GT3 Diaries

The GT3's first tire puncture

It was just last week I wrote about buying a 996 scissor jack to have in my emergency tire repair kit, in preparation for any puncture issues during long road trips.

And apparently on short ones, too.

In what is likely one of those ‘speak of the devil’ turn of events, I got my first tire puncture in the GT3. I was heading off to my usual Friday evening drive – after four solid weekdays of simply parking the car due to not using it for commuting – when I noticed the TPMS screen indicating the right passenger tire was down 3 PSI from the normal 33. Losing nearly 1 PSI per day is a textbook example of a simple puncture, probably a nail or screw.  

The inability to remove the wheels due to the center locking hubs meant a tire repair job on the GT3 is immensely more difficult than the typical car on the road. Having to look for the offending item, remove said item, and then patch the hole while the wheel remains on the car is not the best experience, especially considering the utter lack of clearance around the tire:

Have fun sticking any size of hand in through there.

Surely this is where the aforementioned 996 scissor jack comes in, but even with the assist, the GT3’s lack of suspension travel means there’s barely any droop to the wheel:

It gets worse: the 911 features an electronic parking brake, one that cannot be disabled without being in the car, door closed, engine running, and foot on the brakes. As soon as you open the door to exit, the parking brake applies automatically. Why is this important? In the puncture-causing object, it’d be great if I can freely spin the wheel to easily inspect the whole surface of the tire; sadly an impossible task on the rear tire of a GT3.

Therefore if the culprit can’t be found on the first instance I jacked up the car, I have to lower the car back down, get in and drive forwards so what was previously pointed towards the ground is now at the opposite, visible end.

As my (horrible) luck would have it, I had to do exactly that. My first attempt poking my way through the wheel-well with a flashlight was unsuccessful; armed with a spray bottle of soapy water, there were no bubble spots to be found. After much grumbling and work to reposition the car, I successfully found the stubborn son-of-a-bitch in the second attempt:

Right in the meat on the inside of the two center treads, a fortunately turn of events as this meant I can repair it using the traditional rubber plug. I am not dumb enough to do the same had the puncture been on the shoulder blocks or the sidewall. I am also not rich enough to follow Porsche’s guideline of replacing the tire not matter where the hole is; spending $300-$500 (front - rear) every single time I get a nail in a tire - even if the tire is brand new - is not my idea of wise spending.

I of course declined the $2,600, 7-year wheel and tire warranty when I bought the car.

As said before, I’ve been using tire plugs since I starting driving, and not a single one have failed. For repairing holes squarely on the tread-block, I have full confidence.

In this particular instance, the cause of the puncture is a metal screw, which proved quite tricky to remove. First I had to reposition the car again: I found the screw while it was facing the front, which offers no room for me to work due to the low-hanging side-skirt and the scissor jack itself. So for a third time I wound down the jack, got in the car and did the forward and reverse dance to place the screw facing towards the rear bumper:

Yes, that on the left is indeed a very hot exhaust manifold. Don’t ask me how I found out what temperature it was.

Already cramped for space and armed with only a flat-head screwdriver and a pair of needle-nose pliers, merely extricating the screw was a half-hour ordeal of pulling and tugging (that’s what she said). Lacking in any sort of leverage whilst lying on the ground, I was finally able to free the screw by slowly turning it, a quarter turn at a time.

The plugging procedure was super easy in comparison: I enlarged the hole with the included auger tool, and then shoved the rubber plug in. A healthy dab of rubber cement to seal it up, and we had a result:

No bubbles!

I then buttoned it all up by snipping off the excess and inflating the tire back to factory specs. The final test would be returning to the car the next day and verifying the pressure hasn’t gone down, which I am happy to report this morning the plug is holding superbly.

After this hopefully the tire puncture gods will spare me from another one for at least the rest of this year. Fingers crossed.

Emergency jack for the GT3? Get it from a 996

In buying the 911 GT3, I had only one intention: to drive it as much as possible. My car won’t be one of those parked long term and only serves to look pretty, even though the GT3 can fulfill that roll extremely well, too. Rather I subscribe to the mantra of cars being meant to be driven, and a big reason why I specced for the extended-range fuel tank was so I can go longer between fill-ups on road trips.

Still have yet to do one of those in the GT3, but it’s barely Spring yet.

A potential problem on any road trip is tire punctures. Just about the worst case scenario is to be stranded somewhere with no recourse to at least get to the next nearest town. Automobiles have for decades been fitted with spare tires to avoid such situation, and the system have worked really well: you get a flat tire, pull over to the side, put on the spare, and onwards you go.

The modern car, especially sports cars, have been inexplicably doing away with the spare tire. The reasons are many; most manufacturers will say it’s for economy reasons: less weight to carry equals better fuel mileage. I’m skeptical about that explanation because a spare tire kit can’t possibly be more than 60 pounds altogether. Eliminating that in a sports car I can understand - every less gram counts – but in a 5,000 pound German saloon, the weight savings amount to nil.

My guess is drivers these days are too inept and lazy to physically change a tire; add to the fact tire technology have rendered punctures much less frequent, manufacturers must have crunched the numbers and decided the usage of a spare tire is too minuscule to warrant fitting it to each and every car. A can of fit-a-flat is far less expensive comparatively, because of course it’s about the bottom line for automakers. 

Indeed, the GT3 comes equipped with only an emergency tire repair kit: a can of fix-a-flat, a 12V-powered tire inflator, and nothing else. There isn’t even an emergency jack; not that one would do any good because the GT3 is equipped with center lock wheels, and the typical breaker bar is powerless against the 440 foot pounds of torque securing the single “lug” nut.

Porsche’s directive in the event of a tire puncture: use the can of tire goo and the electric tire pump to secure and re-inflate the offending tire, then drive the car to the nearest Porsche dealer for proper repair. In the situation when the puncture is too big for the fix-a-flat, the owner is advised to call Porsche roadside assistance for a tow to the nearest dealership – because regular tire shops don’t have the requisite knowledge and tools to handle center lock wheels.

I am to do follow the procedure even if it’s just the typical errant nail on the tread block, causing a relatively slow leak. Basically, if I suffer any sort of tire damage on a road trip in the GT3, the trip is effectively over. 

That sounds like a massive hassle: a small nail in the tire that can otherwise be plugged shouldn’t mean the end of a trip, and from perusing online forums, other 911 owners agree. Those guys instead have put together their own emergency tire repair kit, all to avoid having to use the dreaded fix-a-flat or call roadside for the smallest of incidents. Their kit is simple: a set of tire plugs/tools, and a compact scissor jack.

The first item easy: any auto-parts store will have tire plugs readily available. I’ve been using them ever since I started driving, and not one have failed (knocks tremendously on wood).  

The emergency scissor jack however is slightly trickier to acquire. As mentioned, the GT3 isn’t fitted with one from the factory, and due to its extremely low ride height, I can’t simply buy any random unit from other brands, because most likely it won’t fit underneath the car. The jack will have to be a Porsche part from similar model.

It turns out the 911 – of any trim – hasn’t been fitted with an emergency jack since the 996 generation - nearly 20 years ago. The can of tire goo or call roadside assistance have been the standard procedure for that long a time. Nevertheless, later generation 911 owners looking for a scissor jack, one that will work perfectly with the jacking points and lowness of the vehicle, can buy the one from a 996’s emergency kit.

Thankfully, the 996 scissor jack seems to be one Porsche part that isn’t subjected to the infamous Porsche tax – provided you buy it used from a dismantler. I did just that via eBay, and four short days after paying 100 dollars, this superbly sturdy box showed up:

Purchased from qualityporscheparts, this particular spare jack is from a 2002 911 Cabriolet that’s being parted out. Porsche claims 70% of all its cars ever made are still on the road; this 996 convertible must be the other 30%.

I really appreciate how well the item was packaged. It makes sense: car parts can often times be heavy, so dismantlers have to be extra attentive to ensure things arrive to the customer intact. Being made almost entirely of aluminum, the 996 jack is the lightest spare jack I’ve handled out of all the cars I’ve owned. Fitting, for a Porsche.

Notice the part number starting with ‘996’, indicating the jack indeed belongs to a 996 era 911. Porsche uses the numerical generation code of its cars to begin the part number sequence of its associated components. For example, parts specific to my GT3 will have ‘991’ as the beginning identifier. A uniquely special and brilliant system.

Upon closer examination, the jack looks brand-new. The hook part of the handle and the oblong nub on the jack-head don’t show any sign of abrasion from use. For 100 dollars, this turned out to be quite the steal. I guess the owner of the 996 Cabriolet couldn’t be bothered to use it ever.

Here’s the jack in its extended position, likely for the very first time since it was made.

And here it is back into its protective foam holder. It’s fortuitous the foam piece came packaged with the jack; the GT3 obviously doesn’t have a cavity for this, but because the jack and handle fits so snugly in there, I can simply turn the entire kit upside down on its flat side into the trunk. It won’t slide around all over the place during hard cornering.

Of course, my hope is to never have to use this jack and the tire plugs, but seeing the GT3 is my ‘forever car’, the likelihood of that happening is incredibly slim. Better to be prepared than having to call roadside assistance, or worst, use the can of tire goo.