Buyers Guide

Brandon's opinion about each year of Camaro. Which year should you buy? What are some common issues? Don't listen to consumer report type things, listen to a long time Camaro fan and owner. Read the buyer's guide below.

An overall summary of 1993 to 2002 Camaros


If you're looking to buy a 4th gen Camaro, you may want to know some of the nitty gritty differences between each year before you purchase. You might regret your decision and wish you went with a different year.

Problems:

  • All 4th gens have window motor issues if they have electric windows. They burn out often, especially if you get water inside the door or roll both windows down at the same time. Solution? Roll each window down one at a time, use them sparingly, or buy a Camaro with manual windows.
  • All '93-'97 LT1 V8 engine Camaros have a distributor called the optispark. If you get this very wet, you'll have to replace it, which takes a long time and is expensive. In 1995, GM switched to a vented optispark which is supposed to dry out. It sort of does, but getting it wet is still a major issue. It is located just under the throttle body. Do not wash the engine bay of an LT1 Camaro with a water hose. If you do any work under the hood involving water or coolant, you need to put a rag above the optispark to hopefully catch any fluids. You need to do this if you are refilling coolant and have the bleed valve on the water pump open to let air escape. You should not go through an automatic car wash that sprays the underbody of the car.
  • Concerning only LT1 Camaros, the real main seal, rear of the  intake manifold gasket, and oil pan gasket tend to develop leaks as the gasket gets old and brittle. If you see oil on the underside of an LT1 in these areas, it's very common, and doesn't particularly cause harm to anything. Just watch your oil level every thousand miles. Every 10 to 15 years or so these gaskets SHOULD all be changed. The engine must be dropped out of the car to properly replace these gaskets. (Personal anecdote: our '95 had 96k miles on it and the original gaskets. It leaked slowly from the intake manifold and oil pan gaskets, but not rear main seal. We never had to add oil because the leaks were extremely minor despite the appearance when the car was on a lift. However, what we didn't know, is that one time the thermostat not opening allowed the engine to overheat. This overheating allowed coolant to get into the engine due to thermal expansion and old gaskets, and thus the engine hydrolocked the next time the car was started. The engine had to be rebuilt.).
  • Concerning only LS1 Camaros, on a cold day with a cold engine, the pistons can make a slapping sound referred to as piston slap. This is normal and because there is a little bit of room in the cylinders for when the heads warm up and expand a minor amount. No cause for alarm.
  • All '98-'02 Camaros have a minor issue with the horn messing up if you spray water under the vehicle. If your car goes from having a normal sounding double horn to a wussy sounding single horn, you've gotten water inside one of them. Washing the engine bay with a hose isn't a big issue though.
  • The '93 to '97 aero-windshield wipers are difficult to find replacement blades for because they attach differently from most current cars. Either keep the wipers stock and just replace the inserts or buy wipers from NAPA Auto Parts, model number 60-024-9R. Most other brands will not attach to the wiper arms. Just about any windshield wipers fit the '98-'02, but the factory ones are Bosch black painted metal ones and NOT AC Delco plastic ones (at least for 2002...). 
  • If you're looking at getting a convertible keep in mind that convertible tops don't last forever and they aren't cheap to replace. Top replacement is $1,000+ usually and you'll want to inspect the top before purchasing the car. Sometimes the rear windows aren't done well.

Overview:

  • Two interior styles. '93-'96 and '97-'02. The seats in '93-'96 have bigger side bolsters and more durable leather. The '97-'02 seats have softer more spongy foam and less durable leather.
  • Two tail lamp styles. '93-'96 are red and white, '97-'02 are red, amber, and white.
  • Four engines. The weak V6 was '93-'95, the better V6 was '95 (California optional only, everywhere else '96) - '02. The LT1 V8 was '93-'97, the LS1 V8 was '98-'02.
  • Two front bumper styles (with different front fenders and hoods). '93-'97 with headlight buckets inspired by the 3rd gen Camaros. '98-'02 with hood bulges reminiscent of 2nd gen Camaros.

Year specific notes

1993

  • Only year of yellow lettering on the interior. Some of the switches are gray.
  • The LT1 engine and automatic transmission (just to keep things simple) are a bit primitive compared to later models and require '93 specific parts sometimes.
  • Manual transmission cars are rare and there were two different manual options.
  • No leather interior available.
  • T-tops have a dot matrix pattern like the hatchback glass instead of headliner material covers. (These are honestly really cool looking.)
  • There was a special edition this year commemorating the '93 Indianapolis 500, and the cars were black and white with special interiors and graphics. All were Z28 coupes with or without t-tops.

1994

  • No more yellow lettering or gray switches. Now white lettering and black switches (which are much more attractive).
  • The LT1 engine is a lot less primitive and the automatic transmission is now electronically controlled. Still has non-vented optispark.
  • Leather is available.
  • First year of convertibles.
  • An Arctic White Camaro, Z28, convertible, or convertible Z28 could be optioned with white painted (instead of silver painted) 'salad shooter' wheels. The RPO code was 40P. The same white salad shooters put on the '93 Pace Cars. This was a one-year-only option to my knowledge.

1995

  • Optional Bose speaker system is now 5 speakers instead of 3 and may go down as the best factory speaker system ever installed in a Camaro.
  • T-tops are now clear with headliner covers.
  • First year of a vented optispark on LT1 engines.
  • Last year of the weak V6 (the 3.4L L32 rated at 160hp), and some California cars have the new V6 (the 3.8L L36 rated at 200hp).
  • Last year of OBD I (onboard diagnostic system), and it is noteworthy that the '95s have an OBD II style connector instead of OBD I style.

1996

  • Last year of the jet-fighter style dash with more supportive seats and more durable leather.
  • Last year of the 2-color tail lamps.
  • Last year of the Bose 5-speaker optional system.
  • First year of two catalytic converters, boosting horsepower by 10.
  • First year of SS (slightly upgraded Z28) and RS (slightly upgraded base Camaro).
  • First year of optional Y87 (performance handling) on V6 Camaros, making them practically a new version of Camaro right between base model and Z28.
  • First year where every V6-equipped Camaro has the more powerful L36 engine.
  • First year of OBD II (onboard diagnostic system).

1997

  • First year of the new, better fitting, more refined dash and center console.
  • First year of the spongy seats with weak leather.
  • Last year of the early 4th gen front bumper.
  • First year of the new 3-color tail lamps.
  • Last year of the LT1.
  • Last year of RS.
  • Last year of the aero-windshield wipers (which are kind of cool to some people).
  • There was a 30th Anniversary special edition Camaro Z28 and SS this year. All were white with orange stripes and could be had in coupe or convertible form. Approximately 100 of the 30th Anniversary edition SS coupes without T-tops were produced with LT4 engines and can be identified by their red intake manifold.

1998

  • First year of the new late 4th gen front bumper.
  • First year of the LS1 engine.
  • Sport Appearance Package (RPO code Y3F) now available on Camaros regardless of engine (sometimes this is inaccurately referred to as the RS package).

1999

  • Other than very interesting '99-only paint colors, not much has changed since '98.

2000

  • First year of optional audio control steering wheel.

2001

  • In 2001 GM did an entire company-wide upgrade on transmissions, so supposedly higher quality parts are used in both the automatic and manual transmissions.
  • All LS1 engined cars received the LS6 intake, resulting in a small horsepower increase. The LS1 cars with manual transmissions received the LS6 clutch and slave cylinder.
  • First year of manual transmission cars all having an aluminum driveshaft.
  • Minor issues have all been fixed from previous years.
  • Last year of Mystic Teal Metallic paint color, which kind of represented one of the last unusual paint colors in the Camaro paint lineup.

2002

  • The last hurrah for the Camaro. Not much was changed from 2001.
  • There was a 35th Anniversary special edition this year. All were SSes and red with silver stripes and black scoop decal. Could be had in coupe with t-tops and convertible. No hard tops.


So which year do you recommend most?


For my personal taste, I believe the '96 Z28s were the best Camaros. 1996 was a high sales year, the paint colors were all good, flaws from previous years were fixed, and it was the last year of some very desirable features. GM hadn't started trying to be more frugal with the Camaro yet, because it wasn't slowly being killed off... yet. It was also the first year of the SS, and '96 to '97 SSes are very rare.

If you're looking for an LT1 Camaro, I'd stick with '95-'97. Find a '95-'96 with Bose speakers if you can. Look at '93s if you like the yellow lettering on the interior pieces or like the car's comparatively old fashioned engine and transmissions. (If you're old-school, you might enjoy modifying a '93 better than '94-'02). Look at '94s if you want the same paint colors as the '93s but want some of the benefits the '95s had.

If you're looking for an LS1 Camaro, I'd stick with '01-'02, because GM essentially ran out of things to change and they were the best of the LS1 cars. The downside to these two years is that they were some of the more boring paint color years. Almost all of the colors used these two years were high production colors. If you want a rare color, you're going to have to look at '98-'99.

If you're looking for a V6 Camaro, I'd stick with '96-'02 and look for one with the Y87 RPO code. Very few people even know about Y87, and it's truly a massive step up from a base model Camaro or Camaro RS ('96-'97 only) that may lack Y87. You can recognize it most easily by the Z28 dual exhaust (if the car is still unmodified and original) with rectangular exhaust tips. The engine in the '96 to '02 V6 Camaros was used in many GM cars, so parts are very plentiful. There aren't very many performance enhancements or much enthusiast support online for the '93-'95 V6, and it's kind of just a low-tech engine with not much going for it.

My personal ratings for each year


These ratings ARE biased because they are my personal opinions only. You may disagree.

1993 - 7/10
1994 - 8/10
1995 - 9/10
1996 - 10/10
1997 - 9/10
1998 - 8/10
1999 - 8/10
2000 - 8/10
2001 - 10/10
2002 - 10/10

Comments