Modern cars intimidate most people into avoiding even attempting basic maintenance on their own. It should not be that way actually. While modern cars are certainly much more complex than older cars, many things are actually easier now. I was a professional mechanic (or service technician) from ’83 through ’97. I worked at a Ford dealer in Eastern Washington and specialized in the highest tech stuff that cars had back then, electronics, engine performance, and air conditioning primarily. I also did alignments and other repairs. I maintain my own cars still today. Everything from general maintenance to a complete engine swap on my 2007 Jaguar a few years ago.
I encourage most people to give some of the basics a try. It’s good to know more about your car. This article is intended to give some useful information about maintaining your own vehicles.
Where can I get service information?
As it turns out, this is better than it has ever been. Back in 1996 when On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) regulations were mandated coast-to-coast in the US, and finally spreading to the modern world, the regulators realized that just making low emissions vehicles was not enough as nobody would maintain those emissions systems and often they would even remove them when the car was fairly new. So along came OBD2 intent on making sure people maintained emissions compliance and eventually easing the emissions inspection programs. As these OBD regulations matured they also realized that the high costs of the dealer monopolies was driving big incentives for people to not fix their cars when emissions failures happened. So, along came the Service Information Rule to make service more readily available by enabling 3rd party service providers access to the same emissions related service information that the dealerships had. Then in 2012 Massachusetts passed a Right to Repair law covering on-road motor vehicles basically extending the SIR type regulation bumper-to-bumper. Right-to-repair laws are spreading more. So, what does all this mean for you? It means you have a legal right to access the original manufacturers service information and training for a “reasonable subscription fee”. The government helps manufacturers determine what is reasonable.
In order to ensure manufacturers were obeying these laws, the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) was formed. Their website at https://www.nastf.org houses links to this government required service information that the manufacturers would prefer to hide. There you can access the service information for your car. Each manufacturer has it’s own unique website of information, and each has a pricing menu based on how long you need information access and how many vehicles of information access you need. Porsche’s is here: https://techinfo2.porsche.com/PAGInfosystem/VFModuleManager?Type=GVOLangSelection&lk=ELSE. Notice the cryptic link to find it. Of course it is one of the most expensive too with a 1-day subscription costing $140. For comparison access to the service information on my 2007 Jaguar was in the $15 range for 3-day access to partial info for one vehicle.
So that factory information is too expensive? There are 3rd party alternatives. One of the biggest is Alldata. They have a DIY service information website that is geared towards folks like us. I used this for my Cayman S and it was around $30/year. Much of their information is derived from the manufacturers information.
Where can I get parts?
Many repair parts are only available from the dealer networks but most maintenance parts are available from other providers. Of course, be careful on aftermarket parts as many are not as good as the manufacturers original parts. Here are some places I go for Porsche parts:
Vertex Auto. These guys specialize in Porsche, although they have expanded to others now.
Pelican Parts. Another Porsche specialist. When I renewed my PCA membership I got a 10% coupon here.
For some things such as fluids, you can get these from local parts stores. I actually buy Mobile One (Porsche preferred) oil from Walmart. You can also get filters, belts, some hoses, bulbs, etc., at local parts stores such as Autozone, Napa, O’Reilly’s, Pep Boys, etc.
Where can I get help if I get stuck?
Here is where the internet has really helped. Crowd-sourced information is abundant. There are many forums that specialize in Porsche too. Here are 2 of the bigger ones:
Most common questions have probably been asked already and you will find information posted from other Porsche folks like us. If it has not been asked before, go ahead and start a new thread with your question. You might be surprised the help you get. Of course with all this crowd-sourced information you have to sift through it a bit. It’s not all good or even accurate but there is also a bunch of great information out there.
I don’t have a hoist and it rarely is even an inconvenience. There are certain things that are much easier with a hoist but most of the time a hoist is in your way. If you were puling the engine out of your 911, sure a hoist is extremely helpful. For normal maintenance a floor jack and jack stands, and a set of ramps cover most tasks OK. However, if you really want a hoist you can get them for home. Some are as low as $1500 or less. Here is an example of one.
As for tools, I still happen to have my tools from when I did this for a living. However, when I need new basic tools a trip to Sears will fill many needs. There are some common tools you will need for Porsche’s. First of all, a set of Torx tools. You can get drivers or sockets, or just get both. Some things on Porsche’s use “triple-square” or “cheese-head” bits. You can find these at places like Tooltopia. Some can even be found at local tool suppliers like C&H in Peoria. Be careful of going too cheap on tools. That is a recipe for damaging things including you. Get a good torque wrench too. In fact, get both a 1/2″ drive and a 3/8″ drive so you can cover the spectrum of torque you will need.
What do I do with my used fluids?
Engine oil can be recycled at the place you bought it from. Some other fluids can also be returned at auto parts stores like Autozone. Others like brake fluid and antifreeze are harder. Often your local parts store can point you in the right direction.
What are some typical costs?
Let’s start with a basic oil change on a modern Porsche sports car. You can get the factory recommended Mobile One 0W-40 oil at Walmart for under $25/5quart container. My 2006 Cayman S takes 8.5 quarts. I just get 2 jugs because my Mercedes also takes the same oil and about the same capacity. The OEM filter is from Mahle and can be purchased from Vertex for $11.95. I can change my oil for under $60 using the factory oil and filter. I back the car on to ramps. I takes about 30 minutes. The used oil goes back in the jugs the new oil came in and I drop it back off at Walmart the next time I go. The only tools are a ratchet and socket for the drain plug, ramps, a drain pan, a funnel, and a filter wrench that can be purchased at any parts store, or even Walmart.
There are 2 very important things you should never go cheap on: brakes and tires. There are many things not to go cheap on of course but these 2 are the main things that are critical for avoiding accidents. On a high performance car like Porsche, the factory pads are a great choice for most people and uses. I know many people that even run them on the track. Vertex sells many great brake pads for my car including the OEM pads. In my case the fronts are $209 for the set, and the rears are $119.98. You will need to check the rotor thickness when changing pads as they wear too. The manual will have thickness specs. Lets say you do need rotors as well. In my case I do track days so the factory drilled rotors should really be upgraded to slotted rotors to avoid the cracking issues. I did not find what I want at Vertex so I looked at Tire Rack and Pelican. Pelican had Sebro slotted rotors for a reasonable price. The fronts are $128 each and the rears are $130 each. You should always change the brake fluid when changing pads and since I do track days I use Motul 600 which I can get right here at Hoerr Racing for $19 per 500ml container (I use 2). So, for under $1000 I have new OEM pads, upgraded rotors, and new performance fluid. It takes me about 2 hours to change these parts and bleed the brakes in my garage with just a floor jack, basic tools, and a pressure bleeder. I also have a vacuum bleeder that I use to replace the fluid in the reservoir before beginning the pad swap. Warning: brake fluid is destructive and will eat car paint! Use caution and cover areas that could get a drip on it. I will go through many sets of pads before needing rotors again so the next pad swap will be less than half that cost.
The Cayman S is mid engine and you can’t even see the engine without removing panels. This can be intimidating and make it seem like changing spark plugs would be very difficult. In actuality, this is one of the easiest cars to change plugs on. You start be removing the rear tire and a small plastic panel behind it (3 screws). At that point you can see all 3 coils in plain sight. Here is a video on YouTube showing this.
I prefer factory electrical parts including spark plugs. Sun Coast sells the OEM spark plug set for $108. You can get the same brand and type of spark plugs for less elsewhere. It takes me about an hour and a half to change them. Always use anti-seize on the threads and make sure the gap is correct.
Written by Michael Bene’t – LTR Technical Chairperson.
About a race season ago two other PCA member/customers & I were talking about getting dedicated racecars for PCA and/or NASA racing. Dedicated as in “no longer street legal” and strictly built to adhere to the rules of the racing class we had decided on. I personally knew of a trio of 996 Carrera based racecars in Ohio that would fit the bill. These cars were sponsored by our local race parts warehouse HRP and had a pretty good history on the track. We all three agreed that they had potential so we loaded up three trailers & headed over to inspect them for purchase.
Nine hours tow later (and after my thorough inspection) we turned the cars down and made the return trip home chattering all the way about what the ideal Porsche club racer candidate should be like.
Would it be water cooled? Would it be air cooled? 3.6 liter or 3.4 liter? Turbo… Vintage… Boxster?! What we knew for sure was that PCA club racing felt very good and we wanted to have fun with the good Porsche folk we had gotten to know. All that was left was a basic platform to work with.
After considerable discussion the decision was made to go with the 993 Carrera chassis. It could be argued that this 993 version of the venerable 911 is one of the best candidates for racecar conversion as they are plentiful – and there are loads of factory upgrades as well as aftermarket bits available made just for the 993. That list of parts will allow the 993 to perform like the true racecar within.
The search began and within no time street cars were purchased from other PCA members & the internet –
Then the process began.
We found a 1995 and a 1996 coupe. Both have their positives with the 1995 being a bit lighter and the 1996 having the Vario-Ram intake for added power. The cars were gutted and upgraded to race safety spec within a few weeks time.
Then we built a list of race parts that only a full factory LeMans effort could better. We conceived a time line and started gathering all that was needed to make this dream into reality.
Calls were made, UPS boxes were shipped, paint schemes invented. Wrenches were turned, issues were remedied and dollars were spent. Hours turned into days that turned into weeks but the plan came together and worked like a well oiled machine. It was glorious to watch the progress and the excitement around the two efforts.
Details like the full custom race gage, race Moton suspension (that we sourced through HRP) multi adjustable coil over system and the gorgeous Forgeline race spec wheels that my shop recommended & provided truly made a strong impact on the cars track credibility. Porsche manufactured special front suspension uprights were added to cure bump steer, also ERP produces a full mono-ball bushing kit for this chassis that we implemented. This chassis is so popular that many Daytona 24 hour Porsche teams produce parts for this chassis that we took advantage of. Several exhaust manufacturers love this 3.6 engine too. We chose a Fabspeed kit as they had put forth a system that is wonderful to listen to and that makes good power. Nearly everything that was available to make these cars into dedicated track machines was added to these cars. I could write a years worth of newsletter space on the parts list alone, not to mention the shop fabrications so that each part could be used! It would be a long and distinguished list.
But the proof is in the pudding. And I am happy to say the pudding is perfect.
At a PCA event in St Louis early in April the cars hit the track surface. They were met with rave reviews and they were real crowd pleasers to boot. The cars drove like they were on rails and they were fast & stunning to see. After three straight track days both cars passed the initial shake down and are scheduled for a full 2008 season of Porsche fun.
It had been a long road (with a false starting 18 hour Ohio road trip) but the destination turned out to be better than we could have thought. Be sure to watch for the two reverse matching paint scheme Kauth & Mayeur Porsche 993’s at your next track event. And stop in to talk with the PCA owners Dr. Bill Frame & Dann Nelson (F/N Racing) if you can. They are easy to recognize as they are the two Porsche guys with the two biggest smiles.
I’m just back from instructing at Mid-Ohio, where I was surprised by the results of a braking exercise we did with the first-time students. These students were hard-driving, autocrossing, gas-pedal-loving Car People – and none of them had any idea how hard they could really apply the brakes. Braking is a very useful skill. Being able to slow the car quickly, under control, gives you options that other driver’s don’t have. The goal is to make the wheels rotate about 15% slower than the car is going, but not to lock the wheels and slide. There are three elements: managing weight transfer, knowing when to let up, and braking straight.
If you jump on the brakes suddenly, putting full pressure on the brake pedal immediately, you will lock up the front wheels. Instead, build pedal pressure on the pedal gradually. As you apply the brakes firmly the car will begin to slow, weight will transfer to the front wheels, and the nose of the car will drop. Once this has happened, squeeze the pedal harder. With more weight on the front, you can use more pedal pressure without locking the wheels. This whole process, from first touching the brakes to full pressure, will take at least a second. It often feels like braking twice: press once to put the nose down, then press more to really slow the car.
If you press the brake pedal hard enough to activate the ABS, and you really need to stop the car, don’t let up. The ABS is doing at least as well as the best you can do, and you should let it finish the job. If you’ve never felt your ABS activate before, find a smooth, straight empty road or a big parking lot, get the car up to about 45mph, and stomp the brake pedal as hard as you can. Most ABS systems make a harsh buzzing sound and vibrate the brake pedal. Learn what that feels like, so that you don’t let up on the pedal, thinking something’s wrong, when you should be pressing it to the floor.
If your car doesn’t have ABS you may occasionally lock up a wheel. A locked wheel give a peculiar feel to the car that you’ll learn to recognize, and a characteristic sound. Suppose that 100% represents the perfect braking pressure, but you applied 110% and locked up a wheel. You need to reduce the pressure to about 75 or 80% to get the locked wheel rolling again, then squeeze down closer to 100% to slow the car. If you want to practice this, a wet parking lot is easier on your tires than dry pavement and will let you do the whole thing at lower speeds.
Finally, you can brake hardest when the car is going straight, and you cannot turn the car when braking at maximum pressure. I’ll explain why next month. Until then, keep your eyes up, drive safely, and enjoy.
Eight years ago, my friends talked me into attending a PCA driver’s education event at the Putnam Park Road Course. In the classroom I heard that 70% of Americans consider themselves to be above-average drivers – but of course they aren’t. On the track I found that driving fast is much harder than it looks, and loads of fun. I got so hooked, I now instruct at PCA events. In From the Driver’s Seat I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from the track. These tips can help you at the track, but they are primarily intended for every day driving on the street. I hope that they will make driving your Porsche more fun.
The first tip is this: look ahead – way ahead! Too many drivers lock their eyes and their brains down just a short distance ahead of the car. Often their attention span ends at the bumper of the next car, which they are probably following at some NASCAR-inspired distance you could measure with a ruler. When something unexpected happens – the car in front brakes hard, the light turns red – these drivers are surprised, unprepared, and often on their way to the body shop.
Good drivers look ahead. The good drivers at the track look surprisingly far ahead. They plan the path they will take around the next turn, spot potholes and slick spots, predict how the traffic will develop and position themselves to deal with it. They scan for potential dangers (Is the car rushing in from the side street going to stop?) and allow themselves room to avoid them (I’ll ease up on the accelerator until I see him begin to slow).
Familiar advice from driver’s ed is to imagine a piece of tape running horizontally across your windshield, halfway between the upper and lower edges. You should spend most of your time looking above the tape, and only glance below the tape from time to time. If you are going 60 miles an hour and your reaction time is 0.7 seconds, there’s no point in looking at anything closer than 60 feet in front of you (about four car lengths); if it suddenly changes, you can’t react before you hit it. By keeping your eyes farther out, you see things that you have time to react to. By looking much farther out, you see them when a small change in brake, throttle or steering will take care of them.
The next time you are on a curvy road, look as far ahead as you can. Keep pushing yourself to see around the next bend, even when the trees are in the way. The next time you are on the highway, try to look half a mile ahead. See the traffic patterns, predict how they will develop, and make lane changes that allow you and your fellow travelers to move smoothly up the road. The next time you have to follow close behind another car, look past them, or even through them (if their windows are clean), so that you can see what is happening ahead. As you look farther and farther ahead, you’ll be surprised how, even when you are driving quickly, events around you seem to slow down and become more manageable. And your driving will be smoother, safer, and more fun.
Last month I talked about looking ahead. Keeping your eyes well out in front of the car will allow you to anticipate events, and help you drive a smooth, controlled line. This month we’ll start on basics of car control. The first step is really basic: sitting in the seat.
Try this exercise. Take your car to a large, empty parking lot, and do some slaloms and U turns. You don’t have to go fast – 20 mph will be plenty – but turn hard enough that your tires start to make a little noise. Now notice how you are sitting as the car turns. Many drivers lean forward just a little bit to get good leverage on the steering wheel, bringing their shoulders away from the seat. This is bad. It requires that you use your hands, arms and the steering wheel to hold your upper body in place. You will drive better if the seat holds you in place, so that your arms only have to steer.
To find a good seat position, start by connecting your body to the seat. Burrow your bottom down into the seat bottom, and snuggle your back into the seat back. Keep this connection, and start adjusting the seat. Slide the base far enough back that your feet can easily move among the pedals, but far enough forward that you can press the pedals all the way to the floor. Then, with your shoulder blades touching the seat back, straighten one arm and lay it across the top of the steering wheel. Adjust the seat back so that wheel touches somewhere on your palm, between your wrist and your fingers. For street driving I like to be on the far end of this range, but I sit an inch or two closer to the wheel for track driving. You want to have good leverage on the wheel, with your arms slightly bent, but not be so close that you can’t steer quickly. If your car has an air bag, your chest must be at least ten to twelve inches behind the steering wheel. It may take a bit of fiddling to get all of this just right, so take your time. When you’ve got the seat adjusted, don’t forget to re-set your mirrors, and of course fasten your seat belt.
Now go drive the slalom again. Keep your body down in the seat and your back against the seat back, letting the seat support you. Imagine that you have five-point harnesses installed, so that the shoulder straps are holding you tightly against the seat back; that’s exactly why many autocross and driver’s ed drivers install harnesses. As you get used to sitting in the seat, rather than on it, you’ll find yourself more relaxed in the car, even under heavy cornering. You will focus more on driving the car, and less on keeping yourself in the seat. Best of all, you will feel more of what your Porsche is communicating through the seat and the wheel – which, of course, is half the fun.
Now that you are firmly seated in the car with your eyes focused well out in front, it’s time to talk about steering. Surprisingly, there are several schools of thought about where and how to grip the wheel.
Most driving schools want you to hold the steering wheel with your left hand either at 9 or 10 o’clock, and your right hand at 2 or 3. I personally prefer the 9 and 3 position, feeling that it gives me the most leverage. The details of your steering wheel (where the spokes join the rim, any bumps for gripping), as well as personal preference, will influence your choice.
For the track I like to wrap my thumbs inside the wheel, hooking them over the spokes. This is great for cars that don’t have airbags. However, for late-model cars I recommend laying your thumbs on top of the wheel, pointing up. This way, when the air bag pops it won’t break your thumbs. Make this your all-day-every-day practice; you won’t have time to think about it in the last second before the airbag deploys.
The gearshift lever is for shifting gears, not for resting your hand. When it’s time to shift gears, drop your right hand to the lever as you start to push in the clutch, make the shift, and immediately return your hand to the wheel. You don’t need to “get ready.” This is exactly what you’ll see race drivers do. Realistically, between radios and the coffee cups, we all drive with one hand from time to time. Still, you can control the car much better with two hands than with one. Develop the habit of driving two-handed most of the time, and always get two hands on the wheel when you see any potentially hazardous situation developing.
A different approach is to hold the wheel at 8 and 4 o’clock, with thumbs on top. The thinking here is to minimize injuries if the airbag deploys. Imagine that you were using the popular “right hand at 12 o’clock, left hand holding the cell phone to the left ear” driving position, and the airbag popped. Your right hand would smash into your chest and face, causing plenty of damage. If you have your hands at 8 and 4 with your thumbs on top, your hands will go down into your lap, and you will do a gentle face plant into the nice cushy air bag. I was taught this hand position recently at the Bobby Ore Stunt Driving School and you can control the car this way. (Yes, I have video). I’m not ready to give up 9 and 3 for the track, but I’ll be using 8 and 4 for daily driving, especially in airbag cars.
For gentle curves, just turn the wheel without changing your grip. (Did I have to tell you that?) For tighter turns you’ll need a good way to do a little handwork; more on that next month.