What to Consider When Buying a Porsche
The Porsche 997 started arriving at the end of 2004 and was met by pretty much universal applause. Its updated looks harkened back to the much-loved 993, combining classic, nostalgic familiarity with new, modern twists. Performance and handling were also better, with many reviewers claiming Porsche had finally managed to eliminate the undesirable effects of having the engine slung at the back of the car (something all auto journalists seem to state every time a new 911 arrives).
Things to Consider When Picking a Porsche
- The Year
- The Specific Model
- Manual vs. Automatic
- Additional Options
- Pre-Purchase Inspections
- Detailing, Warranties, and Depreciation
1. Which Year Should You Choose?
The 997 received a major facelift for the 2009 model year. In forums, you will generally see these cars described as 997.2, and cars for the model years 2005 to 2008 as the 997.1. However, there were some engine changes between 2005 and 2008 that helped improve, but not totally eliminate, a design weakness that was fully rectified in the 997.2 model.
If you have done any research on the 997, you will have come across something known as IMS and RMS. You may have even heard reference to the term "scored bores" (a parts failure that can cause the engine to rip itself apart). I am not an expert in any of these areas, and so will not go into great depth, but my understanding is that this risk is important when looking to buy a 997.
It's worth noting that the problem is relatively uncommon. There are also steps you can take to mitigate the issue. A preventative step is to install third-party parts that eliminate the problem. You can also purchase a warranty.
I also want to point out that some models of 997 are less susceptible, if not immune, to all or any of these issues, either due to model type or year. I know that the tales on Porsche forums make for some pretty worrying reading in regard to these issues. They scared me when I first read about them.
Early 2005 cars had a smaller IMS bearing installed. These were changed, but you will need to do some research to be more precise. Dates on the various forums seem to alter, so don't always take everything they say to be gospel. The earlier cars fitted with the smaller IMS are more susceptible to major failure than those with the revised bearing. But revised bearings are not a cure, so don't assume that a car equipped with this upgraded IMS bearing means there is no risk.
Porsche 997 Years to Avoid
You should stay away from early 997, i.e., those delivered in late 2004 to some time in 2005 (do your own research to be 100% sure). The price of the early 997 reflects the potential issues, but if you find a car with a good service history and get your pre-purchase inspection done, you are in a good place. Early cars with the smaller bearing can, in fact, have an advantage over later revised bearing 997.1's, as the fix to these LMS issues is far cheaper as less labor is required. Check out a company called LN Engineering for really detailed information about what is involved in swapping it out.
Note: If you want to know whether the car you are looking at is installed with the larger or smaller IMS bearing, get hold of the VIN number. It is possible to check this information. Again, visit Porsche owner forums.
2. Which Model Should You Choose?
Which 997 you choose will come down to personal taste. I have listed the model types below with a brief synopsis of each.
There are many choices in the 911 line. I honestly don't think there is a bad choice among them. Personally, I went for a 997.1 C2S cabriolet, because for me this car was going to be a toy for the weekends and not something I was planning on driving every day. I chose a rear-wheel-drive 911 because this was my first one, and I wanted to experience the full sensation of having the engine in the back of the car.
The reason my car is a Gen 1 and not a Gen 2 was purely budgetary. The 2009 models similarly equipped with similar miles were in the region of 14 to 16k more than I was willing to pay. I would have accepted a 997.2 Carrera convertible, however, even these were still another 4 or 5k more. I didn't find one while I was looking that was more appealing than the car I eventually chose.
Often referred to as the base model, if such a term can be leveled at a 911, 997.1 models generated 325 hp with the facelift, a number that rose to 345 hp. The disadvantage that this model has, compared to the S version, is that there is a slight stigma to having what people term the "base" model. This stigma has, however, pushed prices down on this model, making these cars particularly appealing for those on a lower budget. Likewise, the facelifted Carrera offers a very good alternative to those who were certain they needed an S.
Porsche 997.1 vs. 997.2
The 997.2 Carrera has only fractionally less horsepower than the 997.1 Carrera S, and has the advantage of a better cabin (namely the nav system, or PCM as it is referred to by Porsche) and is also meant to be immune to the IMS issue, better economy, improved breaks of the 997.1 Carrera, and updated exterior looks. Many argue that the 3.6 litre engine of this car is also better sounding.
- Carrera S - 355 hp in 997.1 form and 385 in 997.2. In 997.1 form, the S had improved breaks and suspension as standard over the standard Carrera. 997.2 S has the advantages of a better cabin, exterior refresh, performance, and economy improvements over its Gen 1 counterpart.
- Carrera 4 and 4S The main difference is the drive train as the car moves from a rear-wheel-drive car to an all-wheel-drive one. The other advantage, or desirable feature, depending on your point of view, is that the all-wheel-drive version has a fatter rear end than the two-wheel-drive counterparts. Cosmetically many, including myself, find this a very appealing feature. The four-wheel-drive model was also ever so slightly faster around the track than the two-wheel-drive model (fractions of a second), but is interesting nonetheless, as this was the first time an all-wheel-drive variant of the 911 was quicker than its rear-wheel-drive counterpart. Which you prefer to drive is going to come down to personal preference. 997.2 saw the reintroduction of the red reflective strip to the back of the car which helped to further distinguish it from the rear-wheel-drive model.
- GT3, without fail, these cars have dominated the drivers' best award category since they arrived on the market. In essence, they represent the nearest to a race car level of Porsche allowed on the open roads. All naturally aspirated, they offered 415 hp in Gen 1 and 450 in Gen 2 format. You will often hear the term "club sport" when talking about GT3s. This tended to denote the fitment of the roll cage to the GT3 as well as bucket seats, which offer a slightly more track-focused version of the car. RS versions of the models stripped out even further weight and made use of the wider Carrera 4 body shell while remaining rear-wheel drive and included more aggressive aero packages. They are truly inspiring machines.
- GT3 4.0 I have chosen to separate this car out from the other GT3s as it was an extremely limited production car. I personally believe this car will enter the hall of all-time great 911s, along with the 2.7 RS. Still very new, it's too hard to say what will happen in terms of depreciation, but long term you would have to bet on this being one of the few that may actually start gaining in value. With a 500 hp naturally aspirated engine and a more extensive aero package than we had seen on other 911 GT3s, its old-school charm made it hit among road testers.
The GTS arrived later on in the life of the 997. It is the most powerful naturally aspirated 911 you can purchase that still maintains the rear seats. With 410 hp, this car delivered exactly the same performance as the limited edition speedster and sport edition 911s, which were released earlier. The GTS had a number of additional little tweaks, such as black tailpipes and wheels, which were also attached with a single central bolt. This car was incredibly well-received and for many, offered the ideal balance between cost, performance, and flexibility. AWD and RWD versions of the car were available, as well as coupe or cabriolet configurations.
GT2 and GT2 RS
Again, a more track-focused version of the 911, however, this time with turbo-charged engines, unlike the turbo-only RWD. The GT2 997 was the first Porsche-produced 911 with a speed in excess of 200 mph. The RS version offered a lightweight and slightly more striking appearance, due to the large amounts of carbon fiber visible on the bodywork (such as the front bonnet). The RS version was extremely rare, with a very limited production run.
More Model Specifics
Each of the following sections gives insight into the details you should consider when looking to buy a 997. These details refer to both body style and engine specifics.
Cabriolet: Without Top
All of the models listed below have the option of coming as a convertible. These models tend to command a slightly higher price than the equivalent coupe version of the same model. Disadvantages would be loss of the classic coupe lines, also slightly less rigid structure than a coupe, although you would have to be a far better driver than me to feel the limits. The main advantage is the ability to drop the top on a sunny day and enjoy the noise of the flat-six as it pulls you closer to the redline.
Turbo: More Power
If you want to get around even more quickly, while maintaining all the creature comforts then this is the option you will find most appealing. An AWD system gives this car huge levels of power and torque. Gen 1 cars were based on the 3.6 Metzger engine and delivered 480 hp. Gen 2 cars had a more powerful 500-hp engine. The Metzger engine in the Gen 1 car is seen as a classic developed from years of motorsport knowledge, with great potential for upgrades and devoid of the problems that graced most other 997 gen 1 cars. This may allow the car to guard its residual value better going forward. The engine in the Gen II is based on new construction. It is still probably too soon to say how good a unit it will be. Turbos were also made available in cabriolet form. An S version with even more horsepower arrived later on in the gen IIs life.
Targa: Glass Roof
Allows the feel of a Cabriolet while maintaining a solid roof and structure. A full-glass roof gives an airy feel to the cabin, but does add weight to the structure and necessitates a slightly softer suspension setup.
Speedster and Sports Edition
Both of these cars were limited-edition, with bespoke bodywork and potent 410 hp units. In both cases, these cars are more appealing in person than in magazines. The twin bumps in the roof and ducktail of the sports edition gave this car a very aggressive look on the road. I can see in both cases why these cars are highly desirable; however, their bigger price tag put them beyond reach for most of us. The GTS offers nearly the same experience without the bespoke bodywork, however, due to their exclusivity, I am sure these special edition cars will hold their value very well.
3. Manual vs. Automatic
The manual gearbox on the 997 Gen 1 and Gen 2 is a great unit. If I had to make one criticism, I would level it at the position of reverse and first gear. Reverse gear is selected by pushing hard to the left and then up. First gear is selected by pushing to the left and then up. The first time I drove a 997 Carrera I got caught at a tricky junction with very fast-changing lights on a hill. I managed to select reverse rather than first gear and almost had a very embarrassing situation. I haven't had this issue with my latest car.
If you prefer the two-pedal option, there are a couple of things to know. The first is that 997 Gen 1 cars have an automatic box that is referred to as a Tiptronic unit. These cars tend to be slightly slower accelerating than the manual. By today's standards, this gearbox is very dated, however, having never driven one I can't comment on whether they are still nice to drive or not. With the arrival of the Gen II 997 Porsche introduced PDK. A twin-clutch gearbox, as seen first in the Audi and later VW, this box offered smoother changes and great acceleration times. I haven't driven a Porsche equipped with this gearbox but a friend who has said it was very good. I must admit I have always been impressed with it in the Audi A3 I had previously, and in the current Golf GTI my wife has today.
Personally, I wanted a manual as I wanted to feel more connected to the car. Also, the 991 manual gearbox has received less stellar reviews and part of me feels that if I am ever lucky enough to have another 991, I would probably lean toward the PDK box. The 997, in my opinion, will mark the end of the manual box being the gear shift of choice in the 911.
PDK Buttons Versus Paddles
One of the main criticisms of PDK when it arrived was the control mechanism Porsche implemented. This actually led them to release a sports design steering wheel with paddles, bringing the control method into line with other car manufacturers. What you prefer is going to be a matter of personal choice. Note, however, that if the car you find is equipped with buttons and you prefer paddles, this shouldn't be a deal breaker. You could purchase the Porsche sports wheel with paddles, or buy one with buttons and pay a third party to upgrade it with paddles. This is probably a cheaper option.
4. Which Options Are Essential?
After you have decided on your year and model type, the next thing to consider is which options you want. Again this is going to be largely subjective. Here is a brief overview of my opinions.
PASM (Porsche Active Stability Management) - This was actually standard on Carrera S but not on the Carrera. It allows the car to be used in a more everyday mode or switched on for a sportier (read harder) setting as well.
Seat Types - Sports, standard, power, adaptive sports, and bucket. Which are the best? Well, this is really going to depend on what you want. Even the standard seats give lots of support. Power and adaptive sports seats are great if more than one person drives the car, as the memory option moves the seat to your preset position as soon as you use your personal key to open the car. Bucket seats, while expensive, add to a more hardcore racing feel while reducing weight. I have the 12-way power seats in my car which both my wife and I use and I have to be honest, the memory function and the ease with which it works means I would be very reluctant to have nonmemory seats again. Having said that if I had a GT3 I would want the bucket seats.
PCM - This is control unit for the radio sat nav, memory settings in the car, etc. Definitely improved with 997.2 cars due to larger touch screens with Bluetooth and smartphone support. Note aftermarket kits can be added to 997.1 PCM kits to give Bluetooth and smartphone support.
Sports Chrono Package - This option adds the strange dash-mounted stopwatch and sports button to the console. When pressed, sharpens throttle response. For PDK cars and turbos this is a very desirable option. In turbos, it allowed an over boost option when pressed giving the car more torque. It also improves acceleration and gives launch control to PDK cars. Less necessary in others. Can include the ability to track lap times as well.
Porsche Sports Exhaust (PSE) - A great option that when pressed gives a more aggressive and louder sound to the exhaust. Search on Youtube to hear the sound improvement.
Porsche Ceramic Brakes - Highly expensive option, so these are quite rare. Gives better stopping ability, especially when used in track-type conditions. They are more expensive to replace and there were some issues with them if not allowed to cool properly. I personally wouldn't pay more for a car equipped with them. They are lighter than steel breaks so do offer some great advantages. If you find a car with them on do a little bit more research to see if it is something you can live with. They come with Yellow calipers so do have a slight cosmetic effect on the way the car looks as well.
Short Shifter - People say they are good not used one myself so can't add much value here.
Heated Seats - If you are getting a cab probably an essential option as it allows you to put the top down on those less warm sunny days. Nice to have if you use the car as a daily driver for those colder mornings.
Bose Sound - Improved sound system. Sounds pretty good to me, though I have not heard the base system to compare it to. Listen to both if you can to decide if it is essential or not. The best system you can get is standard from Porsche.
X51 - This is actually a power pack you could purchase from Porsche that unleashed extra horsepower and torque. It was a seriously expensive option but could easily be retrofitted by Porsche if you decided at a later date this was something you desired. This involved installing new air filters, a radiator, and parts to the car but performance in the 997.1 Carrera S went from 355 to 381 and the Gen 2 car went from 385 to 408. Interesting to note that this can still be picked up from Suncoast parts for a cool 12500 USD.
Wheels - In my personal opinion wheels are one area on the car that you can change quickly that makes a radical difference to the overall way a car looks. Carrera Base models came fitted with 18-inch standard wheels and all other models with 19-inch wheels. Don't be put off if the car you find doesn't have your ideal wheels. OEM and third-party wheels can be picked up easily on eBay or from other specialists, and even in the classified sections of forums. Don't forget you have the option of selling your own wheels, so changing the wheels doesn't necessarily have to be a very expensive exercise.
Cosmetic Changes - There are too many to list; you can literally customize the whole interior with different pieces. Additional leather, carbon, wood, aluminum, etc. You can get some really cool changes such as different colored seatbelts or seat stitching that help to make the cabin feel that bit more special.
5. Pre-Purchase Inspections
If you are anything like me, pretty much the first car you look at will be the right car. I wish I could coach you on how not to be emotional when you view one of these cars, but alas, as soon as I saw one, sat in it, and heard the engine roar, I wanted it.
Luckily I had some help. Forums are a great place to go and post information about the car you found. They give good feedback about the condition of the car, price, options, etc.
What to Do When You Find the Car
The checklist they fed back to me was as follows:
(Just as an aside and to give proper credit where it is due, I am particularly grateful to Matty from 6speedonline for the majority of the following points)
- Check that the tires all match (brand as well as N number) & tread left.
- That the car hard starts when warm (TSB on alternator cable and perhaps needs to be changed?).
- Oil consumption? (these cars can burn oil, but it's good to know what you're getting).
- Sooty left exhaust pipe? (normal, but could also mean AOS is going or scored cylinder in the right bank).
- Paint meter, signs of accidents.
- DME scan, also check for error codes. I have talked to a few people about what you want to see here. The rule I give you is basically any revs in the 1-3 range are ok; if there is anything in the 4 or 5, walk away.
- Shifts smoothly.
- Service history.
- Coolant cap has the newest rev, old ones leaked.
- Battery in service date (these cars kill batteries, generally last 3-5 years).
- Spoiler squeak? (pretty normal, little silicone can fix).
- Check the alignment on a test drive. Make sure the wheel is straight and doesn't pull.
- Bolster wear on driver seat as well as scuffs on door jam (tell how careful the previous owner was getting in and out).
- Is the hood or bumper too clean? These cars are rock chip magnets; depending a bit on mileage, a super clean bumper could mean a respray which could mean a fender bender.
- Smooth idle.
- Squeaks and rattles? (it's a sports car and a cab too, so it's bound to have them. Drive with the windows up and listen for them. Use it as a negotiating tool if you can).
- AC buttons peel.
- Curb rash.
Ultimately you get a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI). This helps to eliminate some of the unexpected surprises that arise. It is also a way of allowing you to get access to cars that physically are difficult for you to see. Various companies offer pre-purchase inspections this can be with the local Porsche dealer or with third-party companies such as CARCHEX.
6. Final Things to Consider: Detailing, Warranties, and Depreciation
To wrap up this guide, I'd like to unpack some miscellaneous considerations when it comes to buying a Porsche. This is all based on my research, both on forums, and as a 997 owner myself.
Hire a Detailer
Why detailers? These guys are the magicians of the car world they can take a car that you would honestly believe is a complete duffer and turn it into concourse material.
If you find a car that mechanically checks out at a good price but you feel has not aged well in terms of interior and exterior appearance, it might not be as bad as you think. If you spend a bit of time on detailers forums you will see these guys working on projects for clients who have found mechanically-sound cars that need a bit of tender love and care. By the time they have finished the car is honestly in better than new condition.
Arming yourself with the knowledge of what is possible and how much it would cost to rectify is a great tool in helping you find your ideal car.
Should You Get a Warranty?
For me, the answer is Yes, but that's because I am not a huge risk taker. I had also personally seen the IMS issue occur 4 times. The first time was at the beginning of 2005; my boss at the time had just had a delivery of his brand new 997 Carrera S Tiptronic. A couple of weeks later, I was pulling off the roundabout, and there on the side of the road was his car. I found out later the IMS bearing had gone and shredded his engine. The second time I saw this issue was in a base Carrera a few years later that did the same. The third time was much more recently; a colleague had managed to purchase a car that was almost identical to the one I own today. He gave me a lift in and I remember being incredibly jealous. Just two weeks into his ownership, the car lost power and chucked a bunch of oil out of the bottom. He had suffered the IMS issue but unlike the first two cases which were covered by Porsche warranties, he had none. His Porsche dream was crushed he had a car that didn't work and a bill for almost 30k USD to replace it. Needless to say, he ended up in litigation with Porsche and the previous owner, but as far as I am aware he was never made whole. The fourth time was my boss again (the same guy who had already suffered one engine failure) and this time, he had to have his engine replaced. Again he was out of warranty coverage but because he had always had his car serviced with Porsche and was an extremely good customer, he had only to cover 10% of the cost.
The car I was purchasing, while from a dealer, was not from a Porsche dealer. This meant it came with no warranty. Because of the above issues I described, I was very conscious of the fact I was not financially in a position where I could afford to eat $20k plus of costs for a new engine if the problem occurred. I, therefore, chose to purchase a third-party warranty.
The dealer I was purchasing the car from offered this service. However, rather than just accepting this, I shopped around. In the end, I went with a company called CARCHEX which was able to offer a full bumper-to-bumper warranty for three years for 2/3 rds of the price offered by the dealer.
When to Not Get a Warranty
If the car you are purchasing is a Gen 2, then the IMS risk is gone. This means one of the main things that could destroy your engine is gone. 997 Turbos and GT3 were also built with engines that were not known to suffer from this issue, so they are less of a risk. If the car you are purchasing also has the IMS bearing replaced already by LNE unit then you should be safer. Warranty prices are dependent on the number of miles you have and the age of the car.
In three years' time when my warranty expires, my car will be 9 years old. At this time I will have a decision to make. My choices are to either sell the car, buy a new warranty, or pay to have the IMS replaced. As I will have known the car well by that time, I suspect that renewing the warranty would be the least attractive option. If I keep it (hard to say at the moment as I am in the honeymoon period and my response would be "I will never sell it"), then having the IMS replaced is probably the more financially astute direction to take.
One of the most common questions I see in forums relates to depreciation. Any car buyer wants to know which factor determines how much their new purchase will depreciate.
This really is an impossible question to answer, and probably the wrong one to be asking when you are looking at buying a car like this. However, for the sake of this article, I thought I would go over it briefly.
The 997 has declined relatively quickly in value. This is in no small part helped by the fact that the previous model 996 has not been kindly looked upon. Also, early models have a potentially fatal flaw in their engineering which, thanks to forum communities, has led people to be slightly wary of these cars. Will this continue?
This depends to a great degree on the success or lack of success of the 991. If the 991 steering and enjoyment factor proves to be diminished to the extent that the 997 is seen as a last-of-breed car, then 997s will appreciate in value. However, my personal opinion is that the 997 is probably not going to get the same value boosts that the 993 enjoyed, because the 991 is equally or more attractive than the 997.
One positive factor for 997, however, is that the 991 is more expensive. The 997 also has the claim of being the last hydraulically-steered 911.
Ultimately I think values of 997s will decline further, but amongst the older cars, there will start to be a more obvious split. Those cars that are maintained well will start to plateau while cars that are not so well looked after will continue to fall ever lower. I would always expect to see a split in the Gen 1 and Gen 2 prices, much the same way as you see in the 996 or 993 model revision years.
My advice to you would be to forget about the depreciation and enjoy the car for what it is—a great driving machine. If you maintain it well and look after it there will always be someone who wants to purchase this car from you. The question is, will you be willing to give it up?
In terms of competitors, the 997 slews nearly every car until the arrival of the Audi R8 three years later. I personally saw the R8 as a closer challenger to the GT3, V8 Ferraris, or V10 Lamborghini's (due to the lack of rear seats) than to the Carrera 2s and 4s it was pitted against.
I hope this guide was of good use to you. Remember, forums can be a great help when looking for answers to questions, conducting research, or feeding general curioristy.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.