When I said “then the real fun began” at the end of part one, what I really meant was “then began the year of letting the Porsche sit in my driveway.” Other projects took precedence, and the 944 sat sadly neglected. Eventually I got off my ass and kicked the project into gear, though, mainly because Sean came over one night with a six pack and the suggestion of “actually working on the Porsche.” But before we could break out the tools, we needed to know what the hell we were doing. And to accomplish that we needed a manual.
My first “working on the car” experience came in high school when the alternator died on my first car — a 1977 Datsun 280Z. My father left the repair to me in order to give me some idea of how such things work. And I did what I saw my friends (with more cash than me) do: I took it to the Nissan dealership. They happily accepted the car, replaced the alternator, and presented me with a $280 bill. It wiped out all the cash I’d saved dutifully bagging groceries — and made me seriously consider (for the first time) the cost of owning a car.
As you might imagine, I was livid when the “new” alternator promptly took a dump a few days later. After hearing my angry plea, the dealership told me that a) I’d only paid for a “rebuilt” alternator, b) they offered no warranty on such parts, and c) I could happily give them $280 more for another one. And, of course, d) I could get stuffed.
Thankfully, in a rare moment of teenage sense, I turned my anger inward. If that dickhead on the phone could install an alternator, why couldn’t I? How did he know how to do it? I asked my father. His response: “He has a manual.”
(Years later, I realize that the guy on the phone was just a service writer that takes calls and handles customers. The real mechanic likely had gone to school for the job and knew a good bit about the subject. But when a teenager learns something, you don’t question. You just go with it, right?)
So I got a manual. A real factory manual. It was wonderful. It broke every task — from removing the license plate lamp to pulling the engine — into small steps, included pictures to further illustrate techniques and methodology, and listed all pertinent information like torque specs and special tool part numbers. Armed with this Rosetta stone of 280Z ownership and some tools my father loaned me from his kit, I installed the replacement alternator — a $40 rebuilt job from Chief’s — myself.
I also installed a third one three days later when the $40 Chief’s special froze up and caught fire. But that’s another story. End result: I was mobile again, and I became a life-long fan of owning the shop manuals for my vehicles.
I picked up the phone and called the local Porsche dealership’s parts department to order a manual. I knew it’d be a bit pricey. I paid $30 for the Z manual in the late ’80s and shelled out around $75 for ’88 CRX equivalent in the early ’90s. The manual for my ’97 Jeep Grand Cherokee ran close to $100 in ’01, and I knew from the shop truck that GM’s ring-bound monsters ran around $125-$175 for a two-binder set. But none of this prepared me for what the very patient man at the parts counter explained to me.
First, Porsche’s multi-ring-binder manual for the 1989 944 series (all models including my S2) doesn’t contain all the information required to repair the car. Instead, the information and procedures for each specific system reside in the manual for the vehicle (or variant thereof) in which the part first debuted. For example, if the turn signal flasher module in my 944 actually originated in the 911, all information about it would reside in the 911 manual.
Read that again in case it hasn’t sunk in yet. Seriously.
I looked online and found some explanation, but it didn’t make me feel any better. My online friends told me that in most countries around the world Porsche doesn’t offer factory service manuals at all, leaving the general public to either bring the vehicle in to the dealership or take their chances with a Haynes or Bentley manual or whatever they can glean from the local club. Since the dealerships maintain a full set of updated manuals for every Porsche vehicle back to the beginning, why re-print information they already have in previous manuals? That’s German efficiency at its finest.
Americans do have the honor of actually buying factory shop manuals from Porsche parts. That honor (or at least the bit of it covering only part of my vehicle’s systems) would cost hundreds of dollars.
My solution was two-fold: First I bought access to the AllDataDIY.com manual for the car. Sean and I have written about AllDataDIY.com on numerous occasions, and we stand by the fact that it’s often the cheapest and most effective way to get the information you need for critical repairs. Most (if not virtually all) third-party auto repair facilities in the U.S. subscribe to AllData’s professional service, which offers for a flat monthly fee (a couple grand, I understand) electronic manuals for all current production vehicles. That’s how these guys manage to work on your whatever-you-own when you drop it off — without maintaining a separate building just to house the manuals. For $25 a year (and less for subsequent years), AllDataDIY.com offers DIYers access to the same information for a single make and model.
That’d at least provide the basics, like where to find all the hidden water pump bolts. But it wouldn’t provide all the information I’d need to re-align the top and bottom of the engine before re-installing the timing belt.
After some search, though, I scored an, um, second-hand version of the manual. Because they can’t buy the manuals, the UK plays home to an active Porsche manual black market. That’s right: Like a junkie visiting a crack house I scored my manual off eBay from a shady Brit who cut one up and ran it through a scanner. And it cost more than my Z manual.
Thus armed, we pushed the Porsche into the garage and spent an evening just looking through the yellow plastic box of parts we found in the passenger seat and getting familiar with the world under the hood. Having removed the blinders I wore while buying the car, the value of my Porsche purchase looked shakier and shakier. My visions of restoring the car to perfect condition shrank to less lofty goal: drive the car. Maybe.
But first we had to locate a replacement water pump.