5 Tips for Purchasing and Owning a Porsche 996—What I've Learned After 6 Years of Ownership
Porsche considers the 996 a classic, which means it needs the kind of attention a classic car deserves.
Last month my 1999 Porsche 911 (996) turned 24 years old. My car was built in March of ’99 and has since been all over the United States. I am the fourth owner of the car. I don’t know anything about the first owner, who put more than 60,000 miles on it. The second owner was a doctor who drove it between 2004 and 2014. The guy I bought the car from owned it from 2014 to 2017.
In my nearly six years of ownership experience, I’ve learned a great deal about the 996 generation of the famed Porsche 911. Overall, my ownership experience has been fantastic but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. I want to give prospective buyers a glimpse into what owning one of these cars is like.
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You Better Love These Cars
Whenever a prospective buyer asks me about my car and ownership experience, I ask them if they love the 996 generation 911. If they don’t then I recommend they check out something else. Porsche considers the 996 a classic, which means it needs the kind of attention classic cars deserve. In short, they need more money than a typical daily driver.
This is why I ask a buyer if they love these cars. If you just want a cool sports car for little money, there are loads of options on the market for less with lower operating costs. The 996 might be more affordable than other 911 generations but the parts and labor are still expensive. Many enthusiasts refer to this as “Porsche Tax.”
5 Tips for Purchasing and Owning a 996
1. Buy the owner
With so many varieties of the 996 available for purchase, it’s best to buy from an owner who has taken care of their car. No, this is not the cheapest option but it will more than likely save you money in the long run. How meticulous an owner is about the maintenance and care of their car is a predictor of how well your future ownership will be.
I purchased my 996 from a guy who owned no less than eight Morgans! He was an absolute car nut with a fantastic garage and a lift. He did the majority of the maintenance on my car. He provided me with service records dating back to 2005. His story about the vehicle matched what I saw in the records.
If a seller can’t back up how they’re representing the car then it’s best to walk away. I think the best place to buy a 911 is on PCA Mart. You have to be a club member to post a car, which means, the people selling their cars have typically owned them for a while and know the car extremely well. Sites, like Bring a Trailer, can be good but you’ll be paying full retail—and maybe more—with a reduced chance of seeing and driving the car prior to purchase.
The worst place to buy a 996 has to be from a used car dealer who’s looking to flip it for a quick profit. I’ve heard stories of owners getting burned from places like these. You’re best to stay away.
Ask for a pre-purchase inspection from a reputable mechanic who will give you an objective review of the car you’re looking at.
2. Do your research
If you’ve been interested in purchasing a 996 for a day then you more than likely know about this generation of 911’s shortcomings. That isn’t to say you should buy one but go into the purchase with a wealth of knowledge so you know which questions to ask.
The top items I think every potential 996 buyer should be aware of are:
Condition and status of Intermediate Shaft Bearing (IMS)
Condition of Air-Oil Separator
Rear main seal replacement (likely done by now)
Conditions of the coolant expansion tank, water pump, and cooling system as a whole
Knowledge of cylinder bore scoring and overall engine history (or engine replacement)
Condition of the braking system, specifically brake booster replacement on early cars
Run a CarFax report of any car you’re interested in purchasing. This will help guide your questions and match up service records.
Websites like Pelican Parts and Rennlist are full of posts from owners who have asked common questions about these cars. Bring a Trailer auctions are also a valuable place for knowledge.
3. Understand what an IMS bearing is
The IMS bearing is synonymous with 996. There are endless opinions about replacing the intermediate shaft bearing on the 996 and 997 generations of the 911.
I treat the replacement IMS bearing in my car like I do the timing belt in my Lexus LS 430. I’ll do the service when it hits the mileage interval. Since I drive my cars, I’m not worried about the parts aging out and failing. My 996 has a replacement LN Engineering dual-row IMS bearing. The previous owner had it installed in 2015 at 112,000 miles. The mileage rating for my car’s bearing is 50,000 miles as per the barcode on my car.
I plan to install the LN bearing with the IMS Solution kit in the next few years when I replace the clutch. The Solution kit is a permanent fix that uses pressure-fed oil to lubricate a plain bearing. This kit is double the cost of a replacement bearing but it looks to be the best solution available on the market.
You’ll discover many schools of thought on the internet about this topic. I tend to err on the side of caution by recommending buyers replace their IMS bearing or buy a car with a replacement. I don’t think the risk of running an original bearing is worth it considering a new engine can cost $20,000 and up.
Fried egg goodness 🍳🍳
4. Read up on bore scoring
Cylinder bore scoring isn’t unique to Porsche engines. It can happen to any type of internal combustion engine. It just so happens to be more expensive when you’re dealing with a Porsche. I personally think bore scoring is a much larger issue than the IMS-bearing problem.
I’ve owned two 1999 Porsche 911 996 cars and both of them had replacement engines with around the same mileage for the same failure. Both of them suffered cylinder six failures around 70,000 miles. Is this a coincidence or just bad luck? I don’t know. But many Porsche enthusiasts have experienced engine failures on these cars unrelated to IMS bearing failures.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of chatter about engine casting porosity. There isn’t much information on this issue but Pelican Parts did an excellent write-up about it. In short, early M96 engines were cast incorrectly, which led to pockets of air forming in the aluminum block. Over time the oil seeped through the engine’s coolant to create intermixing. The problem gets worse with each engine heat cycle.
This is the best explanation I’ve heard as to why both of my cars had engine replacements around the same mileage for the same failure. My current car’s engine has been in the car for 18 years—and 79,000 miles—whereas the original engine only lasted 6 years with 70,000 miles. I could be standing on the precipice of another engine failure but it doesn’t seem to be the case based on current oil consumption and coolant analysis.
As for bore scoring, The Porsche Club of America recently published a four-part series on the subject that is an absolute must-watch for any owner and buyer.
In summary, it seems like a lot of engines have suffered bore scoring due to:
Not properly warming up engines
Using incorrect oil
Again, you just need to watch this series. It’s an issue that’s affecting cars across multiple generations.
5. Maintain a slush fund for maintenance
I mentioned the “Porsche Tax” earlier. It’s a real thing. Case in point: the coolant expansion tank on my car. After a year of owning my 996, I received an alert that my coolant was low. I checked the tank, and sure enough, it was at the bottom. I took the car to my mechanic who promptly changed the tank and fixed the issue. The OEM tank for my car at the time was a tad over $600. It’s now at $766 on Pelican Parts. There’s nothing inherently unique about the tank compared to any other car’s tank.
The kicker about my replacement tank is that it started to leak within a week of installation. My mechanic did the work properly but learned that there was a recall on the tank. So, we installed another one. But that tank had issues with the cap threads, which meant it couldn’t maintain pressure and would boil the coolant. Once again, we installed another tank.
Except for this time, we installed a generation two tank from a second generation 996. You can buy an OEM tank for a newer car for $175! Because my car is older, I was supposed to pay a $591 premium. Luckily my mechanic is clever and figured out a way to install a 996.2 tank in my 996.1 car. I’ve been using this tank for four years and haven’t had any issues.
Problems like this are why it’s wise to maintain a slush fund of at least $2,000 for miscellaneous issues that will arise. My 996 costs about $2,000 per year to maintain but I also go OEM on every part and don’t cheap out on the oil. Having this fund set aside makes the car so much more enjoyable to operate. Because when the inevitable issue arises, you can just pay for it and move on with your life.
Overall Takeaway of Owning a 996
I feel like I could write a book about this generation of 911. I love these cars for what they are. I’m not focused on what they aren’t, which sours the ownership experience. The 996 doesn’t have the same charm as an air-cooled car. Nor does it look as iconic as them. My car lacks a lot of creature comforts that modern 911s have, like cupholders and a glove box. But those weird little things are what make it so enjoyable to drive and own.
I still think the 996 is a crazy good deal in 2023. I don’t think the ship has sailed on picking up a great car for a reasonable price. You can still buy desirable examples of the 996 for under $30,000. A comparable 993 or 991 manual coupe will cost $30,000-$60,000 more. You could own two or three 996s for the cost of one of those cars.
Yes, there is a reason why the 996 is more affordable than its predecessor and successors. The interiors are OK at best. The styling is subjective. The engines have known issues—and fixes. But even with all of these known detractors, the 996 is still criminally undervalued. You can swap in a new engine for around $20,000 and still be in one of these cars for less than $40,000. I personally don’t think the premium for older and new 911s is worth it.
But that all depends on your initial motivation to buy a 996. If status and attention are what you’re after then look elsewhere. If you want a capable sports car with a dynamic driving experience that won’t leave you broke then the 996 has to be on your radar.
Just remember to love these cars because they will try your patience but the ownership experience is one of the most rewarding available.
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I feel like these are applicable concepts to every enthusiast vehicle. I love my old suzuki sidekick, but I was not prepared for the level of maintenance that is required to keep an aging vehicle functioning.