Depreciation Appreciation: 2012-2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Welcome to Depreciation Appreciation! Every month, your friends at autoTRADER.ca dig up an instance of how depreciation can make for an extraordinary used car deal.

This time around, it’s a big great slice of all-American firepower – with the last full generation of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

This supercharged rocket-sled hit the road in 2011 for model year 2012, packing big power, hugely capable handling and braking, and a bevvy of cosmetic and chassis upgrades fitting of a boy-racer’s plaything.

You could have your ZL1 served up your way too: thanks to the availability of both manual or automatic transmissions, and coupe or convertible body styles. All units were two-door four-seaters with rear-wheel drive.

Here’s the magic of a used ZL1: this high-performing beast challenged many of the world fastest semi-attainable cars on the cheap when it was new, and as a used buy, solid-looking reliability and relatively accessible pricing mean a ZL1 shouldn’t be too hard on your wallet for the long haul (outside of fuel bills, perhaps).

The Sticky

Named after a prototype Camaro engine model from Chevrolet’s racing past, the ZL1 took a place at the top of the Camaro lineup with targeted track-ready modifications, and a unique, street-smart look. The supercharged LSA V8 engine displaced 6.2 litres and cranked out 580 horsepower. That’s good for a four-second 0–100km/h run, en route to a sub 12-second quarter-mile pass and a top speed exceeding 180 miles per hour. Yahoo!

The ZL1’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension ensured precise body motion control during track driving, while optimizing ride quality and comfort when drivers were just headed to Food Basics. Fully featured, the ZL1 packed OnStar, navigation, air, cruise, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, heated leather, and plenty more.

All said, though the ZL1 was engineered to thrill on the world’s fastest race courses, it’s also more than suitable for day-to-day use. You get near-supercar performance, but ZL1 is not so classy or finicky that you can’t eat fries from a greasy box on the dash, either.

Approximate New Value

When brand-spanking-new, the Camaro ZL1 lightened the bank accounts of buyers by no less than $58,000 in a base coupe configuration. The ZL1 Convertible appeared from 2013, with a sticker of $64,250. Pricing crept up very slightly over the years, but let’s call this one a $60,000 car for much of its life for starters, with options driving the price up by thousands more.

Approximate Used Value

For around $40,000, numerous models are on offer, often with under 35,000 kilometres. Here’s one example of a 2013 model with 48,000 kilometres of use for sale at under $40,000. And another, though the paint job on this one may not be everyone’s bag of Tostitos.

For those with higher budgets, a model like this ZL1 Convertible packs plenty of toys and just 26,000 kilometres of use for under $49,000. Here’s another nicely loaded convertible with very low miles for under $50,000.

With reasonable mileage and a few years of use, the ZL1 appeals as a high-value used performance car buy in terms of price, and maybe even more so for solid-looking reliability.

Your best value is likely around the $40,000 mark – where you’ll get a track-tuned weapon with the better part of 600 horsepower for about the same money as a fully loaded Honda Accord.

Best of all, you probably won’t be paying out the nose for maintenance and repairs, provided you buy a used unit that’s in tip-top shape. Read on for some tips to make that happen.

Test Drive Tips

To ensure you wind up with a used ZL1 that isn’t planning to turn your wallet inside out, and to minimize the likelihood of unpleasant surprises, be sure to note the following.

First, approach any used unit with low expectations: assume that the tires, brakes, and clutch are toast, and that all fluids require replacing (including the transmission fluid, brake fluid, and differential fluid), until you have a GM-trained technician confirm otherwise via a professional pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

If your budget allows it, a ZL1 offered through a certified pre-owned (CPO) program at a Chevrolet dealer is a good idea for maximum peace of mind, as CPO models undergo a comprehensive inspection, offer additional warranty coverage, and must meet a higher quality standard than privately sold units.

Also, assume the vehicle’s seller has voided any remaining (extended) warranty coverage by installing non-factory performance parts or engine software, perhaps to crank up the supercharger boost for more power. Modified models are best avoided by the average shopper, as many popular modifications can cause headaches, void remaining warranty coverage, or damage the vehicle. Many owners modify their ZL1 with no issue, though the average shopper is best to stick to stock.

Don’t stretch your budget. Understand the costs of maintenance, fluid changes, replacement tires and brakes, and fuel and insurance, before you buy. As a high-performing car, the ZL1 has a fairly intensive maintenance schedule that must be adhered to for maximum long-term reliability, and replacement parts can be pricey.

Have a technician put the car on a hoist and look for fluid leaks – particularly around the transmission, engine oil cooler and shock absorbers. While your potential new ZL1 is in the air, that mechanic can check the condition of the suspension bushings, the driveshaft joints, rear differential bushings, and steering system in minutes.

Skip any model that exhibits signs of unexplainable slippage, harshness, or “clunking” from its manual transmission, or exhibits excessive clunking or binding sounds and sensations from its rear differential during sharp, low-speed turns. These can indicate signs of trouble.

Well-documented issues with the supercharger on certain ZL1 units saw dealers replacing defective blowers, which may have been suffering from a bad bearing. A rattling sound at idle with the hood open is a telltale sign of trouble – so be sure to listen for it. Ask a GM dealer service advisor to determine if the supercharger on the unit you’re considering might be affected, or has ever been replaced. The warranty on the supercharger may be extended as well, depending on the year and model. Your dealer service advisor has the scoop, but they’ll need the VIN number to look it up.

Aside from the fairly rare issue of bad superchargers, the ZL1 looks to be very solid from a reliability standpoint, provided it wasn’t driven violently by past owners, and that all maintenance has been kept consistently up to date.

Finally, budget a few bucks for a battery trickle charger, and use it when you’ll park the ZL1 for more than a few days at a time. This can help prevent frustrating electronic problems caused by a weak battery.

The Verdict

At around $40,000, a lower-mileage used Camaro ZL1 looks like a compelling used buy with most reported issues being rare, and easy to detect before your purchase with a little extra effort. A healthy used ZL1 should provide thrilling access to world-class motoring on the relative cheap.

$40,000 opens the door on Chevrolet’s 580-horsepower performance plaything! 5/10/2018 8:00:00 AM