Let's Get Ready to... Drive—Preparing for Driver Education Events

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 9:31 PM

by Peter Church
(originally prepared February 22, 2004, modified May 10, 2017)

This tech article covers items that will be inspected on your car prior to a driver’s education event. There are 15 items to be inspected. Most are basic items that will ensure a safe and enjoyable time on the track and off. The car illustrated in this article is a second-generation (1978-1989) 911 turbo. Other 911’s from the 70’s and 80’s will be similar.

The Easy Stuff

These items should be part of your normal maintenance inspection even if you don’t go to the driver’s education events.

  1. Seat belts – Seat belt use is required in the state of Michigan. Check the belts for cuts or wear that might cause them to fail. Generally, belts have very little wear. Photo 1 shows my (original) 12-year-old belts. If you have installed a racing harness in your car, please check the Porsche Club Sport Racing rules on the PCA web-site (member login required) to ensure that your harness is acceptable.

    It is highly recommended that if your vehicle uses seat harnesses that you also use a HANS device to reduce the chance of head separation injury (e.g. basilar skull fracture) in the event of a crash.

    Seat belts
    Photo 1: Seat Belts – Original Equipment seat belts are fine for driver’s education events
  2. No cracked glass – Small cracks can turn into large ones as your chassis flexes during maximum cornering, so they can’t be ignored. Porsche dealers don’t replace windshields in the older cars anymore, so you have to make other arrangements. Be careful. Several of the auto glass specialty companies don’t know how to do rubber gasket type windshields (used on all pre-90’s 911’s) very well.
  3. Inside and outside rear view mirrors in place – There is a great scene in “The Gumball Rally,” which I consider fine automotive cinema! A racer (the late, great Raúl Juliá -EMan) rips off his rear view mirror and says, “Whats-a behind me is not important!” Unfortunately, in real life what is behind you is important, both off the track and on, so be sure that your mirrors stay in the position that you adjust them to. If they have become “floppy” (slip from the adjusted position) due to wear and tear they should be replaced.
  4. Tires and Wheels – The minimum tread depth is 3/32". This means the minimum tread measured on any groove. For many 911’s it is normal for the rear tires to wear more in the center of the tread than on the edges. Wear on the front tires of a 911 depend on the alignment specs and the condition of the suspension. Many tire brands have wear indicator bars molded into the tire tread. When this bar starts to wear, the tread depth is usually near 3/32". Photo 2 shows the wear indicator bar on my Bridgestone SO2s. The tire sidewalls should be checked for cracks (usually caused by old age) or cuts. Wheel damage that has bent the rim can cause a slow to moderate air loss, so this type of damage needs to be corrected.
    Photo 2
    Photo 2: Tires – This photo shows the tread wear indicator bars

    Tire Date Code

    Tire manufacturers include the date when the tire was produced on each tire they make. Since 2000, this has consisted of a 4-digit code to indicate the week and the year it was manufactured (prior to 2000, it was a 3-digit code—2 for the week, 1 for the year).

    In the example from Tire Rack below, the code LMLR5107 contains this information. “51” indicates the week (“51st week of the year”), while “07” indicates the year (“2007”). So this tire was manufactured on week 51 of 2007. You can find more information at Tire Rack.

    Tires older than 8 years will be not be allowed.

    Tire date code
    Photo 3 credit: Tire Rack
  5. Pedals in good condition and throttle return functioning properly – Pedal condition here refers to the pivot points and pads. Pivot point brackets should be secure to their body mounts. The pivots should be neither sloppy nor binding. The pads should be firmly attached to the pedal. The throttle pedal should work smoothly from 0 to 100% throttle. Any sticky operation or failure to return to 0 must be investigated and corrected. Photo 4 shows the pivot points. For 911’s it is necessary to remove the pedal cover to see this view, but this is not ordinarily part of the tech inspection. Loose pivots can be detected by grabbing the pedals and wiggling them. However, if you do go to the trouble of removing the pedal cover you will discover a bit of the 911’s heritage. The cover is made of wood, just like Porsches first model, the 356!
    Photo 3
    Photo 4: Pedals – This photo shows the pivot points
  6. Stop lights functioning – This is easy to check. Replacing a bulb now could keep an SUV from parking on your whaletail later. Bulb replacement information and instructions can be found in your owner’s manual.
  7. Roll bars – Convertibles must have roll bars installed. Targa’s and coupes do not need roll bars. Make sure that the roll bars are PCA approved.

    • Convertibles without roll protection are NOT permitted.
    • Convertibles with factory roll-protection are allowed but after-market roll-bars are highly recommended. The driver has the burden of proof that their vehicle/model has sufficient roll protection.

    Broomstick test
    Image credit: autointerests.com
  8. No structural rust – I don’t know the official definition of structural. Here is my opinion for 911’s. The 911 cars use pressed steel sections with steel structural elements welded to them. Except for the windshield frame, you generally don’t see them when looking at an assembled car. Basically the exposed fenders, doors, hood, rear deck, and roof sheet metal are pieces formed to make the car look good. Beneath this shiny skin are the structural beams, frames and pressed steel sections that actually give the car most of its strength. Key areas to examine are upper strut (shock) mounting points, torsion bar mounts, and engine/transmission mounting points. These areas are shown in photos 5, 6, and 7.
    Rear Front
    Rear Front
    Photo 5: Strut Mounting locations – Right rear and Left front shown

    Rear Front
    Rear Front
    Photo 6: Torsion Bar Mounting locations – Left rear and Left front shown

    Rear Front
    Rear Front
    Photo 7: Engine mounts (right side shown) and Transmission mounts

The Hard Stuff

These items require some experience to inspect, so I will give only a brief description here. Your tech inspector will be able to help you with the items in this section.

  1. No leakage of fluids – Gasoline leakage is obviously very dangerous. Older cars can have rusty gasoline tanks that leak. The various years of 911’s have used various fuel system arrangements. Generally, the fuel lines run from the fuel tank, which is the floor of the front luggage space, down the driver’s side of the car, and up into the left side of the engine compartment. The 911 turbo uses two fuel pumps. One is mounted near the front, and one is located in the back. Oil leaks can occur from a number of points on the engine and transmission. Common oil leak locations are drain fittings, tank connections, thermostat connections and hoses. Brake fluid leakage can occur at the calipers, flexible brake lines, and master cylinder. Brake fluid leaks are extremely serious. They can cause reduced braking effectiveness, and pulling from side to side. It used to be impossible to have water leaks on a 911, unless it came from the windshield washer fluid container! Not so anymore, and they call it progress! Just kidding, new 911 owners!
  2. Engine and transmission mounts secure – Photo 7 shows the engine and transmission mounts. The engine mounts are in the engine compartment at the left and right rear corners. The transmission mount is under the floor pan at the front of the transmission. The bolts should be tight and the rubber isolators should be in good condition.
  3. Fan belts tensioned and in good condition – The engine fan belt should not be frayed or loose. The owner’s manual illustrates how to replace your fan belt and check the tension. The tools for this are in the tool kit that comes with your car. The kit also contains a spare fan belt. If do not have your original tool kit it is worth finding a replacement. Always carry a spare fan belt.
  4. Battery securely held down with metal mounts - There are lips on the end of the battery case that engage a “C” shaped clamp in the battery compartment on one end. A metal clamp and a bolt hold down the other end. In the tool kit that comes with the car there is an Allen wrench with a rubber grip to help install the bolt. This special wrench is a big help. Photo 8 shows the clamp and wrench.
    Photo 7
    Photo 8: Battery clamping – Battery hold-down clamp and special wrench to install the clamp bolt
  5. No excessive looseness in the steering or suspension - A number of components can cause the suspension and steering to be loose. The steering rack might be coming loose from the body, the tie rod ends might be worn, or the control arm bushings might be worn. These are usually checked with the car jacked up on one side. The front wheel on the jacked up side is wiggled and the components are visually inspected for excessive play. Photo 5 (right) shows the tie rod end and control arm bushing area.
  6. Sufficient brake pad linings – Photo 9 shows a view of the left front brake pads. These pads are almost new.
    Photo 8
    Photo 9: Brake Pads – Left front brakes showing how pad thickness is measured

    The new thickness of stock 911 turbo pads is 11-12mm, depending on the brand of pad. This makes the minimum pad thickness for driver’s education events 5.5 to 6mm. The brake pedal should be firm and there should be no pulling from one side to the other. Photo 9 shows the wheel removed. For the inspection it is not necessary to remove the wheel on most 911’s.

    Front wheel bearing adjustment – This is checked with one side of the car jacked up. A front wheel is wiggled to check for excessive wheel play. If an adjustment is required the wheel bearing cap must be removed to gain access to the adjustment nut. On most 911’s the cap can be removed with a pair of adjustable pliers.
    a b
    (a) (b)
    Photo 10 – Front wheel bearing adjustment

    On most 911 Turbo’s the cap has a press fit and must be removed with a slide hammer. This is shown in figure 9a. Once the cap is removed an Allen wrench can be used to adjust the bearing nut (photo 10b). The specification on the adjustment is that the bearing washer can just be rotated with a screwdriver.
  7. A word about brake fluid – If you have not driven your car at a track event you may be surprised at how hot your brakes get. This is why it is very important to make sure that your brake fluid does not have excessive water content in it. Basically, water is absorbed by brake fluid and lowers its boiling temperature. When brake fluid boils the pedal can become spongy, which creates a vehicle control hazard.

    Currently, the only way to ensure that your brake fluid is “dry” is to change it using fresh fluid from a sealed can. However, I recently purchased a device that measures the water content in brake fluid using electrical conductivity. The device costs about $40. I will evaluate its accuracy and make a report.

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