Project 996: Misfire Mayhem and Trusting Your Mechanic

In which I plan to fix my car if it breaks, but it breaks before I can fix it, and injury forces me to pay a shop to do the work.

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The gauge cluster of a 996-generation 2003 Porsche 911 with a check engine light lit.
What you don’t want to see on a casual drive in torrential rain.
Photo: Kyle Hyatt/Jalopnik

So sometimes owning a cool older car isn’t all that fun. It can be pretty stressful and expensive because things you had planned to repair when it was convenient to do so start breaking when it’s decidedly inconvenient to do so. This is where I found myself this week with my new-ish to me 2003 Porsche 911 Carrera, but luckily, I have a good mechanic.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the weather as of late, but we’ve been getting an insane amount of rain in California. While this wouldn’t really be an issue for most cars, in a 996 with questionable ignition coils that are relatively unprotected and a couple of inches off the ground, it can cause problems. Here’s the thing, though, I knew I needed to do this job thanks to my PPI, so I had already ordered the parts from FCP Euro.


By problems, I mean that I found myself trying to drive my wife to her job in one of the recent torrential downpours we had in normally sunny Southern California. Partway through this drive, I kept getting ignition misfires, which I knew thanks to a flashing check engine light. I managed to limp the very unhappy car home and scan the OBDII codes, which confirmed the misfires and also told me they were all on the same cylinder bank. I also got a catalytic converter efficiency code on that same bank of cylinders, which was unnerving.

Way Too Much Rain In Pasadena

The solution, at least to start, is to replace the coils and plugs, and I was planning to replace them this past weekend since it’s not a huge job, just an inconvenient one. Unfortunately, being Jalopnik’s resident old guy at the wizened age of almost 38, I managed to absolutely wreck my spine when bending down to pet a cat. Stupid, I know, but “live by the sword, die by the sword,” as they say.


This is why it’s important to have yourself a quality mechanic. If you have a Porsche and don’t have dealership money, finding a good independent mechanic you can trust is critical. I’ve used Auto Werkstatt for some bigger work, but the fact is that they’re as much as an hour’s drive from me in traffic, so finding someone closer for stuff was key. Of course, having a good mechanic isn’t just a Porsche thing; it’s key when you own any older car.

Pasadena, where I live, has a glut of Porsche shops, which is weird, given that it’s not that big of a city, so I had plenty to choose from. One of the most highly regarded independent Porsche-specific shops in town is a place called House Automotive, and they’re only a 10-minute drive from my humble abode. So, realizing that I wasn’t going to get to the plugs and coils on my own anytime soon, particularly with more rain on the horizon and that cat code looming, I called House, and they were able to get my car in that same day.

A silver 2003 Porsche 911 is on a lift being repaired.
A tidy shop is always a good sign.
Photo: Kyle Hyatt/Jalopnik

Now, before you throw your lot in with just any mechanic, you should try them out. My method for doing this has been to send my car in for something that is low-risk and low-cost. If the shop treats you well on that job – mine with House was an oil change and a reverse light switch a few weeks ago – then the odds are good that you’ll still be treated well when spending more money.


The crew at House did a killer job on the little stuff, so trusting them with my car for something a little more involved was no big deal. Another mark of a good shop, at least in my experience, is that the shop was clean. There weren’t piles of parts and trash everywhere or a thick film of shmutz on everything, which says that they’re likely to be at least as meticulous with my car as I would be, which is reassuring. Finally, the shop offers a discount to members of the Porsche Club of America, known for having somewhat anal retentive members, among which I count myself, so bonus.

They were also kind enough to let me bring my own parts, which is typically not something that shops will do (and I don’t recommend you do that either, especially if you’re not really good at ordering parts). Still, since I already had the parts on hand, this was a way to save a little cashish on an unexpected repair, though it did mean that the shop wouldn’t warranty the parts if something were to go wrong later. It’s a roll of the dice, but I always order high-quality OEM parts and double-check not only the boxes that the parts come in but that the parts are the right ones for those boxes.

The engine underside of a 2003 Porsche 911.
You can just see one of the spark plug holes and this is one of the two easy ones.
Photo: Kyle Hyatt/Jalopnik

So, after a couple of hours of sitting in House’s waiting room and working from my laptop, my car was finished. It ended up being a good thing I brought the car in for this job because a previous owner or mechanic left part of their magnetic spark plug socket in one of the plug wells, and it took some effort for the guys at House to get it out along with the old plug. Knowing me, I’d have spent a considerable chunk of time swearing, and the air in LA is dirty enough without me spewing curses into it.


Now that I was a few hundred bucks lighter, the last thing to do was to take the 911 out for a real rip to see if the misfires or the catalytic converter codes came back, and, blessedly, they haven’t. The car runs smoother than ever, and I suspect that I may even see slightly better fuel economy from the big flat-six.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, even if you like doing work yourself on your car, either your skill level, time availability or something else can get in the way, and you’ll need to take your vehicle to a pro. Spending that money is never fun, but it’s not a sign of failure, and if you find the right mechanic to build a relationship with, it can save you money in the future if they spot something you didn’t know to look for.