Buying a Porsche for most people is a huge event in their life. Most people have to save for, and then extensively research, their vehicle of choice. Whether a 356 Speedster or a Cayman-S you will be able to find more information than you can possibly digest.
The best place to start is PCA, through members and online forums. There are so many people who own so many different models; you are bound to find an expert on just about any model. Your local bookstore and the Internet are also excellent sources.
As with many other things, opinions can differ greatly depending on experience. If you ask ten Porsche owners the same question you are bound to get at least 7 different answers. So use your fact filter and take the law of averages into account. If 7 out of 10 people tell you 911s wear the rear tires out much faster than the fronts, you can probably believe it, but it still doesn’t make it gospel.
The first step is to decide what model or model line you are looking for and how much money you would like to spend. (This tends to elevate as the search continues). After deciding on a model and year range, the search narrows to quirks in the car’s personality. (Some people might call these problem areas).
While some people may argue that Porsches are perfect the way they come, that is not exactly the situation in all cases.
As any new owner (or prospective owner) will soon learn, there are idiosyncrasies with every model. Knowing these along with the service history of the vehicle will help you become acquainted with your prospective purchase. The most important lesson here is to know what you are getting into!
If the service history shows the same notes over and over again, it is a good indication that the car is not getting the kind of attention that you are looking for in a used car. If you see a pattern of “car needs new widgets at the next service” and the widget gets replaced at the next service, that is the kind of car you are looking for.
You wouldn’t marry someone who couldn’t account for their last ten years; don’t start a relationship with a car that can’t account for that same kind of time frame.
Check it out-
So now you have done all of your research and picked out the car of your dreams; your work is done, right? Not even close. After you have found the best car for your wants and needs is it time it have it checked out.
The inspection can be the most important step of the entire process. This is where you find out if it is really meant to be. Rarely will the mechanic inspecting the car say yes or no concerning the purchase. You should be given a list of things the car needs now and will need in the future, in addition to the overall condition of the vehicle. With this information you will be able to make an informed decision.
Where to go for the Inspection-
The best choice for the inspecting shop is the one you will be using for normal servicing, if you indeed purchase the car. If you have an inspection done at shop A and shop B (your normal servicing shop) finds a huge problem one month later, you are going to have a battle on your hands!
When a car gets inspected, the person paying for the inspection owns the information. It does not matter who owns the car. Some people like to split the cost and share the information, and some like to use the information as a bargaining chip. This is, however, something that should be discussed before the appointment is made and relayed to the shop doing the inspection so they don’t give information to the wrong party.
Cosmetic vs. Mechanical-
There are many schools of thought on this debate. Since this is my article, you get my personal school of thought. Let’s say you have two identical cars that each need $2000 worth of repair. Car A needs a clutch and car B needs the fender and hood straightened and painted. Three years from now no one will be able to tell that the clutch was replaced. A reworked and repainted fender will probably be noticeable. In some cases, with certain colors, it may be painfully obvious. The clutch car will just have a newer clutch, all upside.
Age vs. Mileage-
Everyone dreams of the low mileage, perfect car sitting in a hermetically sealed bag. In reality, not only does it not exist, but it isn’t what most of us want either. Ultra low mileage cars are for car collectors that don’t actually drive their cars. If you are one of those people, that’s great, as long as you don’t plan on driving the car. As an extra bonus, the rest of us who like attending local concours events can see what our cars used to look like. If you plan on driving the car, you want a car that has been driven regularly. It doesn’t need to be 10,000 miles a year, but at least regularly.
If you buy a car that has been sitting or driven only sporadically over the past ten years, you can expect some teething problems. How would you like running a marathon after having been in a coma for ten years?
I don’t even want to run a marathon now!
Special Inspection Options-
There are always options over and above a normal pre-purchase inspection that you should consider while you are in there looking. If the car is being inspected by a shop that you can’t get to due to scheduling or because it is 3000 miles away, you may want to ask about a digital photo package.
I do a lot of long distance pre-purchase inspections and this has become the most popular extra feature over the last few years. With the advent of digital photography and email it is easier than ever before. One person’s “slight” oil leak might be another person’s oil geyser. I usually take 50-75 pictures during an inspection. Pictures can also be taken as the inspection is being performed and the car is being disassembled and reassembled. This is usually much faster than having to stop the inspection process so that a potential buyer can come over to look at every “interesting” detail. In the event of a long distance inspection, you share these photos with your mechanic or local PCA tech guy for input. Not all shops are going to offer this service, but if it suits your situation it can be invaluable.
Cylinder leak down tests are a popular addition to a pre-purchase inspection. They can give you a more detailed look into the engine’s condition, and if you want to know everything about cylinder leak down and compression test… I have an article about that too. Just click here
Paint is a very tricky area of inspection and the best you can expect to get is an educated opinion. Some painters are very, very skilled at leaving few signs of rework. But factory paint quality can rarely, if ever, be matched for durability. Some shops may offer finish mapping for an additional charge. This is where a specially calibrated gauge is placed on the surface of the paint. The distance between the metal panel and the surface of the paint can then be measured magnetically. This thickness is measured in microns. You may have a car that measures 7-9 microns all over the car except for the hood where it measures 12-18 microns. This might be an indication that additional paint and body filler are present. The only thing it tells for sure is that the surface is farther away from the metal panel than on the rest of the car.
Computers and other stuff we can’t see…
Is big brother watching you and your Porsche? Yes it’s true, his name is Karl and he lives in the wiring harness. If your Porsche was built after 1989 a special tool can be hooked up to interface with its computers (I mean Karl). He will then start telling all kinds of dirty little secrets. The newer the car, the more detailed the secrets will become. A 1990 911 may tell you it has a bad oxygen sensor or bad knock sensor. There is no engine check light to come on and warn you in these models, so this tester is the only way to know. It may also tell you about a bad vent actuation motor in the climate control, or some other item that could otherwise be overlooked.
If you have an even later car, it will tell you things like how many times the last owner’s 16-year old son hit the rev limiter on his last joy ride – that, and just when the last time was it happened. These testers are very expensive so only a Porsche specialist is going to have them. If you are looking at a car built after 1989 and the inspection shop does not have one of these tools, find a shop that does.
Cost is Relative…
So you are looking at a $3500 early 944 that is going to be used for autocross events instead of your pristine 7,532 mile speed yellow ‘94 speedster. This is going to be a less expensive checkout as it will mainly be a mechanical inspection. If you are looking at a 1973 Carrera RS that has just had a complete cosmetic/mechanical restoration, you should expect to pay more. Special cars and restored cars take more time to inspect. A stock ‘87 Carrera is going to be cheaper to inspect than a 1977 911S Targa with a 993 Turbo Cabriolet body kit and ‘87 930 engine conversion. Don’t laugh – I had to do one of these! I had writer’s cramp for a week.
The moral here is the more complex or non-stock the car is, the more time it will take to scrutinize resulting in a higher inspection cost. You should expect to pay somewhere between $200-$500 for an inspection on most cars with the knowledge that it will be the best money you will ever spend on that car.
Care and Feeding
After you have successfully completed the search and acquisition of your new Porsche, don’t be discouraged at the fix-it list. Choose an item or two at each oil service and within a very short time you will be driving the perfect Porsche for you… whether a 356 Speedster, a Cayman-S or something in between.