controversial thing to say that the completely redesigned fifth-generation Camaro was unlike any Camaro that went before it. Returning after an eight-year hiatus, the nameplate came back with a bang in 2009 as a 2010 model and stayed in production until it was replaced by the sixth-generation model in 2015.

The final design of the all-new model was led by GM Holden in Australia, and the new car went on sale in LS, LT and SS trim levels. Under the hoods of LS and LT models was a 3.6-liter V-6 that developed 312 horsepower, which sent the power to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. SS models represent a big step up in power thanks to a 6.2-liter V-8 producing a very worthy 426 horsepower, and these are always likely to be the most sought-after examples in the future.

Although the aggressive, comic-book styling of the fifth-generation Camaro might not be to everyone’s taste, in 2010 it was actually named winner of the World Car Design of the Year accolade at the World Car of the Year Awards. For those who still don’t like it though, it has to be said that the award was unveiled on April 1st. Make of that what you will, especially if you’re an old-school Camaro purist.

The quality of materials used on this generation of the Camaro was an upgrade from the previous generation, but buyers still continue to report problems with the car’s build quality and overall quality control.

While you can go online and find various problems reported with the fifth-gen Camaro by owners and former owners, there are no intrinsic issues to look out for beyond things you would normally check for with any used car. If you can find an early model in good condition with reasonable miles it can be a cheap way of getting an attractive muscle car that looks as modern today as it did when it was launched.

Sixth Generation Camaro

In time for the 50th birthday of the Camaro, Chevy launched the sixth-generation in 2015 as a 2016 model year. Although this model looks strikingly similar to the previous generation, it has to be noted that it’s a whole 200 pounds lighter than its fifth-generation counterpart.

Even though a four-pot has appeared under the hood once again, this is now a result of advancing small-displacement technology rather than a muzzling of the muscle car like we saw with the second-generation in the 1970s.

Today, we even have a ZL1 1LE Package for the Camaro, which is a full three seconds faster around GM’s Milford Road Course than any previous ZL1 Camaro. The package reduces the car’s weight by a further 60 pounds and it squeezes 650 horsepower out of its supercharged LT4 V-8 and six-speed manual transmission.

The sixth-gen Camaro might look a lot like the fifth-generation, but it’s now packed to the gills with the latest technology to make it a genuine competitor for European and Japanese rivals in terms of power, performance, comfort and connectivity.

Are Used Camaros Expensive?

You can pick up a decent used Camaro for as little as $8,000, but you can also pay well north of $100k for a pristine first-generation ZL-1, Z-28 or SS. Like any car, there are massive variations in what you can pay for any particular model, but there are still opportunities to get a cheap Camaro that’s far enough away from the breaker’s yard to be worth saving.

The most affordable models according to the CarGurus average price index are 1995, 1998, and 1999 models year examples, all of which command an average price of around $8,500. For about a thousand dollars more you can get yourself a ’94, ’96, 2000 or 2001 model, with the 2001 and 2000 model being slightly cheaper than the ’94 and ’96 versions.

Below is a table showing what the averages prices are you can expect to pay for each generation of the Camaro.

Generation / Model Years Average Price Range Average Price
1st Generation 1967-1969$50,949 – $65,595$55,935
2nd Generation 1970-1981$19,371 – $46,847$31,433
3rd Generation 1982-1992$13,246 – $16,176$14,881
4th Generation 1993-2002$8,466 – $14,079$10,105
5th Generation 2010-2015$14,166 – $18,070$15,925
6th Generation 2016 – $23,118 – $33,257$27,749
*Based on data from CarGurus

When the first Camaro went on sale all those years ago in 1966 the most affordable version was priced at just $2,466. Today, the most affordable version of the Camaro has a starting MSRP of $25,000.

Potential Issues with Used Camaros

I’m going to make a distinction here between different Camaro models and people buying Camaros for different reasons. If you’re going to be buying a 1960s or 1970s car you’re probably going to be doing at least some sort of restoration and you’re going to find age-related problems at least, so what makes a car one to walk away from and what makes a car one to buy will depend on your circumstances.

If you are a more general used car buyer and you fancy a used muscle car, you’re probably going to be looking at a much more modern Camaro such as something from 2010 onwards.

There are three areas you might want to focus on if you’re considering a fifth-generation Camaro then, which are the engine, the paintwork and the timing chain.

Some fifth-gen Camaros have been reported to suffer from spluttering or stalling of the engine at low speeds, and several complaints about this very problem were reported to the NHTSA. If you scour online Camaro forums though, this doesn’t appear to be a particularly widespread issue.

It seems as though the paint on fifth-gen models isn’t all it could be, and both the paint and the clear coat are far too susceptible to damage for a relatively modern car. Overall, owners appear less than impressed by the overall quality of the fifth-gen model’s paintwork.

All sorts of GM models with the company’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine have been reported to suffer from their timing chains becoming stretched and having to be replaced far earlier than should be the case with a timing chain. Although it can occur in a Camaro with this engine it seems the Camaro is less likely to suffer from the problems than some other GM models.

The Competition

Today’s Chevrolet Camaro may be a similar format to the original of the late 1960s, but it’s perhaps a more polarizing model than some of its predecessors. It’s rarely beaten its arch-rival, the Ford Mustang, in the sales charts, and it’s not hard to see why that’s the case with today’s car.

The styling of the current Camaro is aggressive and very distinct, and it’s also a much smaller car today than it used to be. In fact, even Camaro devotees have complained about the relative lack of space inside the sixth-gen model, which is incredibly small compared to the likes of the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger.

As well as the Challenger, Charger and Ford Mustang, other rivals of the Camaro include the BMW 4 Series, the Corvette C8, and that’s about it really.

Should You Buy a Used Camaro – and if so, Which One?

If you like the Camaro and the way it looks – and some look very different to others – it’s actually a pretty good car that looks good, goes well (most models), and doesn’t really have too many inherent problems to report.

If you want a genuine classic you can certainly find plenty for sale, but you’re probably going to have to pay a lot to get a good one or a bad one these days. You could snag a second-gen model in decent shape for around $20,000, but it will probably be one of the later ones with the underpowered engines.

The fourth-generation looks like the sweet spot to me if you’re looking to buy a Camaro in the hope of it one day appreciating in value. They’re pretty cheap to buy right now and they look way better than the earlier and considerably more expensive third-gen models. It’s got to be easier to like the look of a fourth-gen Camaro than the very dated 1980s third-generation, and that’s going to be important if you intend living with it for a long time.

If you’re a more of a regular used car buyer who fancies a fifth or sixth-gen Camaro then go ahead and get one. As long as the paint is ok and there are no signs of damage, especially damage that’s been badly repaired, you’re not going to find too much wrong other than usual used car wear and tear issues.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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