Porsche's Deadly Sin #1: 1999 Porsche 911 (996) 3.4

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
We’re committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using links in our articles. Learn more here
porsche s deadly sin 1 1999 porsche 911 996 3 4

Great artists steal, and I’m obviously inspired by Paul Niedermeyer’s GM’s Deadly Sin series here. I am currently the owner of three Porsches, as pathetic as that may be, and I’ve experienced firsthand the many ways in which Porsche disappoints its fans and buyers. Few companies have been as comprehensively whitewashed by the media and the corporate biographers, but the truth is available to those of us who wish to look a bit harder.

We will start with the big betrayals, of course, and the unassuming fastback you see above represents perhaps the worst of Porsche’s many middle fingers to the customer base. It is a 1999 Porsche 911, known to everyone in the world as the “996”.

From 1964 to 1998, the 911 evolved on an incremental basis. As with the first and last Volkswagen Beetles, there are very, very few parts which survived the thirty-four-year journey unchanged, but there’s an amazing amount of interchangeability. It is possible to “update” a 1971 911T to look just like a 1998 Carrera 2S, and it’s also possible to “backdate” a 1994 911 Carrera to look like a classic 1973 Carrera RS. Both of these offenses against human decency have occurred many times, incidentally. Take a look here to see a rather lovely example of a “964” turned into a “long-hood” 911S, in a color that will be familiar to many TTAC readers.

The 911 was never intended to last thirty-four years. The front-engine, water-cooled 928 was supposed to replace the 911 in the Seventies… but it didn’t, so the 911’s lifetime was extended another decade. The costs and inefficiencies of building a car with a Sixties architecture tortured Porsche. A complete re-engineering was necessary, and Porsche worked with Toyota to squeeze every last dollar out of the new 911’s design.

The list of cost-cuts in the Porsche 996 can be recited by nearly every Porschephile. Frameless doors, complete commonality with the Boxster from the door latches forward, horrifying interior trim quality, drop-in assemblies provided by the lowest bidder, and the engine…

An article on the most common failures suffered by the 3.4L watercooled boxer six can be found here, but for those of you who don’t click on links, the problems range from oil leakage at the rear main seal (which is more or less universal) to cylinder head failure. In nearly all cases, the “fix” is the same: to purchase a complete rebuild from Porsche, at your expense. Figure on $15,000 or more for the “subsidized” engine.

Porsche had been “fighting” failures of the watercooled engine, which appeared first in the 1997 Boxster, from the very first car that rolled off the line. Porous engine blocks, intermediate shaft failures… the watercooled boxers were junk. This is enough for a Deadly Sin — knowingly equipping every naturally-aspirated Boxster and 911 they sold from 1997 to as late as 2008 with failure-prone engines — but, as always, Porsche raised the bar in the customer-screwing department.

During those years, Porsche worked with its dealers to deny warranty claims, place blame on customers, withhold knowledge of fixes, and generally burn every last bit of goodwill they had built up over years of… um… previous engine failures in air-cooled cars. Again and again during those years, owners of pampered, low-mileage cars found themselves paying five-figure bills to keep their cars on the road. For more than a decade, Porsche simultaneously denied knowledge of engine problems while claiming that their newest engine revision did not suffer from the problems that they were denying had occurred previously.

While waiting for his $75,000 Porsche to experience a $15,000 engine failure, the 911 owner could at least fail to enjoy the most dismal, fragile interior ever seen in a production Porsche. Buttons wore out, dashes cracked, radios committed suicide in new and interesting ways, and every single electrical component in the car seemed prone to intermittent, untraceable failure. Naturally, the fabulously low prices Porsche paid suppliers for the jumble of garbage components in a 996 were never reflected at the parts counter. The replacement cost for the “Litronic” headlamp assemblies is enough to make an NBA player weep. I saw brand-new 996s with cracked leather on the seats when the cars were still in dealerships. Make no mistake. Every possible corner was cut.

Long-time Porsche owners found the 996 driving experience to be as bewildering as the build quality. This was a quiet, flimsy-feeling car that outhandled, outaccelerated, and outbraked the outgoing 993 while never feeling anything like as substantial as said air-cooled predecessor. The flimsy feeling came honestly — amazingly in this modern era, Porsche actually cut weight out of the car compared to the previous model — but it didn’t satisfy.

The men from Stuttgart knew they had a loser on their hands, so the 996 was freshened in 2002 with a more durable, more powerful engine, interior revisions, and a facelift. The market’s opinion on these cars, however, is written in the resale values. If you had purchased two Porsches in a row — a 1998 Carrera 2S for $75,000 and a 1999 Carrera 2 for $75,000 — and put 50,000 miles on each, you would find that the 1998 car would command an easy $50K in PCA classifieds, but the 1999 would struggle to fetch $20K.

The 1999 Porsche 911 was a failure in every way but one: the massive savings realized with the new model made it possible for the company to plan new models. And since the new model in question was the Cayenne, you could say that all the news was bad, after all. But that’s a Deadly Sin for another day.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

More by Jack Baruth

Join the conversation
3 of 122 comments
  • Markwemple Markwemple on Oct 26, 2014

    I've owned Porsches for nearly 30 years. I've owned a 912, 2- 356s, a 944, 3 air cooled 911s and my current daily driver a 996 ( I still own 2 air cooled models as well) so I think I can speak with some authority. A lot of horse crap is going around here. First, Japanese can build a reliable car. But one that will rust out incredibly fast and only the engine and sometimes the transmissions are reliable. I've owned Mazda (I race and RX7), Subaru, Nissan and Toyota. American stuff is better than it was, which was HORRENDOUS. But so is everything else. I currently own a Suburban and a Ford 7.3 Superduty. I've owned at least 2 examples from each US manufacturer. And I've also owned, Mercedes, Audi, loads of VWs, BMWs, Volvos, Saabs, a Peugeot, Fiat, etc. So, I can tell you that my 2002 996 in the last 3 years/30,000 miles has needed, fluids and filters, coil packs and..... wait for it.... nothing else. It has had an alternator replaced and an a/c condensor (stone hit) and the ignition switch as well as the cup holder and of course brakes and tires. But nothing unusual. I use redline oil, factory filters and replace every 5k. No metal in the filters! I have almost 100k on it now and plan on putting another 100k on it. Its about as reliable as anything I've owned (including Toyotas). Only 1 car my dad owned, a 1988 Audi 90, beats it. Damn thing only needed regular maintenance and tires and 1 brake change in 200+ k. Yes, over 200k on suspension, alternator, starter, radiator, you name it! So, the 996 isn't as hand built as the older ones and feels a liitle more like an appliance than the old ones but, the heat works better, as does the a/c. It is a great track car that can be driven like any other car. The original author knows very little about these cars and the article is incredibly misleading!

    • Duncan1957 Duncan1957 on Oct 27, 2014

      Hi. I like your article. I have a MY2003 996 coupe (New Zealand new)with 43,000kms (that is 27,000miles if American) on the clock and I find all the negative stuff unsettling. Love my car but I do understand that there is about a 10% failure rate on the IMS bearing. I understand also that if you drive them reasonably hard the failure rate is lower. Would you recommend having the IMS bearing replaced, or just leave it as it is?

  • CaliRally CaliRally on Jan 15, 2016

    Interesting commentary. The problem is one of hysterics and artistic license. Sensationalism sells! As with any car, for every failure, there are countless more people who have never experienced a problem with any specific car model be it a Mazda, a BMW, or a Porsche. Aesthetics, looks, feel, are all personal just like beauty and art. I have owned, and currently own, several Porsches (912, 996 C4, 997.2 4S, 991 4S) and a Ferrari 456M ...all of which I bought used (and with under 20K miles on the odometer). I am either lucky or blessed....or both. I have never had any major problem with my cars. I drive them hard, maintain them well, and sell them when I want to try something new. I wouldn't bash the 996 so much. It is a great car, handles great, looks great to my eyes, easy to maintain, and a heck of a lot of fun + very affordable. For anyone reading this, ignore the haters and bashers. If you are looking for a great, inexpensive sports car, or your first p-Car before upgrading to the $100K+ range, the 996 is a great buy. If you want to be on the "safe-side," buy a Prius or a Toyota Min-Van. If you still have some blood flowing in your veins and want a bit of adrenalin and enjoy spirited driving, you can't go wrong with a well-maintained 996. Live a little and leave the hating, bashing, and fear-mongering to semi-retirees better served by a self-driving Google car or an used Prius. Nanny cars are for writers sitting behind a desk. Porsche cars are for people still years away from penile implants, geriatric pills, or adult diapers. In the Land of VCs ,Google, and Facebook; "Ballers" drive Porsches, F-Cars, and Mclarens of all vintages. A 996 smells excitement, danger, fun. A brand new Prius smells like the stale flatulence of some Palo Alto gamer living in his Mom's basement while completing an online degree from some unaccredited school and spending Friday nights with his right-hand, LOL!

  • 28-Cars-Later "But Assemblyman Phil Ting, the San Franciscan Democrat who wrote the electric school bus legislation, says this is all about the health and wellbeing of Golden State residents. In addition to the normal air pollution stemming from exhaust gasses, he believes children are being exposed to additional carcinogens by just being on a diesel bus."Phil is into real estate, he doesn't know jack sh!t about science or medicine and if media were real it would politely remind him his opinions are not qualified... if it were real. Another question if media were real is why is a very experienced real estate advisor and former tax assessor writing legislation on school busses? If you read the rest of his bio after 2014, his expertise seems to be applied but he gets into more and more things he's not qualified to speak to or legislate on - this isn't to say he isn't capable of doing more but just two years ago Communism™ kept reminding me Dr. Fauxi knew more about medicine than I did and I should die or something. So Uncle Phil just gets a pass with his unqualified opinions?Ting began his career as a real estate  financial adviser at  Arthur Andersen and  CBRE. He also previously served as the executive director of the  Asian Law Caucus, as the president of the Bay Area Assessors Association, and on the board of  Equality California. [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting#cite_note-auto-1][1][/url][h3][/h3]In 2005, Ting was appointed San Francisco Assessor-Recorder in 2005 by Mayor  Gavin Newsom, becoming San Francisco’s highest-ranking  Chinese-American official at the time. He was then elected to the post in November 2005, garnering 58 percent of the vote.Ting was re-elected Assessor-Recorder in 2006 and 2010During his first term in the Assembly, Ting authored a law that helped set into motion the transformation of Piers 30-32 into what would become  Chase Center the home of the  Golden State Warriorshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ting
  • RHD This looks like a lead balloon. You could buy a fantastic classic car for a hundred grand, or a Mercedes depreciationmobile. There isn't much reason to consider this over many other excellent vehicles that cost less. It's probably fast, but nothing else about it is in the least bit outstanding, except for the balance owed on the financing.
  • Jeff A bread van worthy of praise by Tassos.
  • Jeff The car itself is in really good shape and it is worth the money. It has lots of life left in it and can easily go over 200k.
  • IBx1 Awww my first comment got deletedTake your “millennial anti theft device” trope and wake up to the fact that we’re the only ones keeping manuals around.