I own a Porsche 996 C4S Widebody. I love it, Its not my perfect car because it has a Tiptronic box and I would prefer a manual. But forgetting the Auto bit, it excites me every time I look at it. I love the lines of the C4S, I love how it looks when I am staring at its rear arches in my wing mirror. This car is one of my all time favourite Porsches. No its not a 964 RS or a 1973 RS or a 993 Turbo. However it has a place in my heart all of its own.
996′s tend to come with a bit of a stigma attached to them. Having bought and sold these cars for years I can honestly tell you I have only had problems with two. Unfortunately one of these is mine.
Not one to get too depressed about these things Miles and I decided that we would use to opportunity to test out a new specialist. We put a lot of effort into ensuring we send our members to the best people in the country and the only way to do this is to investigate. We have a system that we use to test garages. All the tests we do are on cars that we own so we never put a members car at risk. Although Miles is fully capable of repairing any issues our cars have, he has 28 years in the industry (Yes, he is that old) specialising in Porsche and the German Marques, we always approach every garage we test as if we are an average car owner.
After doing some research on Engine and Gearbox specialists in the London Area we found the ones we were going to test. For legal reasons, I have to call these guys Garage A.
Now if any of you follow us on Twitter (@macchinaclub) then you will have seen the pictures and will know this doesn’t end well. If you don’t follow Twitter then I suggest you read on.
It was around the 26th of February this year when we contacted Garage A and arranged for them to pick up the 996 and rebuild the engine supplying us with a two year parts and labour warranty and finishing the work within a 2 to 3 week period. The price was agreed at £4,995. They collected the car on the 28th.
Over the next few weeks I was surprised not to hear anything both Miles and I were pretty busy and out of the country for a while though so it wasn’t until 4 weeks had past that we started to chase Garage A. After leaving numerous messages with the sales guys and being told nothing and never called back, we prepared to go to the premises to get some answers. However on the 11th April we finally got a call. (For future reference the 11th is the day after my birthday. Feel free to send Champagne, Chocolates or Chanel)
Garage A said that our engine couldn’t be repaired. The block had split and it would be more cost effective to buy a second hand engine. Miles and I agreed this would make sense. We agreed a price of £6800 and as the unit was apparently not going to be built, it was coming direct from a Porsche into ours, we agreed a change in warranty to 3 months. Oh and a turn around time of 1 week. A week.
5 weeks later we picked up my car.
The car didn’t feel quite right as I drove it home. Something just felt wrong. I discovered the manual element of my gear box wasn’t working. There were other issues too, the rear bumper looked like it had been cracked and also just the general running felt a little rough.
The following day we put my car on a ramp at our garage. Oh my god.
The first thing we all commented on was how incredibly filthy it was. One would have thought that if you were fitting an engine with any care you would at least clean it. Not to concours condition but just so it looked like some kind of effort had been made. There were screws missing everywhere from the exhaust to the bell housing and then, THEN we noticed the cracks. One. Two. Three. Oh Jesus. Something was pretty wrong.
This crack was the most worrying to us as you could see it had opened up and it was huge. A crack to the bell housing is no mean feat. It is manufactured from cast aluminium and is designed to withstand massive loads and stress without failure when installed to an engine. The housing itself is extremely strong once attached to the engine and can endure extreme loads without damage.
When installed onto an engine the bell housing can endure many times the load than it could withstand alone and some would go so far as saying that when installed correctly it could possibly be the strongest part of the car.
Initially we were advised by both an independent specialist and by Porsche themselves, that the only way these types of cracks could appear is if the transmission had suffered extreme forces of localised compression, outside of the mounting area. The picture being painted was that it looked like the result of an object or part of the assembly not locating correctly during assembly, then excessive force being used to overcome this interference, such as the bell housing bolts being used to pull the transmission closer to the engine. It was mentioned to us that in a scenario like this the bell housing would break during the installation rather than later on, with the technician being fully aware of the damage both visually and audibly.
At this point both Miles and myself were clear that it was not possible for the damage to have happened as any fault of ours. You could clearly see the cracks had appeared either whilst in the care of Garage A or en route home. With the latter seemingly increasingly unlikely. We decided to call Garage A to give them a chance to come and look at the damage and to come up with a solution.
We had decided that, and completely within our rights, we were not going to let Garage A undertake any more work. The Bell housing cannot be bought independently from new and so therefore we were looking at a completely new Auto Tiptronic transmission. Not a cheap purchase from Porsche at $7258.42 + VAT and not including labour. It is arguable that you could buy second hand and rebuild all the pieces but we are talking about a £25,000 car with a 30,000 mile gearbox. Using a second hand gearbox comes with no guarantees of how many miles it has done and you cannot see the history of the car and evidence of how said gear box had been treated.
Garage A were typically hard to get hold of. It took another two weeks to finally get any kind of interest from them. They refused to acknowledge it could be them but we told the director of the company we wanted him to come and inspect. He said they would fix the work if it was proved to be them and we categorically told them they would not be allowed to repair the car as our faith in their professionalism had gone.
After a couple of days chasing they told us they would meet us at our garage at 10 am. 5 hours later they showed up. In a massive low loader. The Director wasn’t there. He sent his Dad and the Workshop Manager – neither of whom had worked on our car. We asked why they had bought the truck and they told us it was to take the Porsche back. We explained that wasn’t happening. They got annoyed.
Things calmed down a bit when they saw the damage and they were as confused as we were. We agreed to have the engine dropped so we could split the unit and see how the damage had happened. We set a date for two weeks down the line and agreed that our garage would split with both Garage A and their insurance inspector from RSA present.
The day came and we all waited for the unit to be dropped. What we were faced with was shocking. There was a hole in the bell housing so large it was pretty clear that something had expelled itself from the inside out. For those who don’t know there really should be nothing rattling around in there. The question was had this object come from the transmission end – if so it could have been seen as not the fault of Garage A – or had it come from the engine end.
We split the unit. Unfortunately the engine block was cracked and so the car was going to need both engine and transmission. The inside of the bell housing was covered in imprints from what first looked like a screw. There were what looked to be teeth marks. But there was no trace of any bolt or screw. We were pretty certain this object had been expelled from the engine and had almost given up hope of finding it. The odd thing was there were no screws, bolts or washers missing from within the unit.
Finally we removed the drive train. Tucked down the very bottom was a 6mm Snap-on hex with the socket missing. We lined up a socket joint and it was clear to see that the imprints we thought were teeth marks were in fact the lines running around the socket joint. Wow. Whoever had worked on my engine had dropped this tool into it and he, without doubt would have known. Then the same person chose to just put my car back together and send it on home. Surely knowing at some point this would happen.
To cut this terribly long story short I can now tell you that after receiving a quote for around £30,000 to repair the damage that these, can I call them cowboys? have done to my car, the RSA have decided to CAT C my beloved Porsche and have sent me a cheque for the £25,000 it was worth.
I know that seems like a good out come but for me its not. I’m a real car lover. That 996 had been treated well. The exterior was mint as was the interior. My plan for the car was to store it in the barn and then impress the pants off the world when I produce a stunning condition 996 in about 15 years time. This won’t happen now. I have a nice wedge of cash, although its not THAT nice because I have spent a fortune on solicitors etc and I am still waiting for that money to come back (not covered by Garage A insurance) Also there isn’t exactly £25,000 because money tends to burn a whole in my pocket when it isn’t in a car. So its now less a pair of louboutins and a rather nice shade of Chanel nail varnish. Oh and a few bottles of Krug which are probably the reason I am sitting at home feeling horrendous.
I think the most important point to remember here is had I not put my car straight up on the ramp, would I have noticed the problem. Would any of YOU noticed. I mean how many of you put your cars up in the air? Check them out from underneath?
I cannot name Garage A at the moment. I am suing them for professional negligence and hoping to claw back the damages including all the time off work and petrol etc. I am not overly confident I will win. I think it will be seen that they are only responsible for covering the loss of the car but I will give it a go and I will let you all know who was responsible if and when the time is right.
Wow. Long blog. Well done for sticking with it.
RIP LX03 KUD 2003 – 2011