Porsche 911 (997) | PH Used Buying Guide

Don't let early engine issues put you off; the right 997 is a terrific secondhand purchase…

By PH Staff / Monday, November 16, 2020

Key considerations

  • Cars available for under £30,000
  • Enormous variety thanks to high volume
  • Great handling and strong performance…
  • …but not so much that you can't enjoy on the road
  • Engine issues can be costly

Search for a 997 Porsche 911 here

OVERVIEW

From its launch in 2004 to the end of production in 2012, the 997 established itself not just as the go-to offering in the premium sports car segment, but also as Porsche’s best-selling 911. Remarkably, and despite the many successes of the 991, it retains that status to this day. The volume and variety of the range – some 40 iterations are said to have resulted from Coupe, Cabriolet and Targa models – is good news for anyone looking to buy secondhand, because there is plenty of choice.

997 Carrera and Carrera S models offered more traditional 911 styling compared to the 996. Round headlights harked back to the 993, but there was nothing old-fashioned about the new flat-six engines. Two versions were available from the launch, the Carrera with a 325hp 3.6 and the 3.8 S with an extra 30hp. The Carrera was good for 0-62 in 4.8 seconds and 177mph, the Carrera S dropping the sprint time by two tenths and extending the top speed to 182mph. Porsche bolstered the range with Carrera 4 models and a Targa, which arrived later in 2004 with a 44mm wider rear track.

A six-speed Tiptronic automatic was also added to the options list at around the same time in 2004, supplementing the standard and newly developed six-speed manual. While the basic layout of the suspension remained the same as the 996's, Porsche launched the 997 with its PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), which was standard on the S models and an option for the Carrera. All Carrera models had 18-inch alloy wheels as standard and the S models came with 19s. Such was the progress ensured by the changes that the 997 Carrera S was 20 seconds faster around the Nurburgring than the 996 version.

This specification remained largely unchanged for the cars built until June 2008. Now referred to as Gen 1 cars, they were replaced by the Gen 2 that brought direct injection and Porsche's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic in place of the Tiptronic. The changes to the engines improved economy and power, increasing the 3.6's output to 345hp and the S model to 385hp. And, as many owners will rightfully highlight, a number of mechanical changes were made to address 997.1 engine issues to ensure greater reliability from the 997.2 powerplants. We go into more detail on that in the next section.

During the course of the 997’s life, Porsche also offered its usual array of higher performance and limited edition models. For this guide, we'll concentrate on the Coupe, Targa and Cabriolet models sold in standard and S derivatives. Top money for one of these 997s will be around £70,000 for a late Cabriolet with the PDK gearbox. Anyone seeking a bargain can find early Carreras for under £20,000, although as with any performance machine, cheaper cars should be approached with caution. Expect to pay a small premium for an S model as they are more sought after, but there are lots out there as it outsold the standard Carrera three to one when new.

SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S (997.1)

Engine: 3,800cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],400rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 188mph
Weight: 1,425kg
MPG (official combined): 26.6
CO2: 250g/km
Wheels: 8.5 x 19in
Tyres: 235/35
On sale: 2004 – 2012
Price new: £67,202
Price now: from £23,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.


ENGINE & GEARBOX

All of the gearboxes fitted to 997 generation Carreras are considered to be tough. The manual is considered nigh-on unbreakable and specialists rate it highly for ease of maintenance. There are some reports of broken gear linkage cables, but Porsche dealers tended to sort these for free with better replacements when the car was new. A clutch will cost over £500, but they last around 50,000 miles in normal use, so it's not a wildly expensive running cost. The Tiptronic and PDK transmissions are also considered to be hassle-free, while cars with the popular (and worthwhile) Sport Chrono option have shown no signs of changing that form with any of the gearboxes.

Cars with the Sport Chrono pack have a sharper throttle response when sport mode is selected, with Tiptronic and PDK cars also hanging onto gears for longer and clicking back down through the ratios more swiftly in the same mode. The Sport Chrono setting raises the limit at which the Porsche Stability Management traction control will intervene to give a more involved drive; as such, it’s a feature that the keenest drivers should seek out when 997 shopping. As for choosing between two- and four-wheel drive, it’s down to personal taste, but purists have long preferred the rear-drive models. Still, those considering a Carrera 4 are unlikely to be disappointed; it’s proven to be a year-round dependable and trouble-free system.

Things are not so simple with the 997’s engines. Two issues are associated with 997.1 Carrera motors: bore scoring and intermediate shaft bearing failure. In 2006, Porsche updated the engines with larger bearings to address the problems, so by and large it’s an early car problem. But that doesn’t mean pre-2006 cars should be ignored; specialists say the problems are less common than with the 996s and most reckon that any well maintained, cared for 997 will easily run deep into six-figure mileage. Obviously, due to the 997’s age it’ll be impossible for a buyer to know the ins and out of a car’s life, so all are advised to look out for tell-tale signs of these issues.

Sooty deposits on the left-hand exhaust pipe and a clean right-hand pipe are considered a signal for an issue, as are ticking noises at idle. If this is the case, walk away as a rebuilt engine from Hartech will set you back serious money. Otherwise, you’ll have little warning before an intermediate shaft bearing failure. If it does break, the fix is a fully rebuilt engine with the higher spec bearings; cars with refurbished engines from known specialists are therefore a good option for peace of mind. Those wanting to maximise this might want to consider a specialist maintenance plan.

Don’t be put off by cars with choice upgrades, including firmer engine mounts. They’re popular with enthusiasts who, you might hope, would be more inclined to maintain their car properly. Stiffer mounts boost throttle response and handling, thanks to the greater structural stiffness they ensure at the rear end. Cars with new or relatively new heatshields are also not necessarily anything to worry about; rather than evidence of more substantial mechanical work, they’re likely just addressing the common shield rattles that appear on 997s after a few years. Same goes for good-quality aftermarket exhausts, which are often fitted when the standard system valve system seizes up.

As for other bills to expect, coil packs are known to need replacing every 50,000 miles, at about £40 a pop. Some owners also recommend swapping from 0-40W to 10-40W 300V Motul engine oil to help the engine rev more freely, while others reckon Millers Nanotech ups the engine’s responses. A low oil temperature thermostat can be fitted to reduce engine temperature, which is a good bet for anyone thinking of track driving. Service intervals are scheduled at 20,000 miles. General running costs are pretty good, with around 25mpg possible in daily driving, 30mpg on a motorway run or, when you’re on it, economy in the high teens. A major service is around £350-£400 from a good independent versus £600 or more at an Official Porsche Centre.

As well as an independent inspection, you can plug a laptop into the 997 with a PIWIS durametric cable to check if the engine has been over-revved. The cable costs around £50 and gives a clear idea of what the previous owner has been up to in the car and puts you in a stronger bargaining position.

CHASSIS

Like previous 911 models, the 997 has a galvanised steel monocoque shell. At the front are Porsche-optimised McPherson struts with aluminium lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar and gas-filled dampers. The Carrera S has a slightly thicker front anti-roll bar and all S models come with PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) as standard to firm up the suspension, as well as making the throttle and steering responses sharper, at the touch of a button. The Sport Chrono pack will automatically activate the PASM's sport function when in sport mode.

For the rear end, there's an independent five-link set-up with coil springs and gas-filled dampers. A Sport suspension option could be ordered when new for all models that lowered the ride height by 20mm and this was offered along with a limited-slip differential. The Targa has very slightly softer springs than the Coupe models that give a more comfortable ride on bumpy roads. Creaks from the front suspension point to worn bushes that will cost around £200 to put right.

The standard Carrera was supplied with 318 x 28mm front brakes discs and 299 x 24mm rears, while the S was fitted with larger and thicker 330 x 34mm fronts and 330 x 28mm discs at the back. Both models have four-piston monoblock calipers at each corner. Carbon ceramic brakes were an expensive option few original buyers bothered with as they were really only for extended track use. Most owners have nothing but praise for the standard brakes of the Carrera and S models.

That being said, the inner faces of the front brake discs can corrode and this is hard to spot. Some owners upgrade to Carbone Lorraine pads for track use and improved pedal feel. A new set of front discs will cost from £180 depending on whether you buy from an independent or from Porsche.

Carreras came with 18-inch alloys and the S upsized to 19-inch wheels all round. For the Carrera, 235/40 ZR18 tyres are used at the front and 265/40 ZR18s at the back, while the S has 235/35 ZR19s on the front wheels and 295/30 ZR19s on the rear wheels. Expect to pay £250 per tyre for the rears and £180 for each front. Tyres should last 12,000 miles for keen drivers or up to 20,000 miles if you spend a lot of time on the motorway. Check the inside edges of the tyres for wear as they can be significantly more worn than the outer edges due to the 997’s geometry.

BODYWORK

There are three 997 bodystyles; Coupe, Targa and Cabriolet. Gen 2 models are identified by a new headlight design with LEDs incorporated, and that’s largely it. While the Coupe will always be the choice of purists, the Targa was a more popular model than the previous 996 version. A sliding glass roof offers plenty of fresh air motoring coupled to good refinement when closed. In cold weather, the Targa's panel can become a little creaky as the seals shrink. Also, the operating switch can fail, but this should only cost £50 to replace, while the rear light cluster of Targa can suffer from condensation inside and is £380 to replace with a Porsche-sourced item.

The Cabriolet's hood is extremely well made and insulated. Ensure it raises and lowers swiftly and the car locks securely with the roof open or shut. On all 997 models, the door windows can refuse to drop when the door is opened in cold weather. Some owners have used silicone spray to fend off this problem. As you inspect the bodywork, check the front bumper and windscreen for stone chip damage that might require a respray or replacement.

Air conditioning condensers behind the front bumper are prone to corrosion and getting blocked by leaves, much like many other Porsche models. Reckon on £800 to replace each one and treat it as something to expect to replace on any car you buy unless it has been done recently – and there's a receipt to prove it. Re-gassing the air conditioning should only cost around £75 at an independent specialist. The last thing to note when looking at a 997's body is if there's a rear windscreen wiper fitted. It's considered essential by many owners for everyday practicality.

INTERIOR

All 997s come with leather upholstery as standard, but electric seat adjustment was an option. Other standard features include climate control, electric windows, four airbags and rear seats that tip down to create a useful storage shelf. Popular options were a sunroof for £864 and satellite navigation that cost £1,260 when the 997 was first launched. It’s not always worth seeking out these cars because the Gen 1 997's sat-nav is widely regarded as outdated and clunky to use. It's also expensive to upgrade, so you’re probably better to just buy a portable sat-nav.

The Gen 2 sat-nav is, however, much better and cheaper to improve, with upgrades available for around £150. For the Gen 2 cars, Porsche simplified the PCM (Porsche Communication Management) with a larger seven-inch touchscreen. It is compatible with an iPod, Bluetooth or USB devices, too. Also desirable is the upgraded Bose stereo system, although those wanting to fit aftermarket hardware would probably find the lower-spec standard sound system easier to replace.

It’s common for the rubber coating on certain switches and the centre panel to wear away, leaving the cabin looking scruffier, but not affecting the operation of the interior’s features. Same goes for the driver's seat outer bolster; scratches and wear is common, so cars without these age-related things are likely to have been especially well cared for. Buyers will also find cars equipped with the optional Sport Chrono pack to be highly desirable, not least because the stopwatch mounted in the top centre of the dash emphasises their heightened capabilities.

The optional feature also enables the configuring of up to three ignition keys, which can provide unique characteristics for each user including preferred climate control settings, how the auto wipers operate and the door locking procedure. Porsche’s tech even enabled users to choose whether the rear wiper comes on when you select reverse gear, while the 997’s infotainment introduced a feature that could record lap and split times for track driving. Back in 2004, that was a new and pretty cutting-edge feature as far as road going sports cars were concerned – and it highlighted the Carrera S’s big step forward in outright performance.

PH VERDICT

The 997 may have only updated the water-cooled 996, but in terms of outright performance, the difference was substantial. Handling, balance and peak grip all moved forward, illustrated by the Carrera S’s 20-second faster laptime at the ‘ring, as well as its improved on-road character. The exterior styling and interior may not have particularly excited anyone new to the brand, but the underlying talent was beyond question.

Those advantages helped Porsche beat rivals in magazine group tests and the manufacturer enjoyed adulation on the internet. Sales were strong and quickly cemented the 911 at the top of the sports car roster, although the Gen 1 engines woes did make a dent in the car's reputation. Quite rightly, too; anyone paying for Porsche's engineering expertise did not expect or deserve the problems highlighted above.

While the prospect of bore scoring and intermediate shaft bearing failure is something to take very seriously when considering a 997, the risk is easily mitigated by only considering cars with the refurbished engines or later models that received fixes from the factory – or, alternatively, buying a maintenance plan that at least has you covered should the very worst happen. Do any of those things and a 997 should deliver worry-free use along with its tremendous handling, glorious flat-six soundtrack and timeless looks.

Adding to the 997’s appeal is the fact that plenty 911 aficionados consider the GT versions to be the best ever. Certainly, the Gen 2 GT2 RS is considered to be an all-time great thanks to its explosive turbocharged 620hp engine, fabulous hydraulic steering (it was the last GT series Porsche to get it) and 205mph top speed. And it looked – and still looks – terrific, too. Same goes for the 997.2 GT3 RS. They cemented the idea of a 911 as a genuine supercar; but the more affordable and big volume 997 Carrera was still as good a sports car as the last decade produced and well worth seeking out.


Search for a 997 Porsche 911 here

[This is a comprehensive update of a PH Used Buying Guide originally published in 2015]

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