I’m really surprised that a year has passed since I purchased a very cheap 2004 Porsche Cayenne Turbo — and I’m even more surprised by how reasonable it has been to own. As far as used Porsches go, I couldn’t have gotten any luckier — but as my time with the Cayenne ends, I do have some concerns with its long term reliability.
After realizing depreciation had taken their toll on these 450-horsepower, twin-turbocharged beasts — making them cheaper than your average beater Porsche 944 Turbo — I decided to give one a try. The one I snagged came from Florida, and I purchased it sight-unseen at auction, where a local friend picked it up for me. He immediately noticed a misfire — but he discovered someone had loosened a coil just enough from the spark plug to cause a miss. This was likely done by some unscrupulous individual to make the car sell cheaper at auction — but they probably didn’t count on some idiot buying it from across the country sight unseen.
For $6,100, plus another $1,000 in shipping, I had a beautiful Cayenne with 144,000 miles at my door — and mercifully, it only had minor issues. The initial repairs included a ride height sensor for $200, a vacuum line repair for another $200, as well as an oil change. That’s it! Not only was the initial sorting very reasonable, but I was rewarded with total reliability for the next six months and 6,000 miles. I was so thrilled with my good luck that I decided to waste $3,000 updating its look — but, unfortunately, the next six months were a little more troublesome.
The first issue came after repainting the bumper, which somehow illuminated every warning light in the dashboard, and caused the speedometer to stop working. The painter mentioned he had trouble removing the headlights, and the wiring for them was falling apart. I elected to replace the wiring harnesses for these lights, but it didn’t explain why the rest of the car was going crazy. My mechanic, the car wizard, suspected the ABS control module. This very expensive part requires a dealer-level scan tool to program, so I had no choice but to schedule an appointment with the Porsche dealer — expecting a massive bill.
Much to my relief, the dealer only charged me $380 to fix the problem — and it wasn’t the Cayenne’s fault. While they were chasing wiring and cleaning connections, the tech discovered a fuse was missing entirely. When I called my painter to ask how this was possible, it turned out his helper swapped a fuse after replacing the headlight wiring to make sure the headlights worked again, but he may have forgotten to replace the original fuse. I was a little peeved — but since he saved me $700 by repairing the bumper instead of replacing it, and since he’s a friend that I need for future paint work, I let it slide.
The other problems came after test drives, by the same person, on two separate occasions. A friend was interested in buying it — but on the first drive, another vacuum line broke on the brake booster, making the pedal extremely hard to push. This repair was only $90 — but when this person came to test drive it for the second time, it broke again. This time he tried the low range in the transfer case, and it refused to disengage. My mechanic was able to revive the transfer case actuator for $45 by cleaning it — but he suggested if I wanted to keep using low range, that I should replace this $700 part. Needless to say, after two failures, my friend didn’t buy it — and I haven’t touched the low range since.
The only scheduled repair I chose to have done was the sway bar links, which only cost $150. Totaling this with the entire year, I spent just under $1,000. That’s a great deal — and if I hadn’t modified the Cayenne, I could have sold it for close to what I had into it — but the $3,000 in modifications (which added zero value) means that I’ll lose some money when I finally find a buyer. Still, my ownership experience was way cheaper than buying a new, or slightly used, Cayenne Turbo.
Even though I was very fortunate with my ownership experience, I do have a few concerns with this car’s long-term prospects. I imagine the vacuum line issues will continue to plague this era of Cayenne, as they are hard plastic and literally fall apart with age. Eventually, bubble gum fixes won’t work, and it will need all of them replaced entirely. I imagine this would require dropping the engine, and the lines aren’t cheap. This job will probably end up being too expensive to fix for a heavily-depreciated Cayenne Turbo.
My other concern is the degrading wiring. The same degraded wiring found in the headlight harnesses is found throughout the car. Given that the area behind the headlights is exposed to the most heat, it makes sense those wires would fall apart first — but while I was researching the issue that turned out to be a missing fuse, I discovered that another common problem involved wiring degradation around the floorboard — which created similar symptoms. Since replacing all the wiring would be nearly impossible, it might be a miracle to see a first-generation Cayenne still on the road 15 years from now.
Even with my concerns, I still love this car. On the surface, especially in the interior, the quality is great — and the seats are extremely comfortable. Other than the 13 miles per gallon average, I have zero complaints with the 450-horsepower twin-turbo drivetrain, as well as the fantastic (and surprisingly reliable) air suspension. If I hadn’t already bought three cars to replace this one, I would certainly be keeping it — and no, that’s not a typo. I really do have a problem …
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.