If you dive into the comments section for an episode of Tom Cotter’s Barn Find Hunter series on Hagerty’s YouTube channel, you’ll find that some enthusiasts view the dusty, rutted expanses of MGs and Mopars less as an exciting archaeological exploration of unearthed automotive treasures as a cautionary tale to drive and enjoy your cars lest they turn into a useless relic.
A noble feeling. But not all enthusiasts have space, storage, cash, a reliable specialist, or a combination of all of these factors. Some cars are a huge bill away from being parked for decades. Or maybe not that big; Life has a way of pouring coolant into our oil from time to time.
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Ask me how I know. Or maybe ask my 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera the same question. Up until two weeks ago it was a non-functional and very dirty albatross around my neck.
The longer a car sits, the more problems, bills and feelings of guilt accumulate. Before its recent revival, I had a non-stop loop of “I’ll take care of it when.” [X].” The variable entered here is a rotation of [more money], [time]and or [not lazy]. It sat a little over a full year before I decided to untie it [X].
Even after six months I was sure I was screwed. I knew – I knew – the car would leave its dusty carport with rodent-gnawed wiring, clotted oil, locked brakes, varnished fuel, and a moldy interior. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I received a grim prognosis that kindled a fire under my butt.
“What’s the worst thing you can do to a 996?”
Like you, I probably already knew the answer, but I had to ask. I’m a supplicant of my neuroses, and there’s no way I’d be leaving a visit to Flat Six Innovations, which I wrote about earlier this year, without inducing a mild spiral of anxiety. Jake Raby’s Rural Georgia Workshop is holy of holies for anyone emotionally connected to a Porsche 996, with Raby himself as the Ultra Maestro behind what is arguably the finest M96 and M97 engine built this side of Neptune. On the subject of 911 engines, his word is gospel.
“The worst thing you can do to a 996 is dump it,” Raby said bluntly.
2,300 miles away was my 996. “What year is your car?” Raby asked after I admitted this carelessness. I told him it was a 2002 Carrera. “3.6? Ah, so that’s the worst part too, at least mechanically,” he explained as my life expectancy visibly decreased. “These engines have a higher number of failure points than any other variant of the M96.” My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a caliper.
It’s not like I planned on mothballing the 996 for that long. Heck, I parked the Carrera as a healthy, running car sometime in late 2020 — maybe early 2021. There were a few things to fix on my checklist, all of which were non-critical. The fluids were fresh, the infamous IMS bearing recently sorted out and the tires new. It ran and roared with zeal, belying its six-figure mileage and its unshakable reputation as an intricately designed German hand grenade.
Much of the motivation behind this hibernation came as a side benefit of my career. My previous post was with the national car magazine and took me through an endless fleet of press cars ranging from the most basic Corolla to McLaren’s latest ballistic. It’s easier to navigate the broken and brutal streets of Los Angeles in something soft and dull than sharp and exciting, so everyday commutes were handled in a CR-V or BMW X7 or Acura MDX or however.
The 996 sat.
Supercars, Hellcats, M3s, and loads of Porsches filled the gaps in my schedule like light meth dust.
The 996 sat.
Here I put some blame on the car itself. As is the case with most German cars of the early 2000s – or German cars of any year, for that matter – the name of the game is over-engineering and complication for complication’s sake.
Look at the location of my car’s battery. Porsche slotted it against the front firewall and just above the front trunk storage space. In the transition from the 996.1 (1999-2001) to the 996.2 (2002-2004), a genius decided that the cable-actuated frunk (for the benefit of uninitiated Brits reading this, that’s the front trunk) of the 996.1 should also be the release lever, which was rustic , too agricultural. No, it’s most logical to lock the 996.2’s battery behind one electric frunk switch in the interior.
If your battery gets too low, you will not be able to open the trunk lid to access the dead battery with the interior switch. Of course, Porsche created an analogous failsafe for this very occasion in the form of a braided steel frunk release cable, except it’s housed in the front passenger-side wheel well behind the fairing and is usually only accessible by removing a wheel and grabbing it into a coat hanger hook. German engineering!
Before the 911’s long sleep, I logged how long it had been since my last weekend ride and removed the almost dead battery before it crossed the threshold of no longer being able to open the frunk. Since there are no outlets available in the parking lot, I would charge the battery at my apartment before putting it back in for a short drive. Of course, this workaround only works if you don’t have longer than expected absences, which I inevitably did. The battery in the car was dead.
The 996 sat.
I feared the resurrection ritual ahead of me. The battery was old and well past jump-start — a mysterious and very sketchy process on the 996 that involves a tiny retractable jump-start post in the driver’s footwell — so towing was required. his grave born The carport is in a shockingly narrow lane that runs alongside the apartment building, making it impossible to get a tow truck larger than one based on a standard HD chassis. Oh, and the building is built into the side of a slope, so the entrance ramp is way too steep for manpower to push the dead car up.
That reckoning came after a year and a half when I finally decided to take the first step and heed Raby’s advice. Hagerty’s first tow truck didn’t fit. The second truck made it down only a picometre, but faltered when I awkwardly admitted I didn’t have the screw-in tow eye that fits in the front bumper. It was either finding a tow hook or risking ripping off the front bumper.
I got the necessary towing eye. Not wanting to play tow truck roulette, I called a few tow companies and looked around at my predicament. For $250 my car was professionally taken out of its cavern and taken for a health check.
This was the first time this specialist Porsche/BMW workshop had seen and serviced my car and I gave them many pointers as to what to expect. I pre-approved a new battery, full fluid change and fuel tank flush, along with a paid walk-around inspection with a master technician to see what has gone to hell from my neglect and what may need replacing in the future.
The technician gave it to me directly. The oil was… clean? There was some water in the brake fluid, but that wasn’t a problem. Are you sure? He was. It was time to change out the transmission oil, but the old stuff came out with no chips or glitter. I told him to check again.
It just kept getting better. If you haven’t gleaned from this memoir or my previous dissertation on the wonders and sorrows of owning a fun car in LA, I have nuts. I’m obsessed with vintage cars, but driving them through LA traffic and our terrible infrastructure makes my teeth fall out from the fear of maintenance. I have to chase problems with an old(er) Porsche like I need a case of mumps.
When the technician said, “I can’t imagine ever finding a mechanically cleaner 996 with that mileage,” my knees almost gave out. I bought this car from a dear friend who has maintained it meticulously, but I expected my 5,000 miles of driving and a year in the shade to undo all his good work.
I’ve put 78 miles on the 996 since it came back from the shop two weeks ago. It runs Great. It runs as if it had never been turned off. There are no electrical issues, no sagging body panels, no rust, no leaks. No smoke on startup and no suspicious noises. The tachometer was unremarkable, the camshaft deviation is practically zero. God I was lucky.
Never again. You hear me? Never. Again. With less travel and other cars to distract me, this wonderful car will have significantly more seat time than before. There are things I’d like to fix, including the old wrap – long story – and shifting the aesthetic from a faux GT3 to that of a 996 GTS from an alternate timeline. But that can wait.
Maybe this is your clue to peel off the car cover. Lower your car off these jacks and take it off the trickle charger. There’s very little that can’t be fixed, and you never know – it could be a lot less catastrophic than anticipated.
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