There are two common problems related to the ignition and steering lock assembly on a 986 and 996. Here I'll cover the worse of the two issues, but touch upon the simpler one along the way.
Recently I've been having trouble turning the ignition. The key has been getting harder to turn in the lock, and often fails to return to its normal running position automatically after starting the car. It had to be manually twisted back slightly after starting as otherwise the heating system and headlights won't work.
There are several How To's online on fixing the two issues, so as such this won't be a step-by-step guide to the fixes, but instead I'll link to the other articles with my own notes on what they fail to mention.
The ignition and steering lock consists of these components, working from the key towards the front of the car:
1. The lock barrel itself. This is what you turn the key in and is seldom the cause of any faults. This connects to:
2. The steering lock itself (Part 996.347.017.07. About £160 after VAT). This connects to both the steering column to enable/disable the steering lock as well as:
3. The Ignition Switch (Audi Part: 4B0 905 849. Up to £40, depending on brand) that in turn connects to the car's electrics to power up and start the car.
Turning the key rotates a rod in 1) that in turn rotates the mechanism in 2) which pushes the steering lock rod into place as well as turning the ignition switch.
Here is the steering lock with the lock barrel still attached:
(Note the brass looking strut is not actually part of the steering lock. It is used to attach one end to the dash.)
And here is the ignition switch, with the end that connects to the steering lock facing towards you:
Last week, whilst out and about, I tried starting the car but now the key just spun freely in the lock with no resistance at all and hence I was stuck unable to get home. Whilst waiting for the AA to arrive, I googled common causes and possible temporary workarounds to get me home.
The simpler problem is that the electrics inside the Ignition Switch fails completely or partially. Partial problems include erratic auxiliary electrical problems (lights, Heater, Radio etc) and/or failure to start the car.
You can access the ignition switch from below the dashboard with just the removal of the heating duct running above the driver's legs and a small flat head screwdriver to remove 2 grub screws locking the switch to the steering lock. If that really is your underlying problem then swapping that part is the cheapest and simplest. If the key turns normally and the steering lock activates when the key is out then that probably is your issue.
Full instructions for switch replacement are available here: https://www.pelicanparts.com/techarticles/Boxster_Tech/86-ELEC-Ignition_Switch/86-ELEC-Ignition_Switch.htm
However given my symptoms this was unlikely to be the cause. Due to the required mechanical force required in normal use to turn the mechanism in the steering lock and the fact that my key now spun freely, it implied it was the steering lock itself that had failed and nothing was moving in there at all.
With this info in hand, I was able to talk the AA man through the actions required to separate the ignition switch from the steering lock. Once separated, it was then possible to start the car by turning the barrel in the Ignition Switch with a screwdriver while having the key in the lock barrel to disarm the immobiliser. This got me home. (Luckily the actual steering lock was in the disengaged state)
Having got it home and knowing I could still use the screwdriver trick to start the car and take to a garage I rang around to ask an OPC and an independent the cost of replacing the whole mechanism. The OPC quoted me about £550, while the independent quoted about £310. In both those cases the cost of the part was roughly as above, with labor being the remainder.
So instead of taking it elsewhere, I decided to have a go myself.
Following the instructions from Pelican Parts (PP) above (which also includes removal of the whole assembly) I set off.
(PP is done on a LHD car, but almost all instructions just require mirroring the instructions for an RHD car)
For safety you need to disconnect the battery (via negative lead). Since the car is outside and may have had to be left overnight, I also removed the latch from the bonnet so that there was no chance of it getting shut whilst the power was off.
Removing the Instrument cluster was fairly easy, as was the headlight switch and heater vent as mentioned in PP. Although some of the wiring connecting the heater switch has some horridly sticky stuff all around it. This sticks to anything it touches and stays behind on hands, Dash leather, tools etc.
Whilst PP don't explicitly mention this, it became obvious that it makes life a lot simpler to remove the steering wheel and plastic surrounds around the column. You can see that PP do this in their Figure 3 image. Shame they don't explicitly call it out though. This wasn't too hard and I managed it without looking online.
Here's the dash with cluster, headlight switch and steering wheel removed:
(Note the shiny stuff just below the headlight surround. That is that sticky glue)
You can see the Steering lock just above the base of the wiper stalk. Here is a closer view:
PP document the removal of the steering lock well, but I got stuck at instruction D of Figure 3 ("Using a small screwdriver, push down on the push lock pin to release the lock assembly from the steering column (purple arrow)".
Whilst PP are obviously documenting a LHD car, I had assumed that the equivalent lock pin hole for a RHD car would be in its mirrored location. But I could not find it. After more googling I came across this more detailed description of replacing the assembly: https://www.renntech.org/tutorials/article/30-diy-upgraded-ignition-switchlock-installation-for-996boxster/
and a commented reference to the same instructions here: https://www.6speedonline.com/forums/996-turbo-gt2/260947-key-hard-remove-ignition-lock-2.html
This last post made my error with the lock pin obvious, especially when I read this bit: "(NBTBRV8 note: on RHD the whole lock unit it fitted in mirror image...)".
i.e, the steering lock isn't a different part to the LHD version that mirrors left to right. It is the exact same part that you install by flipping left to right and upside down. As such the lock pin is located at the bottom of the housing in this case, not the top. Once I did this, removing the entire steering lock assembly required just a bit of jiggling.
This photo (same as above) shows it removed:
The PP instructions mention to remove the lock barrel much earlier in the process. However their instructions assume you are able to tell when you have rotated the key to position 1. But since my lock was just freely rotating I couldn't find the right place needed to align the access hole for the paperclip with the thing it need to press.
So instead I decided to keep it on to the end. This made removing the whole assembly a bit harder as the lock barrel catches on the dash surround. But with a bit of pushing and shoving I could manoeuvre it out.
The ignition switch was not attached to the steering lock as that had already been unplugged by the AA man. Hence why it's not shown in that photo.
Even with the assembly out, and trying multiple times, I still couldn't free the lock barrel from the steering lock. But knowing I was about to head to OPC to pick up the replacement assembly I thought I'd ask the service department there to remove it for me. This they did for me, leaving the paperclip in place and ready to be removed once the barrel was reinserted into the new assembly after installation.
With both the new and old assemblies at hand it became obvious what had failed in mine. Here is where the lock barrel mates with the steering lock in the new one:
and here it is in the old one:
From this we can see that the rod from the lock barrel no longer had anything to turn against as the side wall had gone. Presumably during the time it was harder to turn that part must have been pushed outwards and grinding against the inside wall, while still attached enough to turn. Once it eventually snapped off there was nothing to capture the lock barrel rod.
After re-installing the steering lock assembly and lock barrel I reconnected the battery so I could test the electrics were still working and the car could start. It did. Then the other parts were put back together. In all, putting it all back took about 2 hours, while the disassembly took about 7 hours. But this was the first time I'd taken the dash apart and there were times where I spent many minutes trying to figure out how to access things and many times where I was totally flummoxed and had to do more googling. Also, if you are very dextrous, it is possible with the right tools and a supple back to swap the whole lot just by lying in the footwell without removing the dash. But probably not if you've never done it all before to get a feel for locations of screws and bolts.
The Steering lock part actually includes the ignition switch pre-installed into it when bought from Porsche. So if you are going to replace the steering lock, there is no point also buying the ignition switch elsewhere to replace that too while in there.
The part numbers of the steering lock and ignition switch were identical on my old and new parts. As such I don't know if my old one was the original from factory or if it had been previously replaced before my time. The whole caboodle is a common failure point on the 9x6 ranges.