911 Porsche World - - Practical Porsche -

There’s an old joke, here in Bri­tain, about the ‘wrong’ kind of snow. It dates from a par­tic­u­larly se­vere win­ter about 40 years ago, when many trains were brought to a halt by un­usu­ally fine pow­der snow be­ing in­gested into their elec­tric trac­tion mo­tors and con­trol sys­tems. Some­one at British Rail – as it was then, long be­fore pri­vati­sa­tion – used the now fa­mous phrase in an at­tempt to ex­cuse the pre­dictable PR dis­as­ter and, like weather­man Michael Fish’s later and no less fa­mous re­mark about the Oc­to­ber 1987 hur­ri­cane, it passed into folk­lore.

And now, ev­ery au­tumn – or fall, to you Amer­i­cans – we have the ‘wrong’ kind of leaves, which no less pre­dictably af­fect train ser­vices by coat­ing the al­ready in­her­ently slip­pery rails with a greasy slime that nat­u­rally has a dra­matic ef­fect on both ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing, and thus jour­ney times. Never mind that one ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion is to chop down at least some of the trees which in many places, thanks to peren­nial – and short-sighted – cost­cut­ting, now dra­mat­i­cally over­shadow the tracks.

Fallen leaves are a ma­jor prob­lem for we car own­ers, too. If you al­low them to stand on the paint­work for too long they will all too of­ten ir­re­versibly mark it, and at the time of writ­ing – early De­cem­ber – some of the ru­ral roads around where I live are as treach­er­ous as if they were cov­ered in black ice or even en­gine oil. De­ceased fo­liage also has a nasty habit of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in nor­mally un­seen ar­eas of the ve­hi­cle’s struc­ture, block­ing drain holes and caus­ing all man­ner of seem­ingly un­re­lated prob­lems. Ask just about any ear­lier VW Golf or Pas­sat owner.

Or the owner of this 996. By chance, it’s the same ‘T’-reg­is­tra­tion Tip­tronic car that fig­ured in last month’s Tech­ni­cal Top­ics, be­long­ing to a cus­tomer of Mike Cham­pion at MCE Porsche in Mid­dle­ton Cheney, north Ox­ford­shire (mce­porsche.com). On that pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sion, you will pos­si­bly re­call, the owner was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a prob­lem re­li­ably mov­ing the shift lever out of ‘Park’, thanks to a faulty brake­light switch. This time, says Mike, she was back be­cause just a few weeks later the brake pedal it­self had be­come hard and un­re­spon­sive.

Act­ing on an en­gi­neer’s hunch, Mike’s first port of call was the vac­uum-op­er­ated servo, with its ac­tu­at­ing rod lo­cated be­neath the plas­tic cover un­der the trail­ing edge of the front lid. It was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that this area had be­come the fi­nal rest­ing place for not just dead leaves but the al­most soil-like sub­stance into which they in­evitably com­post. This was com­pletely block­ing the (hope­lessly small) drain holes pro­vided, and there was an ob­vi­ous – and sus­pi­cionarous­ing – ‘tide­mark’ on the con­certina-style rub­ber gaiter pro­tect­ing the rod be­tween the pedal, in­side the car, and the servo it­self.

Long story short: the gaiter, while not vis­i­bly dam­aged, was some­how al­low­ing wa­ter into the body of the servo, where it had ac­cu­mu­lated and, over time, caused the mech­a­nism in­side to cor­rode and seize. The only an­swer would be a brand-new servo – at around £150 plus VAT and four hours’ labour to fit it and, of course, to clear out the drains. Mike was ini­tially hope­ful that he would be able to tackle the task without break­ing into the hy­draulic lines to the mas­ter cylin­der, but in the event the servo’s ac­tu­a­tor rod was just too long to al­low the cylin­der to be pulled far enough for­ward to al­low that. It was some­thing of a sil­ver lining in the cloud, though, be­cause the brake fluid would un­doubt­edly ben­e­fit from be­ing re­newed, too.

So you know what to do – ir­re­spec­tive of whether your car has a sus­pected servo prob­lem or not. Get out there now, and lift off that plenum­cham­ber cover to check and clear the drain holes, ei­ther by vac­u­um­ing out as much de­bris as you can, or by vac­u­um­ing and then blow­ing out the area with com­pressed air. Have a long, hard look at the servo gaiter, too (be­low). Many cars of this pe­riod – 986 Boxsters, as well as 996s – would have had an im­proved servo fit­ted back in the day, un­der the pro­vi­sions of a Porsche tech­ni­cal ser­vice bul­letin, or TSB, but yours, like this one, might for some rea­son have slipped through the net.

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