How to buy a 996-generation Porsche 911 without getting punched

How to buy a 996-generation Porsche 911 without getting punched

A Silver 996 911 is waiting to climb up to the jack-up to be inspected before buying.

Some would call this the natural environment of a Porsche 996. These people are bad.
picture: Kyle Hyatt / Jalopnik

Buying a car is very exciting for any car enthusiast, especially if the car you’re buying is the one you’ve been wanting for a long time. I know that’s true because, for the past week or so, I’ve been involved in buying a car I’ve wanted almost my entire life: the Porsche 911.

Now, being an auto journalist without two well-to-do parents, my upcoming 911 isn’t my first choice for generation or model. But that’s what I can tolerate (Especially with 911 prices continuing to go crazy), and truth be told, it offers the full 911 experience with very few compromises. I’m talking, of course, about Generation 996, which ran from 1999 to 2005.

Now, before keyboard warriors start losing your collective shit on back key seals, middle column seals and Fried egg headlightsI will say that, as someone who has worked with (Specifically in parts) for years, I’ve been well aware of the potential risks of buying a 996. That’s why this article is all about helping someone avoid the bullet of buying a bad car.

996 Porsche 911: The Hunt

The first step in finding a good 996 (or any good used car) is actually finding it. This sounds obvious, but with a variety of listings, forums, and car club pages online, there are a lot more places to look for than there used to be. To keep things simple, I use AutoTempest to access about 90 percent of the main listing sites. I also like to check forums like Pelican Parts and Rennlist because often, the cars listed there don’t appear on sites like Craigslist, and are enthusiast-owned, which can be good.

Now that you know where to look, you need to know what to look for. Using the 996 as an example, you have a few different variants to pick from based on your budget. I wanted a rear-wheel drive car with a manual transmission. I’m also not too fond of convertibles and wanted to avoid non-black interior colors.

That narrows the field down a ton, but there are still more criteria to consider. With the 996, you need to decide if you want a first-generation or second-generation car. An early (1999 and 2000) first-generation 996 came with no driver aids other than ABS; it had a cable-actuated throttle rather than drive-by-wire, and a more robust dual-row IMS bearing which is the least failure-prone of all the designs. 2001 and 2002 models got an electronic throttle and the least stout IMS bearing.

A screenshot of a Craigslist ad for a 2003 911

This is the kind of Craigslist ad you want to see.
Photo: Craigslist

Later second-generation cars (2002-2004) came with a larger, more powerful 3.6-liter engine, slightly revised styling, a glovebox, better quality interior materials and clear headlights. They also sport a revised, slightly less failure-prone single-row IMS bearing and an electronic throttle.

I honestly didn’t have a major preference between first and second-generation 996s, so knowing all that, I found a very promising looking 2003 Carrera in Arctic Silver over black with a six-speed manual and a boatload of service history for a not-insane price. This leads us to…

The Test Drive

My prospective car was listed on Craigslist, and the ad offered plenty of information, halfway decent photos and what seemed like a fairly honest representation of the car. Of course, anyone who has tried to buy a used car online knows that things can be deceiving.

My first step was reaching out to the seller, Jon, who immediately came off as an enthusiast. We settled on a time to meet so I could check out the car and drive it, and not only did he show up on time, he brought the car in its natural state: clean, but clearly being used regularly, and the engine compartment hadn’t been cleaned up or detailed.

After shaking hands and bullshitting about cars for a few minutes, I began visually inspecting the 911. This is important because keeping your eyes open and knowing what to look for can save you a ton of time and money before getting further into the buying process.

A silver 2003 Porsche 911 parked in a parking space.

This is how the car showed up to the test drive: on-time and clean but not too clean.
Photo: Kyle Hyatt/Jalopnik

The car presented well and looked much the same as it did in the Craigslist listing. The body was in overall good condition, with some previous parking lot damage (since repaired) that had been noted in the ad and pointed out by Jon in person. A 911 is a low car, so peeking underneath is tough, but there were no obvious drips or smells of burning oil or coolant. I opened the decklid and the frunk and, again, no surprises. For a car with 136,000 miles, it seemed in good shape.

The test drive offered more of the same. While I didn’t get to see a cold start because we met at a neutral location near Jon’s work, the car felt like a 911 should. The steering was direct, the brakes were strong and the engine pulled well and sounded great. The gearbox felt good too. The air conditioning worked, and the interior felt well cared for, if typical 996 cheap.

After the test drive, I went home and collected my thoughts. I wrote down some notes about the drive, the visual condition of the car and the vibe I got from Jon. This is an important and overlooked step, especially if you go and look at a lot of vehicles and have to keep track of all those experiences.

I checked out a couple of other cars but decided that Jon’s silver 2003 was the right one for me, which led to…

The Inspection

One of the most important things you can do when buying a European car out of warranty is to organize a pre-purchase inspection, or PPI. (This applies to other vehicles too, but it’s especially important with German cars of this era.) This involves you taking the car to a shop or a dealer and having them professionally inspect the vehicle to give you a clear picture of your potential purchase’s condition. People skip these because they cost money, but — and I say this from very expensive personal experience — please don’t.

Asking the seller if they’re amenable to having a professional inspection done is an important test in and of itself. If they’re enthusiastic about it, then it’s likely the car is being represented fairly, and they have nothing to hide. If they don’t agree to submit the car to a professional inspection, walk away.

Luckily, Jon was cool with me having the 911 looked over, so I arranged a PPI with a well-regarded Porsche shop on LA’s west side to make the drop-off and pick-up convenient for him.

The front of Auto Werkstatt, a European automotive repair shop.

Auto Werkstatt has been around for quite awhile now, and it’s a great LA Euro car shop.
Photo: Kyle Hyatt/Jalopnik

We’re lucky in LA to have a huge variety of quality Porsche independent shops, and in the end, I went with one that I had some experience with (I’d worked with the shop previously) and which could fit me into their schedule. This shop is called Auto Werkstatt, and I recommend it to anyone with an air- or water-cooled Porsche in Los Angeles Los.

Auto Werkstatt was kind enough to allow me to come in and supervise and document the PPI process for this story. It’s a great shop run by enthusiasts servicing most German boats, and if you’re in the area, they are well worth your business.

The thing about the 911’s PPI that might throw a lot of people off is the cost. Auto Werkstatt cost me about $630 to service. This sounds like a lot, and it is, considering nothing is fixed during the scan, but a really thorough scan takes time (about three hours) and time costs money.

Mechanic, August, PPI began with a visual check. Contrary to my educated but still amateur eye, he is a professional with almost two decades of experience. He also has a lift, which means he can see things that I haven’t been able to see in a Lowes parking lot, like the fact that the nuts on the swede rod end links are not original. Is it easy to refer to something like this? yes. But that’s the kind of thing you want the PPI mechanic to notice.

A 2003 Silver Porsche 911 is being checked on a car lift.

It’s great to see your highly anticipated new car up in the air before you buy it.
picture: Kyle Hyatt / Jalopnik

As the Internet will tell you over and over again, the big thing to look for in your 996 (or 986 Boxster) is oil leaks in the joint between the transmission and the engine case. This usually means either a leaky rear main seal or a leak from the intermediate shaft bearing cap. Both are not good, and repair means removing the transmission. Fortunately, this car was completely dry underneath. result!

The big predicament was avoided, we proceeded to inspect and found two problems. It’s a 19-year-old sports car with 136,000 miles of travel, after all. The biggest is an outdated oil-air separator, which isn’t very urgent, but it costs $2000 to fix if you take it to a shop. Parts alone are nearly $600. After that, one of the rear shocks leaks, and all four shocks can be replaced. I want to put coils on the car, although that’s a problem, in the end it’s not a big deal. Finally, as we moved inside, August discovered the early warning sign of a window regulator failure. This one’s a fairly easy DIY with the organizer costs under $200, so again, not a big deal.

Not bad, right? So, with that away, August took the car for a short test drive. The car had sat all night, so we got a good cold start, luckily, with no big smoke plumes or anything unwanted. The driving experience proved event-free, and August confirmed my feelings about the overall driving experience. It is solid.

Bottom of the engine on a 2003 Porsche 911.

The infamous flat-six Porsche M96 engine.
picture: Kyle Hyatt / Jalopnik

The last bit of PPI is something you, as a home player, can’t do, whatever your skill. It involves connecting a Porsche dealership computer, aka PIWIS, to the car to see how it’s driven, and checking for any stored trouble codes.

By “how the car was driven,” I mean the amount of time the car spent at or near the red line, and even the amount of time it took on the indicated red line. I don’t know if this kind of e-tale is unique to Porsche, but it could indicate how hard it is to drive. This car only experienced 11 ignitions above 7900 rpm and it didn’t rattle, which is a good thing. But the engine showed 18,202 ignitions between 7300 and 7900 rpm, which Augustus often explained.

This sounds crazy, and it’s kind of, but this is a car that’s meant to drive hard. Given the car’s general mechanical condition, high rpm driving isn’t the end of the world. This might put some buyers off, which is understandable, but I want a car that has been well used and taken care of because I plan on getting it out of hell anyway.

A man in a Boston Red Sox hat looks at a computer screen inside a 2001 Porsche 911.

August from Auto Werkstatt investigates vehicle overruns with a dealer-level scan tool.
picture: Kyle Hyatt / Jalopnik

In the end, August gave the car a thumbs up, even going so far as to suggest that the exhaustive examination produced one of the shortest post-PPI lists he had seen. This is a big win, and that means I’ve found a good example and another that’s worth buying. Which I did for less than $30,000.

A final word about Porsche IMS bearings

So, as I mentioned earlier, if you’re talking about 996 generation 911s or 986 generation Boxsters, you get a bunch of people warning you about the dangers of an IMS loader and its ability to take out a full engine if it fails. This issue has been widely publicized, and many people have made a lot of money selling and installing replacement bearings.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s no big deal. Failure rates are much lower than you might think. Just breathe. All is well. Nothing bad here dude.

IMS is a hot topic because it is a small clock problem that can turn into an expensive engine rebuild. It’s something you can’t easily see or definitively test. It’s easy for people to be afraid to spend $3,000 to preventively replace the bearing (and clutch while you’re there, if it’s a manual car).

The hood of the 2003 Porsche 911 was opened.

The 996’s reputation as a time bomb is a bit exaggerated, and with some common sense you can keep your reputation in one piece (probably).
picture: Kyle Hyatt / Jalopnik

Porsche claimed that the failure rates for early double-row IMS cars were between one and three percent. That’s minuscule. Even the most fail-prone versions, the narrow, single-row pickup cars of 2001 and 2002, have an alleged failure rate of less than 10 percent. That’s nothing, of course, but now that 20 years have passed, it’s likely that most cars that would have malfunctioned already have one.

So, the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be afraid of a great, affordable sports car just because there’s a serious but overreported problem. If the auto bearing you’re looking at has been replaced with an aftermarket solution, that’s great, but these cars will have a price premium attached to it. If it’s not done, rest. Look at your in-service oil filter (which you should be doing regularly) to check for metal particles. If you are very proactive, send the oil to be analyzed somewhere like Blackstone Labs and buy a magnetic drain plug because the bearing material is ferrous and will collect on the magnet.

If you need to change the clutch or there is a large leak in the rear main seal or an IMS cap leak, you should replace the bearing while you are there. It would be stupid not to do so. But there is no reason to spend a lot of money if you don’t have a specific reason. Just enjoy your car the way you’re supposed to. This is what I’m going to do with my newly 996 PPIed.

#buy #996generation #Porsche #punched

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