911 maintenance: OPCs v independent specialists part 2
Last month I visited the Official Porsche Centre (OPC) in Portsmouth in a bid to answer the age-old quandary of where best to service and maintain your 911. While there, I found that huge investment and emphasis is placed on staff training, that there is a substantial transparency in quality of service, and prices outside of warranty are lower than first thought. However, the coin must be flipped, so I’ve duly undertook an access-all-areas visit to independent Porsche specialists Paragon to press further into the matter of long term and after-warranty Porsche maintenance.
Paragon were chosen for a simple reason: currently celebrating their 20th anniversary, they have an immaculate reputation for servicing and sales stemming from an impressively well kept headquarters in Kent. Paragon, then, are in a great position to highlight the benefits of looking outside of the main dealer network.
The doors at Paragon were opened to the public in 1993, but in those days things were a little different. At its inception, our specialists of choice operated as both a petrol station and an air-cooled VW garage, but it didn’t take long for the business to outgrow its humble beginnings.
In 1995, the pumps went dry and were duly removed before owner Mark Sumpter made the brave decision to streamline the workload and concentrate on a marque dear to his heart, telling us: “We were seeing a lot of air-cooled Porsches, perhaps due to our involvement in historic Porsche racing and the Beetle Cup, which brought us good attention. We were in the midst of a recession, and at the time nearly 50 per cent of Porsche’s independent dealer network were closing their doors. My intention had always been to specialise, so we shut our doors to the more mundane VW workload and concentrated on Porsches. We’ve been growing ever since”.
Fast-forward 20 years and the premises have expanded to include a large internal showroom, an outdoor sales space and a well-proportioned workshop, as well as a beautiful second floor featuring a waiting area, sales desks, offices and some rather neat Porsche-specific displays.
Paragon have four full-time technicians with between 10-20 years experience each, all having cut their teeth at official dealerships around the country. They also employ an after sales team and dedicated sales staff who share the showroom floor with an array of quality Porsches for sale, while a resident valeter deals with used car preparation including leather colonisation.
Crucially, Paragon is run by astute Porsche enthusiasts, starting right at the very top with Mark, who races with the Porsche club and has a breathtaking private collection of 911s. It’s obvious why Paragon has managed to hold on to the majority of its original staff then, with a significant few having been employed since day one. So, they really do live and breathe Porsches here. You’d be surprised to hear of any OPC with technicians who have worked on site for that sort of duration, as we’re told they tend to get snapped up by successful specialists who provide the opportunity for a far broader spectrum of work, but I’ll get to that later.
It’s fair to say that since Porsche’s reduction in Service Menu pricing last year (for cars over four years old), the gap between specialists and OPC service costs has been reduced, if not eliminated. However, Paragon explain that cars rarely fly through a service, and it’s here, when there is an issue – however small – that costs start to mount up.
There are two sides of maintenance we need to look at, and there are savings to be made on both the servicing and repair fronts. Firstly, Paragon have a flat hourly labour rate regardless of the age or model; it’s the same technician for the same duration in the same workshop. Paragon’s pricing demonstrates immediate clarity, then, and doesn’t segregate owners of a certain age.
Paragon also champion their repair ethic over the oh-so easy ‘replace’ school of thought. They also promote their willingness to find cost-effective solutions to problems they say others would be crazy to deal with. As an example, Paragon cite leaks on the 996 C4 Tiptronic gearboxes, which the firm say Porsche do not supply parts for, so officially you have to replace it.
Another common fault that Paragon regularly deal with is the rusting of the outside edges of
brake discs. At Porsche these are replaced with brand new OEM items, but Paragon say they can source the very same parts for far less outlay, and that’s just one of a number of savings passed directly to customers.
Fundamentally, though, it boils down to the fact that specialists like Paragon are far more willing and used to exploring potential and time-consuming solutions to problems that can be fixed, instead of the costly sledgehammer approach of replacing broken with brand new. May I also add that because of this, the long-serving technicians here have likely delved more deeply and more often into problematic engine and gearbox failures and their subsequent solutions. This applies for virtually every Porsche you can shake a stick at, and as a 911 owner that’s reassuring to know.
Another factor that cropped up during conversation at Paragon was booking times: at Porsche a set time period is allocated for every job, but Paragon point out that with experience, the time taken to remedy common faults is reduced. This means they charge for their actual time, which is reflected in their reduced prices. If after many years of experience a technician can complete a job in 30 minutes, then customers are charged for those 30 minutes, as opposed to the time stated in a book.
Head of the service department Mick Clare reports, “We appreciate that if a customer has spent £10,000 on a 996, they don’t necessarily want to pay book prices, so a large proportion will be guided by us, and as a specialist we are free from internal legislation. For instance, when costs were cut with the 996, we were aware that many minor parts were carried over from VW. In addition, there are countless respected aftermarket suppliers of major engine components such as pistons, camshafts and timing chains that are just as effective and run the same tolerances, but are priced lower, even if they featured on the original vehicle. It’s wrong to assume it’s a better product if it says Porsche on the box, because the reality is that many parts are identical regardless of which box they arrive in.”
According to Paragon there are various reasons for this, and they are quick to point out that at a main dealer, hands may often be tied. Huge global organisations have strict policies, and understandably Porsche must employ stringent rules that may not take into account personal circumstances, mileage or actual usage.
Mick goes on, “If, for instance, we see a car that does 1,000 miles a year, then in some instances we can reduce costs for the owner, as we know items like brake discs and pads or tyres will last for the necessary period. We don’t see real value in looking at service intervals; we know that every car and owner requires specific attention to meet their needs, and that’s where Paragon excel.”
To read the full feature on part two of our investigation into OPCs v independent specialists, turn to page page 46 of Total 911 issue 98. To get your copy wherever you are in the world, visit the Imagine Shop at www.imagineshop.co.uk/magazines/total911.html, or download a digital edition for all platforms via the fabulous new GreatDigitalMags.com website.
Part one of our investigation, where we look at the merits of the OPCs, can be found here.