The Alfa Romeo 156 was restyled in 2003 – a post-facelift model above.
Reliability & common problems
This section covers the potential reliability issues that you might have with the Alfa Romeo 156. Click on the buttons below to read more about the typical problems that fall outside the scope of routine maintenance.
Watch out for suspension noises (knocking and squeaking) when buying an Alfa Romeo 156. 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 156 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 156, 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.
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 – 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.
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).
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 engines 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.
2.0 JTS – injection system problems
The 2.0 JTS is Alfa Romeo’s first direct injection engine. JTS stands for “Jet Thrust Stoichiometric“. This engine is based on the 2.0 Twin Spark and shares the same problems plus a couple new ones.
Carbon build-up on the intake valves
The early JTS engines suffer from carbon build-up on the inlet valves, which doesn’t surprise me. It’s a common problem for many early direct injection petrol engines as the fuel is no longer injected into the intake manifold where it has a chance to wash away any carbon build-up from the intake valves.
The 2.0 JTS was later updated to reduce the build-up of carbon on the intake valves (updated ECU and different intake camshaft). From late-2004, the 2.0 JTS became less susceptible to carbon build-up.
The main symptom of coked up valves is reduced power at high RPM due to restricted airflow into the engine.
Unlike fuel injectors in port-injected engines, the JTS injectors have a limited lifespan. The typical symptoms of injector problems are rough idle when cold and engine misfires. If not fixed, the injected fuel does not burn well and dilutes the engine oil, which accelerates the wear on the engine.
Just like the Twin Spark engine, the 2.0 JTS is very sensitive to regular oil changes. I’d like to stress that’s it’s even more important in the JTS because of the direct gasoline injection, which is inherently harder on the engine oil due to the higher degree of oil dilution.
So, if you’re planning to buy an Alfa Romeo 156 with the 2.0 JTS engine, get a 2005 model.
Better yet, don’t buy the 2.0 JTS.
A car with this engine that can end up as a money pit when you buy a bad one. Additionally, some owners had their 2.0 JTS engines tested on a rolling road and found that their cars produced about 145 PS instead of the quoted 165 PS.
Better get that sweet-sounding V6.
1.9 JTD 16v & 2.4 JTD 20v M-Jet – 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 water pump in the 2.4 JTD MultiJet 20v is the same as in the 1.9 JTD MultiJet 16v, so both engines are affected.
1.9 JTD 16v MultiJet (Crosswagon Q4) – swirl flaps
From late-2005, the 1.9 JTD 16 MultiJet engines were fitted with swirl flaps in the intake manifold in order to improve emissions. This applies only to the 150 PS engines mounted in the Crosswagon Q4. Until 2005, none of the diesel Alfa Romeo 156 cars had swirl flaps.
There are two types of intake manifolds that were used in the JTD and MultiJet engines. Luckily, the 1.9 JTD 16v in the Alfa Romeo 156 has the safer aluminium manifold with plastic swirl flaps. These rarely fall off, unlike the metal ones that sometimes get detached and ingested by the engine.
In these engines, the swirl flap bearings wear out when the carbon build-up in the intake manifold becomes severe (it will eventually). Once the bearings are worn, they may develop air leaks, allowing the boost pressure to escape. Also, the flaps can simply get stuck before the bearings wear out.
Stuck or leaking swirl flaps manifest as:
Rough engine running
Reduced fuel economy
The “Check engine” light may turn on as well
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 system (EGR) that feeds exhaust fumes back into the engine to improve emissions.
To fix the swirl flaps, a new intake manifold is required, which is fairly expensive. Another option is to remove the swirl flaps altogether, which has a minimal impact on the engine running. There are swirl flap removal kits available on the market.
Please be aware that removing the swirl flaps will increase emissions and is probably illegal – it depends on the country you live in.
2.4 JTD M-Jet 20v – worn drive shafts
The 20-valve JTD engine has an appetite for drive shafts. It seems that the General Motors drive shafts used in the 20-valve JTD cars are weaker than the Alfa Romeo ones used in the 10-valve JTD cars.
Make sure the drive shafts are in good condition in the car you are planning to buy, so you don’t get shafted. Look out for vibration when accelerating. It may be more noticeable in high gears at speeds above 50 mph.
Also, take the car to a parking lot or some other place where there is enough room to manoeuvre. Open both front windows, turn the steering wheel all the way to one direction, then do a circle. Listen for any noises coming from the CV joints.
Here’s what you don’t want to hear:
Summary or problems & additional information
As this is an Alfa Romeo, I must address the main question. Is the Alfa Romeo 156 reliable? Actually, it can be reliable apart from the fragile suspension and not-so-great 4-cylinder, petrol 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.
In 2005, the Alfa Romeo 156 was replaced by the 159 model, but the production of the Crosswagon Q4 (an AWD station wagon) continued until 2007.
All engines in the Alfa Romeo 156 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 156 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 last. I think that the V6 is a better choice.
The 2.0 JTS is Alfa Romeo’s first direct injection engine. It is based on the 2.0 Twin Spark and shares the same problems plus a couple new ones. Again, the V6 is a much better choice.
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 156 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 Alfa Romeo 156 1.9 JTD was the world’s first Common Rail passenger car. The JTD is a Fiat’s engine, and both the 1.9L 8v and 2.4 JTD 10v are reliable.
The 1.9L 16v and 2.4L 20v JTD MultiJet engines are also good but do not forget to replace the timing belt in these engines. Also, watch out for worn out drive shafts in the case of 2.4 JTD 20v engines.
The Alfa Romeo 156 JTD cars do not have diesel particulate filters, nor swirl flaps (excluding the Crosswagon Q4, which from late 2005 was fitted with swirl flaps).
The Alfa Romeo 156 changed its looks quite significantly after the second facelift in 2003. Below is what the original version looks like.
Alfa Romeo 156 specifications
This section contains Alfa Romeo 156 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
|1.6 Twin Spark 16v||1598 cm³ / 97.5 cu in||120 PS / 88 kW||144 Nm / 106 lbf⋅ft||1997-2005|
|1.8 Twin Spark 16v||1747 cm³ / 106.6 cu in||144 PS / 106 kW||169 Nm / 125 lbf⋅ft||Until 2000|
|1.8 Twin Spark 16v||1747 cm³ / 106.6 cu in||140 PS / 103 kW||163 Nm / 120 lbf⋅ft||2000-2005|
|2.0 Twin Spark 16v||1970 cm³ / 120.2 cu in||155 PS / 114 kW||187 Nm / 138 lbf⋅ft||Until 2000|
|2.0 Twin Spark 16v||1970 cm³ / 120.2 cu in||150 PS / 110 kW||181 Nm / 133 lbf⋅ft||2000-2002|
|2.0 JTS 16v||1970 cm³ / 120.2 cu in||165 PS / 121 kW||206 Nm / 152 lbf⋅ft||2002-2005|
|2.5 V6 24v||2492 cm³ / 152.1 cu in||190 PS / 140 kW||222 Nm / 164 lbf⋅ft||Until 2000|
|2.5 V6 24v||2492 cm³ / 152.1 cu in||192 PS / 141 kW||218 Nm / 161 lbf⋅ft||2000-2005|
|GTA (3.2 V6 24v)||3179 cm³ / 194 cu in||250 PS / 184 kW||300 Nm / 221 lbf⋅ft||2002-2005|
Diesel engines – specs & performance figures
|1.9 JTD||1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in||105 PS / 77 kW||255 Nm / 188 lbf⋅ft||1997-2000, 8-valve "UniJet" engine, world's first Common Rail passenger car|
|1.9 JTD||1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in||110 PS / 81 kW||275 Nm / 203 lbf⋅ft||2000-2001, 8-valve "UniJet" engine|
|1.9 JTD||1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in||115 PS / 85 kW||275 Nm / 203 lbf⋅ft||2001-2005, 8-valve "UniJet" engine|
|1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v||1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in||140 PS / 103 kW||305 Nm / 225 lbf⋅ft||2002-2005, 16-valve "MultiJet" engine|
|1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v||1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in||150 PS / 110 kW||305 Nm / 225 lbf⋅ft||2004-2007, 16-valve "MultiJet" engine, Sportwagon and Crosswagon Q4 only|
|2.4 JTD||2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in||136 PS / 100 kW||304 Nm / 224 lbf⋅ft||1997-2000, 10-valve "UniJet" engine|
|2.4 JTD||2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in||140 PS / 103 kW||304 Nm / 224 lbf⋅ft||2000-2002, 10-valve "UniJet" engine|
|2.4 JTD||2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in||150 PS / 110 kW||305 Nm / 225 lbf⋅ft||2002-2003, 10-valve "UniJet" engine|
|2.4 JTD M-Jet 20v||2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in||175 PS / 129 kW||385 Nm / 284 lb-ft||2003-2005, 20-valve "MultiJet" engine|
Petrol engines – technical details
|Engine||Engine config.||Forced induction||Valve timing||Fuel delivery||DMF||Inlet flaps|
|Legend:||DOHC - Double Overhead Camshaft
VVT - Variable Valve Timing
EFI - Electronic Fuel Injection
JTS - "Jet Stoichiometric Thrust"
DMF - Dual-mass Flywheel (does not apply to auto. transmissions with torque converters)
VLIM - Variable Length Intake Manifold
|Twin Spark||Inline-4, 16 valves||No||Timing belt, DOHC, VVT||Port injection (EFI)||Yes||VLIM (not in the 1.6L)|
|2.0 JTS||Inline-4, 16 valves||No||Timing belt, DOHC, VVT||Direct injection (JTS)||Yes||VLIM|
|2.5L & 3.2L V6 24v "Busso"||V6, 24 valves||No||Timing belt, DOHC||Port injection (EFI)||Yes||No|
Diesel engines – technical details
|Engine||Engine config.||Forced induction||Valve timing||Injection system||DMF||DPF||Swirl 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 JTD||Inline-4, 8 valves||Turbo||Timing belt, SOHC||Common Rail (1st gen, "UniJet")||Yes||No||No|
|1.9 JTD M-Jet 16v||Inline-4, 16 valves||Turbo||Timing belt, DOHC||Common Rail (2nd gen, "MultiJet")||Yes||No||From mid-2005 (Crosswagon Q4)|
|2.4 JTD||Inline-5, 10 valves||Turbo||Timing belt, SOHC||Common Rail (1st gen, "UniJet")||Yes||No||No|
|2.4 JTD M-Jet 20v||Inline-5, 20 valves||Turbo||Timing belt, DOHC||Common Rail (2nd gen, "MultiJet")||Yes||No||No|
Alfa Romeo 156 wheel sizes
Press the button below to see the original equipment manufactuer (OEM) rim & tyres sizes for the Alfa Romeo 156. These are the original wheel sizes that were fitted by the manufacturer.
|Tyres||Rims||Centre Bore||Bolt Pattern||Comments|
|185/65 R15||6Jx15 ET37.5||58.1 mm||5x98||Steel rims|
|185/65 R15 or 205/60 R15||6.5Jx15 ET41.5||58.1 mm||5x98|
|205/55 R16||6.5Jx16 ET41.5||58.1 mm||5x98|
|215/45 R17||7JX17 ET40.5||58.1 mm||5x98|
|225/45 R17||7.5Jx17 ET35||58.1 mm||5x98||3.2 GTA, these wheels also fit other 156 models|
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