Purchasing: a 944 or 944 Turbo
When purchasing a 944 or 944 Turbo you must realise that the prices of these cars are, like everything else, governed by the laws of supply and demand. It may be worth your time and effort to concentrate your search for a car in an area where the supply is much larger. Not only will you find a better selection, but the prices can be significantly less. In my case, I saved myself several thousand dollars by buying a car in Atlanta, GA instead of Charlotte, NC. This strategy does of course have its drawbacks. It can require a lot of research in the classified ads of newspapers and possibly a number of long distance phone calls. However, searching Internet classified ads can now make this process much more cost effective and less time consuming.
The best and most frequently offered advice on purchasing a 944 is to purchase the best example you can afford. While a car that needs a little fixing up may seem like a great deal on the surface, over the long haul it will probably end up costing you more money. Unless, of course you do all your own work.
A good set of maintenance records is almost a must when purchasing a 944. Some of the maintenance items on a 944 carry a big price tag. For example, if you're trying to decide between two cars, the one that recently had the clutch replaced may be the better choice, even if it costs several hundred dollars more. The 944 timing belts are a key maintenance item that should have been done at the required intervals. If maintenance records can not demonstrate that they have been replaced or inspected at required intervals, either pass on the car, have them replaced prior to purchase, or ask for a lower price and replace them immediately after purchase. Neglected timing belt maintenance will cost you a lot of money.
Have any car you are seriously thinking about purchasing inspected by a mechanic familiar with 944s. A good 944 mechanic can tell you what needs to be fixed immediately, what can wait, and what your average maintenance costs might be.
To perform an adequate inspection, the car should be put on a lift and the belly pan removed. Here's a list of specific items that should be looked at:
The area between the back timing cover and the block should be inspected for oil and/or coolant. The presence of oil can indicate a leaking front crankshaft seal or leaking balance shaft seal. The presence of water normally indicates a leaking water pump although it can also indicate a leaking head gasket.
Inspect the area around the oil filter housing. You may find some oil in this area. It is extremely difficult to change the oil filter without spilling some oil. However, the oil pressure sensor and filter housing itself can also be a source of oil leakage.
Inspect the power steering pump, hoses, and power steering rack for leakage. The hose from the fluid reservoir to the pump is a common source of leakage. Sometimes tightening the clamp will stop the leakage. Do not tighten excessively as the reservoir is plastic and you can crack the nozzle. A leaking hose may not seem like a big deal, but one hose on a 944 can cost you $150-200 (not including labor).
Inspect the exhaust manifolds for cracks or signs of leakage (i.e. soot from the exhaust on engine or suspension parts). The exhaust manifolds are expensive to replace even if you can find them in a salvage yard.
Inspect the balance shaft housing covers for leakage. Repairing leaks here are not that difficult, but require a lot of time and can consequently cost a lot of money.
While the price of 944 motor mounts has come down in recent years, they are still around $150-200 a pair. You'll normally get charged around four hours labor for replacement. The 944 FAQ details a good method for checking the motor mounts.
A number of heat shield are used to protect various components underneath the car. It's a good idea to have someone check the car that is familiar enough with 944s to identify if any heat shields are missing. One of the most important components protected by a heat shield is the starter. It can fail in a short period of time if its heat shield is missing.
Check for a leaking oil pan gasket.
Inspect the tie rod ends and balljoints for cracked or missing protective boots. The balljoints are not replaceable on later model 944s. The control arms must be replaced ($$) or rebuilt.
Check the master cylinder and slave cylinder for leakage.
If the car is equipped with an external oil cooler (to the right of the radiator), inspect the cooler and oil lines for leaks.
Check all coolant lines for leakage. On Normally Aspirated and Turbocharged cars equipped with the turbo water pump, the plastic nozzle on the front of the pump (blank nozzle) has an o-ring which is a common source of coolant leakage.
Check the coolant in the reservoir. A brown frothy mixture in the reservoir usually indicates oil and water mixing in the oil filter/cooler housing. Many people are under the mistaken impression that this can not happen with the turbocharged cars since they have an external oil cooler. While it is not as common, it can an does occur.
Inspect for oil leakage at the back of the camshaft housing near the firewall. The rear cam housing cover plate uses a cork gasket which is a common source of leakage.
Inspect the area around the distributor housing. There are several oil seals in the housing that can be a source of leakage.
Inspect the fuel lines going to the fuel rail for brittleness or cracking. These have been the subject of several recalls and the source of a number of engine fires.
Inspect the plug wires for brittleness or cracking.
Check the transaxle half shafts for excessive play. There will be some play along the axis of the shaft, but there should be little or no play perpendicular to the axis of the shaft.
Driving and engine running inspection:
The car should have a steady idle between 900 and 1000 rpm. A high, low, or hunting idle can indicate (but is not limited to) a sticking idle stabilizer valve.
With the engine cold, the oil pressure should read between 4 and 5 bar at idle. As the engine temperature increases, the oil pressure will gradually decrease to around 2 bar. It may go slightly less than 2 bar on a very hot day or when the car is driven very hard.
However, it should never decrease to less than 1 bar. A low oil pressure at all temperatures can be indicative of a sticking oil pressure relief valve and can result in oil starvation and bearing damage. If a low oil pressure is indicated, the engine should not be run until the cause has been determined and corrected. A high oil pressure which never decreases to less than 4 bar is normally caused by a faulty oil pressure sending unit.
Engine coolant temperature should normally read between the second and third white marks. Temperatures consistently at or above the second white mark should be investigated and corrected.
A clicking noise under the hood with the car running is normal. This is the injectors firing. However, valve train noise is sometimes masked by the injectors firing. Use a mechanics stethoscope if you have any doubts about the difference between injector and valve noise.
Engine vibration at idle can indicate bad motor mounts or incorrectly installed balance shaft belt. Vibration from bad motor mounts will usually disappear when the engine speed is increase to around 1500 rpm.
With the engine running, it's a good time to listen for leaks at the exhaust manifolds. A piece of garden hose or other hose can be used like a stethoscope to pinpoint suspected leaks.
Vibrations experienced while driving on the road can be indicative of a number of problems. Some of them include alignment problems, tie rod ends, ball joints, sway bar bushings, and tire imbalance or abnormal wear.
At maximum boost, an unmodified, turbocharged car should produce approximately 1.7 bar of boost for an early model car and around 1.85 bar for the Turbo S and '89 model turbos.
Clicking in the rear end while driving, especially during cornering, normally indicates a problem with the CV joints. It can also indicate a problem with the wheel bearings or transaxle itself. CV joint noise can sometimes be corrected by repacking the CV joint/boot.