Tech Tips: 1997–2012 Porsche Boxster and Cayman (Plus 1997–2004 Porsche 911)

[Editor's note: For further reading about the first-generation Porsche Boxster, check out our 2001 Boxster S project car over on Classic Motorsports.]

Meet Our Expert:

Charles L. Navarro
LN Engineering
lnengineering.com
(815) 472-2939

Just like the 944, Porsche’s first generation of water-cooled, horizontally opposed Boxster and 911 models—as well as later Cayman models—offers great value for first-time Porsche owners. Here are a few quick tips when shopping for that new-to-you Porsche.

When setting your budget, put aside extra money for preventative maintenance: $5K to $6K will cover a lot of work. If you can do the work yourself, even better. This will be the next big DIY market supported by developments in the aftermarket.

A quick Google search might scare some people away from purchasing any model from 1997 through 2008. The results mention high-dollar failures like RMS, IMS, AOS, intermix and cylinder scoring, just to name a few. Do your homework!

Buy as nice a car as you can afford, and don’t fall in love with the first one you find. Be sure to arrange a thorough pre-purchase inspection, one that includes dropping the sump, borescoping the cylinders, and other checks that aren’t part of the typical PPI. You certainly don’t want to discover that a car needs a new engine in a post-purchase inspection.

The rear main seal is mostly a non-issue. Just be sure to use the newest Genuine Porsche PTFE seal whenever you have the transmission out. Leaky rear main seals were mostly due to improper machining that caused block and carrier misalignment; this can be verified with the factory go/no-go tool. Hopefully most of these engines were pulled out of circulation early in life under warranty.

When changing the clutch, which usually lasts about 60,000 miles, be sure to have your dual-mass flywheel checked. If needed, source a replacement from LuK or Genuine Porsche Parts—and don’t use single-mass flywheels, as these engines require the harmonic damping. (Only the 997 3.8 received a damping crank pulley for added engine longevity.)

The IMS is a very well-documented problem. In fact, the single-row bearing found in the 2000-’05 cars was the subject of a class action lawsuit and later settlement. Your takeaway should be that the IMS bearing is a service item, like a timing belt. Its recommended service life depends on which fix your car uses.

The IMS Solution, developed and patented by Jake Raby of Flat 6 Innovations and Charles Navarro of LN Engineering, provides a permanent, pressure-fed plain bearing, like in an air-cooled 911. They also offer a patented Single Row Pro IMS Retrofit, which uses a ceramic hybrid bearing and lasts six years or 75,000 miles.

Remember, the IMS can only be replaced as a proactive service, not reactive. An IMS failure generates foreign object debris that contaminates the entire engine, so once it fails, you’re out an engine.

Later Boxsters and Caymans, such as the 2006-’08 models, have a larger, non-serviceable bearing that cannot be changed without disassembly of the engine. Fear not: When you have your clutch done and rear main seal changed, you can also have the grease seal removed from the factory bearing. This allows engine oil to better cool and lubricate the bearing, which should result in longer service life.

The air-oil separator is a crucial component of the PCV system. Failure here can cause smoking or, worst case, pump oil into the cylinders and take out the engine. We recommend replacing it with a Genuine Porsche air-oil separator as a maintenance item. If you plan to take your car on track, consider the Motorsports version. It’s costly, but the stock air-oil separator can be easily overwhelmed on track.

Cylinder failures are one of those problems that you can’t predict or prevent. Keeping the engine cool with the addition of a low-temperature thermostat or even upgrading to a center radiator are excellent ways to improve longevity. The water pump on these engines needs to be replaced with a Genuine Porsche or OEM pump every four years or 50,000 miles—before it fails. Replacement after failure will most likely lead to cracked cylinder heads, which can’t be successfully repaired and are, again, very expensive to replace.

Cylinder failures fall into three main categories: slipped sleeve, where blocks were sleeved by the factory and failure is caused by dropping of the sleeve; cracked cylinder, aka D-chunk, where a crack forms and allows oil and water to intermix in the engine; and scored cylinders.

Scored cylinders comprise the majority of documented cylinder failures and are most common with 3.6, 3.8 and later 3.4 engines, always on bank 2 (cylinders 4–6). Good news: You can borescope the bores through the sump and inspect for this.

Slipped sleeves are very uncommon and typically happen in later 2.5 Boxster engines.

Cracked cylinders, including D-chunk, are most common in early 3.4, 3.2 and early 3.6 engines. The factory seemingly made improvements in later engines, since cracked bores aren’t as common among them.

Preventative maintenance is the key to longevity with these engines, including the gearboxes. If you choose to take your Boxster, Cayman or 911 on the track (as most readers of GRM probably would), you must take a few extra steps first.

Do not install software tunes that raise the rev limiter. The M96 and later M97 engine are known to have weak rod bolts that stretch when you repeatedly pass the factory-specified rev limit.

Always use a race oil like Driven XP9 on track, and observe the oil manufacturer’s recommended shorter service intervals. Add a deep sump, too, if you run rubber stickier than an all-season street tire. The added g-forces can cause oil starvation, which can lead to costly engine failures. The BRS 2 Quart Deep Sump from LN Engineering provides proper protection when paired with race oil. Don’t forget to take care of the gearbox and power steering pump—added cooling will help extend their life on track.

The following generation of Boxsters, Caymans and 911s from 2009-’12, referred to as 987.2 and 997.2, are also coming down in value and becoming great buys as well. Of course, pre-purchase inspections are recommended.

These cars have no intermediate shaft and relatively few issues—aside from those caused by poor maintenance or heat on track. Plus, they include the first models featuring a PDK dual-clutch gearbox, which has rapidly become the gearbox of choice on track. As with prior models, proper service intervals and added cooling of the drivetrain components are key to longevity when taking these vehicles on track.

Again, buy the best car you can afford (keep in mind that being able to buy and being able to afford a Porsche are two very different things). Do your homework, however, and you’ll make a smart choice.

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