What You Need To Know Before Buying a Used Porsche Cayman
If you’re in the market for a used Porsche Cayman, our buying guide will help you find the bargain and avoid the potential bad investment. Buying a used Cayman is certainly one of the most affordable ways to become a first-time Porsche coupe owner. The mid-engine coupe is bags of fun, well balanced and has pretty forgiving handling. There are risks with a previously owned Cayman, but if you’re careful and armed with some insights, there are some bargains to be had.
Fifteen Years of Opportunities
After the success of the 986 Boxster, Porsche introduced the 987 platform in 2005 with a coupe version known as the Cayman. Mid-engine and more than just a hard-topped Boxster, the Cayman is properly balanced and enjoys a stiffer feel than the Boxster on the race track. It’s ideal for those who aren’t soft top fans and it’s well-mannered balance is more forgiving than its 911 cousins.
The first-generation Porsche Cayman is 15 years old, but the platform exists right up to the current 718. As a result, there’s extensive knowledge of notable mechanical problems to avoid when buying a used version. The good news is the Cayman is generally reliable and has aged gracefully.
Excellence Magazine recently published an interesting article related to a European road trip in a 2006 Porsche Cayman that the author had bought for just $14,000 – a lot of car for a great price.
The first step, once you’ve identified a candidate, is to get a thorough inspection by a local expert. The pre-purchase inspection is designed to identify mechanical problems that may not be clearly evident at first glance. In our buyer guide below we’ve extensively highlighted those potential issues to be on the look out for. Getting a repair history on the car, if available, is helpful and will instantly identify or eliminate potential problem areas.
The number of owners doesn’t necessarily matter with a Cayman – the work and records performed do. Many owners are enthusiasts and will keep all the invoices from services or repairs. If a seller wont let you inspect the car, walk away.
Mileage and Service History
On cars approaching 15 years old, higher mileage is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a Cayman that has been well used, could be in a better condition than one that has an attractively low mileage reading. Low mileage cars can have hidden issues.
You’ll want to take a good look through any documented history available. A clear pattern of servicing on higher mileage cars is essential. On the lower mileage cars, timed intervals between service is the key thing to look for.
Low Mileage Garage Queen – Not So Fast.
Its’ always great to find a low mileage car, however, the lack of driving can present a different set of challenges to cars that average 10K miles per year.
Low mileage cars can miss their standard service intervals. This can cause time related degradation of the service items to be overlooked. A lack of mileage still causes wear and tear in items such as fluids, tires, brakes, clutch surfaces and oil seals. Look to see when the last time the plugs were changed – 10 years is the limit regardless of mileage. The brake fluid should be flushed every 2 or 3 years. Check the DOT on the tires – lots of tread doesn’t mean they are robust – See more items below.
Clearly, low mileage cars attract more money for the purchase, but make sure you plan supplemental budget for service work after you own the car.
Potential Issues To Look Out For
Codes and over-revs – All Chassis
Before buying any car, it is essential to know when the last time the system fault codes were cleared and check the status of the emission monitors. It’s not difficult for a seller to clear the faults just before you arrive for a test drive. Clearing the engine faults also resets the emissions system to a state of “not ready.” Emission readiness tests often occur over multiple drive cycles. So, after a reset, faults may not return for a significant number of miles. Again, this is easy for a competent shop to check or indeed the DIYer using a handheld scanner.
How hard has the car been driven?Taking the engine to the red line for RPM is a good thing, but going over the red line obviously can cause damage. A gear change at red line will actually cause the revs to increase slightly momentarily – nothing bad here. But, if you select the wrong gear, the engine revs to go way over the red line. This is the famous “miss-shift” that has caused many engine explosions.
Porsche engine management records many things – one of the most significant is an over-rev situation. Data is permanently stored within the ECU showing running hours and when engine events have occurred. There are six levels of over-revs recorded ranging from the engine being red-lined through to what would be a potentially catastrophically high RPM event. Events in the first category suggests the car has been properly exercised, but events in the higher categories could be hiding a potential life shortening engine situation.
Many Porsche owners like to go to track days. On the track, gear changes will occur right around the rpm maximum red line. These events will be recorded if they reach the lower levels of the over rev counter. Multiple recorded events in the lower over-rev categories could be a sign of how much track time the car has experienced.
IMS Bearing – Early Production Cars
There’s a lot of hype about the IMS bearing failure associated with Porsche engines. The majority of failures occurred on the M96 engine used in the early 996 911 and 986 Boxster. In general the Cayman was shipped with the revised M97 engine that has an improved non-serviceable IMS bearing and does not suffer the failures associated with the early cars. There are however, some early M97 engines that do contain the serviceable IMS bearing that is prone to failure. These engines are restricted to the very early production cars – worth checking the production date stamped on the driver door for clarity.
Overheating – cylinder liners 987
Each cylinder bore in the engine case half is lined with a one-piece sleeve or liner. The M97 flat 6 engines fitted in the 987 Cayman are subject to cracks in the liners of the cylinders.
Results from a crack vary, but typically the most common is coolant loss with subsequent engine overheating. Sometimes, a crack in the cylinder liner can take a considerable amount of running time to fully open and cause problems. What can you do to find out?
First, note the coolant level when the engine is cold. Take your time here – you want to drive the car for 30 mins. After driving the car, let it sit and idle for a while. The front radiator fans should come on and the engine should maintain a steady temp. If the engine continues to warm and will eventually overheat, walk away.
Turn off and take a look at the coolant level – it should have risen and be falling back toward the cold level. If the level has gone down or is still at the cold level, there could be a small coolant loss through a cracked liner. The trained nose can smell coolant from the exhaust when the engine is running. A Porsche repair shop can definitely help here. Note, this isn’t a definitive test because you could be loosing coolant through an external system leak. However, any loss of coolant after a drive cycle should be thoroughly investigated.
Cylinder Scoring – the deadly Knocking noise – 987
Lift the car and have a listen from below while the engine is running. You might need a repair shop to do that for you. You’ll hear the M97 flat 6 engine in the Cayman make a consistent ticking sound.
Much of this sound is the proximity of your ear to the valve train and the exhaust headers. However, there is a distinctly different sound that identifies with a particular issue that you don’t want to hear.
These engines are famed for cylinder scoring – deep gauges in the cylinder liner, usually associated with a knocking noise and eventually catastrophic engine failure. The root cause of this issue is open to discussion, however, wear in the piston rings and liners causes the piston to wobble. The wobble occurs at the bottom of the stroke and results in the piston skirt dragging against the cylinder wall thereby scoring the liner.
The sound your listening for is not a tick; it’s a rhythmic knock and usually shows up first on the passenger bank of the flat 6 engines – although, it can appear on any cylinder. The rhythmic knock is the piston changing position at the bottom of the stroke and hitting the liner. In many cases, even with the head off the engine, the scoring cannot be seen until the piston is removed – it can be way down at the bottom of the cylinder below the lowest point the rings meet the walls. Sometimes it can be seen by scoping down the spark plug tube, but the best view without disassembling the engine, comes from removing the oil pan and scoping from the inside.
If you hear this noise and the price of the car is zero dollars, you’ll still need approx. $20K to fix the problem!
Cam to Crank Timing Deviation
Timing is everything; especially in comedy and engines! The opening and closing of valves, the piston rising and falling in the cylinder and a spark are required at precise times during an engine rotation.
The major moving parts are connected by chains and these ensure the relationship between those moving parts is maintained regardless of the rotational speed. The rotation is measured in degrees of a full circle. So, for example, at degree zero; piston 1 should be at the top of the cylinder and the intake and exhaust valves closed. This is known as top dead center or TDC.
Naturally over time, the components supporting those timing chains will wear – the chain itself, guide rails, tensioners etc. will all wear and cause a deviation in the precise timing angles between camshafts and crankshaft. The engine management system is measuring the angles in every rotation and within a range of angles, can adjust the timing of fuel delivery and spark to compensate for wear changes. However, extended wear can produce an angle outside of the allowed deviation range and a fault condition will be set.
The earlier engines experienced issues with stretching timing chains and significant wear on the timing guide rails. This caused a nasty rattle at startup and generally set faults during acceleration. Most of these issues were corrected in later cars such as the 987, but during the life of an engine you should expect that these vital timing components to wear.
You need a clear picture of where the used vehicle you propose to buy is in this wear process. A competent Porsche repair shop can tell you what the deviation angle between the cam and crank is during a used car inspection. This is a simple read from a diagnostic device and a clear indicator as to the health of the engine timing.
The change in angle will affect performance and is almost certainly not something you could pick up on during a test drive of an unfamiliar car. Replacing the chains, guides and tensioners to correct this problem is not an inexpensive proposition – it is however, relatively straightforward if your budget allows.
There are some common areas where oil leaks occur. Most are easily fixed and are part of the normal wear and tear. One of the most common areas for an oil leak is the rear main seal. Again, see our common problems page for more information. Oil leaks should not be a barrier to purchase, but they should be considered in terms of the purchase price and the cost of the repair.
Leaking oil used to just be seen as a annoying stain on the driveway and a minor fire hazard. However, modern cars feature many electronic engine management systems that can potentially be severely damaged by oil ingress. What appears to be a minor oil leak could turn into an expensive job. Again, this is where a competent shop should be able to accurately asses and relay the cost of an oil leak repair for you.
Suspension and Tires
The suspension on the Cayman is very solid. Naturally, over time and mileage wear can occur in plastic or rubber bushings that help to cushion the ride. Listen out for squeaks or clunks over bumps and check for leaks from the suspension struts.
Worn suspension components can typically show up as uneven tire wear. Check the tires thoroughly for smooth wear patterns. In particular, take a good look at the inside of the rear tires. Pay attention to the tire DOT date. This is the date the tires were manufactured and you’ll want to see a date that is no more than 5 years earlier. Low mileage cars in particular have this problem – the tires do not experience wear because of the lack of mileage. However, tires have a shelf life and will degrade while they sit. Lots of tread doesn’t always mean a healthy tire and a tire that is more than 5 years old could rapidly degrade or fail when you’re driving despite the tread remaining.
The manual and automatic transmissions on the Cayman are generally highly reliable. Both should change gear smoothly and without any hesitation. The auto transmission can be scanned for faults but rarely has issues. Fluid services can be performed on both transmissions and the duration of the time interval is quite high. Look for previous indications this has been done or understand where the car is in terms of time related fluid changes.
The brakes on the Cayman are generally excellent. Brake pad material does degrade over time, so again, on low mileage examples check to see when the last brake service was performed. The brake fluid should be changed every few years regardless of mileage.
A complete brake service with pads, rotors and sensors can be quite expensive. So, if you’re buying from a used car vendor, look for new pads on old rotors. Both the pads and rotors should always be changed at the same time. Used car centers are famed for just replacing the pads and leaving on the old rotors. “The car has new brakes” – not if the rotors weren’t changed it doesn’t.
There should be a wear lip on the rotor and the size of that lip will determine how much mileage remains. Worn rotors crack or disintegrate, which can be particularly unpleasant when driving!
Most Caymans came with drilled rotors. Look carefully to see how clear the holes are and make sure there are not cracks between the drill holes. Cracks between the drill holes can lead to a much bigger crack and rotor failure very quickly under heavy braking.
Coolant radiators and air-conditioning condensers
The design of the Cayman has the placement of the coolant radiators and air-conditioning condensers low down in the front bumper. The position and open vent nature of the design leaves them not only susceptible to stone impacts, but also to buildup of debris and dirt stuck close to the radiators.
These front ducts and debris need to be cleaned out regularly or protected by an aftermarket screen. The front bumper has to be removed to reach the radiators and most owners never do it.
Take a flash light and look closely to see whether the front air intakes are full of rotting leaves and debris when you inspect the Cayman. Look closely, the debris will be around the sides of the radiators.
Damaged or corroded radiators and AC condensers cannot be repaired and must be replaced.
To Buy or Not To Buy
The older Cayman is a tremendous way to enter the Porsche coupe ownership world. The Cayman is extremely pretty, so look past the sparkle and do your research.
We think the Cayman has been overlooked and under sold. Finding the right car is never simple, but with some luck and armed with the right information, you can pickup a bargain. Ten year old cars with reasonable mileage are available for less than 25% of their original cost!