Last updated July 19, 2007
Frequently Asked Questions by New Owners of Used Boxsters
I bought my 1997 Boxster in the summer of 2004. I’ve discovered a number of things about the car that you’ll probably be asking someone along the way. What I thought I’d do is to just list them by topic and let you read through them. Please note that I’m being as informative as I know how to be but I am not an expert—just a Porsche owner who has learned every lesson the hard (and expensive) way! Here are the topics in alphabetical order, not order of importance, that’s for sure!
Your air filter is located at the top of the engine compartment on the driver’s side. It’s about 8 x 6 x 1 inch approximately. To access it, read “Engine Compartment” below). It should be changed out once a year.
Let me urge you NOT to replace it with a K&N or any other brand of aftermarket filter that requires you to spray oil on the filter to trap out dirt. This oil will get very, very hot and thins out by nature. During hard driving (which I hope you plan to do!) a thin mist of oil is brought through the filter and into the engine’s intake.
This is not all that bad from what I have learned, but what is horrible is that a mist of hot oil can come into contact with your mass air fuel (MAF) sensor and foul it out. When this happens, your Porsche will run like crap, get lousy fuel economy, and you will learn a very expensive lesson. MAF sensors are expensive to replace… $400 online and far more at the dealership’s parts counter.
So, resist the temptation to gain a few HP by “upgrading” your air filter. Use a stock air filter and sleep at night knowing you will not have fouled out an expensive sensor.
Desnorkeling Your Intake
The “snorkel” is a small curved tube between your exterior intake on the driver’s side, which draws in cool outside air to the air filter. Removing it makes your car a little louder, especially above 4,000 rpm. I got ready to do it and found that a previous owner had already done it! Instructions are all over the internet, just google the words “desnorkel” and “Boxster” and you’ll find a bunch of links. Just to let you know, it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, and only requires a screwdriver. This is an easy mod that doesn’t increase HP, but makes your Boxster sound more aggressive—and don’t believe anyone that tells you it will increase your HP! Ok, maybe it increases it a tad, but it’s not noticeable, and dyno reports say it’s negligible.
There are two downsides to doing this. Foreign objects could be sucked into the intake, and when you wash the car water can get into the engine unless you are cautious. The foreign objects thing is only an issue if you were to toss out a lit cigarette butt out the driver’s side and it was sucked into the intake and burned through your air filter.
This isn’t a good move if you put your Boxster through a car wash as these machines have high powered water blasters. But if you do put it through a car wash, you need to send me your name address so I can come over and smack you around a little for being an idiot. Porsche convertibles should never be taken anywhere near a drive through car wash.
Fuel Level Indicator
Many boxsters (and 911's for that matter) have fuel sending unit problems, which translates to your fuel gauge indicator needle becoming stuck at one position permanently, temporarily, or in my case, at 3/4 when I filled up the tank. After I'd used a 1/4 tank of fuel, it would begin to fall normally.
The cause of this problem can be one of two things. The fuel sending unit is being blocked by cables inside the gas tank and can't do its job, or the sending unit has gone bad. If it's a cable snag, just having them tied off with a tie wrap will work, although dealers (which I call stealers) don't like ot do this because it violates their "must have parts replacement to make big profits" repair mandate... they'll usually try to sell you a whole new sending unit. The dealer wants $200 or more for this piece, and I've found them on the internet for as little as $155 new. Oklahoma Foriegn (do a web search and you'll find them) sells used ones for $75 bucks. I'm going to buy a used one and get my mechanic to install it... takes less than an hour. (By the way, the gas tank access is located under your battery in the front trunk area.)
Two weeks before I left for a 4,200 mile driving vacation in my Boxster, weird stuff started happening. The airconditioning didn't work. Then the windows stopped working, then the radio had no power. On the way to Han's house (my wonderful mechanic, a man whom I would easily name my first born son after) the windshield wipers went out as well. What he told me was that the ignition switch behind the key hole had fallen apart ... something that is very common on Boxsters and 996's. Porsche sells the whole lock assembly for an outrageous price, and it takes an hour or two to replace it, so if this is going out on your car, expect the dealer to charge you $400. Now it doesn't have to be that expensive though. Some guys buy the plastic ignition switch from AutoZone (the Audi one works fine, purchased from the Audi parts counter for $20) and do it themselves, but you have to lay on your back, use tiny screwdrivers and get up under the dash, removing the airconditioning vent tube (not hard) and removing the old ignition switch and putting in the new one. Note: This has nothing to do with your actual key or the tumblers in the assembly... the broken plastic mechanism sits behind the key and is actuated when you put your key in and turn it to the "ACC" position. So, if all your electronically controlled stuff goes whacky, push and jiggle your key and get it to your mechanic directly. If you don't repair this soon, the car will not turn over when the part fully falls apart.
There’s actually a lot to discuss when it comes to the keys to your shiny Porsche convertible! Here’s what I’ve learned …
So, you only receive one beat up key with your car? How typical. For some reason, Porsche keys disappear all the time and only one is with the car. If you have yet to buy your car, demand you get two working keys or you’ll walk away from the table. This will force the reseller to get one made for you. In my opinion, it’s like selling the car without a tailpipe. Sure, the car works (albeit loudly), but it’s not complete, is it?
If you’re like me, though, you bought the car, have one key and want another for a back up or to give the spouse (just to reinforce that he or she is loved more than you love your Porsche).
Get ready to pay $250.00 or more for that key at the dealership! The way they work it is that you buy the remote key head for your model year through the parts counter and they order it for you from Germany. That takes from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Then you take the key head and proof of ownership to the dealership with your Boxster and give it to the service guys. They take your car, cut a new key blank from your existing key, program the key head’s transponder to your car, and give you the car back with the new key in an hour or so.
Do not buy used Porsche keys off Ebay unless the seller can show you in a picture that the key head has the paper tag attached to it and has the part number you can match with a dealer to insure it will work. If it has no tag with a 24 digit number and barcode as well as the correct part number, you are wasting your money—they can’t be reprogrammed without that tag. If you can find one like I did, then you can take it to the dealership, and they’ll charge you about $85.00 to cut a new key and program the supplied remote key head for you. By the way, the remote key heads are about $140.00 from the parts counter at your local dealership; so don’t pay nearly this much off Ebay if you find one with a tag.
The other option, which is less expensive, is to go to the dealership and just ask for a valet key. It too will need programming, but is cheaper because it doesn’t have the buttons on it.
If you do not drive your Boxster for 7 days, the car automatically disables the remote receptivity function to save the battery. So, if your Boxster is a garage queen, you’ll have to manually unlock the driver’s side with the key and put it in the ignition and turn the car to the accessory position to turn this function back on. I learned this about six months after I owned the car and was feeling less anxious to drive it all the time. Freaked me out the first time, but then I learned all about it. Those Porsche guys think of everything.
Auto Window Function
Another neat function in our Boxsters is that if you are out of the car (engine is off, in other words) and you put the key in the door and turn it to the left and hold it, it will roll down your windows for you. Conversely, if you turn it to the right and hold it, it will roll up your windows for you. This is a very nice feature if you forget and need to put them up or down when you have already exited the car. Try it and see!
New Boxster owners are always wondering how to check out the engine. Basically, you need to raise the top half way, then pop off the bottom part of the cables on both side of the top and tilt it forward into service mode. Then start unscrewing your speaker box, then the carpet, then the heat shield and finally, you’ll see your engine.
The only real reason to do this is to change out your air filter, which is located on the driver’s side of the car. Yank it out, have a good look at it and replace it if it’s dirty or a year old. (See my opinions about air filter choices under “Air Filters” as reading this might just save you $700 on a Mass Air Fuel Sensor replacement!)
Headlamps and Tail Lamps and Side Lamps
If you own an older Boxster, you’ve probably seen the Litronic upgrade kits, red and clear tail lamps and clear side markers for sale on EBay and other places. These will go a long way toward making your car look like a 2002 or newer model if you have the cash to spend on them—ridding your car of the orange is a big deal to lots of 97-01 Boxster owners.
The Litronic upgrade does not come with the clear corners though, and you must buy these in addition to the headlamps. The average guy or gal can install Litronics successfully, but they have extra wiring and it’s involved. It’s not plug and play. Also, aftermarket Litronics, even the ones from Porsche, do not have that auto-leveling feature one receives when buying them as a factory option (this moves the beams up when you slam on the brakes, keeping the light out on the road instead of on the pavement 2 feet from your bumper when your suspension compresses in the front of the car. It also tilts them down when you are shifting hard and the front of the car lifts up).
If you are considering buying replacement bulbs for your Boxster to get that bluish look, do your homework. Many are cheap bulbs that burn out quickly and are not nearly as bright as advertised. Silverstars are said to be good ones, but check to see that the previous owner has not already done this for you BEFORE you buy new bulbs. One guy I know spent $60 and found out the previous owner had already done it!
Used Boxsters rarely come with the manuals given to the owner upon vehicle delivery. If you ask me, it’s because the early models didn’t have a glove box. So, the owner brought the leather pouch with all the important books in it inside the house and they were promptly misplaced. Grrr.
The manual for your year’s Boxster is important to own though… and you should buy one from your dealer’s parts counter. Hold onto your wallet though—they’re about $35 or so. But, you’ll find out all kinds of cool things about your car and it’s a worthwhile purchase. I have read mine cover to cover twice and re-read parts on additional occasions when I have an issue with a fuse or can’t figure something out.
Front and Rear Fog Lamps
If you have no manual, you probably don’t know you own these, but you do! Next time you’re in your Boxster at night, turn on the headlights, then pull the knob out once. See the fog lamps light up in the front? Now pull it out a second time. See the additional lights in your tail lamps? You’ll have one or two light up… some people have wired both so it looks uniform. If you only have one light up, nothing is broken… that’s how they do it in Europe.
If BOTH rear fog lights light up, then you have a secret weapon for tailgaters. Much like riding your brake pedal to get them to back off, you can just turn on your headlamps and pull out the knob twice and pop it back in when people are tailgating you and they’ll think you are slamming on the brakes.
Now while we’re on the subject of your headlamp knob, I will explain what the two positions to the left of the off position are for. In Europe, the residential and country roads do not have street lighting, making it hard to see cars parked on the side of the road. So, a Boxster driver would use the dim illumination setting for the outside edge of the car that’s closest to the street to insure other drivers could see his fine ride and not plow into it. On great occasion, I too will use this feature on dark streets because I have it and doggonit, I paid for it, so I’m gonna use it!
Oil Level Indicators
Everyone debates whether to use the old style stick or the digital dash readout for oil levels. I’ve found the digital one is actually good if you check it hot. When you stop the engine after it’s up to operating temperature, turn the key off and then back on and watch it count down. Do this a couple of times to insure the reading is the same.
Each bar on the digital display is about a cup of oil. Add Mobil 1 synthetic oil as needed. 0W-40 is what Porsche recommends and what I use, but if you live in very hot climates that have very little cold weather in the winter, 15W-50 would work fine. By the way, I change my oil and filter every 7,500 miles or once a year. I do not have the dealership do this because they charge too much. I buy the oil (9 quarts!) at Wal Mart on sale, and the filter, gasket and crush washer for the plug at the parts counter. Then I take it all to my mechanic, but you could take it to a quick lube place too … just read them the riot act that they must insure they use the supplied crush washer and torque it down right.
The rear spoiler raises automatically when you hit 75 mph and lowers when you fall below 50 mph. To check to see if it’s working, a passenger in your car or another vehicle driving near you must tell you they see it as you cannot see it yourself while driving.
There’s a rocker switch near the fuse box under the left side of the driver’s foot well to manually raise it and lower it for cleaning or to show this feature off to a buddy when the car’s in your garage.
Rear Main Seal (RMS) Failure
I hate to say it, but many, many Boxsters and 996’s have this problem, and is probably why so many used Boxsters have new engines—mine was replace for this reason by a previous owner. I do believe though that it was an intermediate shaft being out of round that caused the RMS to wear out, not
You must always be on the lookout for oil drips coming from the seal that sits between your engine and your transmission. If you discover an oil drip that’s coming from the center of your car, it may well be a RMS leak and it needs to be fixed sooner than later.
Why? This is not a little, non-volatile nagging oil leak. It’s one of those leaks that’s a tiny drip today, and a gushing, engine blowing thing tomorrow when you take off from a light to show a rice burner with a tin can muffler who’s driving a real car and who’s fooling themselves.
The seal itself is a couple of hundred bucks, but the labor is quite high because they have to drop your transmission to get to it. Should you need this done, buy and bring a new clutch kit to your mechanic as he’s right there and it only makes sense to have it replaced. You’ll love your new clutch.
Feel free to disagree with me, but our cars just don’t gain lots of HP without spending fantastic sums of money and gaining lots of computer problems afterwards. Intake mods are expensive and worthless. The expensive chip mods out there don’t change the dyno results. The exhaust mods are also very expensive and some have been found to REDUCE your HP instead of increase it. Be very careful when you spend your thousands of dollars on mods as they just don’t seem to be worth it to me.
The only mod that really does the trick is to swap your engine for a 3.4 liter. This will give you the absolute best of all worlds and one of the fastest Boxsters in the whole world… 0-60 times in the low 4’s, and a top speed of 165+ mph. It’s expensive though. Talk about a sleeper though… imagine pulling up next to a doctor or lawyer in a Carrera at a stop light—then totally blowing them away because they thought you had a 2.5 or a 2.7 under the top!
Roll Bar Inserts and Windscreen
If you have them, be careful not to leave them on the car with the top down in public places like grocery store parking lots, etc. Thieves love these and they’re very easy to sell for big money on Ebay. Just pop them off and stow them in the rear trunk. It just takes a second.
Sensors: Oxygen sensors, Mass Air Fuel sensor, etc.
Boxsters have four oxygen sensors (O2) and one mass air fuel sensor (MAF). Inevitably, one of these will die on you when you have no time to diagnose the problem or no cash. They cause a dreaded CE light on the dash, which is about the most frustrating thing I've encountered owning a Porsche. Best thing to do is to save up and replace all four oxygen sensors as soon as you get a CE light that has a O2 sensor fail code. Don't replace just one... the new one will be quite sensitive and the other three will be dull in comparison and the boxster's onboard computer will go haywire and the car will run poorly... AND you'll get the dreaded CE light again. O2 sensors can be purchased online for $130 each and if you have a floor jack and a wrench, you can easily replace them yourself.
The MAF is also quite easy to replace yourself, done through the top of the engine, and as mentioned before, it's a $400 part that when not working well will cause rough idle, poor performance, and the dreaded CE light.... which will probably be your first indication, not the last. Before you spend the money to replace it, you should try to clean it. A $7 can of cleaner may do the trick!
Now here's some info no Porsche dealers service rep will tell you about this topic. A fouled O2 sensor can easily make the boxster's computer go haywire and report to the PST tool (an electronic gizmo owned by dealerships for diagnostics) that the MAF is not working right. The dealers just start replacing things until the problem goes away and your wallet is empty, all in the name of the results of the diagnostic tool they used. Grrr.
My independent, Porsche trained mechanic has a PST tool and showed me how it tried to fool him. He discovered a bad O2 sensor, and swapped it with an old, functioning one he had lying around his gargage that appeared to be about the same age as my existing ones. This made the CE light go off, the car began to idle properly, and the MAF's readings on the PST tool went to normal. The boxster's computer is really sensitive and one thing can cause bad echo readings for other sensors evidently.
If you own an older boxster like I do, save up and replace all four of your O2 sensors. Car will probably run the same afterward, or yeild better fuel economy. Then hold your breath and wait for the MAF to die and replace it when and if goes out... this will remove the guesswork on the part of the technician who uses the PST tool. MAF's usually don't make it 100k from what I've read.
If you're planning on buying a 4-6 year old Boxster, ask for repair records and see if any or all of these have been replaced. If no records exist, or if the original sensors are in the car, then you may want to invest a little cash and put in the O2 sensors as preventative mainenance so you can avoid the freakish problems and the dreaded CE light.
The Puff of Smoke at Startup
This is normal, especially if the car’s been sitting for a few days. Oil accumulates around the piston rings due to the way the boxer (yes, I spelled that right) engine is designed. For this reason, it’s always good to keep an eye on your oil level.
The Convertible Top
There are a bunch of things you need to know about your top!
The Little Red Clip
Invest 5 bucks into a little red clip, purchased from any Porsche parts counter. When put the top down, pop it into the hole where the center hook normally resides and it will activate the motion sensors in the car when the top is down. Very cool and bright red to indicate to all who see it that the alarm will sound if someone tries to reach in and steal your Raybans or radar detector.
Tires, Wheel Balancing
Because of the increased camber in your rear wheels, you will find that your back tires will wear very quickly, say 6,000 to 10,000 miles or so. Most performance tires for the Boxster are unidirectional, but having the rubber knocked off the rim and put on the other side of the car can help with tire wear. If you “rotate” this way, do it every 3000 miles or so to get even tread wear.
I’ve found lots of steering wheel shake and back end vibration owning my car. This was due to not getting the tires and wheels balanced with a road-force balancing machine like a Hunter 9700. This is the only kind of balancing you should get in my opinion because it puts pressure on the inflated tire itself. Costs more but is worth it.
As far as wheel alignment is concerned, find a shop with a new laser four wheel alignment machine that kicks out a color printout you can have to verify they did the job right.
A great place to buy tires is tirerack.com. They’ve got good prices and excellent customer service. If I were you, I’d peruse the site and then call someone the sales department to order the tires. I discovered this when a salesperson called to tell me that he was not comfortable selling me the model of Kumho’s I bought online because they became very loud after 6k if not rotated, and Boxster can’t rotate wheels. He turned me on to a Kumho tire that was $15 per tire more expensive, but would be a far better tire for my car… and they shipped them that same day and there were no delays. He also informed me that the existing tire size on my car was wrong and I needed different sized tires—we verified this when I drove home from the office at lunch that day and told him the exact size of my rims. You just gotta love this kind of customer care!
One last word about tires… you can spend a fortune on rubber every year if you buy the softer compound tires such as Pirelli’s. They’re quiet and sticky though.
Trunks, Front and Rear
The trunk space may not seem cavernous to you, but it’s actually quite good for a small convertible! One thing I’ve discovered though—the rear trunk gets quite hot, so it’s not a good place to put bags of ice or refrigerated groceries. However, if you’re headed to a pot luck and you have to transport a casserole, it’s a dynamite warming oven! I put the cold stuff and ice in the front trunk, albeit a little less convenient.
If you have an older Boxster with 80k or more on it, consider buying new struts and shocks and having your mechanic replace them for you instead of doing this yourself (it’s a bigger job than one might think). Also have your control arms inspected as one of mine was totally shot at 84k. New shocks and struts will make you feel as if you are driving a brand new Porsche. Go ahead and do it, you deserve it!
Stereo Systems and Rear Speakers
Before you go on Ebay and buy that CDR-23 to upgrade your old head unit, remember that the newer Boxsters (2002 and newer) have the MOST fiber optic systems in them and older Boxsters cannot use their head units. You’ll want to look for a CDR220 or buy an Alpine, etc. No, the aftermarket unit won’t look like the dash like a factory unit would, but they’re so advanced and cheaper that it’s hard to ignore—the ability to load a hundred songs in MP3 format to be played on a newer aftermarket unit costing $250 versus a Becker CDR220 that skips, is not well made and is $350 used to $600 new just doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if looks are more important than features and price, buy whatever you like.
Rear speakers are a must in a Boxster. They dynamically change the front and door only stereo system from annoying to enjoyable and should be installed. The kits you see online do not include the mandatory plastic, carpet covered storage box required for the installation… it’s only the speakers and wires. Try to find a storage box used on Ebay or online. Dealers want $550 for them. Or, you can buy surface speakers meant for the back deck of a car (self contained in low profile enclosures) and buy the brown connector for rear speakers at the parts counter and wire it up. Radio Shack sells a pair of speakers like this that aren’t terribly expensive. You may be thinking “I ain’t gonna put no stinkin’ Radio Shack speakers in my Porsche!” but the truth of the matter is that to have “proper” rear speakers, you’re going to pay $850 or more, and they’re usually never seen, only heard as they are concealed by the top when it’s dropped (a vast majority of the time, right?).
Updating your Boxster’s Interior
I already covered replacing exterior headlamps and tail lamps, so what’s left is the interior. My 1997 base Boxster looked very old when I first bought it. The shifter was round and bulbous, and my steering wheel was a four spoke. Just horrid to look at.
So, I found a 5 speed shifter knob out of a 2002 996 on sale at Ebay and it took all of 30 seconds to remove my old one and install the new one. Yes, you can buy them from the parts counter for $185, but I snagged mine for 52.00 because some of the silver had worn off the top. I had originally thought of respraying it, but the night I got it I sat in front of the TV and scraped off all the silver paint with my thumbnail and it’s nice shiny black plastic underneath… a very nice looking shifter.
I also found a 3 spoke wheel on EBay, but it didn’t have the airbag, which is typical because owners are upgrading interior parts but the airbag works on all the 3 spoke wheels, regardless if they are tiptronic, manual, carbon fiber, dark wood, or leather. Keep an eye on Ebay and you’ll find what you need. Oh, just to answer a question you might have—yes, a tip wheel will work on a manual, but not the other way around for obvious reasons. I bought and have a tip wheel on my 5 speed and plan to wire up the switches to my onboard computer since this was not bought as an option, but all Boxsters have the onboard computer… mine was turned on at the dealership (free of charge when they were programming my additional key head and transponder) and all I lack is a switch to cycle through the various things it tracks. One buddy suggested
Roll bar Inserts and Windscreen
If you don’t have them, buy them off Ebay or (gulp) the dealer and pay big bucks. They really do make the top down driving experience much less windy!
Just remember that these walk off in the hands of thieves, so remove them any time you leave your top down Boxster in public places.
When your windscreen rattles (not IF, but WHEN) you should do what I did to reduce the clatter—put a small piece of black felt on either side of the base to raise it a little and force the top clips to have less rattle room. I used the soft side of some Velcro with sticky adhesive and it works well. It still rattles a little, but it’s not annoying any longer.