Thought of the day: servicing your 911
One of the oldest debates in Porschedom is whether your Porsche should be maintained by an Official Porsche Centre or an independent specialist. It’s logical to stay with the supplying dealer to end of the warranty period, but owners of 996s and perhaps even early 997s may wonder with some justification whether their local independent wasn’t a viable (and cheaper) alternative.
Of course, once upon a time there were no OPCs or independents, just Porsche agents. It was AFN that became the official Porsche importer for the UK in 1953. In those days if you were in the market for a Carrera you went to AFN’s garage in Isleworth, or to one of their appointed outlets around the country. Fifty or sixty years ago, buying a car was still special and as would-be Porsche owners tended to be motoring enthusiasts rather than just motorists, they naturally took a close interest in the transaction. So it was normal to be on first name terms with the directors and welcome in the workshop, a tradition which took root. It was this sense of community which Porsche itself fostered through the clubs, and it lasted through the 1980s.
By the late twentieth century, far more cars everywhere were being sold and the leisured motoring class of the early post war years had long disappeared. In 1986, Porsche bought out AFN, creating Porsche Cars GB. Gradually Zuffenhausen homogenised its dealerships, a process accelerated under the iron rule of Wendelin Wiedeking whose unsentimental approach brought about a perceptible distancing between manufacturer and clients, but Porsche was becoming more like major car makers anyway. The advent of the 986/996 platform transformed the company into a profitable modern mass manufacturer and with that came the inevitable tighter control of access and communication. Whilst the Porsche dealerships now became OPCs reflecting the newly honed corporate image, a second tier outside this monoply grew up. Not all these ‘independents’ were new: Josh Sadler established Autofarm in 1972 to import Porsche spares direct from Germany. The Almeras brothers in Montpellier began racing 911s and selling parts even earlier. One of the first ‘second wave’ independents 20 years later was Ray Northway, a Porsche trained technician and his venture was followed by others, often ex-Porsche people, to the point where today the independent s are more numerous than the OPCs. And within this sector specialisms vary: if all are generalists, some such as Tuthill (early 911s) or JZMactech (GT3) are competition experts; others still are one man bands whose basic service capabilities appeal to owners on strict budgets.
In general, this arrangement serves the market effectively. Porsche maintains its corporate image and its dealerships offer the prestige experience which buyers of £100,000 cars expect while owners of 15 or 20 year old cars have their ‘indies.’ There can come a crossover point however, when it is no longer obvious which group would provide the better service. If a loan car or having your Porsche collected by the garage are important factors, then the OPC is the natural supplier and as with most things in life, you pay a premium for convenience. The OPCs will rightly claim too that they are systematically retrained on every new model and technical development. When it come to the older cars, they can compete to maintain them if they choose to.
When I acquired my 993 a decade ago, the advice I received pointed me towards my local independent and I have had no cause to change. However, when the opportunity arose to try the service of an OPC I decided to avail, especially as the OPC concerned has long been a useful source of information to me. When a year or two ago it offered a ‘competitive’ price service for my 993, I booked in at short notice.
The auguries were good: there was no question of inflicting standard Porsche issue Mobil 1 (too thin for older engines with larger tolerances) on the 993, but a semi synthetic Castrol Edge. A new Boxster was also available for me to borrow. OPC showrooms are always a pleasant enough place to while away time (if you’ve forgotten your laptop), but I did find almost six hours for a 12,000 service rather long. In particular I missed the informality of my ‘indy’s set up which allows me to enter the workshop and look over the underside of my 993 with him; of course a main dealership can’t have punters wandering wily nily all over the place, but I found the brief, closely chaperoned workshop visit I was eventually permitted rather inhibiting. I was also slightly irritated that the young technician had replaced the K&N panel airfilter without consulting me. He also underfilled the sump by a litre, though better that than overfilling it.
To be fair to this OPC, I was unlucky: it fitted me in during a busy period when two, more experienced fitters were away. Testament to the fact that this operation does have a clientele with older Porsches (not the case for all OPCs) was the pair of 964s also in the workshop. In the end, what really matters when servicing your Porsche (or any car) is the rapport you develop with the repairer. For me, feedback from the guy doing the service, not twice removed via the receptionist, is what counts. My usual fellow happens to be an independent, but I imagine that if I’d started off at an OPC and found it satisfactory then I might well still be patronising it. The higher labour charge of the OPC is likely to be fairly marginal over several years of Porsche ownership after all. It’s a question of the degree of involvement you want from the service. To make the most of the independents, you need a grasp of what servicing a Porsche entails; the costs are usually quantifiable and you also need to have confidence in the technician who carries out your mantenance. For his part, he needs to know what you expect, which means setting it out clearly, something I apparently failed to do with this OPC.
Maintaining a Porsche costs less than many other performance cars and the servicing experience should be as satisfying as the rest of the car if you go about it intelligently.