Modern cars intimidate most people into avoiding even attempting basic maintenance on their own. It should not be that way actually. While modern cars are certainly much more complex than older cars, many things are actually easier now. I was a professional mechanic (or service technician) from '83 through '97. I worked at a Ford dealer in Eastern Washington and specialized in the highest tech stuff that cars had back then, electronics, engine performance, and air conditioning primarily. I also did alignments and other repairs. I maintain my own cars still today. Everything from general maintenance to a complete engine swap on my 2007 Jaguar a few years ago.
I encourage most people to give some of the basics a try. It's good to know more about your car. This article is intended to give some useful information about maintaining your own vehicles.
Where can I get service information?
As it turns out, this is better than it has ever been. Back in 1996 when On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) regulations were mandated coast-to-coast in the US, and finally spreading to the modern world, the regulators realized that just making low emissions vehicles was not enough as nobody would maintain those emissions systems and often they would even remove them when the car was fairly new. So along came OBD2 intent on making sure people maintained emissions compliance and eventually easing the emissions inspection programs. As these OBD regulations matured they also realized that the high costs of the dealer monopolies was driving big incentives for people to not fix their cars when emissions failures happened. So, along came the Service Information Rule to make service more readily available by enabling 3rd party service providers access to the same emissions related service information that the dealerships had. Then in 2012 Massachusetts passed a Right to Repair law covering on-road motor vehicles basically extending the SIR type regulation bumper-to-bumper. Right-to-repair laws are spreading more. So, what does all this mean for you? It means you have a legal right to access the original manufacturers service information and training for a "reasonable subscription fee". The government helps manufacturers determine what is reasonable.
In order to ensure manufacturers were obeying these laws, the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) was formed. Their website at https://www.nastf.org houses links to this government required service information that the manufacturers would prefer to hide. There you can access the service information for your car. Each manufacturer has it's own unique website of information, and each has a pricing menu based on how long you need information access and how many vehicles of information access you need. Porsche's is here: https://techinfo2.porsche.com/PAGInfosystem/VFModuleManager?Type=GVOLangSelection&lk=ELSE. Notice the cryptic link to find it. Of course it is one of the most expensive too with a 1-day subscription costing $140. For comparison access to the service information on my 2007 Jaguar was in the $15 range for 3-day access to partial info for one vehicle.
So that factory information is too expensive? There are 3rd party alternatives. One of the biggest is Alldata. They have a DIY service information website that is geared towards folks like us. I used this for my Cayman S and it was around $30/year. Much of their information is derived from the manufacturers information.
Where can I get parts?
Many repair parts are only available from the dealer networks but most maintenance parts are available from other providers. Of course, be careful on aftermarket parts as many are not as good as the manufacturers original parts. Here are some places I go for Porsche parts:
- Vertex Auto. These guys specialize in Porsche, although they have expanded to others now.
- Pelican Parts. Another Porsche specialist. When I renewed my PCA membership I got a 10% coupon here.
But what if you need those factory parts? If you walk down to your local dealer you are likely to get sticker shock. The parts can often be silly expensive. However, there are places that sell original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts at a discount. Some you can even look up in online catalogs. One example of a Porsche dealer selling parts online, sometimes at a discount is Sun Coast Porsche. Autohaus in Peoria also has an online parts store with good discounts. Remember also that our LTR PCA club does get discounts on parts at Autohaus (Porsche of Peoria) and Isringhausen if you show your PCA card. See this blog post for more details.
For some things such as fluids, you can get these from local parts stores. I actually buy Mobile One (Porsche preferred) oil from Walmart. You can also get filters, belts, some hoses, bulbs, etc., at local parts stores such as Autozone, Napa, O'Reilly's, Pep Boys, etc.
Where can I get help if I get stuck?
Here is where the internet has really helped. Crowd-sourced information is abundant. There are many forums that specialize in Porsche too. Here are 2 of the bigger ones:
Most common questions have probably been asked already and you will find information posted from other Porsche folks like us. If it has not been asked before, go ahead and start a new thread with your question. You might be surprised the help you get. Of course with all this crowd-sourced information you have to sift through it a bit. It's not all good or even accurate but there is also a bunch of great information out there.
Another place to look is YouTube. Here is a list of results when I searched for "how to remove a Porsche 997 door panel" for example. Videos can be much more informational that a manual.
Don't I need a hoist and a whole bunch of tools?
I don't have a hoist and it rarely is even an inconvenience. There are certain things that are much easier with a hoist but most of the time a hoist is in your way. If you were puling the engine out of your 911, sure a hoist is extremely helpful. For normal maintenance a floor jack and jack stands, and a set of ramps cover most tasks OK. However, if you really want a hoist you can get them for home. Some are as low as $1500 or less. Here is an example of one.
As for tools, I still happen to have my tools from when I did this for a living. However, when I need new basic tools a trip to Sears will fill many needs. There are some common tools you will need for Porsche's. First of all, a set of Torx tools. You can get drivers or sockets, or just get both. Some things on Porsche's use "triple-square" or "cheese-head" bits. You can find these at places like Tooltopia. Some can even be found at local tool suppliers like C&H in Peoria. Be careful of going too cheap on tools. That is a recipe for damaging things including you. Get a good torque wrench too. In fact, get both a 1/2" drive and a 3/8" drive so you can cover the spectrum of torque you will need.
What do I do with my used fluids?
Engine oil can be recycled at the place you bought it from. Some other fluids can also be returned at auto parts stores like Autozone. Others like brake fluid and antifreeze are harder. Often your local parts store can point you in the right direction.
What are some typical costs?
Let's start with a basic oil change on a modern Porsche sports car. You can get the factory recommended Mobile One 0W-40 oil at Walmart for under $25/5quart container. My 2006 Cayman S takes 8.5 quarts. I just get 2 jugs because my Mercedes also takes the same oil and about the same capacity. The OEM filter is from Mahle and can be purchased from Vertex for $11.95. I can change my oil for under $60 using the factory oil and filter. I back the car on to ramps. I takes about 30 minutes. The used oil goes back in the jugs the new oil came in and I drop it back off at Walmart the next time I go. The only tools are a ratchet and socket for the drain plug, ramps, a drain pan, a funnel, and a filter wrench that can be purchased at any parts store, or even Walmart.
There are 2 very important things you should never go cheap on: brakes and tires. There are many things not to go cheap on of course but these 2 are the main things that are critical for avoiding accidents. On a high performance car like Porsche, the factory pads are a great choice for most people and uses. I know many people that even run them on the track. Vertex sells many great brake pads for my car including the OEM pads. In my case the fronts are $209 for the set, and the rears are $119.98. You will need to check the rotor thickness when changing pads as they wear too. The manual will have thickness specs. Lets say you do need rotors as well. In my case I do track days so the factory drilled rotors should really be upgraded to slotted rotors to avoid the cracking issues. I did not find what I want at Vertex so I looked at Tire Rack and Pelican. Pelican had Sebro slotted rotors for a reasonable price. The fronts are $128 each and the rears are $130 each. You should always change the brake fluid when changing pads and since I do track days I use Motul 600 which I can get right here at Hoerr Racing for $19 per 500ml container (I use 2). So, for under $1000 I have new OEM pads, upgraded rotors, and new performance fluid. It takes me about 2 hours to change these parts and bleed the brakes in my garage with just a floor jack, basic tools, and a pressure bleeder. I also have a vacuum bleeder that I use to replace the fluid in the reservoir before beginning the pad swap. Warning: brake fluid is destructive and will eat car paint! Use caution and cover areas that could get a drip on it. I will go through many sets of pads before needing rotors again so the next pad swap will be less than half that cost.
The Cayman S is mid engine and you can't even see the engine without removing panels. This can be intimidating and make it seem like changing spark plugs would be very difficult. In actuality, this is one of the easiest cars to change plugs on. You start be removing the rear tire and a small plastic panel behind it (3 screws). At that point you can see all 3 coils in plain sight. Here is a video on YouTube showing this.
I prefer factory electrical parts including spark plugs. Sun Coast sells the OEM spark plug set for $108. You can get the same brand and type of spark plugs for less elsewhere. It takes me about an hour and a half to change them. Always use anti-seize on the threads and make sure the gap is correct.