Alfa Romeo 147 (Type 937: 2000-2010)

Used, grey Alfa Romeo 147 on OEM alloy wheels. A post-facelift model.

The Alfa Romeo 147 was restyled in 2004 – a post-facelift model above.

 

Reliability & common problems

This section covers the potential reliability issues that you might have with the Alfa Romeo 147. Click on the buttons below to read more about the typical problems that fall outside the scope of routine maintenance.

Fragile suspension

Watch out for suspension noises (knocking and squeaking) when buying an Alfa Romeo 147. The suspension is relatively fragile in this car and other Alfa Romeos from that era. When it’s worn out or out of alignment, the car likes to eat the tyres quickly (tyre wear on the inner edge).

The suspension in the Alfa Romeo 147 will likely need refreshing every 50k miles or so. If you happen to drive on bad roads or use cheap suspension parts, take 50% off this number.

When buying an Alfa Romeo 147, take it for a test drive on some rough road and some speed bumps. Listen for any suspension noises. Also, check if the tyres are worn evenly.

Red paint & stone chips

The “Alfa Red” aka “Rosso Alfa” paint is noticeably weaker in terms of resistance to chipping than other colours.

This seems to affect all Alfa Romeo cars made a few years before 2010. The problem was noticed by Alfa Romeo as they’ve temporarily stopped selling red Mitos and Giuliettas in 2010. Many cars had body panels resprayed as part of the manufacturer’s warranty due to stone chips.

It looks like they’ve managed to improve their red paint after 2010.

The red paint problem is not limited to Alfa Romeo. Other manufacturers were also having problems with red paint around that time. I believe it had something to do with environmental restrictions on paint formulas.

By the way, this reminds me of the problems Mercedes-Benz had with corrosion and water-based paint in the late-1990s.

If you want to buy a red Alfa Romeo 147, inspect the paint more thoroughly than you normally would. If you find a lot of stone chips, try to negotiate a discount. The body parts that are affected the most are the wheel arches, the front bumper and the bonnet.

Selespeed transmission failure

The Selespeed transmission is an automated manual transmission, which means that the car has a manual transmission and a Selespeed robotic unit attached to it. The robot does the gear shifting for you, you lazy bastard.

You might have also heard about Fiat’s Dualogic transmission. Fiat’s Dualogic and Alfa Romeo’s Selespeed are pretty much the same thing.

Let me very briefly explain the basics of this transmission. The Selespeed robot is a complex hydraulic device, made up of solenoid valves, sensors and actuators. It is powered by a little hydraulic pump, and it has its own hydraulic fluid circuit.

The oil is pressurized by the pump and then stored in a hydraulic accumulator. The accumulator has a rubber diaphragm inside and compressed nitrogen gas behind the diaphragm. Therefore, there is compressed gas on one side of the diaphragm and hydraulic fluid on the other.

The diaphragm can deflect to store energy (oil pressure) because nitrogen gas is compressible, while the oil isn’t. This stored energy is then used to do the mechanical work – changing gears and operating the clutch, which is what the actuators do.

Because there is no torque converter, the Selespeed can be as efficient as a manual gearbox. However, it’s not as smooth as a traditional automatic transmission, and in my opinion, not as reliable.

The problem is that it is a relatively advanced piece of machinery and a failure of an individual component, like a £20 sensor or a £5 seal, means that you may have to replace the entire Selespeed unit, which is very expensive.

You may be able to replace an individual part that failed if you can find someone capable of doing it, but it will take some effort and time as there aren’t that many places that can fix Selespeed robots.

I am fairly confident that if you simply go to the dealership with a faulty Selespeed gearbox and the problem is not something obvious or easy to replace like an accumulator or a hydraulic pump, they will try to replace the entire unit for £2,000.

 

My recommendation is to avoid Selespeed transmissions when buying a used car. However, if you are still determined to buy one, here are the symptoms of Selespeed malfunction:

  • dropping into neutral on its own (this can happen at motorway speeds)

  • jerky gear changes

  • transmission warning messages on the dashboard

  • inability to select gears or missing gears

When the Selespeed transmission stops working, the first thing to check is the accumulator. Over time, the membrane inside can rupture and the accumulator will stop storing pressure. Even if the membrane is still fine and you don’t drive the car much, the nitrogen gas will eventually escape, just like air escapes from a seemingly airtight balloon.

It’s the same story as with the nitrogen spheres used in Citroën’s hydro-pneumatic suspension and Mercedes-Benz’ ABC. Because it could take a decade, the odds are that the membrane will fail before the gas disappears from the sphere.

Don’t worry about the accumulator though. It’s easy to replace. It’s just everything else that should worry you – the solenoids, the seals and sensors inside the Selespeed robotic unit.

V6 Busso (GTA) – timing belt replacement interval

According to the manufacturer, the timing belt in this engine needs to be replaced every 72,000 miles or 5 years, whichever comes first.

In my opinion, this is too optimistic as there have been cases of the timing belt breaking earlier than that. I recommend getting it replaced not later than 60,000 miles.

Better safe than sorry.

Twin Spark engines – sensitive to poor maintenance

The Twin Spark is a dual ignition engine, which means that there are two spark plugs per cylinder (8 in total). The idea behind it is that igniting the air/fuel mixture in two places makes it burn quicker, thus improving efficiency and emissions. The dual ignition was dropped in later Alfa Romeo engines, probably because its benefits were too small.

Fun fact: dual ignition is still commonly used in aircraft engines for redundancy (the entire ignition system is duplicated, not just the spark plugs).

The Twin Spark engines are sensitive to poor maintenance.

 

Crankshaft bearings

First of all, a low oil level will kill the crankshaft bearings very quickly in these engines. For this reason, the oil needs to be changed regularly and oil level checked religiously to make sure it’s not low. Many old Twin Spark engines consume more engine oil than an average car. This usually isn’t a problem as long as the oil level is maintained.

The oil level in a Twin Spark engine should be checked monthly if not weekly (seriously).

 

Timing belt

Second, the timing belt in these engines isn’t very strong. It is very important to replace it every 36,000 miles or every three years, whichever comes first. This has to be done without fail as these belts are known to snap without warning. The belt replacement interval was only revised to 36k miles after many engines suffered timing belt failure (initially, the interval was 72k miles).

There are two timing belts in the 2.0 TS. One drives the valvetrain, while the second one turns two balance shafts. If any of the belts break, the results are catastrophic for the engine. Both belts need to be replaced at the same time.

Avoid engines that had the top end recently rebuilt after the timing belt had snapped. In this engine, a timing belt failure is sometimes followed by crankshaft bearings failure, which may get damaged when the valves hit the pistons when the timing belt breaks.

The bottom line is that these engines can be reliable as long as they are maintained well. Ideally, buy the car from an Alfa Romeo enthusiast.

Twin Spark engines – short-lived variators

All 16-valve Twin Spark engines (except the 105 PS 1.6L) are equipped with a device called the variator that adjusts the timing of the inlet camshaft (variable valve timing). The variator in the Twin Spark engine is not very durable and tends to wear out fairly quickly. A worn out variator makes the engine sound like a diesel.

Initially, the sound only appears after a cold start – before the oil gets pumped to the top of the engine. The clatter gradually gets more persistent. If your car sounds like a London taxi – get the variator replaced immediately.

The variator in the TS engines can fail as early as 40,000 miles. It makes sense to have it replaced with every timing belt job. The timing belt needs to be removed to replace the variator anyway.

1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v – timing belt & water pump

According to the manufacturer, the timing belt in this engine needs to be replaced every 72,000 miles or 5 years, whichever comes first. In my opinion, this is too optimistic. I recommend getting it replaced not later than 60,000 miles.

The water pump must be replaced at the same time as the timing belt, otherwise, it can seize and cause the timing belt to snap. It’s actually the water pump that is the weak point in the timing belt drive and the first part to fail.

The above applies only to the 16-valve JTD engines.

1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v – swirl flaps

From late-2005, the 1.9 JTD 16-valve MultiJet engines became fitted with swirl flaps in the intake manifold in order to improve emissions. This applies only to the 150 PS and 170 PS engines.

Two types of intake manifolds were used in the Alfa Romeo 147. Here’s a brief description of the manifolds and how they can fail:

From late-2006: plastic manifold with spot-welded, stainless steel swirl flaps

Failure mode: the main cause of flap failure is increased friction in the flap mechanism from the carbon build-up in the intake manifold. Carbon build-up is a byproduct of the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), which is there to improve emissions.

The metal swirl flaps often keep working without any indication of a problem until the spot welds give up and a flap gets detached. It can then enter the engine causing severe damage. An ingested flap can take out valves, a piston, damage the cylinder walls and even the turbocharger.

 

Between late-2005 and late-2006: aluminium alloy manifold with plastic swirl flaps

Failure mode: the flap bearings can wear out from increased friction when the carbon build-up in the intake manifold becomes severe. Once the bearings are worn, they may develop an air leak, allowing the boost pressure to escape. Also, the flaps can simply get stuck before the bearings wear out. These plastic flaps are the lesser evil as they don’t break off.

 

On one hand, the metal swirl flaps are stronger and can handle a bit more carbon build-up, on the other hand, they will make you cry if they fail. For this reason, I don’t recommend buying a 2006+ Alfa Romeo 147 JTD, unless you are planning to do something about the swirl flaps.

If you already have one of these cars or you are planning to buy one, I think that it’s important to establish the condition of the flaps in your engine. Unfortunately, it’s quite a big job to get to them, but you can do it at the same time as the timing belt to save some money.

Once the intake manifold is removed from the car, you will have three options:

  • Clean the intake manifold and put it back on the car if the flaps are in good condition. You will be surprised how dirty they get.

  • Replace the intake manifold with a new one if the flaps don’t look so good. This is a safer option than just cleaning the manifold, albeit a more expensive one.

  • Get rid of the flaps and plug the holes left in the manifold. You can buy a swirl flap delete kit or get the holes welded up as the swirl flap housing is made out of aluminium. This is a permanent fix, albeit an illegal one in most countries. The swirl flaps are not essential for the engine to run – they are there to improve emissions and removing them has virtually no impact on engine performance.

As for the plastic swirl flaps in 2005-2006 cars, they rarely fall off. They can, however, get stuck or develop air leaks.

Stuck or leaking swirl flaps manifest as:

  • Rough engine running

  • Reduced fuel economy

  • Reduced power

  • The “Check engine” light may turn on as well

Just like with the metal ones, a new intake manifold is required to fix broken swirl flaps, however, swirl flap removal kits also exist.

Summary or problems & additional information

  • As this is an Alfa Romeo, I must address the main question. Is the Alfa Romeo 147 reliable? Actually, it can be reliable apart from the fragile suspension and also fragile Twin Spark engines. Keep in mind that Alfa Romeo cars are performance oriented and not as robust and forgiving as Japanese cars when it comes to poor maintenance.

  • I don’t recommend buying a used Alfa Romeo with the Selespeed transmission. It’s not something you want to own outside of warranty.

  • The Alfa Romeo 147 is based on the 156 model, just like the Alfa Romeo GT. Despite the different looks, both the 147 and the GT are very similar cars.

  • The “Alfa Red” aka “Rosso Alfa” paint is the weakest colour in terms of resistance to stone chips. The difference from other colours is noticeable, especially if you do a lot of motorway driving.

  • All engines in the Alfa Romeo 147 have timing belts. I think that the original timing belt replacement intervals are too optimistic for some of the engines. Follow this link to learn more about cambelts and why it’s important to replace them on time.

  • If you’d like to buy an Alfa Romeo 147 with a Twin Spark engine, find one with a documented service history. The Twin Spark engine is a delicate flower – it needs correct maintenance to be reliable.

  • The V6 “Busso” doesn’t have any major flaws. Great sound too. Just watch the oil consumption. The factory spec oil is fairly thick because this engine has its origins in the 1970s, so it’s not a “modern” design. The 3.2L may use more oil than it’s smaller siblings due to smaller oil control rings.

  • The Alfa Romeo 147 is one of the last Alfa Romeo cars that you can buy with the famous “Busso” engine. The production of this V6 unit ended in 2005. The designer of this engine, Giuseppe Busso, died three days after the production stopped.

  • The JTD family are Fiat’s common rail engines. The best of the bunch is the 120 PS 8-valve unit, in my opinion. Here’s why: durable timing belt and water pump, “MultiJet” injection system, no swirl flaps and large tuning potential. If 120 PS is not enough, you can get it to 170 PS with just a software update (remap). Just make sure that your clutch and axle shafts are in good shape before cranking up the power.

  • The 16-valve JTD engines are also good but have one significant flaw. From late-2005, all 16-valve JTD engines were fitted with swirl flaps in the intake manifold. Initially, the intake manifolds were metal with plastic flaps inside (the safer kind). From late-2006, the intake manifolds became plastic with stainless steel flaps inside. These may break off and wreck your engine.

  • The Alfa Romeo 147 JTD cars sold in the UK did not have diesel particulate filters (DPF). However, the DPF was initially optional and became mandatory from 2007 in some markets. If you’d like to know if a particular car has a DPF, you should decode the vehicle identification number (VIN) to find out.

  • Follow this link for an article that might help you decide if a modern diesel engine, like the JTD, is the right choice for you.

  • The Alfa Romeo 147 changed its looks quite significantly after the facelift in 2004. Below is what the original version looks like.

Used, grey Alfa Romeo 147 on OEM alloy wheels. A pre-facelift model.
Alfa Romeo 147 before the 2004 facelift

 

Alfa Romeo 147 specifications

This section contains Alfa Romeo 147 specifications. You will also find technical information regarding the engines used in these cars. Press the buttons below to display the specs and engine technical details.

Petrol engines – specs & performance figures

ModelDisplacementPowerTorqueComments
1.6 Twin Spark 16v Eco1598 cm³ / 97.5 cu in105 PS / 77 kW140 Nm / 103 lbf⋅ft
1.6 Twin Spark 16v1598 cm³ / 97.5 cu in120 PS / 88 kW144 Nm / 106 lbf⋅ft
2.0 Twin Spark 16v1970 cm³ / 120.2 cu in150 PS / 110 kW181 Nm / 133 lbf⋅ft
GTA (3.2 V6 24v)3179 cm³ / 194 cu in250 PS / 184 kW300 Nm / 221 lbf⋅ft2002-2005

Diesel engines – specs & performance figures

ModelDisplacementPowerTorqueComments
1.9 JTD1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in110 PS / 81 kW275 Nm / 203 lbf⋅ft2000-2001, 8-valve "UniJet" engine
1.9 JTD1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in115 PS / 85 kW275 Nm / 203 lbf⋅ft2001-2005, 8-valve "UniJet" engine
1.9 JTD M-Jet (JTDm)1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in120 PS / 88 kW280 Nm / 206 lbf⋅ft2005-2010, 8-valve "MultiJet" engine
1.9 JTD 16v1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in140 PS / 103 kW305 Nm / 225 lbf⋅ft2002-2004, 16-valve "MultiJet" engine
1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in150 PS / 110 kW305 Nm / 225 lbf⋅ft2004-2008, 16-valve "MultiJet" engine
1.9 JTDm 16v1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in170 PS / 125 kW330 Nm / 243 lbf⋅ft2008-2010, 16-valve "MultiJet" engine

Petrol engines – technical details

EngineEngine config.Forced inductionValve timingFuel deliveryDMFInlet flaps
Legend:DOHC - Double Overhead Camshaft
VVT - Variable Valve Timing
EFI - Electronic Fuel Injection
DMF - Dual-mass Flywheel (does not apply to auto. transmissions with torque converters)
VLIM - Variable Length Intake Manifold
1.6 Twin Spark (105 PS)Inline-4, 16 valvesNoTiming belt, DOHCPort injection (EFI)YesNo
1.6 Twin Spark (120 PS)Inline-4, 16 valvesNoTiming belt, DOHC, VVTPort injection (EFI)YesNo
2.0 Twin SparkInline-4, 16 valvesNoTiming belt, DOHC, VVTPort injection (EFI)YesVLIM
3.2 V6 24v "Busso"V6, 24 valvesNoTiming belt, DOHCPort injection (EFI)YesNo

Diesel engines – technical details

EngineEngine config.Forced inductionValve timingInjection systemDMFDPFSwirl flaps
Legend:SOHC - Single Overhead Camshaft
DOHC - Double Overhead Camshaft
DPF - Diesel Particulate Filter
DMF - Dual-mass Flywheel (does not apply to auto. transmissions with torque converters)
1.9 JTDInline-4, 8 valvesTurboTiming belt, SOHCCommon Rail (1st gen, "UniJet")YesNoNo
1.9 JTD M-Jet 8vInline-4, 8 valvesTurboTiming belt, SOHCCommon Rail (2nd gen, "MultiJet")YesOptionalNo
1.9 JTD M-Jet 16vInline-4, 16 valvesTurboTiming belt, DOHCCommon Rail (2nd gen, "MultiJet")YesOptionalFrom mid-2005

 

Alfa Romeo 147 wheel sizes

Press the button below to see the original equipment manufactuer (OEM) rim & tyres sizes for the Alfa Romeo 147. These are the original wheel sizes that were fitted by the manufacturer.

TyresRims Centre BoreBolt PatternComments
185/65 R156Jx15 ET37.558.1 mm5x98Steel rims
195/60 R156.5Jx15 ET41.558.1 mm5x98
205/55 R166.5Jx16 ET41.558.1 mm5x98
215/45 R177JX17 ET40.558.1 mm5x98
225/45 R177.5Jx17 ET3558.1 mm5x983.2 GTA
235/35 R188Jx18 ET3258.1 mm5x983.2 GTA, optional wheels

 

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