Buying a Porsche 996? a cautionary tale


The bargain Porsche 996 is all the rage as earlier 911s hit stratospheric prices. But should you buy one?

I have just sold my troubled and troublesome Porsche 996 Carrera 4S.

So the front cover of October’s Octane magazine wasn’t exactly welcome in my house: “BARGAIN 911. Why the Porsche 996 is the ‘one to buy’ right now.”

To be fair to them, they’re almost certainly right, and the idea of buying an appreciating modern classic I could drive and enjoy too was kind of the plan when I paid just shy of £18,000 for my 2003 C4S in December 2013.

Porsche 996 Carrera 4S
My car in the showroom, December 2013

“If I keep it for 20 years, it might be worth double that,” I remember saying.

But, and this is a huge but for anyone thinking of heeding Octane’s advice to “make your move quickly”, here’s a cautionary tale.

It’s one that the magazine acknowledges in a hefty “how to buy a good one” section, advice that – if heeded – may, or may not, have saved me a considerable amount of money.

The 996 has always been looked down on by air-cooled purists, 911 aesthetes who hated the original “fried-egg”headlights, and those who couldn’t get past the fact that it shared the front end with a ‘lowly’ Boxster.

Most of this is pure snobbery, however, and the car is every inch a 911 to drive, better and faster than the 993 it succeeded, and combines enough traditional driving charm and challenge to satisfy 911 die-hards while being eminently useable on a daily basis – it even has cup holders, two of ‘em!

Porsche 996 interior

Performance from the 3.6-litre flat six, producing 315bhp, touches supercar territory with a top speed of 177mph and 0-60mph in five seconds.

All this for less than the price of a new Ford Mondeo. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it turned out.

At the time, the 996 was the only 911 available within my budget – the 997 was a good £5,000 more for anything without galactic mileage.

And barring the unaffordable – for me at least – Turbo and GT3, the wide-bodied C4S was the best-looking of the bunch, with body, brakes and suspension nicked straight from the Turbo.

Porsche 996 C4S wide body
The gorgeous wide body from the Turbo

Mine had 78,000 miles on the clock and, apart from a dicky interior light and indicator connection, seemed pretty well-sorted. So I paid my money and drove it home from Sheffield to Norwich.

I’d read about the potential faults with the intermediate shaft bearing (IMS) and rear main seal, and the potential for bore scoring – the three main known issues with the engine.

But the car had a full main dealer or specialist centre service history, and there was no tell-tale engine ticking, smoking or soot on the exhaust pipe that usually give away a problem with the cylinders.

All was well for a year or so, during which time the car was used almost daily – and I loved every minute of it – until disaster (part one) struck in the summer of 2015.

After a trip out, I parked the car – and it didn’t start again for several months.

Porsche 996 C4S side view

Cylinder two had cracked, pretty badly, and it made economic sense to have all six relined with Nikasil for £9,000, as opposed to just the damaged one for £6,000.

This included a new IMS and various other new bits and bobs, just to be on the safe side.

Most specialists will recommend you factor in up to £2,500 to replace the IMS and rear main seal when you buy a 996, while the cylinder bores can be checked by removing the spark plugs and having a look with an endoscope. Doing that may have revealed an issue on my car, but there’s no guarantee.

With the car back on the road, and used far less frequently, after a few months it started to use way too much oil – I’m talking a litre for every 80 miles, with a badly sooted driver’s side exhaust pipe.

Porsche 996 C4S exhaust
Oh dear

The garage I’d been using could find nothing wrong, but another specialist diagnosed glazed cylinder bores, which can happen when the new piston rings and bores fail to bed in properly – in my case, probably because of driving too conservatively in the running-in period (which I’d been told to do).

Anyway, having tried and failed to sell the car on Auto Trader with full disclosure – lots of enquiries, but no-one prepared to take a risk on a 996 using buckets of oil (fair enough) – I was facing another engine-out job to have the bores honed, for another £4,500.

There comes a time when enough is enough, when you’re so sick of a car – even one that may well, eventually, appreciate in value – that you have to take a hit to stem the bleeding from your savings account.

So rather than pay the money and try to sell the car privately, I opted to take up the offer from a customer of the garage. I can’t bring myself to tell you what I sold it for, but it’s not far off the value of the repaired car less the cost of repair.

And while the loss of a five-figure sum on the car overall is painful, at least it now can’t cost me any more!

So what’s it really like to own a 996? Both fantastic and frustrating in equal measure.

Would I buy another one? Absolutely not, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t if you take on board all the useful advice in Octane, and have a specialist check every inch of the car with a fine-toothed comb.