Sunday, December 21, 2014

Buying and owning a Porsche Cayman S

I sold my Porsche 944S in June 2014 so I could replace it with a newer Porsche.  I started looking for a 996 (or 1999 - 2004 911 for the non-Porsche folks) or Cayman S.  My goal was to find something around $30k, hopefully under.  I don't mind miles as much as age.  The newer the better.  However the colors and features are the most important. I use several sources to find a car.

  • Auto Trader.  This is one of the best used car tools there is.  Decent search capability and nearly every new and used dealer, plus private party sellers, use this site.  
  • eBay.  While this has auctions, it also has classified and buy-it-now. Many dealer and private parties use this as well.  
  • Car Gurus.  Not as good as the others but still useful.
  • NADA.  Good to get car pricing info, specs, and more.
  • Kelly Blue Book.  Another good pricing website.
  • Edmunds.  Good for specs and info mostly.  Also have some listings and pricing info.
  • Craigslist. Although this generally has lower priced cars on it.  I was not able to find many Porsches here. You can set up an RSS feed to capture several Claigslist sites.
I also look at local dealer websites.  Since I am always looking for a less common car, searching just the local dealers and classifieds rarely gets the cars I want (although I did find my 944S and XJ12 locally). Instead, I do a radius search.  While there are several good 996's around its hard to get the right set of features and colors.  Porsche's have so many options.  It seems that most German cars are either silver or black for some reason so finding a color I like can be a challenge.  Cayman's are harder to find.  It is the lowest volume car Porsche makes.  There just aren't all that many around.  I have always wanted a mid-engine car though and the Cayman is a fantastic one.  The 996 is also a great car and the prices are very low for what this car is.  When you look at the design where the engine is out the back, behind the rear axle, it seems strange.  However, you must drive one before judging them.  I have driven many, mostly the turbo's, and they are fantastic cars.

My search took months.  I kept expanding my radius.  I drove a 2004 C4S in Chicago but the condition was not so good.  Drove great though.  I drove a Cayman S in Indiana but the color and feature set was just not quite compelling enough.  I had a long email exchange with a guy in Ohio but his car was more than I wanted to pay.  We came close to a deal but never made it happen.  The farther you go the more risky the deal is.  Pictures and video just are not even close to seeing the car in person.  Pictures are 2 dimensional so its hard to tell shadows and reflections from damage.  There is so much you just don't see.  The sellers almost always leave out the important shots.  You don't get pictures under the car, or in the areas where rust could be an issue. I have traveled for hours before only to be greatly disappointed.  I found a few good prospects only to find they sold by the time I contacted the seller.  After months of searching, I finally found what I wanted.  One was in Florida and another in Virginia.  By the time I checked on the Florida car, it was gone.  Realizing I need to act fast or loose it, I called on the Virginia car.  It was at a used car lot in Manassas.  Not exactly the best place to buy a car.  I checked CarFax and found the history.  It was clean but the car had several owners and had been through auctions more than once.  Not good.  Cars are usually sent to auction when the dealership where it was traded in feel it is not good enough for their lot.  There are many reasons a car might not be good enough.  Many new car dealers only carry cars they can certify pre-owned or the car is in exceptional condition.  When you are looking for a $30k Porsche though, you are likely not in the certified pre-owned category anyway.  Those start in the $50k range usually. So, back to the 2006 Cayman S.  It had so many things right with it.  It was Guards red (my favorite) with black interior.  It had a 6-speed manual, Sports Chrono package, heated seats, power memory seats, premium sound, rain sensor wipers, and bi-xenon headlights.  It did not have the navigation system which I did not want. It also had a CD changer which I am sorta neutral on.  I asked the dealer for more detailed photos and videos.  They complied, although they shot them with an iPhone and compressed them for email so the quality was not very good.  It was hard to tell for sure the condition.  I finally just took a chance, bought a on-way plane ticket to Dulles airport (about 15 miles from the dealer), and hoped for the best.

I got to Dulles and took a cab to the dealer.  At this point I was fairly committed to this purchase.  Sure, I could back out, get a cab back to the airport, and hope for a flight home.  As we drove up I saw the car and from the cab, it looked great.  The lot was not much.  A gravel lot with a small building.  No shop.  However, it did have many nice cars.  There was an Audi R8 parked next to the Cayman and there were mostly Mercedes and BMW's.  The salesman came out and greeted me.  We went to the car and he handed me the key.  I hopped in the car and fired it up.  It cranked slowly but started fine.  It sounded good, no noises, smoke, or leaks.  I took off for a drive.  The car felt fantastic.  When I came up to a cloverleaf I took it with a bit of speed.  Cayman's handle fantastic, like no other.  I knew right then I had my ride home.  Acceleration was also great, as was everything else about the drive.  These cars just feel very tight and connected.  I get back to the car lot and noticed that the heated seats did not work.  The key also had a damaged non-functioning remote.  The cosmetic condition of the car was very good though considering its many owners and trips through auction.  I figured I can fix the other stuff.  I also shut the car off and started it up again.  It cranked slow again. I took off the battery cover to find an original Porsche battery.  So, I attempted to negotiate a price drop based on the things I found.   I said the car needed a new battery, the heated seats were inop, and there was only 1 key and it had a bad remote.  The dealer stuck to their price stating they had other buyers lined up.  Sure, this could very well be a lie.  This dealer did not always tell the truth.  They also claimed the battery was new and that Cayman's always crank slow.  I thought it over for a few minutes (which was all I had since the dealer was closing soon).  I finally decided to just go for it.  I paid for the car.

After the deal was done, the dealer was closing as I left.  I hopped in the car and off I went.  I had an 800 mile trip ahead of me.  Just a few miles down the road the "check engine" light came ON.  Oh great I thought.  Knowing how OBD works I figured they had cleared the DTC's just before I got there, likely by disconnecting the battery. 2 trip DTC's take 2 drive cycles to complete.  My road test was the first trip.  My trip home was the 2nd.  I did not feel any drivability issues so I decided it was likely a catalyst or O2 monitor so I could just ignore it for now.  Going back to the shady dealer would be pointless, especially since they were now closed.

The route from Dulles to I70 was not a simple one.  I turned On Google Maps and trusted it to take me the best way.  As it turns out, there was traffic issues on some of the main highways so I ended up on small 2-lane roads going through West Virginia and Maryland.  At one point I was going over a one-lane bridge on Gaston Road in West Virginia.  The road was fantastic!  It seemed like one continuous piece of perfect new asphalt making a tight winding path through the mountains.  The Cayman and I loved it!  I have never owned a car quite like this.  I can't explain it with words, you just need to experience it yourself.  While many cars seem to complain when you push them, the Cayman taunts you for more, almost as if to say "is that all you got".  The level of confidence it inspires is probably dangerous but is absolutely intoxicating and addictive.  I was amazed at the power too.  The Cayman S has a 295HP flat 6.  295HP these days is not that much.  The car is light though, about 2900lbs.  The 6-speed drivetrain is set up to optimize for performance, like all Porsche S cars.  The gears are evenly spaced and 6th gear redline is also the cars max speed of 173mph.  I was never that impressed by the sound of Porsche flat 6 engines actually, until now.  From inside the car you get a different experience. The Cayman has the intake right behind the driver, through the side grille behind the door.   The induction sound is fantastic.  At WOT you can hear the cams change angle as the revs increase until you get this beautiful wail near redline. At idle it does not really make that much sound.  Very different from an old-school American V8.  You really need WOT and high rpm to enjoy the sound of European cars like this Porsche.

Once I got to Ohio, the rest of the drive was on boring flat, 4-lane divided freeways.  We really need autobahn style unlimited zones here in the states.  I stayed the night in Washington Pennsylvania.  I got up early the next day and drove home.

I checked DTC's when I got home to find P0421 which is intended to detect the catalyst not storing oxygen properly.  This is usually caused by a bad catalyst (no longer converting).  I swapped the 2 downstream O2 sensors and confirmed that the issue stayed with the catalyst and not the sensor.  When I modified the exhaust later I also moved the sensor on that back to the muffler (after the 2nd catalyst) and the DTC and light are now fixed.

I tried to program the himelink system for my garage door but I found it too did not work.  Nice.  One more thing wrong with this car.  I searched the web for the heated seat and Homelink issues.  This is always a good first step as most problem have been experienced by someone before.  Knowledge based troubleshooting is how it is done in the real world.  Anyway, sure enough, I found numerous posts on multiple forums for this exact complaint.  It turns out that Porsche have some problems with their body control.  To be honest, the software has a defect where a low battery condition can cause the module to reset to factory defaults and disable several features including heated seats, homelink, and rain sensing wipers function (wiped work but don't respond to rain).  The fix is to have the dealer perform a "hand over" procedure.  This procedure was intended for new cars.  The dealer just has to connect the service tool (a special Porsche tool, not a generic OBD tool) and configure the cars features.  Once this was done, all the features worked.

The key was expensive!  From the dealer, it cost about $400 for the key and remote.  It had to be ordered and then programmed at the dealer.  The new key head has been updated though and it is much nicer than the original.

At this point I had $28,500 into the purchase price plus $70 to get the hand over procedure done, and $400 to get the key and remote, and have it programmed.  Still under $30k and now everything works.  I also changed the spark plugs and oil.  I have been driving the car for months now and it is fantastic. I have put about 5k miles on it since I bought it (800 in the first 2 days).  Every day I drive it, it puts a huge smile on my face.  Strange how a car can do that.  Every other car just feels boring and unrefined now in comparison.  I have never had a car handle so fantastic before.  This design where the weight is all down low and centered in the car is ideal.  There is a very low moment of inertial about the center of the mass so very little effort is require for the car to change direction.  You can feel it right away.  Here is a great article explaining it. The weight is also down low because the engine is a flat 6 and not a typical V or inline configuration. This means the car stays flatter in corners even without over stiff suspension. The force stays on all 4 wheels more than most other cars.  There is never any under-steer.  You can get over-steer by applying heavy throttle in a corner but it is controllable and very fun.  The PSM will keep you in control while still having fun.  In sport mode, you get even more fun.

Cayman S 3.4L engine and trans assembly
Cayman versus 911 Carrera

My car has the smaller wheels and tires on it. These wheels are usually used for winter only.  They are 17" diameter and 30mm narrower than the original wheels.  They had installed new summer tires on them though.  Even with these the car still has good grip.  I look forward to upgrading back to the original size after I wear these tires out.  I figure a few track days will delete most of that tread.  I like the wheel style better than the lobster claw so many of these cars came with though. So far I have only had the car to one autocross.  

Update 2016: Replaced the wheels with 2010 Cayman S 18" and Pilot Super Sport tires.

Engine speed versus vehicle speed in each gear

After I upgraded the wheels and tires

Shot from Garmin Virb Ultra 30 mounted on custom camera bar

Here are some YouTube videos from other owners and reviewers of the Cayman.


Unknown said...

Good seeing you. Awesome car and great blog. On the Navigation front, if you haven't tried WAZE its a great App. People input info including accidents, roads closed, etc and it routes around.
If you feel like a ride to Minneapolis we'd be glad to see you!!

Jim Roal said...

Mike: I just installed Waze a few weeks ago when we went to Mississippi. It was helpful and I will use it on future trips. I read an article from the guy who holds the New York to LA record and he said Waze and the Valentine One radar detector were his tools of choice. Shopping for the Valentine One now...