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.

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  1. Did you ever find a 911 at that price that passed the PPI without issues? I have had a few 996’s and they do cost a bit in upkeep once the warranty is up (which is why I sold my 93 turbo).

    1. Hi Blair. We switched our focus away from the 996 for various internal reasons however I still believe it’s possible to find one with non-engine related issues (worn interior, bushings, dampers, etc).

  2. Josh,

    I’ve been looking for a good 996 for several months without success. Until recently, I was willing to sell my ’55 ragtop bug, my 2,500 mile, year 2000 Z3 and my 2006, 24k mile SLK350 to pay for it, reduce my car count (and insurance) and invest in a single 911. I’m either living on the wrong side of the tracks or I don’t how to pick cars for a PPI, having done three. At this rate, the money spent looking for a well-kept 911 will equal the cost of its purchase.

    Any ideas and how to winnow down the choices for a 996 in advance of a PPI? I think its money well spent but I’m not doing as ll as I hoped. I understand that the cars can be pricey but it seems that many owners often defer maintenance over the cost.

  3. If you find a car with lower miles and spend more on the car in the first place the chances increase dramatically you will find a nice car. It is pretty tough to find a car under $25K that will pass the PPI with flying colors.

  4. $4K for a $15,000 1999 996 is about what I would have anticipated to get this 911 in great shape as a daily driver. Sorry but, I would have scooped this one up at that price and for those repairs. I’ve seen much worse for other cars at that price with less allure and far less market place value after the repairs (my daughters $1500 1999 BMW 325i, looked like a beauty when she bought it, then required nearly $8000 worth of repairs just to keep it road worthy).

  5. I love my 99 996, it has 135k, it lives in a heated garage, some years I spend $1500 on it other years I have spent 8k, but a lot if this was the IMS, RMS, Clutch and PP, and then a bunch of performance items, the car has a factory GT3 body kit and people who see it are amazed at the age and miles, hate no glove box, not a big fan of the headlights, but every time I think about selling it for a Cayman S or a 996 Turbo, I walk to the garage and think why, it hauls butt, handles great, stops on a dime, and makes me smile driving it.

  6. I absolutely loved my Carrera 2 1999 ( 996) but it continuously required some attention; luckily I managed some of the smaller repairs myself. AS a preventative measure I had the IMS and clutch replaced and thought what more is left, I have a low mileage (43k / Silver on Blk, Aero package with upgraded 19″ wheels… it looked sharp…plus my younger kids rode in the back seats). The problems continued, to the point where I was done … intermixing problem,,,I was not replacing the engine!!! Traded the car-in, I now drive an BMW M3 w/several nice upgrades – it’s faster than the Porsche and the family rides along on small rode trips … each generation Porsche has inherited issue(s). Several Porsche friends have done well and had very little issues…for some reason my VIN # wasn’t the luckily one.

  7. At $19K net, the 996 is superior to just about any other sports car choice. Try to find one with the optional all leather (Supple) interior. As mentioned in the article, a thorough PPI and documented mntce. records are important issues, especially for complex (say, German) luxury used cars.

  8. Hi Josh –

    Just curious if you don’t mind sharing, how much did the PPI shown in your video cost? Seems to me an absolute requirement for this era vehicle but wondering how inspections bills before your spending more on inspections then on the actual repairing of flaws on a car you should not walk away from. Thanks!

  9. I’m with Pat, I would change the title of the article to “How to Utilize a PPI to Find Good Value in a 996.” I’m scratching my head because you’re suggesting that for around $20k all in you could have a sub 100k mile 996 in a cool color with it’s major issues sorted. Sounds like a solid deal to me, or at least, a market correct price. With that in mind, maybe the title should have been, “How I Found an Appropriately Priced and Average Condition 996, And it Turns out I Don’t Want a 996.” That seems more in keeping with the your conclusions, although admittedly it doesn’t roll off the tongue. Also, you’d think the owner might have vacuumed the Cheeto crumbs up before listing.

    Thanks for the article Josh!

  10. I have a 1999 996 Cab that I’ve owned for 5 or 6 years. When I bought it I worked out a deal with a shop that agreed to inspect the vehicle with the understanding that I would utilize them for any necessary repairs. It was a very well maintained vehicle. It took about $2,000 to get it where it needed to be. I now have about 40k miles and have had no issues beyond normal maintenance. I would always start by looking for a well maintained vehicle. After that find a quality shop to maintain it. If I were to sell it today, someone would be getting a great deal.

  11. Just keep in mind that for a similar 1968-71 911 with similar issues you would pay about $40 grand and it wouldn’t perform half as well; it is ALL about expectations, demand and supply.

  12. You can buy those hood and trunk shocks on eBay for $25 a pair. The ignition switch is a $25 vw/audi part and with the use of a tiny eye glass screwdriver, you can replace it from under the steering wheel. Dealer wants to replace the whole cylinder for $800. After market away bars and bushing $59. The ims, deal, and clutch is about $3000.

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