When to Walk Away from a Porsche 911

Recently I found a reasonably priced Porsche 996 while scouring Craigslist. Something I do on a daily basis. This particular Porsche 911 Carrera was a white on black 1999 coupe with 92k miles. That’s fairly low mileage for a 15 year old car. Inside, the car was good with a little wear on the touch surfaces to show it’s age. It was clearly daily driver spec, and that’s what I was wanted – the Porsche 911 to take anywhere at any time and not worry about it.

The seller was kind enough to hand me the keys to have a pre-purchase inspection performed at a shop on the far other side of town. He told me there was an airbag light on – likely due to a faulty receptacle – and the transmission was recently replaced with a newer used one due to grinding gears but the clutch was original. Naturally, I asked about the rear main seal and intermediate shaft bearing, to which the seller said they were inspected when the transmission was out and showed no sign of wear. The replacement transmission raised a little concern but if it shifted fine putting around town and at high RPM, then I figured it’s likely good. As for the rear main seal and intermediate shaft bearing, can’t see those from underneath so I would have to take the seller’s word and hope we don’t see any oil while the 911 is on the lift.

Porsche 996 Gauge Cluster with Airbag Light

It had been a while since I last drove a Porsche 911 and I’ll say that the clutch seemed oddly firm. Much more so than I was expecting. The engagement point was low, just as I like, but this certainly didn’t feel like what I was expecting. During this time I put on maybe 70 miles through the city in stop and go traffic and stretched the legs a bit on the highway. The 911’s speedometer is a half-sized gauge to the left of the tachometer, which it is positioned dead center. Driver’s car remember. RPM matters. Speed is a by-product. And speaking of, the speedometer digits are so tightly spaced it’s a good thing Porsche added a large digital readout resides below. I had this thing close to no-no-no MPH several times without even realizing it. In no way am I saying that this 300 horsepower, 3.4 liter, engine is an animal – but in a sub 3,000 pound car it sure does accelerate with ease. Sensation of speed really sets in around 5k RPMs and doesn’t relent until 7k RPM. If the road avails, you’ll definitely hit the next gear because the engine is so smooth and that flat 6 sound is so delicious!

Interior design is all opinion. I personally liked the design but felt the execution was under par for such an expensive car in its day. There are a lot of buttons and touchy-feely bits that tend to show wear on these cars. Or they simply break. The seats, while powered and semi-bolstered, were not all that supportive, nor all that comfortable. The steering wheel is adjustable fore and aft but not up and down – a bummer but I made it work. The rear-view mirror was manual tilt and the driver’s side mirror vibrated at speed. Checking your 7 or 8 was like watching handheld footage from a wooden roller coaster – charm I’d expect from 80’s Toyota Tercel.

Worn Porsche 996 Shift Knob

Continuing on, the shift knob was worn, as was the emergency brake handle and the top of the steering wheel. The shifter action, or throw, was not precise. It was downright sloppy if I’m honest. Fresh bushings at the very least would be necessary but a short throw kit would likely be one of the first modifications.

Oh, and the back seat space – the Porsche 996 will most definitely haul kids. Surprisingly, it has more rear leg room than the GT86 twins. I wouldn’t try squeezing any of your friends in the back… okay, maybe your mother-in-law.

If you didn’t pick up from the above, I wasn’t impressed by the interior materials. The dash, the door cards, the buttons. Either hard plastics or flimsy buttons. The radio and stereo worked fine but sounded muffled by the engine. Granted, nobody buys a car like this to listen to music. Point I’m making is that this didn’t feel like a car that was once $70,000. The 996 interior barely felt like like $15,000, which is funny because that’s more or less the seller’s asking price. But this is a performance car. The interior short comings can be overlooked if the mechanical bits fared well during the pre-purchase inspection.

A quick test drive by the lead technician at IMA Motorwerkes confirmed what I had thought about the clutch. One of the previous owners had installed a high performance pressure plate and that was giving my left leg a workout. The clutch was certainly no deal breaker, but surely didn’t support a high daily drive-ability score.

1999-porsche-911-carrera-996-profile-20150927_133413

The point of the pre-purchase inspection is to get a better idea of the used car you’re about to buy. Once we had the car up on the lift it was time to put down the googles and get serious.

As expected at a PPI, we found things that needed attention. Most were not major but a few raised my concern. Watch the video below or continue reading. Or both.

First thing that was done was a computer scan to see what codes were present. That airbag light? Looks like a faulty passenger belt receptacle that would be about $220. This car showed minimal over-revving which was good and a few minor faults. Most notable was a bad oxygen sensor that would cost about $150.

The key was difficult to turn in the ignition and needed jiggling in order for the lights to come on. Once jiggled, the lights stayed on. Removing the key was also difficult and required finessing to get right. The ignition was failing and required an entirely new assembly with coded keys. The price, parts only was about $800. Labor another couple of hours.

The front hood wouldn’t stay open and was bound to eat me if I didn’t replace the struts. The rear trunk, or frunk, or whatever it’s called that covers the engine compartment also had blown struts. Chalk up another $200.

Moving on to the suspension, the front struts were not tight, meaning they were showing their age and should be replaced to improve handling, stopping and overall a safety hazard. We also discovered that the rear sway bar bushings were toast. Those parts alone would tally close to $600.

Finally, my main concern, the engine. All belts and hoses looked good. Air filter was clean and exhaust was in good shape. Moving further forward we shone a light on the transmission and followed it back to the engine. There was a dark color at the bottom of the engine where it mated to the transmission. Exactly what I did not want to see. The dark spot was oil and could be coming from either the rear main seal or the intermediate shaft bearing. Unfortunately, without removing the transmission we had no way of knowing which it was, but it definitely needed further investigation. Cost to pull the transmission and replace both RMS and IMS? $2,000 minimum. Bank on $3,000 as it would be a waste of time not to install a new clutch while the transmission is dropped.

Now you see why the community swears by the PPI on these cars. If I had purchased this Porsche 911 for $15,000 I would have shortly been investing another $5,000 to have a reliable, road worthy 996.

To some, given the color combination and mileage, $20,000 may be worth it. But we’re passing on this Porsche 911 as I’m certain we can find an example with all of the above addressed for thousands less.