Buying a 1997-2004 Boxster
When I was looking for a Porsche, I looked to many resources for weeks in advance to try and determine what was available and at what price. By pricing and driving many samples of what I thought I wanted before I was really ready to buy, I saved myself thousands and even changed my mind and didn’t buy the Porsche I went out originally to buy (a 928). Then a year later, I went out and bought another Boxster. Out of these experiences and through talking with Boxster owners and sellers, I thought I learned something. So I thought I’d construct this guide to buying a used ’97-’04 Boxster (986) in hopes that it would help you in your quest for this lovely and exciting car.
What you should read is not just on this web page but a whole series of web pages. I really strongly suggest that after reading this one, you bring up the index to my Boxster oriented web pages and read the entire first section of about a half dozen web pages.
Suggestions and corrections are invited.
Why I bought a Boxster
I’ve owned an ex-racing Alfa Romeo, a BMW 2002, a Porsche 914, and probably 20 other cars that were in the family. But the last pure fun car was the 914 and I sold it before I met my wife to be. I was ready for a fun car again. I'd been tracking Porsches in the classifieds for years, mostly 928s. My wife said "well stop it, just go buy one".
I tried about a half dozen cars, everything from an older Porsche 928 to a new Corvette. Thrown in were Honda, BMW and Jaguar. I’m not horsepower crazy or out to beat anyone on the street or track. The Alfa and the 914 had each less than 100 HP and I could do better than a hundred in each...and I had. I appreciate a fast, well balanced, well built car that is practical to drive around town, on the interstates or in the twisties. And maintainable doesn’t hurt either. Could I have afforded a new one? Yes I could. But I figured that I can have 90%+ of the fun for half the price buying at the price point I did (both times). And half the fun is knowing you didn’t pay full price. I bought a base model ’99 in 2004 and an ’01 S in 2005.
For an answer to that question, the fun is trying to answer it for yourself. I can't answer it for you because I'm not you.
When I bought my first Boxster, I didn't go looking for a 986...I actually went looking for a 928. Once I had driven one, I kept looking. H2000, XKE, Vette, BMW..the list went on. Many I drove less than a mile before I turned around. Often the salesman looked at me returning so quickly in wonder .... "anything wrong with the car" he'd ask. "No, nothing wrong...I'm looking for a car that just grabs me and this isn't it."
I bought the first Boxster I drove and turned around after perhaps 2 miles. I knew even before I got out of the seller's residential neighborhood this was the car. (She was selling to make room in her 4 car garage for a Hummer because she didn't drive it to the club any more!)
Now it might not be the car for you. That is why I suggest devoting a month to driving cars and sampling their merits. Once you hit that car that you feel is right for you, you'll know.
My Experience … good or bad?
I put about 7k per year on the cars for several years, now average about 3k, maintain it per the book or better, am fanatic about tires and hoses and belts and such and neither Boxster has ever given me a bit of mechanical trouble that would leave me stranded (oops, no longer true, my battery failed after 5 years but that hardly counts against the car). Non-scheduled maintenance has been required an average of once every two years. Routine maintenance yearly (an oil change) and every other year a 15 or 30k service. Every 2 years a brake fluid flush.
I keep it in the garage at home and at work. Protects the leather. Polish it once every 2 months just because I like to, it is so small and easy to do. And if the weather is really bad, I take the SUV or one of my other cars. Not that the Porsche is bad in the wet, far from it. It is just I have to go through standing water when it rains hard and I’d rather do that in the taller SUV. I keep the winter rocks and salt away too as I put the Boxster under cover when the temperature isn’t above 40F/4.5C. Again, not that I need to as you can drive a Boxster in the snow with the right tires. I figure why bother with the compromise necessary for all-weather tires or snows when I already have a SUV so I run just summer ultra-high-performance tires. I enjoy the top down on the mornings when it is 50F+, just turn the heater on and the heated seats and roll the windows up.
In summary, I’m thoroughly pleased. We call it “Permagrin”, driving around with a permanent grin on your face.
A Boxster in winter
You don’t have to be sold about the joys of a convertible in the summer months. But a convertible in winter in a cold snowy area of the country is a concern for many. So lets start off with some options.
Snow tires and drive it. The Boxster has an excellent heater that heats up fast. Some have heated seats. 2003 and later models have a heated glass rear window. 2001 and later have a lined convertible top. The top is typically canvas and can be waterproofed using a Raggtopp cleaner and sealant especially designed for canvas tops. You can purchase a metal hardtop with heated rear window for about $2,800 new and half that used and even less in the spring. Many people get used wheels from wrecks or upgraders and mount snow tires so they can run maximum performance summer tires the rest of the year. Summer tires get slippery at around 40F degrees and have no ability in snow or ice. You really do need snow tires if you live in colder climes and intend to drive the Boxster during the winter. Because it has a low center of gravity, it handles well in the snow. But it is not for deep snow because of the low ground clearance.
Another option is storing the car. If you are not driving it for a long time, a battery maintainer is a good idea (not a trickle charger, the battery maintainer is smart enough to turn itself totally off and stop charging so it doesn’t overcharge your battery. Porsche sells one for $60 or so that plugs into the lighter socket and enters the car through a conveniently provided gap in the weather stripping under the passenger side door. Others connect directly to the battery and are available from many sources and of many brands. The only problem with the one that connects to the battery is the battery is in the front trunk and opening the trunk means rodents like mice find the trunk a nice place to winter. Some use moth balls to repel rodents both in the trunk and in the passenger compartment. Some use desiccants to absorb moisture. Some use steel wool balls in the tailpipe to prevent rodent nests there. Storing the car outside, you can get a car cover (I used one made of Noah fabric as I lived in an area that gets ice and snow) for around $160 new but many are available for half that lightly-used.
I put my car away for the winter when I just can’t see it getting warm enough for a while to drive with the top down even on the best days. And am always eager to get it out from under its cover when it gets to 50+ and I can see a top down day. Mine was stored perhaps 2 months with cover and battery maintainer when I lived in Virginia. Now that I live in central North Carolina, the SUV sits outside and the Boxster sits in the garage with its top down just waiting for the occasional nice winter day. One Xmas day I went to the local food store for my wife...with the top down....the long way.
Can you commute in one?
I can only cite my experience. I lived in crowded Northern Virginia and commuted for 2 years on some of the worst maintained roads in the country. Granted I didn’t drive it much in winter bad weather but I could have commuted 12 months of the year if I had changed to “snow” tires.
The Significant Other factor!
Just because you love it, don't assume that it will be the car your SO loves. My wife was very supportive of my buying it, just don't ask her to drive in it for more than a half hour. She describes it as "sitting in a roller skate" especially when next to an 18-wheeler and "feels closed in" even if the top is down. Not to mention getting in and out as she has arthritis. So if it is going to be your only car, might want to check this aspect out.
OTOH in May of 2008, we went to BRBS (the Blue Ridge Boxster Summit, a gathering of Boxster owners held annually in western North Carolina) which is 4 hours away and she didn't mind at all. Met some great people and did some touring too. Still can't get her to drive it though. She is afraid of breaking my car...even though she has a better driving record than I do.
High Mileage Boxster?
You are buying the remaining reliability and driving pleasure when you buy a used car. Does the maintenance cost per mile go up the more mileage is on the Boxster? Sure, just like any other car. That is why you pay less for the higher mileage car.
Go over to eBay. See the prices for 40k, 60k, 80k and 100k cars of the same year. Quite a difference!
At the same time, there are those who have put 100-240K miles on their ’97-'99 Boxsters, have maintained them well, and who are quite happy with their reliability and performance. Boxster values are more closely aligned with mileage than even year. So at the very least, don’t pay too much for a high mileage car. I’ve seen ‘97s in good shape but with 120k miles offered for as low as $7k or with less than 20k for $19k. I'd rather have a 60k one.
A well cared for car should be fine - 60k is not a lot. But keep in mind that due to the unusual manufacturing methods that contribute to the lightness of the engine, the Boxster engine is not rebuildable in normal ways at normal costs. Because it is a lightweight aluminum block with porous silica deposited on the inside of the cylinder walls, if it is worn, the block can't be bored, honed or fixed. Any major failure means a new/factory rebuilt engine (at least $10k in parts cost, $3k in labor) or a used one from a wreck ($3k-$7k in parts) or a rebuilt one from a rebuilder who replaces lots of parts (again that $10k plus figure).
Have the car checked thoroughly (see PPI below) before you buy. Either by a dealer you trust or by the local Porsche independent mechanic. Include a compression and leakdown test.
Find out how it was driven if you can. Lots of short trips is worse than a few big ones. 5 miles to work every day through city traffic is far worse than 50 miles a day on rural roads.
Find out how it was cared for. Run hard when cold? Walk away. Oil rarely changed? Walk away. Conscientious owner - its for you.
(adapted from a posting by “Grant in NJ”)
Is a two owner car to be avoided?
Not from my experience. Both my Boxsters were 2-owners-before-me cars with surprisingly little mileage by the first owner. Neither gave me trouble.
Boxsters are often traded in for a different kind of car/SUV/VAN (or sold to purchase one) because circumstances change (marriage, babies, divorce, new commute, retirement, lost job, new house, etc) and not because there is anything wrong with the car. One of mine was replaced with a commuter sedan by an outside-sales lady. The other was replaced with a Hummer by a stay-at-home mom with 3 kids.
I judge by the results of the Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI, see below) and not by the number of owners.
All cars have problem areas, Boxsters are not exempt. I've elected to catalog the ones I know of (with the help of some friends) here.
There are arguments pro and con.
Pro: The car the dealer has was traded by a person who was pleased enough to be buying another Porsche (of course, the dealer could also have bought it at auction).
The dealer keeps only the good ones and sends the others to auction (at least that is what they say).
The dealer looks over the car and makes sure there isn't anything major that needs to be done (or does he just clean it up cosmetically?).
The dealer can CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) the car or give you a dealer's warranty.
The dealer handles all the paperwork (and charges you for it).
Con: Go look at the difference between the price the dealer gave the guy trading the car in and the price the dealer is asking at http://www.kbb.com. I just did it for my car and the difference between the trade-in and retail prices was 25%! You'd always do better if you could get that trader to sell you the car at anywhere close to the price the dealer would give him.
I think you can tell from my comments that I think you can do better buying from a private party if you do your homework and get a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI). Only if you aren't sure and want the one-stop shopping should you buy from the dealer. Likewise those are the arguments for not trading-in your car (try to sell it yourself first).
An enormous list of places that sell used Porsches is at RallyStuff.
Excellence, a Porsche-only car magazine publishes yearly updates (Sept issue, not available on-line) on the market for used Porsches. Better are online sources of advertised cars by the hundreds but remember most publish asking prices, not real selling prices. Figure they sell for 10-15% less than asking most of the time. Never pay the asking price. There are lots of Boxsters out there. I looked the other day and there were 374 ‘02 Boxsters from one advertising source alone and more become available every day.
http://www.kbb.com which will give you trade-in, private party and retail sale prices keyed to your zip code, the mileage, options and condition of the car. Though Increasingly I have doubts about their figures. Just the other day I went and looked up my second Boxster and it said I could get $30k if I sold it retail, I figured it is worth $21,5k.
http://www.nada.com which will let you input some options and mileage (but not color, condition or location) and give you trade-in and retail figures.
http://www.edmunds.com which will give you trade-in, private party and retail sale prices keyed to your zip code, the mileage, color, options and condition of the car.
There is a surprisingly great difference in the estimations. Describing my first Boxster on the same day to each, I got expected private party retail sale prices at $27,845 from Kelly, $27,550 from NADA and $31,201 from Edmunds. I paid $23,750. I bargained and showed what comparable cars were actually selling for to a motivated seller.
Begin looking at eBay via http://motors.listings.ebay.com
Notice the eBay Buy-It-Now prices. They indicate what the owner/seller would like to get. Some cars sell that way, most for less. A surprising number of eBay cars never sell via Ebay. This happens because they were priced too high or because they were sold locally during the auction. The local sale cars just disappear before the auction ends and, for those cars, you will never be able to track the selling price.
Look at cars like the one you are thinking about and track the final offer (not sold) or selling price (sold). You can do this by using the option to list only competed auctions though you have to be a member to use this option. Looking will show you what people were willing to pay for a car and if that offer was one a seller accepted. Is the final offer was too low, the seller will not sell and hope to sell another way or another day.
Notice that the car sold in a major metropolitan area will have a higher price generally because more people can go see and drive it and take some of the uncertainty out of the bidding process. If you are willing to go to a place where Porsche buyers are uncommon, you have a better chance of getting a good deal as a buyer. Lots of the eBay cars are sold by dealers and there are shills and reserve prices to make sure that no “too good to be true” deals happen on these cars. Dealers use eBay as just another classified ad and lots of cars are withdrawn from auction because they were sold locally.
Still, eBay will give you a sense of what people are really paying (or willing to pay in the case of a car that does not sell) as opposed to just looking at the classified ads which only tell you what the sellers are asking.
When I am asked "Is this reasonable to pay for this car?" I go to www.cars.com and do an advanced search for all Boxsters of the year you want for all locations in the US. I then separate S models from the base model mentally. Throw out the few highs and lows and look at cars that have around the mileage the proposed car has. Deduct 5-15% depending on the season (less in the spring in some nice climate state, more in upstate NY in the winter) to get from asking price to selling price. That gives me a ballpark. Of course local markets are different but by doing the entire US I hope to include both high and low markets.
Low mileage is nice but it can get too low. Don’t use a car enough (frequently enough or for long enough at a time) and the seals dry out, the acids in the crankcase oil don’t get burnt off and eat the bearings, the tires dry rot, the battery gets run down, the muffler rusts. I look for a car that had at least 5-6k miles per year.
Tire condition is important in determining price because tires for the Boxster are expensive. Figure 2-4 times what you might be used to paying for normal passenger car tires. 4 brand new tires ought to add $450-$700 to the value of the car, depending on the brand and model tire. Buy the tires new and you can easily pay $500-$1,000.
http://www.tirerack.com is a good place to check tire prices though you have to add shipping and installation. Even good rear tires only last around 5-20K miles on a Boxster depending on your driving style and the car's alignment. Fronts last maybe twice as long. The more “performance” the tire is, the lower the mileage you’ll get from that tire.
A transferable mechanical maintenance warranty takes some of the risk out of buying a used car and allows you to pay more. It is possible to buy an extended warranty after you purchase the car. www.warrantydirect.com will give you a quote over the net for a car up to 5 years old. Call them and mention www.PPBB.com and they will discount the price a bit. There are other sources. AAA has been mentioned. But read about extended warranties below as, statistically, they are a bad bet. They are like a slot machine, few big winners and lots of losers.
Porsche dealers sell Porsche Approved Certified used cars. A “Certified” or “CPO” car goes through a 2-page, 100-point inspection. The inspection is supposed to cover a lot but the value of the inspection would depend on who was doing it and the care they took. It doesn’t include some things like a compression or leak down test. It does other things less well than I would do them, only providing one reading on tire tread depth per tire rather than the 3 per tire (left, right, center) I would do, for example.
And a “Certified” car doesn’t come with all fluids flushed and replaced like I’d like to see. But it does make the car eligible for a valuable Porsche-backed warranty (these were the terms through late 2008 when Porsche changed to even better terms for cars sold after that date):
1. If the qualifying pre-owned Porsche Approved vehicle is purchased while still under the new vehicle warranty, the maximum coverage is 6 years/100,000 miles/160,000 kilometers from the original in-service date.
2. If the qualifying pre-owned Porsche Approved vehicle purchased is outside the new vehicle warranty, the maximum coverage is 2 years/100,000 miles/160,000 kilometers, whichever comes first.
“Certified” is a feature the dealer buys from Porsche of North America and is said to cost the dealer $1,550 plus the cost of the labor to do the inspection. For most low to medium miles per year drivers, it gives you an additional 2 years protection against the big failures, not for the little maintenance items. I’d figure it worth $1,500-$2,000. The dealer will try to convince you it is worth $3,600 or so. You can download the brochure that lists what it does and doesn't cover at http://www.porsche.com/usa/pre-owned-vehicles/approved/ but be sure you get the CPO terms that apply to your vehicle (especially if you are going to be the third (or more) owner) as the terms of the CPO when applied to the car by PNA are the operative terms.
The new post August 2008 CPO terms more closely align the items covered under CPO with the items covered under the new car warranty.
If you are looking at a CPO car, ask for the inspection and repair report done at the time of the inspection. CPO also gives a towing service coverage that is certainly worth something.
Once a car is CPO'ed, that warranty stays with the car through successive owners (for a transfer fee of $50) if the car is sold by the owner or by a Porsche dealer BUT NOT IF THE CAR IS SOLD BY A NON-PORSCHE DEALER.
Trade-ins that look to need more work than the Porsche dealer is willing to invest are wholesaled. Which is why knowing a car's history from owner to owner to dealer to wholesaler to dealer can sometimes tell you you shouldn't buy this one. It could also be that the car was wholesaled because the dealer already had too many of those cars on his lot which tells you that there should be deals available.
Porsche maintenance is expensive. Figure around $700-$900 for a 15k, $1,000-$1250 for a 30k service. So, if the car just had a major maintenance service, it is more valuable than one just about to need one. Provided you can see proof it was done right...by someone who really knows water cooled Porsches.
The condition of the top really matters. It is expensive to replace (quotes I’ve seen range from $520 aftermarket parts only to over $2,500 OEM dealer installed). Yes, you could do it yourself if you are handy and have 12 hours. Most don’t. Replacing the cracked rear soft window in an early (’97-’02) Boxster is a $300-$400 job (the plastic itself can be polished if it has become rough and discolored with special (Novus brand recommended) polishing agents). Again, some do it themselves, most just pay to get it done.
Consider the season and location. A convertible sells for less in winter in New England that it does in the spring. Some locations are for some reason full of lower priced Boxsters than others. Texas is low, DC is high. And the difference can be considerable … like $4k!
Consider when the new model will come out. Did you notice how Corvette prices for both new and used ‘vettes dropped (up to $11k off list) in anticipation of a new model. Boxsters will too, maybe less. Many sellers of 986 Boxsters ask too much, in my opinion. The new model 987 Boxster (’05-) is nicer in many subtle ways and being discounted heavily. The hardtop Boxster (Cayman) came out in ’06 and there are now even more Boxster trade ins on the market. And there is a 2009 model year major major change with new engine design and new transmission. Consider if you want the newer model rather than paying a lot for the older model. If you get a deal, the older model 986 is still awfully good. I frequently say I can have 95% of the fun for well less than half the cost. And to most people, looking at my car they think it new.
If you are buying from a dealer, remember that the best time to buy is the last day of the month, the last day of the quarter, late at night on a rainy/snowy day. They know then how desperate they are to make quota and may cut you a deal not available any other time.
Buying from a private party? Find a motivated seller. One who has to sell for a reason. Relocation, buying a house, getting married, divorce, children. When you walk in with cash and they have no other buying prospects, that is where you’ll get the best deal. The dealer can wait until the weather gets warm and demand goes up, the motivated seller can’t.
Do you really want one?
Your local Porsche owners (stop them in the parking lot, they will tell you of their experience and might even have a friend selling a car), your local Porsche club (http://www.pca.org), and affinity groups will help you figure out what is important, what the market is, what is good and bad about the model. (There are not so good things about any car, Porsches included.)
Ask Porsche owners you meet in the parking lot what it is like to own a Porsche in your area.
What is service like?
Where do they take it?
What is your driving record? Ask your insurance company what it will cost. Adding my ‘99 to my policy as a third car in a 2 person family cost me only $400/yr. But then I’m not single and am in my 60s and hadn’t had a claim in 10 years. (Of course, I went and totaled that car.)
There are three major choices. Base versus S model. Transmission. Year.
Minor choices include color and options. For lists of options and what they mean and original prices, see below.
Pictures of color combinations are available at http://www.whiteson.org/boxster/gallery/.
Which colors were available which years is available at http://www.whiteson.org/boxster/gallery/years.shtml.
Base Model versus S model influences size of engine (2.5L, 2.7L, 3.2L ), number of gears (5 or 6) in the manual transmission, suspension and brakes with the S having more/sportier in every category. S logo on the trunk, door sill plates, lined top, anti-theft system, titanium front and side air intakes, center front air intake and 17” wheels are other features the S alone has standard. You can get a base model Boxster with either a 5 speed manual or a 5 speed Tiptronic transmission. You can get an S model with either a 6 speed manual or a 5 speed Tiptronic transmission. Don't assume the 6 speed is necessarily better as the ratios for the 5 speed are thought to be just right by many.
5/6 speed Stick versus 5 speed Tiptronic Auto-Manual.
The Tiptronic, in Auto mode, drives just like a normal automatic transmission with three exceptions.
1. In normal driving, it begins in second gear. Accelerate hard and it begins in first.
2. And when you decelerate with the brake, it downshifts and helps with engine braking.
Even in Auto mode, it feels different that a plain old auto-trans. Tighter, crisper, but not too rough unless you really push it. It has 5 pre-programmed shift point patterns and selects the one appropriate for your current driving style. It is very different from the typical auto trans.
In manual mode, you shift with switches on both the left and right spokes of the steering wheel. + for upshift, - for downshift. It won’t let you over-rev. And, if you forget and just brake for a stop light, it guesses for you and downshifts as if it were in auto mode.
The Tip loses to the stick in mileage (1-2 mpg) and acceleration (.5 secs over the 0-60MPH run). If your “other” needs to drive it occasionally and can’t drive a stick or if you live, like I did, in a crowded urban area where commuting with a manual would mean rowing through the gears endlessly, then a Tip is a good compromise.
I owned Alfas and Porsche’s and lots of other cars that were stick for over 25 years. I find I don’t miss it around town and I find the Tip sufficiently fun on the rare occasions where fantasy is possible. I don’t autocross or race. Thought there are those who do race with Tiptronics and are quite competitive with the stick-shift folks. There was an article in Excellence (http://www.excellence-mag.com/) by a racer who said he preferred the Tiptronic, he could do better track times with it.
There are others who say a sports car must be a stick. Ultimately, it comes down to your choice.
The base Boxster was available with the 5-speed "stick". The S model with the 6-speed "stick" .
Which options are a must, which desirable and which you don’t want are personal choices. I’ll list some big ones here just so you can see that not all Boxsters are created equal.
- Transmission choice (stick or Tiptronic automatic)
- Porsche Stability Management (PSM) or PASM (stability control)
- Litronics (high intensity headlights, can be added to a 986 later for around $2,200 in parts, used to be $1,200)
- OBC (on board computer with temperature, mileage, average mileage, etc readouts, can be added later on some models)
- Variations on seats including 6 way power, lumbar-support, sports, etc
- Variations on wheels (16”, 17” and 18” with many styles, all very expensive. There are no inexpensive (~$150) wheels made for Boxsters. But used wheels are commonly available on auction sites or craigslist)
- CD changer
- CD or tape Radio
- Hi-Fi or Bose option in terms of amp and speakers
- PCM Radio and Navigation screen (best are aftermarket as Porsche has not been good at providing updated CDs with maps for their version of this)
- Hardtop (may be a must in cold climates but a 2 person job to put on or remove, often available on auction sites for between $1,000 and $1,600)
And of course an infinite variety of color, leather and other appearance options.
Options could have added $25k to the initial purchase price of the car. They seldom will add 10% to the selling price of a used Porsche. Usually more like 5%!
There are 2 more web pages to this "guide" so follow the links below to model year differences and the Buying continued pages.
Corrections, suggestions, etc are invited to mike dot focke@ g mail dot com
I maintain these pages sporadically. I have a life. But if there is a big error, lets get it corrected now.