Alfa Romeo 159 (Type 939: 2005-2011)

Used, black Alfa Romeo 159 on OEM alloy wheels.

 

Reliability & common problems

This section covers the potential reliability issues that you might have with the Alfa Romeo 159. Click on the buttons below to read more about the typical problems that fall outside the scope of routine maintenance.

M32 gearbox bearings

The 1.75 TBi, 1.9 JTS2.2 JTS and 1.9 JTDm engines are paired with the infamous M32 gearbox in the Alfa Romeo 159. A typical problem with this 6-speed transmission is bearing wear. In particular, the 6th gear bearing.

When this bearing starts wearing out, the gearbox becomes noisy when driving in 6th and 5th gear. If not fixed, this problem leads to total gearbox failure (a hole in the gearbox).

The M32 transmission is used in so many vehicles, and bearing failure is so common in high-mileage cars, that I’ve dedicated a full page to the M32 transmission.

Follow the link above to learn more about the symptoms of bearing failure, the solution to the problem and how much it costs to fix a dying M32 gearbox.

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 Alfa Romeo 159. 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.

Power steering issues

There have been cases of prematurely worn-out steering racks and power steering pumps in the Alfa Romeo 159 and the Brera. The reasons for these problems are twofold.

First, the early power steering reservoirs had a problematic non-return valve inside that may cause the oil to froth. This is a problem because the power steering pump cannot operate correctly with air in the system – it becomes noisy. The reservoir was later updated to fix this issue.

Second, the red GI/E power steering fluid filled by the factory in the first years of production was later deemed not up to the job. In 2009, the fluid was changed to green GI/R oil. This is a bit of a controversial topic as there is a lot of conflicting information. For a while, even the Alfa Romeo dealers did not know which fluid was the right one.

A whining power steering pump can often be cured by just replacing the reservoir and changing the power steering fluid to the green GI/R oil.

There is a catch though – the green fluid is thinner than the red one. There have been cases of steering racks developing leaks after switching to the green fluid – this applies mainly to high mileage cars that had been filled with the red fluid for some time.

To improve your odds of not having to replace the steering rack or the power steering pump:

  • Look for a 2009 or newer car, and make sure it has the green GI/R fluid in it

  • Pay extra attention to any issues related to the power steering. The typical symptoms of steering rack or pump failure are:

    • pump whine – most noticeable when turning the steering wheel at low speeds or at standstill (check this twice – with a cold and a hot engine)

    • creaking and knocking noises when turning at low speeds

    • fluid leaks from the steering rack

    • play in the steering wheel or notchy steering wheel movement

    • loose steering feel

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 159, 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.

1.9 JTS & 2.2 JTS – timing chain wear

The 4-cylinder JTS engines are based on the General Motors Z22SE engine. Alfa Romeo modernized this engine by fitting it with variable valve timing and direct fuel injection called “Jet Thrust Stoichiometric”.

The problem here is that GM’s Z22SE engines had a bad reputation for snapping timing chains. Vauxhall/Opel improved that engine in 2002 by updating the oil feed nozzle that lubricates the timing chains.

The original nozzle had a 1 mm internal hole, which would quickly get clogged up. Clogged oil spray nozzle = no timing chain lubrication. The updated, post-2002 nozzle had a 4 mm internal passage, which reduced the likelihood of oil starvation.

Later, the Z22SE received direct petrol injection and became Opel/Vauxhall’s first direct injection engine. The updated engine was called the Z22YH and was used in a few Opel/Vauxhall cars, for example, the Zafira B (which is known for catching fire, by the way).

So, how is this all related to the 1.9 and 2.2 JTS?

When the Alfa Romeo 159 was on the drawing board, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and General Motors were one big corporation. Alfa Romeo decided to leverage their synergies by using GM’s engine designs. However, it seems they leveraged the wrong ones…

In other words, the Alfa Romeo JTS engines are back to the 1 mm oil feed nozzle. So much for value-added decision making. The 1.9-litre and 2.2-litre JTS engines share the same engine block, so this applies to both of them.

On top of that, the oil change interval in the Alfa Romeo engines is 18,000 or 21,000 miles, which is far too long as there is bound to be some sludge build-up and oil degradation after so many miles.

The result is a timing chain that can wear out as early as 20,000 miles in the worst case. Best case? Maybe 100,000 miles.

The saving grace of the 1.9 and 2.2 JTS engines is that the camshaft position sensors can usually detect a worn-out timing chain before it stretches to the point where it becomes dangerous. Typically, the first indication of a stretched chain is the “Check Engine” light and camshaft position errors stored in car’s memory (most commonly P0016).

The second symptom of a stretched timing chain is noise. Here’s more about timing chains and how to do a basic timing chain check.

I can’t recommend the 1.9 and 2.2 JTS engines (nor the M32 gearbox attached to them), but if you are hell-bent on getting a car with one, here’s what you could do:

  • Use a good quality synthetic oil and replace it every 10,000 miles or yearly, whichever comes first.

  • Imagine that the car has a timing belt instead of a chain – by adjusting your expectations you’ll be less pissed off when the timing chains start acting up. Replace the oil feed nozzle with the updated one when you replace the timing chains.

  • Buy a car that had the chains and oil feed nozzle recently replaced, so that you don’t have to pay for it yourself.

3.2 JTS – timing chain stretch

The 3.2 JTS (“Jet Thrust Stoichiometric”) is a direct injection engine based on the General Motors “High Feature” engine. The same engine block is used in a whole bunch of cars: Vauxhall, Opel, Holden, Saab, Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn and Daewoo. There is one thing that potentially affects many of these cars, and it is premature timing chain wear.

There are three timing chains in this engine and there have been cases of these chains stretching, which affects camshaft timing. The chains will have to be replaced at some point, either under your ownership or someone else’s. Typically, premature chain wear comes from poor lubrication, design flaws or material issues.

“Premature” and “poor lubrication” – I’m not sure if I like where this is heading…

What I do know for sure is that the timing chain system in this engine is complex – much more so than in a 4-cylinder engine. That’s why timing chain replacement in the Alfa Romeo 159 3.2 JTS is expensive.

I think it’s a materials issue, aggravated by long oil change intervals that makes the timing chains in the 3.2 JTS engines stretch. Opel/Vauxhall updated the timing chains in 2010 to improve their longevity (Technical Service Bulletin 2895).

I believe the 3.2 JTS has not been updated as I could not find any evidence that it was. The production of the Alfa Romeo 159 stopped in 2011, which is soon after Vauxhall/Opel implemented their fix.

The timing chain wear symptoms in a second-hand Alfa Romeo 159 3.2 JTS include:

  • engine misfire and rough idle

  • intermittent “Check Engine” light

  • error codes P0016, P0017 or P0018 stored in the car’s ECU

  • rattling noises coming from the engine (chain slap) at start up (especially cold start)

  • noisy engine

  • reduced power and fuel economy

Buying a high-mileage Alfa Romeo 159 3.2 JTS is a bit risky. If anything goes wrong with the complex timing chain system, you may be left with a huge bill.

You can expect to pay over £3000 at the dealership for timing chain replacement. Timing chain issues in the 3.2 JTS are less common than in the 1.9 and 2.2 JTS, however, chain replacement is a lot more expensive.

You could potentially save some money by purchasing General Motors parts that tend to be cheaper than Alfa Romeo’s parts. If you shop around and to this job at an independent garage, you could reduce the total cost to below £2000.

As a precaution (to reduce chain wear), I recommend replacing the engine oil sooner than every 18,000 or 21,000 miles, which is what Alfa Romeo used to recommend for the 3.2 JTS engine. I’d say 10,000 miles is a safe interval for this engine. It’s cheap insurance when you compare the cost of a few extra oil changes with the cost of timing chains replacement.

If you are looking to buy a car with the 3.2 JTS, try finding one whose owner has been changing the oil more often than the service manual specifies and make sure there are no symptoms of timing chain stretch.

At least the chains are at the front of the engine, away from the gearbox. If this was an Audi or a Volkswagen V6 car, you’d pay even more for timing chains service because those engines have four timing chains and they are at the back of the engine.

The glass is half full.

1.9 JTDm 16v & 2.4 JTDm 20v – 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 JTDm 20v is the same as in the 1.9 JTDm 16v, so both engines are affected.

1.9 JTDm 16v & 2.4 JTDm 20v – swirl flaps

The 1.9 JTDm 16v and 2.4 JTDm 20v engines are fitted with swirl flaps in the intake manifold in order to improve emissions. This does not apply to the 1.9 JTDm 8v engines.

Two types of intake manifolds were used in the Alfa Romeo 159 JTDm cars. Here’s a brief description of the manifolds and how they can fail:

1.9 JTDm 16v cars produced since 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.

 

1.9 JTDm 16v cars produced before late-2006 and all 2.4 JTDm 20v cars: 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 159 1.9 JTDm 16v, 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, 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.

2.4 JTDm – worn drive shafts

The 20-valve JTDm engine has an appetite for drive shafts. It seems that the General Motors drive shafts used in the 20-valve JTDm cars don’t last as long the Alfa Romeo ones used in the older 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

  • The Alfa Romeo 159 is based on the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Brera. You can think of the Brera as a coupé version of the 159. Fun fact: the Brera and the 159 front bumpers can be swapped.

  • The suspension in the Alfa Romeo 159 is more durable than it was in the previous generation of Alfa Romeo cars such as the 156 model.

  • There have been cases of prematurely worn-out steering racks and power steering pumps in the Alfa Romeo 159. To avoid problems, look for a 2009 or newer car, and make sure it has the green GI/R power steering fluid in it.

  • The 1.75 TBi, 1.9 JTS2.2 JTS and 1.9 JTDm engines are mated to the infamous M32 gearbox. A typical problem with this 6-speed transmission is bearing wear. In particular, the 6th gear bearing.

  • I don’t recommend buying a used Alfa Romeo 159 with the Selespeed transmission. It’s not something you want to own outside of warranty.

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

  • The 1.9 JTS, 2.2 JTS and 3.2 JTS engines are fitted with timing chains. The other engines have timing belts. The timing belts turned out to be a better solution in the Alfa Romeo 159 because all JTS engines are prone to premature timing chain wear, especially the 1.9 JTS and 2.2 JTS. Here’s more about timing chains and how to do a basic timing chain check.

  • The 1.75 Tbi has a good reputation and no major flaws, however, it’s not a common engine so finding one might take some time. The main drawback of the 1.75 TBi is that it’s mated to the M32 gearbox.

  • In my opinion, the 1.9 JTS and 2.2 JTS are the worst choices because of the timing chain problems and chocolate bearings in the gearbox. Not to mention that they don’t sound as nice as the V6 or even the inline-5 JTDm engine.

  • The 1.8 MPI (also known as the Z18XER) may be a boring engine, however, it is the cheapest one to maintain. If you like the looks of the Alfa Romeo 159 but don’t want to spend money fixing it, the 1.8 MPI is for you: no dual-mass flywheel, no turbocharger, no EGR, no DPF, no swirl flaps, no stretching timing chains and a decent 5-speed gearbox. Just make sure the 1.8 MPI doesn’t sound like a diesel after a cold start (a worn-out VVT phaser).

  • Fiat’s 1.9-litre and 2.4-litre JTDm engines are good but have a few flaws. The most important thing to know is that all 1.9 16v and 2.4 20v JTDm 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 1.9 JTDm 16v engines received plastic intake manifolds with stainless steel flaps inside. These may break off and wreck your engine.

  • Also, I think that the original timing belt replacement intervals are too optimistic for the 1.9 JTDm 16v and 2.4 JTDm 20v engines.

  • The 2.0 JTDm 16v is an evolution of the 1.9 JTDm 16v. It’s a better choice than the 1.9 JTDm 16v because it’s mated to a stronger gearbox (F40 instead of the M32), and the swirl flap design is much better. The things that could go wrong are the same as for other modern diesel engines.

 

Alfa Romeo 159 specifications

This section contains Alfa Romeo 159 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
1750 TBi 16v1742 cm³ / 106.3 cu in200 PS / 147 kW320 Nm / 236 lbf⋅ftFrom 2009
1.8 MPI 16v1796 cm³ / 109.6 cu in140 PS / 103 kW175 Nm / 129 lbf⋅ftUntil 2010
1.9 JTS 16v1859 cm³ / 113.4 cu in160 PS / 118 kW190 Nm / 140 lbf⋅ftUntil 2009
2.2 JTS 16v2198 cm³ / 134.1 cu in185 PS / 136 kW230 Nm / 170 lbf⋅ftUntil 2009
3.2 JTS V6 24v3195 cm³ / 195.0 cu in260 PS / 191 kW322 Nm / 237 lbf⋅ftUntil 2010

Diesel engines – specs & performance figures

ModelDisplacementPowerTorqueComments
1.9 JTDm 8v1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in 120 PS / 88 kW280 Nm / 206 lbf⋅ftUntil 2010
1.9 JTDm 16v1910 cm³ / 116.6 cu in 150 PS / 110 kW320 Nm / 236 lbf⋅ftUntil 2010
2.0 JTDm 16v1956 cm³ / 119.4 cu in136 PS / 100 kW350 Nm / 258 lbf⋅ft2009-2011
2.0 JTDm 16v1956 cm³ / 119.4 cu in170 PS / 125 kW360 Nm / 265 lbf⋅ft2009-2011
2.4 JTDm 20v2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in200 PS / 147 kW400 Nm / 295 lbf⋅ftUntil 2010
2.4 JTDm 20v2387 cm³ / 145.7 cu in210 PS / 154 kW400 Nm / 295 lbf⋅ft2007-2010

Petrol engines – technical details

EngineEngine config.Forced inductionValve timingFuel deliveryDMFInlet 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
1.8 MPI 16vInline-4, 16 valvesNoTiming belt, DOHC, VVTPort injection (EFI)NoVLIM
1750 TBi 16vInline-4, 16 valvesTurboTiming belt, DOHC, VVTDirect injectionYesNo
1.9 & 2.2 JTS 16vInline-4, 16 valvesNoTiming chain, DOHC, VVTDirect injection (JTS)YesNo
3.2 JTS V6 24vV6, 24 valvesNoTiming chain, DOHC, VVTDirect injection (JTS)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 JTDm 8vInline-4, 8 valvesTurboTiming belt, SOHCCommon RailYesYesNo
1.9 JTDm 16vInline-4, 16 valvesTurboTiming belt, DOHCCommon RailYesYesYes
2.0 JTDm 16vInline-4, 16 valvesTurboTiming belt, DOHCCommon RailYesYesYes
2.4 JTDm 20vInline-5, 20 valvesTurboTiming belt, DOHCCommon RailYesYesYes

 

Alfa Romeo 159 wheel sizes

Press the button below to see the original equipment manufactuer (OEM) rim & tyres sizes for the Alfa Romeo 159. These are the original wheel sizes that were fitted by the manufacturer.

TyresRims Centre BoreBolt PatternComments
205/55 or 215/55 R167Jx16 ET4165.1 mm5x110
225/50 R177.5Jx17 ET4165.1 mm5x110
235/45 R188Jx18 ET4165.1 mm5x110
235/40 R198Jx19 ET4165.1 mm5x110

 

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