Rescue and Restore, By The Numbers

So you have found a nice 944 or 924S that needs a little rescue/restore.  You got a good deal, but it isn’t quite where you need it to be…okay, it’s a mess.  So what do you do first and what do you leave until last?  Here are some tips that may help you.

First and foremost, make a list.  We tend to use Microsoft Excel, but a legal pad with a pencil will also work fine.  Do an inspection and list everything that it needs, including the small stuff.  You will use this list to organize your tasks from URGENT to MEH.

For almost every rescue/restore you need to look at the primary systems to ensure that it is safe and won’t get any worse.  That means belts, hoses, fuel lines, brakes and lights at a minimum.  Let’s look at each one of those.

  • BELTS.  Timing and balance shaft belts should be changed at a minimum, and you may as well do the alternator/AC and power steering belts at the same time.  Even if the previous owner said that the belts didn’t have a lot of miles on them, just sitting in one position for a while can cause bends that weaken a belt.  Better safe than sorry.  Belt service also normally includes replacing the rollers before one of them fails.  And while we normally do a water pump when doing the belt service, that’s not a bad idea, and be sure to include a new thermostat.
  • FRONT ENGINE SEALS. The shafts that extend out of the front of the engine each have seals – Crankshaft, Camshaft, Balance Shafts.  The seals keep the oil in the engine where it belongs, and that job takes its toll on the seals.  If you got to the point where you are looking at the seals, replace them.
  • HOSES.  A blown radiator hose will leave you on the side of the road, so change them – including the little elbow on the water pump to the heater tube above the header.  Use new clamps.  Again, not being used can weaken the rubber, so while you’re doing the belts, replace the hoses.
  • Hose clamp repair that resulted in a fire

    FUEL LINES.  The rubber fuel lines that come up from under the car and supply the fuel rail are getting old.  Replace them with one of the many aftermarket kits available.  Also look at the rubber lines that goes to the fuel damper and the fuel pressure regulator.  The fuel pressure regulator attaches to the smaller of the two rubber lines and is attached with a hose clamp from the factor.  The other slightly larger line attaches to the fuel dampener, and it should be attached with a factory-looking connector, not a hose clamp!  If the dampener has a hose clamp on it, you need to replace it with a proper hose and connector right away!  An engine fire is not something that you want to deal with.

  • BRAKES. Rotors, pads, caliper rebuild and new rubber hoses are not all that expensive.  Add a master cylinder if it has been sitting for more than a year.  New high-quality fluid should be there, too.  Also, the clutch master and slave suffer in a car that has not been driven.  Replace them, too.
  • TIRES. When you buy the car, assume that it has not been maintained, including tires.  Don’t count on “plenty of tread” as an indicator that the tires are sound and safe; all tires manufactured since 2000 have the week and year that the tire was manufactured melted into the sidewall (“5107” means that the tire was manufactured during the fifty-first week of 2007.) Tires older than four or five years should be replaced.
  • LIGHTS.  Check the function of all lights and replace burned-out bulbs, flashers and other components as needed.  This is also a good time to think about LED conversions so that you can be seen.
  • LEAKS.  Check the underside of the car for fluid leaks.  The power steering pump area is almost assuredly going to have small (or large) leaks – typical.  Look at the bottom of the front of the engine to see if there is an oil leak that would indicate engine front seal failure.  Look for oil seeping out at the bottom of the bell housing that would indicate a rear main seal leak.  Check the area under the transaxle for thick or dripping oil on the bottom of the case.  Look for coolant leaks under the radiator and engine that would indicate the need to replace the water pump, radiator or hoses.

Now you have an engine that won’t break a belt, brakes that work and all the lights work.  In the process you have replaced the brake fluid and the coolant.  Now change the engine oil with a high-quality filter, and change the oil in the transaxle.  Make sure to use the right grade oils.  (A note here – just because a 2020 911 GT3 uses a thin synthetic oil doesn’t mean that you should do the same for your car.  We have always used 20W50 “dinosaur oil” (non-synthetic) in our 944 series cars.)

If you have the availability to do a compression check on the engine, do that next.  Here is a great video on doing a compression test on your 944 engine.  Consistency between the cylinders (+/- 10%) is the important point, not necessarily the number itself.  However, numbers lower than about 120 are indicative of an engine that is wearing out.  Higher compression engines will yield higher compression test numbers.  There is plenty on the internet about compression numbers – do your research.  If the compression test numbers are low, put a teaspoon of oil in the cylinder and repeat the test.  If the number comes up, the problem may be worn piston rings.  If not, think valves.

Now you have a lot of very valuable information from which you can make some decisions.  If the engine is running well and it drives as it should, you can turn your attention to other things.

We like to look for repairs and alterations that could be considered “amateur mechanical” changes, especially electrics.  While an aftermarket radio and maybe some speakers and an amp are okay, we have also found things like driving lights under the bumper direct-wired (no fuse or relay) to the battery, a separate switch for the radiator fans, aftermarket alarm systems, and other such things.  Look for non-standard (non-factory) wires draped under the dash or under the hood – most are pretty obvious.  Do your best to unwind these things and either eliminate them completely or put them back to factory spec.  Knacky wiring will become a fire hazard.  While you’re there, go to the parts store and get the “party pack” of fuses and replace all the fuses, especially the Series I 944 and 924S VW-style fuses.  Since the fusible part of the fuse is open to the air, they corrode and can cause problems.  Make sure that the fuses are all the correct values, too.  There are diagrams available online.

Now it’s time to add things to the list that are not critical to the operation of the car but still need attention.  Do the windows go up and down smoothly?  Do the gauges seem to work?  Are the seats in good order or is the driver’s seat in need of attention?  Is the steering solid or does the wheel move up and down slightly, indicating a need to replace the plastic bushing in the column?  Do the stalk switches work as designed?  Do the mirrors work as designed?  Does the hatch open and close smoothly?  How about the sunroof operation?  Do the headlights go up and down as designed?  How about door handles, latches and locks?

Here in the south, air conditioning is a big deal.  For nine months out of the year, the temperature goes from just “hot” to “surface of the sun”, and we need AC to fight both the heat and the humidity.  If your prospective car “just needs a recharge,” budget $100 or more to get it checked out, then go from there fixing leaks and replacing components.  AC Compressors are anywhere from $400 to $800, a receiver/dryer another $25, and don’t rule out an expansion valve too.  AC restoration can go north of $1,000 pretty easily.  So – if the AC “just needs a recharge,” challenge the owner to get it recharged and working properly or knock significantly money off the purchase price.  (If you are selling a car that “needs a recharge,” then get it done first before offering it for sale.)

From your list, prioritize your repair schedule.  Safety is always first.  Using the prioritized list, figure out your budget for parts and outsourced labor to get things fixed up.  You can also use that list to do your research on “how-to” and the to find the parts that you need at the best prices.

You may also use some of this information during the purchase process to set the fair purchase price.  Knowing what needs to be repaired, what that budget would be and the time required to make the car drivable and useable again will give you a negotiating advantage.  Finally, don’t let emotion get in the way.  Fall in love with your Porsche AFTER you make the purchase!

Have one in mind and have questions?  Give us a call at 386.547.9625.


Author: Kevin Duffy, LLC, DeLand, FL

After retiring from a career in Law Enforcement, Kevin Duffy turned his attention to one of his passions, Porsche 944's and 924S's. He owns LLC in DeLand, FL, rescuing and restoring forgotten Porsches, bringing them back to a useful life. He is especially interested in the rare-but-beautiful 924S Special Edition. He can be found at Porsche Club events, including track days, tours and shows, as well as other car-focused events around the southeastern United States.

One thought

  1. This post should be stickied to the top of any 944-related Facebook group or online forum. Seems like every day someone joins and their first post goes something like this: “I’m thinking of a 944 for my first car, what kind of things go wrong and what should i be looking out for? I have a small budget and not much mechanical experience”

What do you think?