WHICH ONE SHOULD I GET?
The first decision that you will need to make is which one- there are two different generations to choose from: the AP1, made from 2000-2003, and the AP2, made from 2004-2009.
To further differentiate the AP2, it has two “sub generations” to choose from, commonly called the “AP2v1” (from 2004-2005) and the “AP2v2” (from 2006-2009).
The S2000 only ever had one sub-model or “trim” level, and that was the CR or “Club Racer” edition (2008-2009).
Which one should you pick? Let’s start with the two generations.
The 2.0L F20C with the 9000 RPM redline is tons of fun. If you like winding out a Honda, this is definitely the engine for you. The tachometer runs the full width of the gauge pod, making it slightly more readable (and fun). The higher redline makes the car feel much more lively and sporty. This, combined with the AP1 gearing, allows you to push the car on the street, in town, and feel like you are pushing it to the edge, without necessarily having to speed. The suspension tuning on the AP1, especially the 2000-2001 models, is also the most aggressive with respect to being on-edge and tail-happy. It’s a lot of fun, and for many, is the purest form of the S2000. Minor changes year to year from 2000 to 2003 include suspension tuning, plastic rear window (2000-2001) vs glass (2002-2003), and engine oil bolt/oiling improvements (2003+, see more info below).
The AP2 F22C motor featured an increased displacement to 2.2L and a correspondingly lowered redline (8000 RPM). The power remained about the same, but torque was increased a small amount (almost imperceptible to some). For most people, if you have not driven an AP1 much, you would not even notice the lowered redline. True to most Hondas, it is still a very responsive and very fun motor to drive. Generally, only owners of AP1’s are ever critical of the AP2 lower redline. Among other changes, the seats are a bit wider and more comfortable for larger drivers. All AP2’s got a glass rear window, the improved oil jet bolts, and improved retainers (see below). Factory wheels were both larger and wider, and suspension tuning changed a bit more to improve handling to make the vehicle more stable as well. Finally, the AP2 received a number of small styling updates, such as the “scalloped” front and rear bumper skins, oval exhaust tips instead of round, updated interior console, and a metalized radio door cover.
Among the AP2 vehicles, there were a few notable differences from the “AP2v1” (2004-2005) and the “AP2v2” (2006-2009). First, the wheels. People generally prefer the stock “v2” wheels over the “v1.” Sizes were the same, but the style changed slightly. Perhaps the largest difference was under the hood- starting in 2006 the ECU became “flashable” and the vehicle went to throttle-by-wire. This significantly cleaned things up under-the-hood, replacing various idle controls and vacuum lines as the system became much simpler. This had the added benefit of becoming more easily compatible with Hondata’s FlashPro system, without the need to convert the system to a flashable ECU (possible, but expensive on prior S2000’s). The AP2v2 also finally had stability control built-in, a feature that was not available prior.
What to Look for - Normal Car Stuff
When looking for any used car, you should look for indications of prior body work, non-factory modifications, and other issues that may affect the value of the vehicle or indicate inferior condition or maintenance issues. Some of the more important ones:
- Try your best to get a service history for the vehicle. For sure, get a Carfax VIN report. Carfax in particular will provide more information than some of the more “budget” VIN check services. Look for evidence of damage, unusually high or low miles between inspections, or other issues that stand out as unusual. Any of these are worth investigating. Try and see if you can get paperwork (a log or actual receipts) from the original owner if you can. If you’re not buying from the previous owner, check the globe box, under or behind the seat, or in the trunk. Many times private owners will keep this information stored in the car and car dealers may not find or bother to remove it.
- If possible, have the vehicle inspected by a reputable mechanic (preferably that is familiar with Hondas, and the S2000). Have a compression test done. This involves removing the spark plugs and using a compression tester (available at any parts store). Since parts have to be removed, and it takes about a half hour, many dealers will not agree to this. If so, you may want to keep looking, as you can probably find a private party seller that is willing to do it.
- Every stock removable body panel on the S2000 has a VIN tag (hood, fenders, doors, trunk lid, and bumper skins). Check for the presence of the tag and make sure the VINs match. Any missing ones indicate panel replacement. Look for overspray from a recent paint job on them as well.
- Along these lines, also look for bite marks on fender bolts (marks on the bolts themselves, or around the bolts where they were moved from their original location. Honda paints their vehicles after the hood and fenders are installed (but not the bumpers). As such, if they fenders, hood, or trunk are ever replaced, the paint will usually get nicked on the bolts and leave a “witness mark” where it used to be when it is removed and replaced.
- Look for missing front wheel well liners and lower undertray plastic. The nose undertray goes all the way back to the engine. These can get ripped off if the vehicle is “high sided” on something, or ever went offroad. They are also parts commonly removed during maintenance or by people who lower their vehicle and/or try to run much larger tires than stock. They are expensive to replace as you usually have to buy them new from Honda. They are moderately important to keep water spray down under-hood, and keeping rocks from “pimpling” the front fenders from underneath.
- Look for shadetree types who jacked up the car under the unit body or trunk well (i.e. not the proper jack points). While not a problem per se, it indicates the level of competence of the person who did it, and may be an indicator of shoddy work.
- Make sure the spare tire and all the tools are in the trunk including the eye bolt (the S2000 has no integrated tow hooks; a single eye bolt and extension are supplied with the tools in the trunk well, and these screw into a hole in the front and rear bumper beams when needed). These can be quite handy to have in an emergency, and can be fairly expensive to replace (again, usually a dealer item, most junkyards can’t find them, even if they ever get them).
- Look for evidence of aftermarket holes (holes that look like they are rough, hand-drilled or cut, or missing paint) and other unusual marks (scratches, scuffs) in the engine bay. Extra holes usually indicate the presence of aftermarket items and may indicate abuse or other/hidden issues.
- Make sure the original intake air box is included. A quick Google Image search will show you what it looks like and where it goes. If you are not in the market for an aftermarket intake, this may be a hard item to find, at least with all the required parts and in good condition.
- Check for camber wear on the tires (actually look at the inside edges of the tires). The OE Honda alignment is aggressive and the car chews up tires. Same for brakes, if it’s driven the least bit hard. Tires, rotors, and pads are a fair bit pricier for the S2000 than most other Hondas.
- Check all bushings and ball joints and boots under the car. This is best done on a lift, but is (mostly) possible by getting on your hands and knees. Make sure the ball joint boots are not torn (not terribly expensive, but they add up). Check the steering rack boots for tears, as well as the rear halfshaft CV boots. The latter rarely tear, but if they are torn or cracked, can be very expensive to replace as the joint inside can wear out. There are cost-effective options for these axles but expect to spend at least $120 a side for the part plus installation.
What to Look for - Convertible Top
Make sure the top doesn’t have tears or wear marks (they start from the inside out, usually) where the fabric rubs the support bars. It can be patched (Dritz black Twill iron-on patches work great) but the sales price should reflect the cost of this. A new top is $400+ (aftermarket) or $950+ (OEM), just for the top, and it’s a 8 hr or so install for most shops. Only use a reputable shop that has done an S2000 top before for the install. It’s more involved than most vehicles to get it right.
Make sure the rear plastic is in good shape (if 00-01); if not, it can be replaced by itself but is almost $250, not including labor. These were prone to surface scratches, yellowing, cracking, and distortion marks halfway up (where they fold) unless they were meticulously cared for.
Check the weatherstripping on the soft top frame to make sure it is not torn, cracked, or fails to make contact all the way around the door window. Note that aftermarket tops may not fit very well and take a lot of massaging to fit right. Even if it has a new top, check fitment. The OEM top, installed properly (such as when it was put on at the factory), fits VERY well, does not leak, and does not result in much wind noise at all.
Make sure the latches latch securely and operate properly. They are expensive to replace. Once secured, they should not rattle when you tap on them, and the top should not move when you push up on it.
Make sure the power top motors work well and don’t seem to strain at all. Working properly it’s up and down in just 7 secs (was the fastest power convertible top available, when new) and doesn’t sound like it strains.
What to Look for – Test Drive
This is partly “normal” car stuff, but a big warning sign is if it dies at a light or bogs down and shudders badly. This can be an indication of a lot of things, as simple as a new set of spark plugs, or as complicated and expensive as worn pistons and cylinder walls (requiring a full rebuild). If the engine feels anything less than extremely smooth and responsive, something is likely wrong.
Ticking can also be an issue. Loud ticking may be a sign of needing a valve adjustment, or it may be a sign of a failing Timing Chain Tensioner (TCT). The TCT was a known issue on the S2000, and is not expensive or difficult to replace. Determining if it is needed can be hard (generally the next thing to try after a valve adjustment).
If you hear loud knocking, walk away. Generally a loud knocking noise can only be rod knock. Given the S2000’s tendency to burn oil, especially 2000-2002 models (and if non-synthetic or low quality oil is used), many S2000’s have spun rod bearings due to running at low oil levels for too long. If you hear a knocking sound, just walk away. A used JDM motor or junkyard motor will likely run $3500+, just for the motor. Be prepared for a $1000 installation fee. Rebuilds will be in a similar price range.
Bald tires show up quick on the S2000 ( it will feel tail happy). A bad alignment can also make the car feel very unstable. There should be no odd rattles or squeaks, even old S2k’s hold up well suspension wise. Check the shocks to make sure they are not leaking. They are not terribly expensive or difficult to replace, but should be taken into account for pricing purposes.
Check for vibration on hard acceleration. This may indicate worn CV joints. As noted above, these can be expensive to replace due to their limited use on just the S2000. This is generally not a major problem, though (won’t result in a critical failure) until well after the vibration becomes unbearable.
You should always make sure that a vehicle doesn’t have a check engine light (or other warning lights) on when you test drive. In particular, make sure the Electric Power Steering (EPS) works and there is no light. It’s usually expensive to fix, with a starting price for component replacement over $500. It is also difficult for anyone without access to dealer tools (which Marcucci Motorsports has) to properly diagnose the failed component.
People do this as a reliability upgrade for AP1’s. The fact is that the AP1 retainers are fine, as long as the motor isn’t over-revved or driven hard on-track. Sometimes that’s hard. It’s nearly impossible to check, and you can’t do it without taking off the valve cover. If this was done, make sure it was done by a reputable shop. If it was not done, and you buy an AP1, consider doing it. Marcucci Motorsports charges $275 to do it. We think it’s worth the additional insurance and recommend you check any car you buy for cracked retainers, and to see if it’s done.
AP1 03+ and AP2 Oil Bolts and Oil Consumption
Let us start by saying that these motors are awesome and actually pretty tough. HOWEVER, the AP1 does rev to 9k, the AP2 to 8k, and both turn at more than 4000 RPM under most highway cruising… so most of these cars have a lot of rev’s on them. As such, they wear faster than your average Honda. Keep this in mind when looking at higher-mile examples. Generally speaking, they simply do not last much more than 150k miles, unless babied, and if so, almost never last past 175 to 200k miles.
Additionally, the oil jet bolts had a slightly too-low flow for aggressive track use. Grandma’s car should be fine, but I would stay away from any high-mile (more than 70k mile) AP1s or aggressively driven ones that haven’t had the oil jet bolts upgraded. The bolts are less than $50, and while they require oil pan removal, they only require about 3 hours to swap out. Definitely worth the insurance. We’ve seen a lot of bore scoring on AP1’s that didn’t have the bolts upgraded.
Clutches for this car are ridiculously expensive (easily 2x the cost of most Hondas). Make sure it engages well, doesn’t slip, shudder, etc. Flywheels are expensive, too, if it feels like it’s worn spotty. Generally, we will buy and install the OEM clutch friction disc, which is the most affordable solution to a slipping clutch that is otherwise OK (flywheel and pressure plate wear is acceptable).
Stay way the hell away from any S2000 with any evidence of underbody rust. We would always recommend this on any car, but on the S2000, the front subframe bolts tend to rust in place when exposed to a high-salt environment, or old age. They have to come out for a clutch job. If they rust, they invariably snap, and you are in for a 2 to 4 hour process of drilling the bolt out and retapping the threads in the unit body. This requires subframe removal, new (expensive) drill bits, and new bolts.
Bent Knuckles & Bent/Broken Control Arms & Mounts
This is less likely, but something to beware of. The S2000 suspension is a marvel of design and function. Honda, though went “minimalist” on their design, and there are known weak points. Look to see if there is uneven tire wear. If the vehicle has an alignment problem, there is a fair chance that it has a bent component. The suspension is fully adjustable, but by the time a vehicle is sold, it generally has been aligned or checked. If it can be aligned, it usually will have already been.
Have the vehicle put on a lift if you can, and look for obviously bent or damaged components. It does not take much damage to prevent the S2000 from being properly aligned. These components can also be expensive and time consuming to replace.
In extreme curb hits, or repeated hard track use, the upper control arm mounting tabs may tear away from the body. This is a known weak point on the S2000. Whenever buying a used one, it is a good idea to check this. This can be repaired (tabs re-welded to the unit body), but is an expense that will need to be accounted for.
The leather in these cars was not Honda’s best work. It’s hard to find one with decent seats unless it is a low-mile garage queen. Know, though, that there are plenty of products that can re-dye the leather if it’s worn (but not outright cracked). We have had good luck with cleaning up old seats, as long as they are not cracked, with a few products and a technique we have perfected over the years. Any good upholstery shop should be able to help. If you find a vehicle with cracked seats, know that recovering them can cost upwards of $1000, and even marginal condition seats run $250 and up, used.
Something to watch out for are “converted” cars. A lot of enthusiasts like to swap AP2 body parts to an AP1. This requires some drilling and cutting, so you should be aware of this if you find an AP1 with AP2 bumper skins or taillights.
We hope that these tips help you out in your search. Know that if you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and would like to bring us a vehicle to evaluate, we offer a full inspection service with a written report for $70. We also provide free estimates which can help you negotiate as well as recondition any used S2000 you might decide to purchase.