Welcome to the very first StuttgartDNA Buyer Guide. Our 996-gen Porsche 911 Buyer Guide debuts here. The Guide presents you with our historical perspective; essential facts and figures; and purchasing caveats, tips and recommendations regarding the 996 Carrera — for very sound reason:
The 996-gen Porsche 911 is plentiful and therefore affordable. Specifically, the 996 Carrera is relatively affordable enough when it comes to plunking down your hard-earned bucks for any Porsche.
In essence, the Porsche 996 Carrera embodies one of the easiest ways to own and enjoy your very first Porsche 911. The 996 is not only one of the best Porsche models for first-time buyers, but the 996 is also the Best Porsche 911 for first-time buyers.
Or, if you have owned a 911 or another Porsche model in the past, the 996 Carrera paves the way for you to return to the fold of the greatest marque on the planet. You can pick up where you left off — and doing so relatively inexpensively, at that.
Let it be known, though, that our 996-gen Porsche 911 Buyer Guide covers only the naturally aspirated and non-GT model variants.
The 996 Turbo, 996 GT2 and 996 GT3 variants will be examined in a future StuttgartDNA Buyer Guide, as these variants do not fit within this article’s affordability paradigm.
Navigable 996-gen Porsche 911 Buyer Guide
You can read the Buyer Guide from beginning to end, if you’d like. Or, you can use the navigable outline below to skim the article and/or skip and jump from one item of interest to another with ease.
Just click on the blue-highlighted links immediately below and on the blue-highlighted links that are spread throughout the article. Our navigable outline as well as our links distributed across the Buyer Guide enable you to navigate back and forth throughout this entire piece if you so desire.
So why is the 996 Carrera affordable? Is it perhaps the result of that abundance in the marketplace?
Glad you asked.
Yes, excess supply does have some influence. Then again, that affordability also has a little more to do with the 996 Carrera’s reputation — an anomaly of reduced demand. But we’ll get to that “bad rep” in a minute.
To better understand the lukewarm demand (as of this writing) for the 996, first we need to cram in a little history lesson here.
“A page of history is worth a pound of logic.” — Anonymous
Fleshing out the elements of the 996’s genesis is necessary to grasp the bigger picture. This will help us come to terms with, and appreciate the logic of, what was at play during that turbulent era.
Between 1991 and 1992 Porsche AG was at its all-time corporate low in terms of über losses in racing, sales and revenues. In three simple words, the reconfigured-in-1972 Porsche AG was in dire financial straits.
So, in 1992, the push was on for. . .“the New Generation.” The Porsche powers that be slated — indeed, desperately needed — this so-called New Generation to pop the clutch on resuscitating the comatose financial life of the company then at death’s door.
And guess what? Miraculously, it worked! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Please read on. . .
The architect of the New Generation at Porsche AG was none other than Horst Marchart. After three decades with Porsche, he came to the restructuring party as a seasoned Porsche company man. After all, he was there in the mid-Sixties to witness the birth and teething of the 901 — the very first 911.
So Mr. Marchart knew a thing or two about the heart and soul of the Porsche icon — the 911, the timeless quintessence of the Stuttgart sports-car manufacturer.
Through sheer will, Horst Marchart masterminded the grueling transition from Porsche’s artisanal old-school engineering style, to its rigorous latter-day project-management system of today. This monumental transitional achievement was instrumental to the conception of the New Generation era.
Ultimately the New Generation ushered Porsche into the 21st century in triumph, beginning with the unexpected wildly victorious launch of the 986, the very first Porsche Boxster.
But, meanwhile, back at that grueling transition. . .
. . .which took close to one and a half years. . .
During that time, key Porsche executives journeyed to the Far East, to Japan specifically, to consult with Toyota on the subject of its world-renown production-line optimum efficiencies.
If Japanese Efficiency and German Engineering Had a Baby. . .
That fact-finding mission to the Land of the Rising Sun precipitated Porsche’s evolution. The company adapted itself to a new project management-based approach to the development, manufacturing, marketing and sales of Porsche automobiles. This evolution revolutionized Porsche AG.
Long story short, all departments were organized into, and functioned through, project groups headed by project leaders. The project leaders in turn ensured that previously-agreed-upon specified objectives were met.
Another major first was the deployment of Cray supercomputers at Weissach to sort out design and development. (“Weissach” is the Entwicklungszentrum Weissach [EZW] or, in English, the Weissach Development Center, where all Porsche research and development gushes forth.)
The final stage was streamlining the assembly lines for optimum efficiency. This is where the Japanese — their Toyota production lines renowned as the epitome of efficiency — were most instrumental in transforming Porsche’s manufacturing processes.
Ever since, the hallmark of Porsche’s manufacturing process is its unique inventory management method, which was adapted from textbook “Just in Time” (JIT) management.
For our concise purposes here, though, suffice it to say that I’m speaking of the now-well-known uniquely Porsche-branded inventory-management procedure. Specifically, materials are scheduled for delivery on the assembly line precisely when needed to be assembled or installed on each vehicle running down the line.
This was unheard of during the über-traditionalists’ yearning days of yore when all Porsche sports cars traveled slowly, slowly, slowly down ”hand-made” production lines. For some, or if not most, radical purists, this was – and still is – going that bridge too far.
Study the historical archives of any of the online third-party forums and websites discussing Porsche to see firsthand for yourself.
Yes, this radical change in management style and streamlining of assembly-line processes did indeed incur the wrath and tumult of the über-purists.
Despite all of this, however, Porsche AG’s brave new change in course had to be pure and true to Porsche tradition. And it was – and still is, even more so to this day.
“We’re Having Fraternal Twins!” Birth of the Porsche 996 Carrera and the Porsche 986 Boxster
In any case, at the epicenter of this seismic New Generation paradigm was the parallel development of the gestating 986 Porsche Boxster and the 996-gen 911 Porsche Carrera. This masterstroke was the saving grace that catapulted Porsche AG’s fortunes into wildly wunderbar territory.
Karl Ludvigsen says it best in his magnum opus on the marque entitled Porsche: Excellence Was Expected: “Now that we have the Boxster and the Carrera, their concept of mutual dependence and reliance looks logical enough. They generated powerful synergies that returned Porsche to rude health.”
And by “rude health,” Mr. Lugvigsen refers to that explosive blastoff that launched Porsche AG on the trajectory that landed the company where it very successfully thrives today.
Referring to our beloved Ferry Porsche, Mr. Lugvigsen went on to proclaim, “The creator witnessed the birth of the New Generation…at the launch of the Boxster….Ferry, who had been a conservative leader of a spectacular company, was able to take pleasure from Porsche’s recovery. What he had created and nurtured so ably would survive and prosper.”
The unprecedented, innovative streamlining of Porsche AG’s management and ultra-efficient mass-production style was and is indeed at the heart of Porsche rising like a phoenix from the ash heap of history. . .
. . .Which leads us back to that aforementioned bad reputation.
Origins of the “Bad Rep”
Many of the foregoing issues form the foundation of the 996 Carrera’s “bad rep.”
To illustrate the point, let’s knock off and adapt a quasi-psychiatric condition from the late-2010’s political milieu: This bad rep can be aptly described as the fundamental manifestation of “996 Derangement Syndrome.”
But such a hell-bent state of irrationality crumbles under the weight of elementary impartial logical analysis.
In short, the bad rep is a bum rap.
The über-purists who suffer from this “disorder” could in turn be dubbed “Never-996ers.” Among others, their main gripes include such facts as the 996 is mass-produced and shares common external designs and internal components with the 986 Boxster.
Not helping matters is the widely held misconception that all 996s will inescapably suffer immediate IMS failure. Really?
But for über-purists the 996 Carrera’s supreme cardinal sin is the “abomination” that its engine is water-cooled. WATER-COOLED! Never mind that the 996’s engine was and is the most powerful naturally aspirated 911 engine when introduced.
Think about that. The 996 911 Carrera (in immediate foreground pictured above) smokes any and every naturally aspirated 911 that ever came before it — since the birth of the 901! How can that not be impressive?
Oh, never mind that, chortle the Never-996ers.
Although, I am curious how they would have updated the mass-produced air-cooled 993 engine — its performance potential totally depleted vis-à-vis rising emissions regulations.
For example, how would they successfully re-engineer that engine from its usual two-valves-per-cylinder heads, to four valves per cylinder with only a single spark plug – and still keep the engine in constant compliance with increasingly rigorous global emissions restrictions.
In the Comments section below, I’d like to read that physics-defying answer and unprecedented solution to this engine emissions-control conundrum.
Yes, there is the one-off Singer-Williams DLS air-cooled flat-six engine. But it is safe to say that, indeed, it is a limited-edition creation. Numbers are set at an exclusive maximum of 75 examples to be manufactured.
As such, this only-millionaires-need-apply DLS engine will not be subject to rigorous global auto-manufacturer environmental scrutiny. Nor will the DLS stakeholders have to fear increasingly severe worldwide emissions restrictions that mass-produced vehicle engine manufacturers endure.
The 996’s bad reputation finds its origins in the phobia, real or imagined, that the 996 Carrera embodies much less hand-built elements than all previous Porsche sports cars. Indeed, the 996 is the very first mass-produced 911 — sheer heresy to the über-radical Porsche purists.
These purists contend that the mass-produced 996 breaks all ties to, and traditions of, the Porsche Mystique. They are nostalgic for days of yore when all Porsches, no matter the model, rolled down a single assembly line — along which they were all built by hand.
In other words, the 996 Carrera was not built solely by hand by such craftsmen as “Hans” and “Franz.” (This is a nod to Nathan Merz, who affectionately coined these nicknames for your typical Porsche assembly-line workers circa pre-996; Nathan has affectionately employed these nicknames during his previous PCA Tech Tactics sessions.)
Rather, Hans and Franz were lent a “hand” crafting the 996 on the assembly line by non-humanlike beings – unconditionally flawless, unionless, lunch-breakless and hangoverless robots working alongside Hans and Franz in supplemental collaboration.
But as discussed above, this modernized mass-production process new to Porsche saved the company. No matter. The über-purists still choose to look down their noses at the upshot that the company today is the most successful it has ever been. (Besides, the company now makes those SUVs and electric cars presumably for the huddled masses. Eeek.)
Optimized Production Efficiencies
As stated earlier, the 996 Carrera shares commonalities with the 986 Boxster — one of the key elements that contributed to schlepping Porsche AG back from the brink of bankruptcy.
This, among other crucial factors, saved the company from a hostile takeover, ironically by the company that helped save it — Toyota — as kicked around above.
The 996’s development in tandem with the 986 Boxster greatly optimized production efficiencies. In essence, both cars are virtually identical from the front of the doors forward to the headlights and fascias. Consequently, both models possess approximately 36 percent in shared components.
Some detractors see this commonality between the two models as the impetus serving to force down 996 sales values. You, on the contrary, should recognize it as a windfall — as a golden opportunity to cash in on your very own rear-engined Porsche.
The 996 engine is based on the Boxster’s 2.5-liter flat 6. But it is obviously more powerful, initially with 296 hp, which is about 50% greater than the original 986 Boxster’s horsepower. The first 996 engines have about 258 lb.-ft. of torque.
But the one shared component that the über-dudes penultimately wail against is the set of their derisively described “fried-egg” headlights.
Funny, I don’t recall anyone criticizing those headlights on the wonderfully ferocious-looking 1998 Porsche 911 GT1. Nor did I hear a peep when those headlights first appeared on the 986 Boxster, whose debut pre-dated the release of the first 996s.
But almost as soon as the 996 debuted, the carping and bellyaching began over those GT1-sourced headlights. No matter.
Look, I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually appreciate these much-maligned headlights exactly because they do harken back to that awesome — as in striking fear in the heart of man — crocodilian Porsche 911 GT1.
Oh, and by the way, that very same Porsche 911 GT1 just happened to win the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. Overall! Its sister car finished second overall. This triumphant win, incidentally, kicked off the celebrations of Porsche’s 50th anniversary. How cool is that?
Check out this highlight video of that very same 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. Pay special attention to the GT1’s headlights, which make the GT1 appear as a crocodile lying in ambush, its eyes just above the waterline, ready to pounce on the competition:
I could just imagine the fear that the GT1 struck in those opposing hearts at Le Mans once it suddenly loomed larger and larger in its competitors’ rear-view and side mirrors, only to blow past them, in a gust of dust. Truly awesome stuff.
Just think of those DNA strands that stretch back to, and are shared with, such a formidable Porsche progenitor!
For good measure, check out the GT1 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed:
Yes, as we’ve all heard in the Porsche forums on the Internet as well as by word of mouth or read in automotive magazines, IMS failure is not something to trifle with. When and if it strikes, an IMS fiasco is as serious as a heart attack — and very costly.
After all, such an actual catastrophe decrees a whole new replacement engine. Bummer, man.
But as Mark Twain once wrote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Well, the reports on the imminent severity and pervasiveness of IMS failure have also been greatly exaggerated.
Please see my discussion on IMS failure below under “Common 996-gen Porsche 911 Problems and Issues” for greater elaboration and detail. It could calm your fears about shopping for a 996 bargain, enabling you to score big-time.
And then there’s that first Porsche 911 production water-cooled engine — what the Never-996ers love to hate most of all.
Legions of them claim the 996 is not a true Porsche because it has water running through its cooling veins — not to mention those radiators that must have been implanted by extraterrestrial aliens. So for this cardinal sin as well as a long laundry list of opinion they conclude the 996 Carrera’s collectibility is dubious at best.
The fact that the 996-gen 911 has a water-cooled engine is at the top of the hit list of the 996’s not-so-justified bad rep. After all, the traditionalists see this as sacrilege, as it flies in the face of almost 35 years of the Porsche 911’s air-cooled tradition.
Ironically, this is the ultimate saving grace and forward-looking insight perpetrated to perpetuate the company. The superlative genius of the decision to switch to a water-cooled engine paved the way for the following:
- All the much greater latitude for future increases in power and performance
- The better for fending off adverse corporate repercussions generated by the passage of imminent and future worldwide environmental emissions regulations, and
- Porsche AG’s prophetic foretelling of the long-term drive for, and incremental passages of, the U.S.A.’s draconian CAFE standards on the horizon. (Traditionally the U.S. has been Porsche’s longtime largest regional import market worldwide. However, China recently seized that claim to fame by sheer domination of population numbers.)
So what’s so incomprehensible and reckless about all of that?
This choice of a water-cooled engine over the technologically depleted and exhausted luftgekühlt engine was child’s play. Thankfully, it set in motion the New Generation era of “survival of the Porsche automobile” as we’ve always known it — Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen’s automotive survival of the fittest.
Bottom line, you have to decide whether to stubbornly stand on the sidelines on principle – or get behind the wheel of the most powerful 911 as of 1998.
Still not sure? The 996 Carrera outperforms all previous normally aspirated air-cooled 911 automobiles.
Seems like a pretty easy call to me if you’re in the market for a sports car for which there is no substitute. . .
As previously mentioned, the 996 is plentiful and therefore a relatively affordable 911 — as of this writing. It was introduced selectively in Europe as a 1998 model-year debut, but it subsequently arrived on American soil as a 1999 model-year vehicle.
When I say the 996 is plentiful, I’m referring to the fact that over 175,000 units were sold worldwide — hence its abundant availability.
This is remarkable because the 996’s run lasted from 1998 through 2005. That averages an astonishing 25,000 units of 996 Carreras delivered per each and every one of those 7 years.
Most significantly, the 996 outsold all previous air-cooled 911 sports cars ever built since the mid-Sixties — combined!
Not a shabby run in slam-dunk opposition to the über-dudes’ groundless resistance.
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” — Michael Corleone to Sonny Corleone in The Godfather
Obviously, then, the 996’s introduction marked the demise of all future Porsche air-cooled engines — to the utter consternation of many Porsche über-purists.
Porsche AG designated the 996 as its first water-cooled 911 for very good reason. The company wisely saw the global writing on the wall.
Porsche AG made the excruciating yet shrewd business decision to pursue water-cooling. The company goal was in large part to stay compliant with increasingly stringent environmental emission regulations sprouting up all across the planet.
For this and other reasons, the 996 Carrera was the first completely all-new 911 in 35 years since the inception of the immortal 901 designed by Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, son of Ferry Porsche and grandson of Ferdinand Porsche.
Thus the 996 Carrera was grudgingly conceived as the successor to the Type 993 Porsche 911.
“Form and function are one.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
Despite this “sacrilegious” corporate course correction, the world automotive press — to the utter surprise of many (you know who) — by consensus deemed the 996 superior to the 993 and to every 911 that came before it.
Here are just a few of many comparisons of the 996 to the 993 highlighted in the global press:
- Larger than the 993
- More aerodynamic, powerful and easier to drive
- Wheelbase set at 92.5 inches — 3.2 inches longer than the 993’s wheelbase: translates to improved high-speed handling and stability
- 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds as clocked by both Car and Driver and Road & Track at the time — 0.7 second faster than the last 993-gen 911 Carrera coupe
- A curb weight of 2,901 lbs. (manual trannie) — 120 pounds lighter than the 993, despite the 996’s increase in size, length and wheelbase
- 996’s M96 flat-six engine boasts 296 horsepower at 6800 rpm (plus 24 over the 993) and 258 lb.-ft. of torque at 4600 rpm (plus 15 over the 993)
- An enhanced suspension consisting of a multi-link set-up and auxiliary subframe — a quantum leap in improvement over the 993’s suspension
These are just some of the comparisons touted in the international automotive press.
Panorama, the official monthly magazine of the Porsche Club of America, perhaps summed it all up best in July 1998:
“As evolved and nailed-tailed as the older  car is, it is no match for the newest 911. The staccato steering wheel corrections necessary to keep the 993 looking good on the race track give way to a more set-it-and-forget-it approach in the newer car.”
Pinky Lai, Porsche Designer
So whether you believe that form follows function or that form and function are one, kudos must be extended to Hong Kong-born Pinky Lai, the competition-winning head designer of the 996 Porsche 911.
I say “competition-winning” because veteran Porsche engineer and 996 project leader Bernd Kahnau pitted four design teams in a friendly in-house design competition to arrive at the best design of the 996 and 986 in tandem.
The illustrious design-team leaders were Wolfgang Möbious, Matthias Kulla, Steve Murkett and, of course, Pinky Lai, a Harm Lagaay design protégé.
Eberhard Brose selected Mr. Lai and his design team’s version of the 996. Mr. Brose, a longtime Porsche veteran, was part of the team who midwifed the gestation and birth of the 901.
Dutchman Harm Lagaay was chief designer and head of Waissach’s “Style Porsche” at the time. Mr. Lagaay brought Pinky Lai to Porsche originally because he was and is among a handful of automobile designers who speak the lingo of Formsprache as it pertains uniquely to Porsche automotive design.
In Porsche: Excellence Was Expected, Karl Ludvigsen and Harm Lagaay succinctly drive this point home:
Finding men like Lai was not so easy, said Lagaay: “Some designers just cannot do a Porsche.” One reason for this was that Porsche design demanded subtlety. “Simplicity has always been a key Porsche trait,” explained Lagaay. “Proportions and graphics are important, but above all it’s the Formsprache — form language. It’s the sheet metal being shaped in such a way that you cannot compare it with anything else.”
Putting an even sharper point on that point, Mr. Ludvigsen follows it up in this manner:
That this language was understood by experts outside the company was made clear by Walter Maria de Silva, stylist of successful Alfa Romeo and Seat models: “The Porsche 911 Carrera has a basic shape that has remained the same over decades. All its model generations speak the same Formsprache; they are merely adapted optically to the relevant time frame.” Now a new generation was challenged to adapt the characteristic 911 form and language to a new time frame.
Mr. Lai’s winning design of the 996 meets that challenge in its respective time frame.
Off the bat, your best bet is to steer clear of the very first model-year 996s. They developed many teething problems (which, by the way, is a common occurrence in any first-model-year car, no matter the make).
The first model-year’s engine spec’d out at 3.4 liters. The choice of transmissions were two: a 6-speed manual gearbox, or a 5-speed Tiptronic, Porsche’s earlier version of an automatic transmission.
The 996-gen Porsche 911 presents an excellent way to put a 911 in your garage — as long as you exercise due diligence.
That due diligence includes — but is not limited to — ordering up a pre-purchase inspection (PPI). This is imperative not only because, without saying, a PPI should be performed on any and every prospective pre-owned vehicle you are considering to purchase.
A PPI is especially critical because of the 996-gen’s widely notorious IMS and RMS issues.
These problems will be discussed in greater depth in the “Common 996-gen Porsche 911 Problems and Issues” section below.
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Miscellaneous Features, Additions and Deletions
By “New Generation” design, the 996’s brakes are based on those of the Boxster, but of course they are larger.
17-inch wheels were standard on the 996; 18-inch wheels were available as an option.
By 2002, the final M96 engine increased in size to 3.6 liters, 320 horsepower, and 273 lb.-ft. of torque in all Carrera and Targa model variants.
In this same time frame, the 996 took on 911 Turbo headlights, replacing the much-maligned fried-egg headlights based on the daunting peepers of the exquisitely crocodilian 911 GT1, and a new front fascia.
Both refreshes differentiated the 996 further from its in-parallel factory mate, the company-saving 986 Boxster.
For Cabriolet variants, 2002 also ushered in a heated glass window for the first time, replacing the cracking, clouding plastic window seen in model years 1998 through 2001. This was a substantial improvement for both the 996 911 and 986 Boxster.
Here is a brief chronology of major 996 development milestones. These are not necessarily model years, but rather calendar years when these developments took place. My objective here is to get you started down your path to finding only that special 996 that is good enough to inhabit your garage:
- Conception of the 996 project, hence its 1996 factory designation as the Typ 996
- Launch of the 996 Carrera
- Release of the Carrera 4, a four-wheel-drive 996
- Release of the 996 Turbo, which had four-wheel drive, a wide body, newly designed headlights and a GT-1-family engine
- Launch of the GT3, with a GT-1-family engine
- A model-wide refresh with Turbo headlights, an upgraded interior and a 3.6 liter engine
- Introduction of the Targa variant fitted with a sliding-glass roof
- Launch of the Carrera 4S, an upgraded four-wheel-drive 996 sporting the Turbo’s headlights, brake system and suspension
- The last year of the normally aspirated and non-GT 996 Carrera, which was replaced by the new 997 Carrera in 2005
- The last year of the 996 Turbo S, 996 GT2 and 996 GT3
While the 996 Carrera was launched in Europe as a 1998 first model year, 1999 was the first American model year of the 996 Carrera Coupé and Cabriolet. Both were launched with the following distinguishing features:
- Debut of the “heretical” 3.4-liter water-cooled flat-six boxer engine — the very first non-air-cooled flat 6 production Porsche, ever — Porsche AG’s saving grace
- AM / FM / CD stereo — this replaced the cassette player units seen in the 2003 model year; other than this, the new sound system remained virtually the same as the 2002 models
- Cabriolet back window — a welcomed change from plastic to heated glass, starting with the 996’s 2002 model year
- E-gas throttle connection — this was a wireless connection starting with the 2000 996 generation
- Engine displacement increase — to 3.6 liters in 2002 model year
- Horsepower upgrades — increase to 300 hp for the 2000 and 2001 model years, and to 320 hp for the 2002 model year
- The lightest of all 996s was the two-wheel-drive Carrera coupe, close to 2,900 pounds but never exceeding 3,000 pounds in subsequent 996 model years
- Original headlights — the original headlights were genetically descended from the 911 GT1, but have long since been denigrated by radical purists as either “fried egg” headlights or supposedly as “lowly Boxster” headlights. (I myself like the fact that these not-very-well-received headlights are truly evocative of that awesomely reptilian-looking and 1998 Le Mans 24 Hour-overall-winning 911 GT1.)
- Porsche Stability Management (PSM) — an option that consisted of an electronic stability / traction control system, designed to maximize performance, as well as optimize traction during inclement weather. Also introduced as an option on the 2000 996 Carrera.
- Revised headlights — model-year 2002 got new Turbo headlights, replacing the much-maligned 911 GT1 headlights. This change in turn necessitated a change in the front bumper and front fender designs. The result was an increase of 15 percent in airflow to the radiators, and a reduction by 25 percent of front-axle lift.
[INSERT LINK HERE THAT SCROLLS UP TO GT1 NARRATIVE AND VIDEOS?]
- Revised rear bumper — also for model-year 2002, the new design resulted in a substantial, well-received loss of rear-axle lift of 40 percent. Additionally, the previous black plastic bumper guards were replaced with body-color-matching bumper guards.
- Throttle cable — found only in the 1999 model-year variants. This was a cable that attached the gas pedal to the engine.
- Targa — debuted also in the 2002 model year, but only for the rear-drive 996. Much like the 993’s Targa, the 996’s Targa consists of a very large glass piece that slides backward and forward with electronic push-button control.
1999 through 2001 996-generation 911 Carrera 4 coupe & 1999 through 2004 996-generation 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet
Introduced as a 1999 first model year in America, the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 spanned these model years. In addition, the new design of the Cabriolet top was singled out in most automotive magazines as the best looking ever produced by Porsche on a 911.
Some of these listed features were mentioned above; we’re repeating them here just in case you are considering only the model years and variants listed in this section heading. Here are the listed features and items:
- All-wheel-drive system — on the 996 Carrera, this system sends torque of approximately 5% to 40% to the front wheels; the torque varies, of course, according to the driving conditions at any given moment. The increased weight of the system also affects the Carrera 4’s handling. This system was similar to that of the 993 C4, but now the 996 employs a viscous multi-disc clutch positioned in the final drive of the front axle.
- AM / FM / CD stereo — this replaced the cassette player units in the 2003 model year, which, other than this new sound system, remained virtually the same as the 2002 models
- Badging and calipers — these were in silver to differentiate the C4 from the rear-wheel-drive 996
- C4S Cabriolet — 2004 was the only model year that this Cab was available
- Cabriolet back window — a welcomed changed from plastic to heated glass, starting with the 996’s 2002 model year and 986’s 2002 model year
- Carrera 4S Cabriolet — ran from model years 2002 through 2004
- Carrera 4S coupe — replaced the Carrera 4 coupe during model years 2002 through 2004
- Different headlights — beginning with the 2002 model year
- Engine management and stability management — E-gas throttle control (as of 2000) and the Motronic 7.2 engine management component were standard, as was the aforementioned PSM as an option
- Original headlights — the original headlights were genetically descended from the 911 GT1, but have long since been denigrated by radical purists as either “fried egg” headlights or supposedly as “lowly Boxster” headlights.
- Revised rear bumper — also for model-year 2002, the new design resulted in a substantial, well-received loss of rear-axle lift of 40 percent. Additionally, the previous black plastic bumper guards were replaced with body-color-matching bumper guards.
- Tiptronic automatic transmission — available on all 4-wheel-drive 911s for the very first time. This trannie was modified to enable manual shifts in auto mode.
- Turbo-look Carrera 4S — this replaced the Carrera 4 coupe’s front-fascia look in model-year 2002.
- Wheels — 17-inch wheels differed to distinguish the C4; 18-inch wheels were still optional
- 40-Year 911 — celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 911. As a bonus, this model variant featured the following as standard equipment: the X51 Power Kit, sport suspension, a limited-slip differential, polished 18-inch alloy wheels and a Turbo-style front bumper.
- C4S Cabriolet — the only year this was available in the 996 Carrera line
- X51 Power Kit — putting out 345 hp which resulted from updated cylinder heads, new camshafts, new intake manifolds, a new exhaust system and upgraded engine management
As always with any pre-owned car you wish to buy, you must get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI). This cannot be overemphasized, as you will see throughout this 996-gen Porsche 911 Buyer Guide and our future StuttgartDNA Buyer Guides.
Nonetheless, we are providing you with the following problems and issues common to the 996 Carrera. We’re also including general aspects to consider whenever seeking to purchase any pre-owned Porsche.
So forewarned and forearmed, you’ll know what to be on the lookout for during your test drives and evaluations.
In addition, being forearmed with this knowledge will allow you to converse more intelligently with your PPI inspector/mechanic about the final evaluation.
But you will have to run your own informal or formal cost/benefit analysis to determine how deeply you wish to drill down — and therefore spend on your PPI — in evaluating the following key common 996-gen Porsche 911 problems and issues:
I am listing the air conditioning and cooling together here because the radiators and A/C condensers are clustered together just behind the front bumper. Consequently, the radiators and air-conditioning condensers are exposed and thus very vulnerable to the same damage and corrosion.
Air Conditioning (A/C)
Always check the air-conditioning system to make sure it works. If it doesn’t, then problems run the gamut from leaky Freon® or Puron® refrigerant lines, to a faulty pump, to deteriorating air-conditioning condensers.
Also bear in mind that, because the condensers are in the front bumper, the A/C lines run the length of the automobile to the A/C pump mounted on the engine in the rear. So they too are exposed to possible corrosion and other damage. Consequently, these lines should also be inspected.
This vulnerable exposure of the radiators and A/C condensers in the front bumper subjects them to rocks, dirt, debris, leaves, etc. flowing in through the front air scoops. Radiator and A/C condenser corrosion is the result of this foreign matter settling in and around these radiators and condensers.
The only way to clear debris is to remove the front bumper. This is a specified maintenance item during Porsche-recommended servicing intervals.
But if this checklisted step is skipped by the dealership or independent shop where the car is regularly serviced, then it could mean curtains for these parts. Such long-term corrosion over time could amount to catastrophic rot.
In this case, replacement of the radiators and/or condensers would be mandatory to avert engine overheating and air-conditioning malfunctions, respectively.
Inspection of the coolant cap and coolant tank for any signs leaking and tank cracking is essential too.
Always do a visual inspection for any evidence of collisions — misaligned body panels, doors, frunk hood, or engine lid; irregular gaps; paint variations; less-than-perfect welds by humans rather than those faultless above-mentioned assembly-line robots (curiously, the obverse of tradition); etc.
You probably will not be able to check the undercarriage on your own. So have your PPI advisor check for damage to the floor pan once the car is up on the rack. Does the floor pan show signs of any out-of-shape tweaking at all? If so, one can assume the car has been in an accident.
Another approach is to find out as much as you can about any prospective 996 Carrera’s accident history. Ask for repair records, invoices and receipts. Thoroughly study them if available. Then assess whether the repair quality is acceptable before valuing and submitting your offer.
A further tack is to inquire about a 996’s history by way of VIN checks. You can do this through third-party vendors such as Carfax, AutoCheck, VehicleHistory, VINCheckPro, etc. This allows you to check a vehicle’s past for any accident history, insurance claims filings, title issues, theft and recovery history, etc.
VIN checks range in price from being free of charge to costing a fee. The amount of fee depends on the report detail that you seek as well as on the number of reports/cars that you wish to process at time of purchase or within a specified time period.
Basic Cosmetics and Cabriolet Models
Check for basic cosmetics too. There will probably be some minor hood and front fascia rock chips, as well as dents or dings about the car, as signs of usual wear and tear. You will have to judge whether these are acceptable to you. If so, you can use these rock chips, dents, etc. as bargaining chips. (Pun intended.)
Finally, if you’re in the market for a Cabriolet, be sure to check the condition of the convertible top. Inspect the fabric for any holes, tears, bare patches, etc.
Also resolve to evaluate the functionality of the top’s mechanicals. Make sure the mechanism smoothly opens and closes the top completely. Sometimes the clam shell may not go down completely. Check for that too.
As discussed below about the rust factor, one should always seriously consider taking any crash-damaged Porsche to a Porsche approved collision center.
The later the vehicle, the more exotic and temperamental its types of metals are. For example, heating any of these metals by an incompetent and/or ill-informed body shop above their respective tolerable temperature limits could seriously compromise their structural rigidity and integrity.
So if you do detect or learn of collision repair, be sure to research the reputation of the collision center that did the work. Hopefully, a Porsche approved collision center was behind the repair.
The first thing spewing out of practically everyone’s mouth whenever Porsche bodywork is bandied about is that one dreaded word — rust. Widespread corrosion due to rust was / is very common in all Porsches built up through the mid-1970s.
Porsche didn’t take rust prevention to the next revolutionary level until mid-1976. At that juncture, Porsche began building rust-resistant 911 bodies, with galvanized coatings and galvanized chassis.
So, unlike those extremely rust-prone Porsches pre-mid-Seventies, the 996 is virtually rust resistant.
This observation is substantiated by Porsche’s offering of its 10-year anti-rust warranty on the 996 Carrera, as well as on the 986 Boxster. It should be no surprise, then, that the bodywork of both models is constructed to the highest Porsche standards.
This is all the more reason why you should rest easy when considering a 996 for purchase. Or are you still stuck on a budget-busting vintage-911 rust test in progress?
Anyway, the 996 is not absolutely immune to rusting. The initial model years have manifested signs of ferric oxidation beneath the door latches.
In addition, if a 996 has been in an accident, poorly repaired collision spots and sections can also decay into sites of rust corrosion. So just be mindful of the fact that second- or third-rate collision repair is prone big-time to such premature ferric oxidation.
Conventional Disc Brakes
996 Brake-System Overview
Brakes on the 996 Carrera employ an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and are power assisted, as are the 996 and 986’s steering.
Brakes aren’t a major issue on the 996. In fact, the 996’s brake design and operation rated a “very good” via a consensus of automotive-magazine reviewers at the time, with a healthy smattering of “excellent.”
Some of the best braking is found in the four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 when combined with the optional Porsche Stability Management (PSM). This one-two punch provides exceptional stopping power.
This is because PSM in conjunction with the four-wheel-drive system produces traction control and differential braking in the event that any one wheel slips on a wet surface, or in sand or gravel, for example.
Brakes on Low-Mileage Vehicles
One of the big giveaway signs that should prompt a priority inspection of the brakes is a low-mileage vehicle.
This is only because, when a 996 / 986 has sat in storage for months and months on end, rust tends to creep most unnoticeably across the insides of the rotors. And such rust corrosion is irremovable regardless of one’s efforts. Aggressive braking will not erase the corrosion either.
Make sure the calipers — as well as the alloy wheels — look cosmetically excellent. Hopefully, the “Big Reds,” silvers or blacks look as nice and shiny as the day they left the factory. The “PORSCHE” lettering on the calipers should also look crisp and shiny. If they lack any of the foregoing attributes, haggle accordingly.
The pads also need to be evaluated as to the percentage of each pad’s depth remaining. But if new pads and/or rotors have recently been installed, be sure to request to see the invoice or paid receipt. Then look to see if Porsche-worthy parts have been installed by a Porsche-worthy qualified technician.
Rotors and Brake Lines
As with any expendable parts and assemblies, brakes will eventually have to be serviced and ultimately replaced. So do a visual check of the rotors. Also have your PPI mechanic conduct a thorough analysis of the rotors, pads and brake lines.
Make sure that the rotors are free of rust and are not warped. Rusting and warping are telltale signs that the brakes will need to be replaced very soon.
Other symptoms of brakes beginning to fail are a pulling to one side and/or shaking under braking. Definitely have the brakes checked if you experience this during your test drive.
Also check for cracking that starts from the rotors’ “cross-drilled” holes. (They are not really cross drilled – they are actually casted-in-place holes). Cracking is another sign of the need for imminent replacement.
This is especially the case if any of those cracks traverse the disc from one rotor hole all the way across to an adjacent hole. Or worse, you may see cracks, from any of the holes, that radiate all the way across to the rotor’s inner or outer edges.
Don’t walk – run! as fast as you can from any visual evidence of either instance of these types of cracks! Such latter cracking is a harbinger of impending chunks of rotor suddenly breaking off and away from the wheel at speed. Yikes!
Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) Discs
If you run across — and become seriously interested in — a prospective 996 Carrera with Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), beware! Have them thoroughly inspected during your PPI.
(If I had PCCBs on my 996, I probably would have appreciably track-day’d them to the bone — but that’s just me.)
PCCBs were not only an expensive option when the car was purchased new. They will also be very expensive to service, maintain and replace if severely damaged. We’re talking repair costs spiking into the stratospheric 5-figure range. Your call.
Air/Oil Separator (AOS)
The Common Air/Oil Separator Problem
The 996/986 air/oil separator problem entails the sucking in of oil into the air intake. This results in contrail-like streaks of pretty blue smoke belching out the tailpipes — not a very pretty problem.
Folks, it ain’t doing its job anymore of “separating” the oil from the air vapor going to the intake and then returning that oil to the crankcase.
Blue-smoke symptoms of AOS failure should not be confused with the characteristic flat-six trait of a brief white puff of exhaust smoke emitted upon start-up. Such benign wisps can occur after a variety of Porsche flat-six models have been stored unstarted for any extended length of time.
Air/Oil Separator Diagnosis and Replacement
The AOS issue becomes more and more critical the older and more mileage any 996 or 986 is and has. This coincides with the constant refrain posed here and elsewhere: Always choose the latest model year of any Porsche that you can afford.
To check for actual air/oil separator failure, your PPI mechanic should measure the engine’s crankcase vacuum with a slack-tube manometer.
An air/oil separator is a cheap item to buy, especially for being a Porsche part. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, to replace the AOS, the whole engine should be removed to more easily get one’s hands on the AOS — an expensive proposition if you have a Porsche dealership or qualified independent Porsche repair shop doing the honors.
Granted, the swap-out can be done with the engine left in the car. But it’s a much more difficult operation to perform.
Hopefully you’ll run across a 996 for sale that has had its air/oil separator routinely replaced during, for instance, a clutch replacement, which requires the engine being dropped. Finding such a 996 at least checks off yet another maintenance box, adding to your peace of mind during and after your 996 quest.
Air/Oil Separator Upgrades for Track Use and/or Even Greater Peace of Mind
As a final note, there are heavier-duty 996 and 986 air/oil separators available — known as “high performance” or “motorsport” AOS versions — that will outlast and outperform “standard-issue” AOS units.
High-performance air/oil separators have a much larger capacity than the standard air/oil separators. If you stumble across a 996 with one of these upgraded units retrofitted to the car, then all the better.
Such motorsport AOS units will better withstand the use and abuse experienced during tracking. This is especially applicable if the subject vehicle has been tracked a lot, and/or if you plan to track the car yourself after purchase. As usual, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
For the record, though, high-performance/motorsport AOS units can cost as much as 3 times the price of a standard AOS, if not more.
Cylinder Heads and Liners
Are Cracked 996 Cylinder Heads and Liners Common? Or Just Expensive?
Cracked cylinder heads and cracked liners are not as prevalent as the online Porsche forums would have you believe.
Once this ailment of cracked cylinder heads and cracked or scored bore liners does indeed rear its ugly head, however, it is very expensive to fix — which might explain why it’s always all over the Internet.
Symptoms of Cracked Cylinder Heads and Liners
Symptoms include a subtle tick-tick-ticking noise heard at idle or under low revs, and/or trails of blue smoke wheezing out the tailpipes. In some cases, though, there are no signs or symptoms at all until it’s too late.
There was a rash of these cracking failures in the early 996 models. But such problems have become increasingly rarer over time.
The cracking or scoring typically happens between 25,000 miles and 50,000 miles. But that does not exclude the possibility that this catastrophic, engine-blowing malady could occur on higher-mileage 996 Carreras too.
Borescope Inspections Identify Cracked Cylinder Heads and Liners
That is all the more reason to fork out the cash to obtain a borescope inspection to examine the cylinders and linings. The inspection should be conducted by a qualified tech trained in Porsche repair. Hopefully your PPI advisor fits the bill.
Without such an inspection, you could be plopping down the big bucks on a potential turkey that’s going to cost you big-time in the long run — for an expensive engine rebuild.
In any case, keep in mind that, as a general rule of thumb, this problem occurs much more often in the earliest 3.4-liter M96 engines, and much less so in the later 3.6-liter M96 engines.
Exhaust System Corrosion
Leakage from the exhaust occurs when corrosion attacks the exhaust bolts, nuts and fasteners. A visual inspection will identify any such corrosion. But you must have use of a car rack in order to take a good gander around the exhaust system.
If you find any such corrosion (or if your PPI advisor does), replacement is necessary because there is no effective Band-Aid fix to this problem.
Aftermarket Exhaust Systems
Aftermarket replacement of the OEM exhaust assembly system installed at the factory should be further investigated too. This is a fairly common occurrence. Some car guys (and gals who are unconditional car guys too, you know) are not content with running just the factory-installed exhaust.
Instead, they believe the hype about aftermarket exhaust systems increasing power, as well as creating more boisterous exhaust notes. Well, the power increase is probably negligible. And those brash notes may sound groovy at first.
But the question is, can you live with that noise over time? Especially if you plan to use your 996 Carrera as a daily driver? Make sure it will indeed stay livable to you over your given tolerance of time.
Even more important is the installation of the aftermarket exhaust system itself. Don’t be afraid to sniff out the quality of both the exhaust system and the installation.
Make sure that the aftermarket system was installed by a technician who is expert in Porsche automobiles. You should find this more agreeable than, say, the well-intentioned neighborhood kid next door who installed the exhaust system as a mid-term project in his high-school auto-shop class.
Ignition Coil Packs
Ignition coil packs will always need replacing from time to time on the 996. These packs are exposed to heat emanating from the engine and car exhaust.
Such exposure causes them to expand, and then they contract upon cooling. This process cycles over and over and over again, causing cracked insulation along the packs.
The telltale sign that the ignition coil packs need replacing is the engine misfiring and/or running and sounding rough. Fortunately, their replacement cost is relatively reasonable. As always, just make sure that any work done on your future Porsche is performed by a reputable, well-qualified Porsche expert.
The IMS Scare
The 996 is the first water-cooled production 911, ever. Porsche über-purists (i.e., those hardcore “extremists” we encounter mostly in all of the popular online forums) would have you believe that this inexorable evolutionary mutation is not only blasphemous, but !Achtung! !Verboten! in their eyes.
Yet the very scariest issue plaguing the 996 Carrera is the ominous prospect of a nail-biting and potentially catastrophic intermediate main shaft (IMS) bearing failure. (It is also known as an intermediate shaft bearing, for short.)
Granted, the IMS bearing is the “weakest link” in the M96 engine (and subsequent M97 engine, to a slightly lesser degree). In fact, Excellence magazine calls the factory-fitted IMS bearing the M96’s “Achilles’ heel.”
Statistical Failure Rate of the IMS
Here is the question that was posed close to the top of this article:
Is it true that all 996 Carreras will inescapably suffer immediate IMS failure?
According to a broad sampling of reliable non-Internet and Internet sources, the actual statistical failure rate of the IMS in 996 Carreras from 1998 through 2004 ranges from 7 percent to 9 percent.
However, one reputable source — but admittedly with a vested interest in retrofits — pegs the IMS statistical failure rate as high as 10 percent.
Out of 175,000 Carreras of the 996-gen Porsche 911 ever built, that’s less than 12,000 to 16,000 failures.
Yes, I know and I wholeheartedly agree with you: Just one failure is one far too many — especially if it turns out to afflict that singular 996 which just so happens to dwell in your man cave. Yet the odds are still overwhelmingly in favor of this failure NOT rearing its hideous head.
(NOTE: These odds also similarly apply to the 986-gen Porsche Boxster since the 996 and 986 were developed and produced concurrently.)
In conclusion, the foregoing discussion addresses the previous question and soundly debunks the widely held misconception that all 996s will inescapably suffer immediate IMS failure.
Anatomy of an IMS Failure
In a nutshell, most of the factory-fitted intermediate shafts come with bearings sealed in a stamp-steel casing. This steel cage tends to wear out and ultimately split apart. Not good.
When and if this happens, it is like a column of dominoes falling one by one, causing a chain reaction:
The permanent grease lubrication within the casing seeps out. This leaves the bearings even more vulnerable. In turn, the bearings disintegrate and spread like cookie-crumble metallic debris in the oil. The bearings’ bits and pieces circulate all throughout the engine.
Then, the intermediate main shaft itself becomes irreparably damaged. Next the intermediate main shaft thrashes the camshafts to which it is attached.
The thrashed camshafts cause even more collateral damage to the engine. Ultimately the ravaged flat 6 will have to be replaced due to catastrophic internal damage and inevitable engine collapse.
Have I made your day yet? Well, stay tuned, because there is a slightly brighter side to this dark, sinister saga. But we’ll get to that shortly in the “IMS Retrofit” section below.
Comparisons with Earlier Multi-Generation Porsche 911 Inherent Engine Flaws
To put everything in perspective, however, a brief comparative-studies analysis is in order here:
A fond look back at all 911 common problems from the dawn of the 901 through to the 993 will reveal a less-than-stellar past that many über-purists are tight-lipped about divulging.
Every successive-generation 911 from the beginning has had its inherent flaws, respectively, that could lead to potential catastrophic engine collapse — not unlike the IMS-vulnerable 996-gen Porsche 911.
Here are some of those respective “genetic” deficiencies that could render a pre-996 911 in desperate need of a replacement engine. The following points of origin are notorious for inherent flaws that are liable to cause cataclysmic engine failure:
Porsche 911 (mid-60s through early 70s) — the first generation of 911 emerging from the genesis of the 901:
- Chain Tensioners
- Head Studs
Porsche 911 (early 70s through late 80s) — the next-generation 911:
- Air Boxes
- Chain Tensioners
- Head Studs
- Valve Guides
Porsche 911 964 (early 90s through mid-90s) — the 964-generation of the 911:
- Air-Conditioning Evaporator
- Head Gaskets
- Hot-Running Engine
- Leaky Through-Engine Bolts
Porsche 911 993 (mid-90s through late 90s) — the 993-generation of the 911:
- Leaky Fluids
- Secondary Air-Injection Ports
- Valve Guides
Some of these genomic engine maladies will cost you only a minimum of $3,500 to $5,000 for their remedial repairs for pre-996 Porsche 911 automobiles.
However, any one of these potential genetic malfunctions that linger neglected or ignored over time could cost you the price of an entirely new replacement engine. The irony is, this is eerily similar to catastrophic failure of a 996 Carrera’s M96 or M97 engine.
The last time I looked, though, the Internet revealed the fact that pre-996 replacement engines cost close to twice the amount of 996 replacement engines.
(Could that have anything to do with, for example, the shrewd business decision to germinate the 996 and 986 in parallel to one another, hmm?)
But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Just for the fun of it, fire up your favorite search engine and conduct your own test-searches to compare the prices of pre-996 replacement engines with 996 replacement engines.
I’m confident you’ll discover that the “dire” prospect of replacing a 996 engine is relatively reasonable in cost when compared to buying a pre-996 ticking time bomb and then having to replace its twice-as-expensive engine.
In any case, please document your efforts in the Comments section at the end of this article to inform all of us about your findings. If you find substantial evidence to the contrary, I will happily revise and update my foregoing statements accordingly.
That aforementioned slightly brighter side of the story is that IMS retrofits are available. IMS retrofit installations have become very successful since first introduced by various manufacturers. So your best bet is to seek out 996 Carreras that have been properly retrofitted with the new aftermarket bearings.
But be sure to inquire about the exact brand installed — as well as the caliber and qualifications of the shop that performed the installation.
So, what if you cannot locate an expertly-IMS-retrofitted 996?
There is still hope. In fact, if you do find a 996 that you like, but without the retrofit, then you can use this very issue as motivational leverage in negotiating that 996 Carrera’s final purchase price.
Articulate the fact that it is going to cost you anywhere from $1,900 to $2,600 or much more to properly install the IMS retrofit alone. Thus this could help you defray the asking price somewhere in that financial neighborhood.
One of the most reputable manufacturing sources of the IMS retrofit is LN Engineering. So strongly consider installing the LN Engineering IMS bearing retrofit if you plan to have a retrofit performed.
The LN IMS retrofit kits have been successfully installed in many M96 and M97 engines. The reliability of these retrofits has been very high. That is, the LN retrofits almost completely eliminate IMS failures and subsequent cataclysmic engine destruction.
The installation of the IMS retrofit entails, at the very least, removal of the gearbox and clutch. So it would be prudent to also replace the rear main seal and clutch at the same time as preventative maintenance. (Please also see the “Rear Main Seal” and “Transmission and Clutch” discussions below.)
Think about it: Once the technicians have gone that far in tearing down the engine, you might as well have these other items replaced at the same time while the techs have the flat 6 and trannie dropped and broken down.
Thus you’ll get everything done in one fell swoop. So you may not have to ever deal with these issues again, unless of course you keep the 996 Carrera indefinitely.
Maintaining Your Car Without the IMS Retrofit
You may be asking, “How does one guard against IMS failure trashing your car in the first place?” I asked that very same question when I first learned of this awful engine calamity possibly striking my own Porsche.
The soundest policy to follow is vigilant vehicle maintenance if you buy a 996 or 986 without the IMS retrofit and decide to delay installing the retrofit. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as old Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once espoused.
This means frequent oil changes. In other words, you should change your synthetic engine oil every 3,000 to 6,000 miles if you drive your 996 (or 986) frequently. Or, if your 996 is a garage queen rather than a daily driver, you should change that oil every 4 to 6 months or so.
Moreover, each and every time use the finest-quality motor oil and oil filter you can get your hands on.
Remember to cut open (or have your maintenance technician cut open) your oil filter during every oil change. Check for metal shavings, which are signs of a compromised or deteriorating bearing.
Also install a magnetic oil plug. Check the plug for those aforementioned shavings and debris.
Finally, if you want to get really anal about it, make sure to check (or have your mechanic remove and check) the oil sump pan for any debris fields spread across the bottom inner surface of the sump pan.
So, you see, there are ways to lick this IMS thing by looking on the brighter side. Don’t let this problem become a deal breaker. Just be vigilant, and you too can enjoy miles and miles of smiles in your very own reasonably priced Porsche 911 996 Carrera.
Avoiding IMS Failure Altogether
Do you want to avoid the IMS failure issue altogether when buying a 996? Then buy a 996-gen GT2, GT3 or Turbo — if the budget allows (lucky you!). These 996 variants have an entirely different engine than all other 996s.
The 996-gen GT2, GT3 and Turbo engines are based on the acclaimed, race-tested “Mezger” engine. The 996 GT- and Turbo-variant engines possess DNA strands that stretch all the way back to the Le Mans-winning engines in the 911 GT1 (from which the “fried egg” headlights genetically originate too).
The first factory 911 GT1 won its class in the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans, coming in second overall. The second factory 911 GT1 entry came in second in its class, and third overall.
So the Mezger engines in these elite 996s do not have any otherwise characteristic IMS problems or cracked cylinder head, cracked cylinder liner and bore scoring issues.
High-Mileage 996 Carreras
Mileage on the higher side shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. 996s are so comfortable that they are frequently used as daily drivers — and who wouldn’t want to drive such a fun, drivable vehicle every day?!
The important thing, as with any prospective vehicle you’re considering to purchase, is to check to see if the 996 you’re looking to buy has been maintained well.
Also, that indispensable pre-purchase inspection (PPI) will hopefully put your mind at ease over those racked-up miles.
Low-Mileage 996 Carreras
Conversely, be cautious of very-low-mileage specimens. One scenario points to rusting issues and/or rodent infestations taking hold as the result of the car sitting idle for extended periods of time.
Another scenario suggests that the car may have been used strictly for track days, and thus has been subjected to extreme wear and tear.
The most benign, most desirable scenario, however, is that you may have a garage queen before you that has been lovingly – and maybe even obsessively — pampered for concours d’elegance competitions and other car show events.
This third scenario could very well justify a 10 percent or greater premium tacked on to the asking purchase price.
Again, it cannot be overemphasized that a PPI is essential — especially to ferret out which one of these low-mileage scenarios most likely applies to the 996 Carreras you are considering for purchase.
The prime suspect behind major oil leakage is the rear main seal (RMS). (Refer to the analysis below on the “Rear Main Seal (RMS)” for more details on that subject.)
Yet there are other, less offensive usual suspects behind oil leakage, however. But many of them are not cheap, either. The more likely sources of leakage are the following:
- Crankshaft seal
- Front steering rack and boots
- The intermediate shaft bearing cover itself
- Rear case bolts
- Transmission main shaft, and
- Valve covers
While not an actual oil-leak issue, per se, the air/oil separator (AOS) malfunction bears repeating here. As argued above, a faulty air/oil separator is usually the culprit behind a smoky exhaust.
That excessive smoke is the result of the air intake sucking in oil droplets because the air/oil separator is no longer functioning properly. Repairs can be costly because the engine should be removed for much easier access to the AOS.
Performance upgrades applied to Porsche automobiles are a fairly common occurrence. The 996-gen Porsche 911 is no exception. In your searches for a 996 Carrera, be sure to inquire about performance upgrades, if any, made on the vehicle.
Your main concern should be the quality of the upgrade(s) if so equipped. But also study the craftsmanship of the installation itself. This will be staunchly advocated throughout all StuttgartDNA Porsche Buyer Guides regarding all parts, repairs and installation issues.
Ideally, the sellers should be able to provide you with full documentation of each performance upgrade. If not, then you will have to make a judgment call on taking their word for it. In any case, make sure your PPI advisor/mechanic thoroughly evaluates these performance upgrades.
Also beware that any such performance upgrades could have an impact on your insurance policy and premium. The upkeep and maintenance of those upgrades should also be taken into consideration.
The rear main seal (RMS) embarrassment is the second most common 996 and 986 malady, next to the intermediate main shaft (IMS) bearing debacle. Both are universal potential mechanical problems inherent in both models.
Fortunately, though, the rear main seal blunder is not catastrophic like the IMS ticking time bomb.
So the only explosive “fury” the RMS may detonate is this: Your wife leveling her scorn pointblank at you once she discovers your newly acquired 996 Carrera marking its territory with all those oily drip-drip-drips piddled on your driveway.
If you do stumble upon an especially attractive 996 with an RMS leak, don’t despair. There’s still hope.
While the repair is pricey, use this fact as additional bargaining leverage. In order to repair either the leaky RMS and/or the IMS bearing issue, the gearbox and clutch must be removed from the liquid-cooled flat six; hence the costly repair bill.
In stark contrast, the cost of the new, highly recommended Teflon RMS replacement seal: about 30 bucks. It was brought to market around 2005.
The RMS repair can be deferred in most cases because it is not as serious as the dreaded IMS bearing issue, as discussed above. However, over time the RMS leakage could muck up the car’s clutch.
Incidentally, the RMS problem is more prevalent in 996s with manual transmissions than ones with automatic trannies.
So, if that prospective 996 of your dreams suffers RMS leaks — and perhaps even worn-clutch issues — haggle the heck out of it. Do your best to use these defects as substantial bargaining chips.
That is, get as much of a price reduction as possible so that, once you acquire that 996, you can plop down the comparable savings to have the RMS leak and IMS bearing and clutch replacements done all at once.
After all, an owner of a 996 suffering one or all of these common ailments will more than likely be highly motivated to move the car – hence the aforementioned conceivable savings for you to reap.
Porsche Communication Management (PCM)
Try to avoid 996 Carreras on the market with the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) navigation and stereo system. The PCM has been rendered obsolete because Porsche discontinued navigation updates long ago. Original PCM systems can be replaced with a double-DIN aftermarket unit.
In 2001, Porsche introduced an upgraded PCM II unit. The PCM II systems employ fiber optics, rendering them close to impossible to replace. Either system can be upgraded to accommodate Bluetooth connectivity, however. But it hardly seems worth the trouble.
Your very best option is to hold out for a 996 with the much-less-complicated base-model single-DIN stereo system. But that’s easier said than done.
Seats and Surroundings
As with some earlier-gen 911s, garish interior colors can be found in many 996 examples. These colors adorn not only the seats, but also the entire interior surrounding surfaces, including the dashboard.
So you probably don’t need me to tell you to look for the rarer — but much more appealing and therefore relatively more expensive — black leather interior.
The basic design of the 996 (and 986) cockpit has been a source of some criticism too. But to me, it looks much sportier — and therefore more befitting of a proper sports car — than the interiors of subsequent-generation 911s.
The latter Porsche interiors look much more at home in chichi luxury sedans, not sports cars, especially Porsche sports cars. But that’s just me.
Another criticism concerns the quality of the standard 996 interior materials and finishes. Granted, the interiors do tend to show their age prematurely.
As an alternative, the full-leather interior, which was a pricey original option, is the way to go. Leather stretches over every inner surface, including the pillars.
Thus it portends much higher maintenance and effort. But it’s well worth the upkeep with good leather treatments like the Lexol product line, for example.
If possible, also opt for sport seats with more support should you be lucky enough to find a 996 with them. They consist of perforated leather and more comfy, wider back rests.
Sunroofs and Cabriolets
Most Porsche owners do not fancy a sunroof overhead, but such non-sunroof coupés are relatively scarce. So you may have no choice but to take the sunroof. Conversely, a 996 offered without a sunroof may come at a premium.
Similarly, as mentioned elsewhere in our StuttgartDNA 996-gen Porsche 911 Buyer Guide, hardtops will also come at a premium versus cabriolets. But if you find a cabriolet and have no qualms about it, then you could save some money.
In this same vein, you could save even more money if you don’t mind a Tiptronic automatic transmission. (Please see further conversation on this issue in the “Transmission and Clutch” section below.)
As with any vehicle, maintenance and servicing are very important. This couldn’t be more so when contemplating the purchase of or owning any Porsche, not to mention a 996 in particular.
Ideally, you will be able to obtain a complete service history. Even more important is that this paper trail should indicate that the 996 Carrera in question met all Porsche-recommended service intervals and satisfied all service items required at each respective interval.
Also look out for any and all Porsche-issued service advisories. These are typically found on the last obtained service invoice. From there, investigate whether invoices exist that address all of these service advisories and their repairs.
If such documentation is not available, you still may be able to extrapolate estimated maintenance costs that you may face for the next year or two on the vehicle.
Then determine whether any service, maintenance or repairs were done by an authorized Porsche dealer, or at the very least by a highly qualified independent Porsche repair shop.
Finally, if you’re looking to buy any generation Porsche 911 GT2 (although outside the scope of this article, of course), be extremely cautious to a fault about where any such GT2 specimen was serviced.
Repairing these top-of-the-model-range exoticars is like solving automotive Rubrik’s Cubes for all but a handful of qualified service technicians across the globe.
There was consensus among the international automotive press when the debuting Porsche 996 was road- and track-tested for its introductory review.
Namely, the consensus was that the 996-gen Porsche 911 suspension embodied a virtual quantum leap – surpassing the done-to-death torsion-bar system of the deified 993, immediate predecessor to the 996. The 996 Carrera’s suspension is more complex than the 993’s suspension, yet it is vastly easier to modify.
So it stands to reason that the at-the-time state-of-the-art 996 suspension has withstood the test of time. It remains robust and durable.
In any case, periodic maintenance and replacement are required as usual, as with any system.
Pay particular attention to the control arms all around the car. These suspension items are the first to go. They have been known to reveal their forthcoming failure through rattling, thumping or creaking due to wear. Such damage commonly results from aggressively sprinting over speed bumps, for example.
Bushings are also an expendable item on the suspension system. So they need to be replaced from time to time. Ball joints and tie rods also need to be checked for wear.
Also have your PPI mechanic check the MacPherson struts. The MacPherson struts tend to run rapidly downhill anywhere from 70,000 through 90,000 miles. You can replace them with the original Sachs struts, or with less expensive but comparable Billstein or KW aftermarket brands, for instance.
Basics of the Transmission and Clutch
The 996-gen Porsche 911’s shift throw through each gear is quite long. Aftermarket short-shifter upgrades have replaced the original factory-installed shifters in some 996 Carreras. They shorten the shift throw nicely. Short-shifters on the GT variants come standard.
Because the 996 Carrera’s transmission and clutch are so reliable, both can last for years with normal Porsche-driving-style usage. However, a clutch exhibiting a stiff, heavy or pulsating pedal is a telltale sign of over-aggressive manhandling.
This sign also betrays the fact that the clutch needs replacing soon. As a mental benchmark, bear in mind that the typical 996 clutch can last up to 50,000 through 60,000 miles.
Working in concert with the clutch is a dual-mass flywheel. The flywheel tends to rattle when wearing out. So both the clutch and flywheel may and should require simultaneous replacement.
Imagine, this would be an ideal time for repairs in conjunction with IMS and/or RMS replacements. A kind of economy of scale would be at play here. (Also please see “The IMS Issue Relative to Clutch Matters” immediately below.)
Other signs of a worn flywheel include an abnormal heaviness in the pressure against your left foot and/or reduced engine response. When replacing the flywheel, consider upgrading to a lighter-weight flywheel. This improves the car’s performance. It also gives the 996 an even sportier responsiveness.
The IMS Issue Relative to Clutch Matters
Consider the following: You just ran across a 996 (or 986) that has not undergone an IMS retrofit. Moreover, the clutch may or may not exhibit symptoms and/or indications of the fact that the clutch needs replacing. Or, conversely, you do encounter a 996 with verified clutch issues.
In either case, negotiate the purchase price accordingly to compensate for the financing of all of the above-referenced replacement and installation costs.
To be more specific, an IMS retrofit requires removal of the clutch and gearbox for installation, as cited previously. So why not install a new clutch during that visit? To be truly anal about it, replace the RMS seal at the same time. Executing all of the above gives you the most bang for your buck.
But that is the cost/benefit analysis you will have to run for yourself. Then you can factor that analysis in to your negotiations of the mutually agreeable final purchase price.
If you are entertaining the purchase of a car with Tiptronic transmission, then you have unforeseen fortune on your side. The Tiptronic transmission has proven itself to be surprisingly more reliable than the manual gearbox. Who knew?!
Tiptronic problems arise, however, when it comes to the automatic’s cooling pipes. The Tiptronic cooling pipes have a tendency to rust, the universal bane of any vehicle’s existence.
This rusting potential could become even more urgent and problematic in environments that experience more-extreme-than-normal wintry conditions. The prime suspects are extraordinary salt deposits and accumulated dirt.
The good news is, replacing rusty, damaged Tiptronic cooling pipes is not very expensive to do.
Finally, there’s a reason the Tiptronic option on the 996 was much cheaper than the manual gearbox: The Tiptronic’s shifting action isn’t very fluid or smooth. This makes for a somewhat disagreeable driving experience. So beware.
Other Possible 996 Gearbox Issues
Here’s an experiment that you can run yourself during your test drives. Check to make sure that the car stays in gear. The idea is for you to accelerate or brake as abruptly as you can in each gear — especially second gear — to see if the gearbox pops out of gear.
Then have your PPI mechanic follow up on these matters if you run across any scary symptoms in your searches.
Here’s why: Oftentimes trying to remove the gearbox to replace the clutch is difficult, if not impossible. That’s because the bellhousing-bolt ends can corrode so badly that trying to forcefully remove them will strip the bolts and/or crack the engine casing. Not good at all.
So a knowledgeable Porsche technician will execute the correct remedy for this — that is, removing the gearbox and engine as a single unit and then carefully separating the gearbox from the engine by grinding off the corroded tips of the bolts. Wụnderbar!
That Potentially Tricky Second Gear
On a personal note, I have noticed a quirky phenomenon whenever relishing the pleasures of driving some 996s and 986s. Bear in mind that both cars share the same basic transmission architecture. This experience seems to occur only from a cold start before the car reaches normal operating temperature.
Namely, when absently or lazily (i.e., not consciously or precisely) shifting up from first gear, second gear tends to grind initially, but only while the car’s running temperature is cold.
Because I cannot draw upon unimpeachable documentation corroborating that subjective observation, this phenomenon is admittedly only anecdotal. So take it with a grain of salt.
Regardless, it could serve you well if you check it out and see if this happens to you at the start of your test drive. If you experience the same problem, then definitely have your PPI inspector check it out.
In the comments below, let us all know, too, please, if you run across this quirk.
In wrapping up, I’m distilling down to the top lessons that I hope you will take away from my article. Hopefully these intended objectives will facilitate your quest for that 996-gen Porsche 911 you desire.
If you are still a little hazy about any one of them, then please use the article’s navigable links to brush up on any “lesson” that you want to flesh out further.
Here we go, starting with the first of the top StuttgartDNA 996-gen lessons learned – the one item which über-purists are ignorant of, or which they insist on ignoring; I’m not sure which:
1. “The more you know history, the more liberated you are.” – Maya Angelou
I hope you enjoyed Porsche’s enlightening history presented at the top of the article, as did I upon first learning of it.
The presentation here of Porsche’s fascinating, company-resuscitating history was intended to inform you about the genesis and development of the 996 during the New Generation era. In turn it was meant to demonstrate that the New Generation era proved to usher Porsche into its present era of unprecedented prosperity.
Such bountiful prosperity, ironically, was predicated on water-cooled vehicles — not, not so surprisingly, on air-cooled engines. Yet the über-purists continue to carp.
This lesson learned is critical to fully understand the slings and arrows the 996 suffers — and, most important, to disregard the majority of them, most of which are the petty, frivolous duds.
2. Keep the cold, stark fact in mind that the air-cooled engine is technologically depleted
If for no other reasons than further tuning and future performance, know that the air-cooled engine’s potential has, regrettably, come to the end of the line. There’s nothing judgmentally good or bad about that fact. It’s just that — a fact.
Likewise, this has nothing to do with cheering for one form of cooling or another. Keep cheering all you want for either one. Just be all the wiser in realizing the values of all Porsches, no matter the model or model variant — or manner of cooling.
3. Gather all of the information that you need to make yourself comfortable during your pursuit of that one special 996
Skim this article quickly one last time. Also study the references and other resources collected at the end of this article. Once you are familiar with all of the info and issues, you will be able to more intelligently and confidently assess and evaluate each 996 that you run across.
4. Master the fact — and fiction — of the IMS and RMS enigmas
Especially bone up on the IMS and RMS misperceptions so that you have a reasonable grasp of these problems and their solutions — and their myths. Factor these issues into your negotiation strategy.
5. Always pass on the first model year
Avoid the first model year of the 996 — i.e., 1998 (Europe) and 1999 (USA). These first-model-year units developed many mechanical teething problems. In general, you should always pass on the first model year of any make of car, anyway.
6. Spend the necessary cash to invest in pre-purchase (PPI) inspections
Arrange for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) on any and every 996 that you are seriously considering for purchase. This has been a constant refrain throughout this StuttgartDNA 996 Buyer Guide. It will continue to be so throughout all of our Buyer Guides.
7. Balance how much you can spend on your PPI versus the value/cost of the vehicle
As touched on earlier, however, you should run your own personal cost/benefit analysis on this subject.
That is, calculate how much you can spend on your PPI with respect to how deep you wish to drill down in evaluating your 996 shortlist relative to the price you are ultimately going to have to pay for that 996 of your dreams.
In short, do not overspend on your PPI compared to the estimated purchase price of the vehicle you wind up owning. It’s a fine line, as well as a delicate balance, between the two expenditures.
This is yet another reason to educate yourself as much as possible on the assets and liabilities of the 996. In fact, you should conduct your own similar due diligence on any other Porsche automobile you pursue in the future by studying our forthcoming Porsche Buyer Guides.
8. Narrow down your list of features, if possible
Study the various model-years’ features in order to decide what you must have and those features that you can do without.
996-gen Porsche 911 Carrera Model-Year Features
9. Zero in on the latest model you can afford
It is a cardinal rule to seek out and buy the latest model that you can afford. Nothing changes in this regard when it comes to the 996. In fact, this MUST specifically apply to the 996.
10. Grasp the problems that are specifically unique to the 996 and issues above, isolating them from the general Porsche issues I discussed concurrently
I gave you a lot of information on all of the problems for which to be on the lookout for the 996 and for Porsche sports cars in general. Try to go back, though, and isolate those problem areas that are unique only to the 996 and 986. Topical examples include:
d. Suspension, and
I hope you have enjoyed our first StuttgartDNA Buyer Guide. More important, I hope you gleaned enough here to boost your confidence in intelligently ferreting out that 996 to enjoy for years to come.
Our goal was to equip you with as much research, data, fictions and facts — good and bad — as we could fit within the limited scope of this Internet article about the 996. Hopefully we accomplished as much of that goal as possible that we set out to achieve in aiding you in your quest.
Just remember this ancient but everlasting English proverb from the 16th century, which is especially relevant today in this case:
Forewarned is forearmed.
You have to intimately know the Porsche automobile that you seek. You achieve this by gathering as many tools and data as you can to identify, conquer and acquire the Porsche that best suits you and that is affordable to you, as well.
Also beware that market prices of the 996-gen Porsche 911 may tend to rise over time. This could be a direct or indirect result of more and more honest, fact-based posts like this one sprouting up on the Internet. So keep this in mind so that the market doesn’t leave you behind.
Finally, let me know in the Comments below how your quest is proceeding and how it turns out. By letting me know, you will enlighten all other StuttgartDNA-community fellow Porsche pursuers how to proceed in each community member’s unique quest to obtain his or her own Porsche.
If you have been pursuing another Porsche model or variant, let us all know in the Comments section of one of our other respective Buyer Guides on that particular model or variant.
Happy Porsche hunting — and, most important, happy Porsche motoring!
© 2019 Copyright StuttgartDNA.com / Larry TPG. All Rights Reserved.
Please share your COMMENTS with everyone by going to the “LEAVE A REPLY” space below at the very bottom of this page. Your input is highly valued by us as well as much appreciated!
Selected Bibliographical References and Resources for Further Study:
Baruth, Jack. “Why the Porsche 996 will Never be Collectible.” Road and Track website. June 6, 2017. Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/buying-maintenance/a9982953/why-the-996-generation-porsche-911-will-never-be-collectible/
DiPietro, John. “Practical Buying Guide: Porsche 911 996 Generation (1999-2004).” March 20, 2017. Klipnik.com website. Last accessed on March 3, 2019, at http://www.klipnik.com/best-used-cars/practical-buying-guide-996-generation-porsche-911-1999-2004/
Leffingwell, Randy. Porsche 70 Years: There is No Substitute. 1st Edition. Minneapolis: Motorsports, 2017.
Lowney, Damon. “Model Guide: The 996-generation 911 — Part I.” Porsche Club of America website. December 28, 2016. Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://www.pca.org/news/2016-12-28/model-guide-996-generation-911-part-i
Ludvigsen, Karl. Porsche: Excellence Was Expected – The Complete History of the Company, Its Cars and Its Racing Heritage. Volume 3 – 1981-2003. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, MA: Bentley Publishers, 2003.
Mertz, Nathan. “About.” Columbia Valley Luxury Cars website. (n.d.). Last accessed on March 3, 2019, at https://cvluxurycars.com/about-us/
Morgan, Peter. Porsche. 1st Edition. Minneapolis: Motorsports, 2012.
Morgan, Peter. “Porsche 911 (996) Buyers’ Guide.” Porsche Club Great Britain website. (n.d.). Last accessed March 3, 2019. At https://www.porscheclubgb.com/regions-registers/registers/modern/996/porsche-911-(996)-buyers-guide
National Porsche Pre-Owned Portal, The. Porsche Cars North America’s The National Porsche Pre-Owned Portal website. (n.d.). Last accessed March 3, 2019, at https://nationalpreownedporsche.com/
Rennlist. “996 Forum.” Rennlist website. (n.d.). Last accessed March 3, 2019, at https://rennlist.com/forums/996-forum/
Rennlist. “Best Porsche 996 Performance Mods Recommended by Rennlist.” Rennlist website. February 8, 2019. Last accessed March 3, 2019, at https://rennlist.com/articles/best-porsche-996-performance-mods-recommended-by-rennlist/?utm_source=jan16&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=content
Revolution Porsche Specialists. “Porsche 996 buyer’s guide – what to look out for.” Revolution website. (n.d.). Last accessed on March 3, 2019, at http://www.revolution-porsche.co.uk/buyers-guides/porsche-996-buyers-guide
Singer Vehicle Design. “Singer Vehicle Design Announces Collaboration with Williams on High Performance and Light-Weighting Services.” Singer Vehicle Design website. August 9, 2017. Last accessed on March 3, 2019, at http://singervehicledesign.com/singer-vehicle-design-announces-collaboration-with-williams-on-high-performance-and-light-weighting-services/
Ward, W. Christian. “Why the Porsche 996 is the 911 Deal of the Century.”
(September 5, 2018). Road & Track magazine website. Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/news/a27049/the-case-for-buying-a-porsche-996/
Wikipedia. “Corporate average fuel economy.” Wikipedia website. (n.d.). Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_average_fuel_economy
Wikipedia, “Porsche 911.” Wikipedia website. (n.d.). Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porsche_911
Wikipedia. “Porsche 996.” Wikipedia website. (n.d.). Last accessed on March 2, 2019, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porsche_996