So you know about cars in general, and you know a little about the 944-series of Porsches. You want one, but face it – these cars are 25-35 years old. Some stuff is simple and cheap to fix, some is not. So how to you inspect a car to be sure that you get the best Porsche that you can get – and don’t fall into a trap?
First and foremost, do an honest assessment of your abilities and facilities. What exactly have you done, and what exactly is your understanding of the automobile and its systems? Moreover, what is your state of your facilities – includes space, tools, equipment – the place and stuff that you will use to do repairs and maintenance? If you live in an apartment complex with no real space to work on a car, you may want to reconsider and get something newer – with a warranty. This is not to say that a Porsche will be on jack stands most of its life – but they do need care and maintenance as well as a repair or two. Be honest with yourself.
If you have then decided that you can and do want a 944, the next step is to search for one. The normal places for older specialty cars is Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, but also think about attending a local Porsche Club meeting or event and talking to some Porsche folks. If there is a car for sale in their group, it may be worth taking a look. Club-owners tend to take care of their cars a little better and you stand a better chance of finding a good one.
Regardless, put yourself in front of the car and don’t just look at it…inspect it. See what secrets it may hide. Here is what to look for:
- Start with the outside. Look at panel fit, panel gaps, rust popping, and overall look. Bring a magnet to check for filler. All of these cars came from the factory with galvanized bodies – rust is rare unless there has been a bad repair.
- Open and close both doors, the hatch and the hood. Do the doors function smoothly? Does the hatch open with the button under the dash? Does the hood open and close properly? Operate the pop-up headlights – do they operate smoothly? Look at the door hinges – do they look “stock” or has there been some questionable repairs?
- While you’re there, check the hatch to see if there is any leaking or separation at the top, at the hinges. Does that area flex when opening or closing the hatch? Does it latch properly and open properly with the key? With the button on the kick panel? Is the seal in good shape or need replacement? Look for issues to see if the hatch may need some work.
- On a 924 or 924S, look at the front chin valence under the bumper. They are notorious for getting torn up on parking bumpers and curbs. Most are damaged, but if it is really bad, you may think that you can pick one up new for a hundred bucks – NO! They are over $500 and there are no aftermarket replacements.
- On the 944, check for damage on the plastic front bumper cover. Look for improper repairs, too.
- Operate both door windows, looking for mis-alignment, slow or noisy operation, and proper sealing. Make sure all three switches work properly. Look at the door seals, too. Operate both mirrors, and understand that most at this point are pretty noisy. Replacements can be pricy.
- Under the hood, look for non-stock items, such as cone filters. Look at whether the engine area looks “stock” (unmolested) or if there are some sketchy-looking repairs or “improvements” there.
Specifically check the fuel lines coming into and out of the fuel rail for “backyard repairs.” One typical and dangerous repair occurs when the high-pressure rubber line into the fuel damper begins to leak, so someone puts a barbed fitting on the damper, cuts the line at the connector and fastens it to the fitting with a hose clamp. While this is a temporary fix, it will begin to leak and spray a fine mist of fuel on the spark plugs and exhaust – not good. This indicates amateur mechanical repair and the need for an immediate proper repair. There are kits out there for $100 or so to fix this issue.
- Carefully inspect the battery box area for rust and repairs. This is one of the only places that a 944 will rust. Look for a fiberglass-mat repair – this works, but tends to start leaking again. Look for weak metal that is almost rusted through by pressing on the metal. It should not move. If it does, expect to make a repair. The latest repair is to use Flex-Seal under the battery, but if the metal is thin and flexing, Flex-Seal may not be the answer. As a note, using Flex-Seal on a solid base can add protection from rust in the future.
- Look under the front of the car and check for leaks. If the rack, frame and other stuff on the passenger side are wet or oil-dirty, a leaky power steering pump is probably the issue. If the bottom of the engine in front is oiled and dirty, there may be an issue with the seals on the front of the engine at the cam, balance shafts, or crankshaft. If it is wet with oil, there is definitely a leak that will need to be fixed. Belts, seals and a water pump will set you back $400 or more.
- Check that all the lights are working properly.
- In the back, look for torn boots on the CVs and leaks in the transaxle.
- Look through the wheels at the brake pads and rotors. If you cannot see them through the wheels, ask that they be removed for inspection.
- To to the interior. Split seams in the driver’s seat are common. Overall judge whether the seats need to be repaired. Any seat with an aftermarket cover is suspect. Reupholstery can get expensive.
- Check the carpet condition – again, an expensive repair. Specifically look for water damage from current or old leaks.
- Check the carpets for dampness. If the passenger side is wet or shows water damage, check the battery box. If the rear passenger floor is wet, the battery box under the hood is the first suspect.
- Work the steering wheel up and down – it should not move. If it does, the repair is pretty inexpensive – a plastic bushing at the metal piece that holds the signal and wiper switches. Turn the wheel and look for response from the front wheels – should be very little play. Listen for noises in the power steering. There should be very little or no noise.
- Work the shifter. If it is loose in and out of the gears, it will need replacement. The part is about $60, and replacement is pretty simple.
- Operate the sunroof. Repairs can be difficult and get expensive.
- Check the accessories, including the air conditioning and heater. AC that “just needs a charge” means that there is a leak somewhere that will need to be addressed. Compressor replacement can be well above $500.
- Take the car for a drive and check that the odometer is or is not working. Many do not work, and a speedo shop can fix it for $100 or so. Never trust a 944 odometer to be correct! They all seem to have broken at one time or another.
- During your drive, listen for noises, rattles, etc. Reinspect the areas that make noise.
- Look at the tires – there is a stamp melted into the sidewall with the construction date on it.
For example, a stamp that says, “1418” means that the tire was constructed in the fourteenth week of 2018. A stamp of “0505” means that the tire was built in week five of 2005 – an old tire. Anything older than four or five years should be replaced, especially if the car has been sitting and not driven.
- Last, look at the condition of the paint. Repainting is expensive – $3000 or much more! Don’t buy into the comment of “it will buff out to a shine.” If that was true, the seller would have done it.
There are, of course, lots of other things that you could look at or do in your inspection. If you can, a compression test will show you things about the health of the engine, as will a leak-down test. Looking at the spark plugs will also tell you about the engine. Smoke on startup indicates worn valve seals and possibly valve guides. Look at the oil on the dipstick for condition and also look at the water for condition.
Knowing what to look for is very important. Remember that making an emotional purchase is almost always a mistake. Bring along someone who has no ties to the purchase to help you make the right decision.
We hope that this helps you make a successful purchase!
Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.