By on May 19, 2014

mid-life crisis. Shutterstock user northallertonman

TTAC Commentator HEATHROI writes:

A friend–definitely a friend as I would just buy a new mustang and be done with it–is looking at early 00s 911 (probably the 996) as he has entered mid-life crisis mode. He must have the porker. I know there can be some issues with the drive train. I’d like to see if anybody knows a little more about 996 problems what to look out for and how much he might be looking at. Handy, he is not.

Sajeev answers:

We’ve discussed Porsche IMS failure to no end around here. My brother had a rather choice 996 (of the RUF 550 variety) and it spent a fair bit of time in the shop for non-IMS issues, as it was a turbo. The headlight switch, for starters: apparently a common fail point and a good $150 for the part alone. It’s all kinda down hill from there, but this thread does a good job explaining many of the pitfalls to avoid. Or to know in which to price accordingly during negotiation.

Because when its time to sell, his losses will be in the thousands. Perhaps that’s part of the mid-life crisis game…

So I’m not gonna convince anyone to avoid the 996, as depreciation (most haven’t bottomed out yet) the parts replacement cost, insurance, premium fuel, etc is irrelevant.  But buying one without a PPI is pure stupidity of the highest order.  If there ever was a poster child for professional inspection before opening your wallet, the 996 has gotta be it!

Odds are he can find a good 996 with a post IMS-failure engine replacement, binders of repair history and a clean PPI report within his budget.  Of course, if you really want to mess with him, invite him to a local track day to pick on Vettes, a new Mustang GT, a Miata, etc. with that 996.  That’ll make his investment all the more worth it…well, at least for you. And that’s who we are really trying to help here, oh dear reader!

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

[Image: Shutterstock user northallertonman]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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74 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Value of The Mid-Life Crisis...”

  • avatar

    Two questions come to mind. How big is his budget? Does he have his heart set on the Porsche?

    If money is an issue, order the Mustang, and choose your own options. Depending on his driving habits, the dude has 5 years or so, of zero costly repairs.

    If the Porsche is his dream? Research, research, and more research.

    For me? Dedicated GM fan boy, and all. I would go for the 2015 Mustang.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I would much rather have that Firebird Formula in the picture.

  • avatar

    Most guys right or wrong who want a 911 will not switch to a mustang, not mid life crisis enough for them, now a Vette maybe but not a Stang. Be a good friend and be there when he needs a ride to the shop.

  • avatar

    Last person I spoke to with a 996 tried desperately to sell it to me, and everyone else within earshot, for $20k. When asked why he was in such a hurry to sell he answered, “I don’t wanna talk about it,” with a sheepish smile that belied very obvious frustration with a car that rarely worked.

    Best of luck to your friend.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Your friend won’t be dissuaded. So at this point there is only one thing you can do: Tell your friend to make sure he gets an inspection before purchase and when it still breaks down all the time, you will do what every good friend should do.

    Point and laugh at him.

    Although on the Mustang, the V6 motor is a peach but you just gotta wait for the 2015 with the real suspension…

  • avatar

    As long as he has the budget to buy one and an annual maintenance budget approaching that of a 40 foot sailboat’s, hey, why not? Porsches can take you from Point A to Point B, just like a sailboat can – and with a similar level of practicality.
    Prices of air cooled 911s are through the roof. To get a nice(looking) 911, the 996 is the cheapest alternative. If the OP wants to talk his friend out of it, research,research,research on repairs and prices is the best bet to talk him out of it.

  • avatar

    Why a 996? No Porsche is going to be low maintenance, but why not a 993 or 997 or Cayman? The heart wants what it wants, I suppose.

    • 0 avatar

      Because 996s are far cheaper than both, and 993 are not only expensive to purchase, they make keeping a 996 alive look like a trip to WalMart.

      • 0 avatar

        He’s looking for a relatively low cost Porsche experience? Isn’t that a bit of a non sequitur?

      • 0 avatar
        David Walton

        You can get a nice enough 996 for under $20k.

        A co-worker of mine just bought a 2000 with about 75k miles for $19,XXX. Owner was an anal retentive perfectionist who has owned 7 911s (original owner of this car); interestingly, also an Augusta National member.

        A good 993 will cost a minimum of $35k (assuming you want a manual coupe), and probably cost $5-$10k on average to maintain annually if you drive it hard and frequently (and don’t put on Chinese tires or use off brand spark plugs).

        Benefit is, the 993 is appreciating!

        • 0 avatar

          I just had this discussion with a Porche-phile last week; there is a good chance we are at the bottom of the market for 996’s. If you can find a clean one (and keep it clean) odds are that you will be able to sell it for more than you paid for it in 3-4 years.

          Then again, at that point, it probably just makes sense to wait 2-3 years and get a 997 that shouldn’t have the same issues.

      • 0 avatar

        Seems like people who describe the 996 as a porker have never gazed upon the fatness which is 993.

  • avatar

    Brand-new lowest-powered Camaro convertible, no contest. I’m just a boulevard cruiser. That would do it for me, but I’m not him. Porsches never did a thing for me.

    How about a Boxster, instead? Those seem to be more user-friendly as to maintenance, but I have been known to be wrong on rare occasions! ;)

    • 0 avatar

      I believe it was TopGear (perhaps James May) who demonstrated the procedure for changing the air filter element on a Boxster. I’m fairly handy with tools, but the unnecessary complexity of this should-be-simple process was enought to turn me off on the Boxster. I suppose I’m spoiled by the relative simplicity of Chevys . . . . .

      • 0 avatar

        Changing the air filter in a Boxster/Cayman is no worse than many other cars (for example, Audis and Cadillacs in my admittedly limited experience). You need a Torx bit, a good screwdriver and a butter knife (if you don’t have a plastic toolset for working on body interior parts). After you’ve got the engine cover plate off, remove the old air filter, warm the new air filter’s gasket, put a tiny amount of lightweight machine oil on said gasket and reverse whatever you did to get the old one out. You will not be barking your hands working in a tight space, either.

    • 0 avatar

      The Boxster/Cayman duo have a couple of unresolvable issues that in my opinion makes them both a very poor choice despite what Magus Walker may say ;

      1) The cost of maintenance , parts and repair on the MidiTwins is in fact more expensive than that of any 911 models

      2) The depreciation on the MidiTwins is outrageous and in fact is the only area where they do race ahead of their larger 911 siblings

      3) The stigma that goes along with owning/driving the MidiTwins . Suffice it to say only a lime green C7 convertible announces louder ….. ” Here’s a Mid Life Crisis [ possible retired plumber ] Viagra addicted wanker trying to prove he’s still got it when in fact IT is well beyond its Sell By date ” wink wink !

      Begging the question as well ; Doe he .. or doesn’t he ? Dye his hair and/or wear a toupee that is ;-)

      • 0 avatar

        “1) The cost of maintenance , parts and repair on the MidiTwins is in fact more expensive than that of any 911 models…2) The depreciation on the MidiTwins is outrageous and in fact is the only area where they do race ahead of their larger 911 siblings…3) The stigma that goes along with owning/driving the MidiTwins . Suffice it to say only a lime green C7 convertible announces louder ….. ” Here’s a Mid Life Crisis [ possible retired plumber ] Viagra addicted wanker trying to prove he’s still got it when in fact IT is well beyond its Sell By date ” wink wink !…Doe he .. or doesn’t he ? Dye his hair and/or wear a toupee that is…”

        1] not true. 2] not necessarily true in most cases. 3] justa buncha bu!!shat!

        to the o/p: i owned and drove a 911 for eleven years. i still own and drive the boxster i bought seventeen years ago. and i also still own and drive the cayman i purchased seven years ago. and i feel compelled to acknowledge to you and anyone else that may be interested, that my personal experiences with porsche do not match-up well with any of the three opinions gtrslngr has expressed above.

        [as far as the ‘does-he-or-doesn’t-he’ inquiry goes, in my case it’s neither. i am, regrettably, going bald]

        • 0 avatar

          The Boxter has the same single row IMS bearing problems as the 996. Those assembled for a period as I recall early 2001 to mid-2006(??) have roughly a 10% lifetime failure rate that will grenade the engine. The preventive maintenance fix is the same $1,800 USD as for the 996.

  • avatar

    PPI! PPI! PPI!

    As long as your “friend” understands what he might be getting into I say go for it. Sock away some cash for a repair fund and get your Porsche on!

    If, at a later date, he decides the car is not really for him he can sell it for something else. I’d suggest an E86 M Coupe, E90 M3 , or C6 Z06. Oh and don’t sleep on the S2000. It’s not a P-Car and that can be an advantage.

  • avatar

    If he really wants a 911, the 993 would be the best choice. As the last air cooled model, it is now collectible. Although they were cheaper a few years ago than today, he shouldn’t have to worry about depreciation as long as he checks the car out thoroughly before buying. Of course, it will be expensive to maintain (probably several thousand dollars each year) but that will be true of any Porsche with many years and miles on it.

    If he would be satisfied with a different Porsche model, I would recommend a Cayman over any older 911. The Cayman drives better and should be more reliable since it is newer. Just make sure to buy one new enough to avoid the dreaded IMS bearing issue. Stay away from the 928. As a money pit, it’s even worse than a 911.

    Encourage him to test drive other brands if only for comparison. When shopping for my own retirement toy, I started out looking at Porsches, BMWs and Audis, all of which I could afford. I finally bought an Infiniti G37S coupe. It just worked better for me than any of the others. After 6-1/2 years and 50,000 miles I’m still satisfied with my choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Kendahl – What one should do should one really want a 911 is to buy the newest 911 their budget will allow for . Each and every newer model being more reliable and much better than the previous . Unless of course one has an unlimited budget and/or can do most of the work themselves . In which case I’d recommend a much earlier than a 993 model . Why ? Because … those older ones have a smaller footprint and if you know how to do it right are a Hoot n’ Hoon and a half to drive. Even slowly

  • avatar

    Recently Speedhunters did feature on what Magnus Walker of “Urban Outlaw” fame called a “budget” 911 build. The main takeaway was his advice on used Porsches: “If you have five grand, get a 924. If you have ten grand, get a Boxter. If you twenty grand, go for a late-seventies 911.”

    Wait, you said your friend is not mechanically-inclined? He sounds like he can pass every credit-check and jump through every hoop at a Porsche dealer. Tell him to lease a new car with a warranty so he can walk away from that nightmare in two or three years after he’s got things out of his system.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard people say that people that think they want a sports car, actually want a pony car.
    I’ve learned the hard way that they are right.

    What does he drive now? If he’s been stuck in a minivan for a few too many years, any LSx coupe or BMW 335i will feel like a rocketship.

  • avatar

    996 GT3


  • avatar

    I had my first midlife crisis at 31, and plan on another around 40.

    Life is too short otherwise. Most dreams can be realized concurrently with being responsible, given that you make the right trade offs.

  • avatar

    Get it from Car Max with a huge warranty.

  • avatar

    It doesn’t matter how many ways one can claim a Mustang to be “better” than a 911, it will always be one of umpteen bajillion [squared] Mustangs. A 911 (even the currently lesser loved 996’s) is sublime, special, a cut above, not nearly so common.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I don’t buy the concept that wanting a car like this is the result of some sort of psychological crisis. It’s merely the intersection of a life-long desire to own a dream car with finally having the means to own one. That typically occurs around middle age. There are 22 YO rock stars who drive Lamborghinis. Are they having a mid-life crisis at 22?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I may very well buy a sports car once my daughters are out of the house. I can’t have one now because I occasionally need to carry five people.

    • 0 avatar


      I guess now that you can comfortably afford what you want you should deny yourself.

      But remember, oftentimes these statements come from the “Sonatas and Camrys are the ultimate automotive conveyance and missionary is the only position for me” camp.”

      I’m not saying run out, throw caution to the wind and buy a Porsche but why wear a hair shirt if you don’t need to?

  • avatar

    “as he has entered mid-life crisis mode.”

    It doesn’t matter he’s going to buy the wrong cars (or motorcycles) and sleep with the wrong women no matter what you say.

    …and he’s going to love every minute until the crisis passes. Then he’ll probably feel like a jerk

  • avatar

    Buy Porsche bargain priced and break the bank with maintenance costs.
    Used Mustang better choice or new Mustang V6 with upgrades.

  • avatar

    Cars are always the cheapest mid-life crisis manifestation. Imagine the overall performance costs of a 22 year old mistress. The Porsche will seem bargain basement to years of alimony. Go for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the cost of alimony/child-support payments will tend to make exotic-sports car ownership seem cheaper by comparison.

      At any point you can sell the heap to some other fool, I mean enthusiast.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    How cheap are early 996s in the US now?

    On this side of the Atlantic (UK), they’ve been below £10k ($16k) for some time. The market is pricing in the likelihood of engine failure.

    Several non-franchised Porsche specialists offer a warranty/servicing package for approximately $100 a month. A 996 plus one of these packages is seen as a relatively cheap way into modern Porsche ownership without worrying that the engine will blow up. Does anything similar exist in the US? Might be a good option for the OP’s friend.

  • avatar


    (Sigh) Everyone will be glad to know he hasn’t bought anything yet the teenage dream car has died. Looking at Nissan 370z.

    • 0 avatar

      A buddy of mine owns a European car repair facility. Fairly well known locally, they build and maintain track cars, some local race cars, along with the usual BMW/Porsche/Audi repair stuff. He drives (and tracks) a Nismo 370Z. At a recent PCA-sponsored autocross, I asked him why he doesn’t have a Porsche instead. He laughed and said he works on them all day long, he knows what pieces of crap they are. He said all he has ever had to do to his Nissans was change the oil, brake pads, and tires.

    • 0 avatar

      It was probably for the best.

  • avatar

    There should be no logic in buying a sport car. Get what you want and enjoy it. I was accused of going thru a mid-life crises when I picked up a Elva Courier. Maybe, but I had fun with it and that’s really all that matters.

  • avatar

    I owned a 2001 Carrera convertible from 2006 to 2013. The water pump is a wear item. If it is original, replace it. Stick with the stock plastic impeller pump, not the aftermarket metal blades. Replace the IMS bearing while replacing the clutch. Cost for both at an independent is about C$3000 using the leading IMS kit. The 2002 – 2004 Mk2 996’s have glass rear windows in the convertible and a nicer interior. They also have the “turbo”, rather than “boxster” headlights. Aftermarket headers and exhaust make the flat 6 sound like a Cup car, but get annoying on the freeway. The “major service” requires new coil packs and plugs. It’s a pricey one. Or avoid the IMS issue and buy a 996 Turbo or GT3. Both use the Metzger block. Maintenance for the Turbos is more costly, but they offer huge bang for your buck at todays prices.

    • 0 avatar

      “The water pump is a wear item.”

      No way, I thought those were permanent!

      • 0 avatar

        I should have said “30,000 km/4 year wear item”. And if you wait until it fails, the bits of plastic from the impeller can jam up the cooling in the block, creating hot spots. Maybe the same applies to all cars, but I know it applies to 996’s.

  • avatar

    How ’bout an alternate suggestion. Also from Germany but only has two wheels.

    BMW S1000R–>160hp, 83 lb.-ft torque, all in a bike that weighs 450 lbs.

  • avatar

    Poor guy. If it weren’t for midlife crises, older Porsches and BMWs would have minimal sales value, and the companies might even have to clean up their act.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    Glad to hear he is looking at the Z car, HEATH. Buying a 911 of that vintage while doing zero DIY maintenance is absolutely insane, and this is coming from someone who dreams about eventually owning (and fixing) a pseudo-old 911 of my own.

  • avatar

    My problem with the 996 is not that it’s unreliable. My problem is that it’s ugly and cheap feeling compared to every other generation of 911. Are they a bargain? Yes, but that is for a reason.

    Any older air-cooled 911 is a better car, hands down. It will be more reliable, more satisfying to drive, and more valuable as time goes on. You can still buy a 993 in the high-twenties if you shop around and get something with high miles. High miles don’t hurt that car like they do a 996. In the low-mid twenties you will have to go with either a 964 or a true 911, and that isn’t a bad thing either, still better than a 996.

    If you simply must drive a water-cooled 911, then spend a bit more and get a 997. They have finally reached a point where higher mileage example can be purchased for $30k or even less, I saw one recently for $26k with 80k miles. Even though the 997 is still plagued by the IMS issue, its still a better car than the 996. The IMS can be fixed for about $800, consider it a mandatory expense if it wasn’t already done. The rest of the car is of much higher quality than the 996, and its gorgeous. No egg face, no droopiness, no one looks at you and says “oh you bought the cheapest 911”.

    Finally, Cayman or 2005+ Boxster. Either one is a better car than a 996, and both can be had for about the same price or less. Same IMS issues, same $800 fix, better interior, better styling, and better handling.

  • avatar
    Short Bus

    Good choice on the Z car as an alternative. It’s not perfect, but I’d take one over a 996 without blinking. I’m sure the 996 is a lovely car and a joy to drive, but buying a 10+ year old Porsche feels a bit like playing Russian roulette.

  • avatar

    2007 z06. He’ll thank you later.

  • avatar
    George B

    I’ve wondered if there is a potential business in buying and restoring Japanese and German cars of the 80s and 90s. The Baby Boomers wanted muscle cars later in life, but I doubt that Generation X has the same emotional connection to 60s American iron or its retro equivalent. Telling someone currently middle-aged that they should get a Mustang, Camaro, or Corvette isn’t going to work. I can see how the Nissan 370z might be a better midlife crisis car in 2014.

  • avatar

    I’ve expected an article about cool ‘mid-life-crisis’ cars, not about ‘speculative investments strategies\'(car-guys with wall-street-bankster mentality [this guy want to buy his dream car or ‘investment product’] ?!?) ..

    In mid-live-crisis cars-department, I would probably go for sporty ‘classic -machine’ (considering Porsches ->that would be 356 convertible..yes, they are bloody expensive..) ,
    but if somebodys favourite is modern.. Boss Mustang, Jaguar F-Type or .. Accord Coupe .. no problem with that .. :)

    BTW: That Firebird from ‘American Beauty’ is cool car , no doubts ..

  • avatar

    $5-10k a year maintenance on a 993?! I’ve owned a 993 and six other Porsches, and if you’re spending that much on even a daily-driven Porsche from that era, you have either bought one without a good pre-purchase inspection or are paying the dealer to vaccuum the cupholders every month. That’s Ferrari maintenance money, not 90s Porsche maintenance money.

    For a 993, budget $1000-1500 year, and $3000 every three years. Use a lot when you don’t know what’s wrong, join your local PCA chapter to get access to the expertise, and find the good independent Porsche mechanic in your area who actually knows the cars.

    For a 996, the right strategy seems to be to maintain it well-enough, drive it until the RMS fails, and then replace with a Metzger block motor. Then you’ve got GT3 power levels at a bargain price relative to a GT3. Buy one for under $20k and *maybe* someday it will fail in a way that costs you $10k. If the 996 appeals to you it’s not the craziest thing you could do: you’ll lose that in depreciation on a new car in 3-5 years of ownership.

  • avatar

    I think the 996 is pure shyte but if you’re gonna do a mid life crisis thing, I guess this is ok. You can get a sub-50,000 mile example for about as much as a new Chevy Sonic. A brand new Mustang GT with decent options is close to twice the price! Not a competitor.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    There are so many interesting cars out there these days—why let the Germans rip you off? German engineering is way overrated. In fact, to be perfectly objective, it sucks. Add to that their customer care, which again, to be fair, sucks even worse. Then there is Porsche, which is the pinnacle of overrated sucky German engineering and crappy customer care.

    Who needs it? Get a hot-rod Ford with an $800 100K mile extended warranty and enjoy life.

  • avatar

    Upon reading this article, I really identified with the person trying to buy the Porsche. The 911 was the aspirational auto of my youth. So I started to explore the possibility and my enthusiasm began to wane.

    The object of my desire was a 997.2 Carrera 4S. The earliest version of this is in MY2009. This car would cost me around $50,000, give or take. If successful, I would have a 5-6 year old car with no warranty and miles somewhere in the 50,000 range. I would also have a car with yearly maintenance of around $2,000, assuming nothing major has to be done (or nothing major goes wrong).

    You can try to justify the cost as getting a $100,000 car for half price. But my reality is that $50,000 can get you a pretty nice new car and a even nicer 1-2 yr old car, both of which will be newer, have far less miles and a warranty (BMW 235i comes to mind immediately). I’d rather have the new (or nearly new) car and pass on the Porsche badge. My emotions just can’t overcome the math

  • avatar

    You have a better chance of getting cancer than an ims failure. My friend’s $90000 2003 Mercedes SL500 so far paid $35000 dollars for repairs and services on his car and now it’s worth $17000. I know guys with over 180k miles on their 996 with original ims. My 2002 996 has 90000 miles with original ims and clutch. Myths/Fear mongering sells products and services. According to LN engineering a car that has been driven daily in higher rpm using a thicker oil has better chance of survival, they also mention the bearing is sealed so my question is how does a thicker oil and rpm have anything to do with a sealed bearing and why does the upgraded LN kit failed 15000 miles after replacing a perfectly working stock ims?

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