If you’re considering buying a used sports car, the most important thing I can tell you is to find a first-rate mechanic or a shop you trust to inspect the car. Sports cars are made to be driven, and sometimes they are driven hard.
It’s not that there are all kinds of lemons and beaters (call ‘em what you will) out there or people ready to scam you. It’s a matter of getting value received, reducing your risk, and making sure the car you buy is the car you think it is. Your mechanic should be your second, and most trusted, set of eyes and ears.
To clarify: By “sports cars” I’m not talking about Mustangs or Camaros. I mean cars like Miatas, Boxsters, and Corvettes—not muscle cars and not sporty cars. The Honda S2000 (above), for instance, is a serious sports car with a high-revving engine, but it still made Consumer Reports’ most reliable used cars list this year. If I were buying one, I’d have my mechanic check everything from timing belt to compression, plus the running gear.
All the pre-inspection stuff you need to do we’ve outlined here, and most of these steps are valid whether you buy from a private party or a dealer. A checklist and a good step-by-step approach are offered on this site. For really detailed diagnosis, repair, and research info on your model of choice, as well as special service procedures, look at Alldatadiy.com.
If you are a regular reader of CarGurus, you probably know about the preliminaries of car shopping, including our DealFinder tool for finding the best used-car bargains.
In buying a used sports car, you’ll likely need to do more in-depth research about a particular make, model, and year—and whether any special problems have been noted. Our reviews and forums can frequently help. There are currently 22 discussions on our S2000 Club Forum, for example, on everything from prices to convertible top cleaning.
To conclude, I’ll tell you a quick story about buying a used ’92 Nissan 300ZX (right). The car I finally located in the Washington, D.C., area, where I lived in 1994, was a 2+2 five-speed, with 20,000+ miles and the standard 3-liter V6. The car was owned by a retired female army sergeant. Yes, I really wanted the Turbo, a very hot car, but was scared off by many stories of high-cost maintenance and hard-driving owners.
The sergeant was great to deal with, flexible on price, and the car checked out perfectly in a local Nissan shop. It turned out to be one of the best sports cars I’ve ever owned, and I’ve owned a bunch. Here’s what the CarGurus’ Review had to say about it:
The 1992 300ZX has a following of diehard enthusiasts, many of whom claim the car is the best they have ever driven. Fans praise the car’s peppy engine, good looks, and comfortable, well-designed interior. Owners say the handling is what really shines, making for a very fun ride. Drivers do caution that the car needs to be babied, and that repairs can be expensive, but also say that with good care the 1992 300ZX will last a long time.
I couldn’t agree more. (CarGurus users have posted 25 more mostly glowing reviews, which you can read here.)
Have you ever had a very good or very bad experience buying a used sports car?