Suppose your Porsche Boxster has a VIN that looks like this…
What on earth do all of those seventeen characters mean? Simple:
#1. W = West Germany before 1989, or just simply Germany after 1989
#2. P = Porsche (you didn’t think it was Pontiac, did you?)
#3. 0 = sports car
#4. C = Body Type: a code for Boxster (and other cabriolets; other letters are also used; more info later)
#5. A = Engine: Boxster 986 2.5/2.7
#6. 2 = Air Bags: At least two air bags
#7. 9 = Model Year: up to MY2009
#8. and #12. : 8 and 6 = Boxster 986 (1997-2004)
#9. 5 = A checksum digit (a code to sanity check that the VIN is accurate)
#10. Y = Model Year Code: Y – 2000
#11. U = Factory Location: U = Uusikaupunki Valmet factory (Boxster 986 was produced there 1997-2004)
#12. (see above #8)
#13 <-> #17: Serial Number: 23908
There are many Porsche VIN decoder pages on the web that will help you decipher your own VIN, no matter the model. Here’s one good one.
If you poke around the web, you’ll find scads of people talking about the “proper” pronunciation of Porsche. If you’re “lucky”, an American will know enough to give you an answer like this:
Unfortunately, it’s still wrong. The speaker gets brownie points for knowing that it’s two syllables and that German pronounces that final ‘e’. (in English, that word-final ‘e’ has a way of changing preceding vowel sounds: spat vs. spate; cap vs. cape, etc).
So, for all of you folks that don’t speak German, here’s how you really say it. That final letter ‘e’ is something akin to the letter “E” in the name “Edward”. ‘EH’. Not ‘AY’. not ‘UH’. EH! It unusual for us English speakers, because we simply do not have words that end with the ‘eh’ sound. We tend to turn it into its nearest English approximation “uh”. (and we have lots of words with ‘uh’ at the end… killah! lol Buddha. etc.)
And while we’re on the topic, Speedy Gonzalez taught a lot of Americans wrong. It isn’t pronounced “OLAY” for ‘Olé’. Guess what! It’s the same sort of vowel sound that Porsche uses on the end. It’s the EH sound. But don’t sound gauche… it’s a fairly short EH. Start saying that “E” in “Edward” and as soon as you start saying it, STOP. Don’t lengthen it, or it comes out AY.
Alles klar?! Gut!
Here’s an odd little part that initially missed my attention. A “Klammer” in German is a “clip”. And “steck” is something like English’s word “stick”. So, it’s a clip that you stick! When you put the top down on your Boxster, you release a small button at the upper center of your windshield. That button has a couple functions, but one of them is to disable the motion sensor part of your alarm. That way, when your kid accidentally tosses a frisbee into your open car, the alarm won’t sound. But, sometimes you might want that motion sensor to work when the top is down! Enter “Der Steckklammer”. With this OEM part, you can clip the button at the top of your windhshield where the top normally latches. The clip depresses the button for you and now your motion sensor will work when you go topless. Simple, clever, and inexpensive.
The Porsche part number is 986-504-986-00.
Here is a very handy article that explains Porsche’s 11-digit parts numbering scheme.
One thing you quickly learn to adapt to when owning a Boxster (and I’m guessing any Porsche) is that what might work today may not work tomorrow. They are fidgety cars. The engine is big and mean. The transmission heavy duty for the torque. And there’s seats on top of those. But everything else is delicate. So, imagine my (“joy”, disgust, resignation?) when my top suddenly stops responding to requests to lower. Push the button and what do I get? Nothing. Nada. Zilcho. No motor sound of the top trying to move. No lights on the dash indicating the top moving. Just the click of the top’s button. Click click. Hooray.
How the Convertible Top Should Open
So, back to the web for me and soon enough I discover that this is a “common problem” (get used to those words). But, luckily, it sounds like the problem is something pretty simple to fix. And the part costs five bucks. The problem for me (there are other top issues not covered by this post) was the parking brake. You see, when you want to move the top in either direction a couple things have to happen first.
- Stop the car. The car cannot be moving. Period. (well, ok, not period… there is a way around this, but more on that later). It can be stopped by parking it in the garage. Or stopped at a stoplight. Just don’t be moving. Simple right?
- Pull the parking brake (aka emergency brake). The PARK light on your dash lights up and now your Porsche is double-promise sure that your car is stopped (see #1) and not moving (see #1). These are safety features. It could be quite damaging to your car if you opened the top while traveling… particularly at high speeds.
- Unlatch the roof. Press the big button above your head and then release the latch. You already know this if you own one. Simple stuff.
- Press and hold the dash button to open the top. The top begins opening (or closing if you’re going the opposite direction). Keep holding that button as the top moves until the little TOP light on your dash goes dark. Et voila, you have converted your convertible.
Not all convertibles work this way, but the Boxster does.
The Problem: Parking Brake
It turns out that my problem was NUMBER 2 in the list above: Pull the parking brake. Wait a second, weren’t we talking about convertibles tops a second ago? Yes, good reader, we were. But, since the parking brake is part of the “top operation sequence” (TOS™ trademark, patent pending), a malfunction therein can cause the TOS to fail. There is a small pushbutton switch that resides adjacent and somewhat beneath the parking brake handle, hidden from view. Its job is to let your car know when the parking brake is activated (pulled up: up position) or deactivated (released and dropped: down position). Well, by now you’ve probably already guessed what happens. The switch fails. And now your poor Porsche can’t tell if its own parking brake is engaged or not. And the symptom that this has happened is that you no longer see a PARK light on your dash when the parking brake is engaged. It doesn’t stop the brake from working. But, it does stop your convertible top from working.
Solution #1: Strongarm Tactics
If you read Porsche websites and forums, you’ll see several people recommend getting a bit physical with your parking brake. The suggestions usually include:
- Pull the handle repeatedly a lot of times. Some say ten. Some say twenty.
- Pull the handle extra hard in an upward direction
- Push the handle extra hard in a downward direction
- Do some combination of the above three over and over
The idea behind this solution is sound. Especially in the short term. The idea is that the pushbutton switch gets stuck in either the up or down position. Or maybe, because of “play”, the switch has moved ever-so-slightly. By strong-arming the brake handle, the hope is that you will get the button unstuck or moved back into position. And indeed this seems to help a lot of people. The problem could reoccur, but for now it just might work. And help you to raise the roof as the downpour begins.
Alas, this solution didn’t work for me. But my arm muscles got bigger.
Solution #2: Buy a Switch and Install It
So, you’ve made it this far and you’re still reading. Time to open your wallet (get used to this too) and buy a new replacement switch. You can find them at various sites on the web. (I did mention that this is a common failure, yes?) Sometimes eBay has them. And all of the usual Porsche parts places have them. The dealer has them (and it’s not even particularly expensive from them… a rarity). I bought mine from Suncoast (Porsche part number 996-613-112-02). Only $6.95. Arrived quickly. Yay Suncoast.
So, now you have this glorious new switch. How do you install it? I read a couple websites that suggested doing it the “easy” way and “the way Porsche mechanics do it”. There is a secret panel (ok, it’s no secret) in between the driver’s seat belt latch and the parking brake handle. Its supposed function is to give you easy access to the brake switch and other goodies in there. It’s easy to pop out the door. I used a flat screwdriver for that. But once it’s open, it’s very very tight in there. And dark. If you pull the brake up, you can kind of feel around in the tight space with your finger and feel that there is a switch in there. But I had terrible luck even removing the old switch. So, on to the next solution.
Solution #3: Break Out the Tools
I was hoping to avoid this method, because it’s a bit more involved, but once I had it finished, I was glad I had done it. And it wasn’t hard to do at all. To get at the switch beneath the brake handle, you’re going to need to remove the entire “console”. The console is that big piece of plastic that runs from the dash in between the seats all the way to the “oddment tray” where you stow your registration and insurance. Yes, that big thing. It looks daunting. And there are many fiddly bits inside it. But rest assured, this is not a hard task. I promise. If you can turn a screwdriver, you can do it. It’s that easy. But patience, grasshopper. Patience will take you far in car/Porsche repair.
Let’s get to the skinny. You only need three tools:
- Flat head screwdriver. Any old size will do. You’ll use this for prying and poking.
- Torx #20 driver. I used a driver (looks like a screwdriver) with removable tips. All of the screws involved, except two, use the Torx #20 driver.
- Torx #30. I also had a #30 tip and used the same driver as above. There are two screws that use this driver.
So far so good, right? My kid could do this, so you can too! 🙂
If taking things apart with lots of pieces makes you queasy or nervous, there are some simple steps to follow: take photos as you go andput the parts on a table or the ground in a pattern to remind you how they got there in the first place. I just lay my parts down in order like they are numbered 1, 2, 3…. If you’re really nervous, write numbers on some scrap papers and place them near each part as you remove them. This will help you avoid having extra parts at the end. And it will help you make sure you don’t get different-sized screws confused with the others.
1. Remove the Forward Console.
This is a box at the front of the console beneath the dash. In my Boxster it has two empty boxes for stashing phone, charger, gum, etc. On the sides of the box there are two panels you must remove. One is covered with leather (usually?) and the other is covered with carpet. They both have clips on the back and they both sort of slide into place in conjunction with the clipping motion. Pop the clips on the leather panel by pulling on it from the “rear” of the panel. (in this case, the “rear” of the panel is the part that points towards the front of the car). You will hear three clicks. Then slide the panel towards the back of the car. It will pop right off. Then, do something similar for the carpeted panels. They too click into place near the “rear” of the panel. But this time, you’ll slide the carpeted panels towards the front of the car to remove them. The carpet sort of tuck underneath a trim part, so you need to be careful when you slide the panel out.
With the two panels removed from both sides, you can remove the Forward Console. There are two T#20 screws on each side of the box. Just remove those and the Forward Console will slide right out. Pull towards the stick shift… you may need to put the car in 2nd or 4th gear to give yourself some room.
2. Remove Parts from the Oddment Tray
Open your oddment tray. Pull out the rubber flooring. Then you’ll see another T#20 screw. Remove it and that will let you remove the plastic flooring of the tray. Beneath the tray are three T#20 screws you must also remove. Two of them are in plain sight, but one is obscured by the coin holder. Say what? I have a coin holder? News to me. 🙂 There is a small piece of plastic that holds coins at the front of the oddment tray. It has “fins” where the coins go. Pull that piece hard in a direction towards the roof of the car. You may even pry (carefully!) to dislodge the piece. It just clips in and it’s plastic, so be careful. It will pop out though. Beneath the coins is the third screw you must remove. There, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now take those oddment tray rubber and plastic parts and wash them in the sink. Only takes a second and it looks great. Just use water and a little dish soap.
3. Remove the Shifter Handle
This is the part that had me nervous at first, because it’s my first time. There is a screw you must remove beneath the stick shift. Yikes. But it’s simple. Other sites will tell you to remove the shifter handle completely, but this is unnecessary. Just unclip the leather boot first. It has two clips per side. Just pry a little bit carefully. It pops out easily. Pull the leather boot up high over the shifter handle and you’ll see the hidden screw towards the front of the car. It’s easy to remove and your shifter stays in place.
But while you’re here, you may as well clean the shifter’s boot. That leather gets dry and dusty and full of crud. (well, if you’re like me, it does). Just take an old toothbrush and dampen it slightly and start brushing. You usually don’t have to use much pressure to do this. Just carefully scrub it and will look great. I haven’t decided how I will recondition the boot leather yet, but a close Porsche pro friend tells me that, for dark leather, baseball glove oil works a treat. Don’t forget to remove the screw that was hidden beneath the shifter’s boot!
4. Remove the Ashtray and Window/Heater panel
Open the ashtray and then pull it up. It pops right out. That was easy. Beneath the ashtray are two screws with T#30 heads. Break out your tools and remove them. Don’t let them sit in the cavity like I did, because they may fly loose when you perform the next step.
Once the screws are out, now you can remove the switch panel that holds the window buttons and the seat heater buttons if you have that option. Squeeze ever so slightly on the sides where the ashtray was and pull up. It clips in so you have to use a little force, but soon enough the whole panel will pop out. There will be several wires connected still. Just carefully wiggle the window and heater wire bundles off and make note which is which. There is also a small wire for the ashtray light that you must disconnect. And if you look in the big hole where your panel used to be, near the oddment tray there is another wire you must disconnect. It lets your car know that the oddment tray is latched. (if it’s not, your car will beep when you lock it with the fob).
Beneath the window/heater switch panel you will find the last T#20 screw. Remove it.
5. Remove the Console
Now for the whole enchilada. With all the screws removed, you should be able to remove the whole console now. Go slowly. Wiggle things around a lot. And watch how the console clips in at the front. Eventually you will get the console out. It’s lightweight. Patience, grasshopper, patience.
6. Replace the Switch
OK! Now you can finally see the switch. Pull the parking brake all the way up and beneath it you will see the switch. Unplug its wires. And then remove the old non-working switch. It’s connected to a piece of metal with a small plastic “pin” on its side. You need to pull the switch so that pin comes out of the metal and then you can wiggle the old switch out. (see pics down below)
Now install the new switch in reverse. This part took me the longest to get right. There isn’t a lot of room and the switch has to go in “just so”. Try different orientations and eventually you’ll get it. Don’t forget to reconnect the wire for the switch! When you’ve installed it, you can test it by turning on your car and engaging and disengaging your parking brake. If it works, you will have a PARK light on the dash again. Hooray! This should also make it that your convertible top will work again.
So, you’ve got the switch fixed and your console in pieces on the garage floor. Well, don’t let this cleaning opportunity pass. Now it the perfect time to drag the console in to the kitchen sink and wash it. I was careful not to get the ashtray light wet and I tried not to get water on the underside of the console, but otherwise it cleaned up really nicely with very little effort.
And while you have the console out, now it a good time to vacuum up all the crud that you might have found under the console. It’s safe to drive the car to your local car wash to use the pro vacuum, even without the console. (you just won’t have window controls). It cleans up really well if you do this.
Go backwards through my steps above. Start at Step 5 and go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. You’ll be a pro at this by the time you’re done. I ended up not aligning the console so perfectly the first time I reinstalled and my brake lever rubbed. So, I took everything apart a second time and reinstalled a second time. The second time took me ten minutes, tops. The first time… ninety minutes. Experience is never a bad thing! 🙂
I apologize for the lack of photos this time. If you’d like to see how someone else did what I described, look at Trygve Isaacson’s Excellent Writeup.
Here’s what my broken switch looked like after removal.