2005 to 2011 Alfa Romeo 159 Buyers Guide & Common Problems

There is nothing quite like an Alfa and if you are looking for one with a bit of practicality, the 159 could be just what you are looking for. However, before you rush out and buy one there are a few things you need to know about these fantastic Italian cars, and in this buyer’s guide we hope to give you as much info as possible to make an informed decision, so you don’t wind up with a lemon.

How to Use This Alfa Romeo 159 Buyer’s Guide

This is quite a big guide that covers all models and versions of the 159, so use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To start with we will cover the history and specs of the 159. Following that we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of this article and then we will finish off with some more general car purchasing advice.

The History of the Alfa Romeo 159

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Originally, the 159 was designed to replace the 166, not the 156 like it eventually did in 2005. The car was meant to be bigger, more luxurious and was the first vehicle to be built on GM and Fiat’s “Premium Platform”. However, after GM’s top brass signalled that the new high-end platform was too expensive and the American company pulled out of the project, the 159 was scaled back to make more of a 156 successor.

Despite the reduction in scope, there was still a lot riding on the success of the 159. Alfa Romeo’s parent company, Fiat Auto, stated that they had invested around £650 million into the new elegant saloon, which meant that sales needed to be strong for the car to be a success.

A Sleek New Design

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Giorgetto Giugiaro and his team from Italdesign were put in charge of the overall styling and exterior design while Alfa Romeo’s own design team were given the job of creating the car’s interior. The new Alfa’s front end bore a striking resemblance to the Brera concept that was unveiled in 2002, which was also designed by Giugiaro and even won the Compasso d’Oro industrial design award. In fact, the reason why he reused the design was that Fiat and Alfa Romeo liked it so much they asked him to use it for future vehicles.

Compared to the outgoing 156, the 159 was bigger with a somewhat more angular, aggressive design that still remained very sophisticated and grown up. One of the main reasons for this increased size was to better appeal to buyers in the United States, although unfortunately the 159 would never be officially sold in the country.

Credit: Alfa Romeo

While the interior was completely redesigned for the 159, those that had previously owned Alfa’s would feel very much at home in the new cabin. Compared to its German competitors, the 159’s interior did not have the same executive feel, but its more attractive and intimate design garnered a lot of praise with reviewers and buyers alike at the time (and we still think it is one of the best interiors from that era). Additionally, the 159’s cabin was noticeably quieter than many of its competitors, largely thanks to the use of thicker window glass.

The interior does not have the same executive feel that Audi, for example, manages on the A4, but the 159 is intended to be anything but a copycat of Germany’s finest. The interior has a warmer atmosphere than German cars and there is an attractive intimate feel about the area around the driver. The cabin is also quieter, achieved by adding rigidity to the body and using thicker window glass.

Updated Engine Options for an Updated Car

Alfa Romeo changed up the 159’s engine lineup to better compliment the bigger, more executive car design. At launch, buyers had the option of three different petrol engines and three diesel power units.

The petrol engines consisted of the 1.9 JTS, the 2.2 JTS, and of course the most powerful motor available for the new model, the 3.2 V6 JTS with 260 PS (256 bhp / 191 kW), and 322 Nm (237 lb-ft ) of torque.

The diesel engines consisted of the smaller 1.9 JTDM (both 8V and 16V at launch), and the more powerful 2.4 JTDM with 200 PS (297 bhp / 147 kW) and 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque at 1,500 rpm.

Models equipped with the most powerful petrol and diesel engines were given large 330 mm ventilated discs at the front and 292 mm ventilated discs at the rear. The braking performance was further improved by matching the larger discs to four piston monobloc aluminium calipers at the front (rears were standard). Less powerful 159 models had to make do with smaller 305 mm ventilated discs at the front and 278 mm solid discs at the rear.

Alfa Romeo Introduces the 159 Sportwagon & 159 Ti

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The 2006 Geneva Motor Show would see the introduction of the Sportwagon version of the 159. Replacing the old 156 Sportwagon, the new 5-door estate boasted up to 445 litres of loadspace below the retractable luggage cover and up to 1,235 litres overall, significantly more than the sedan version of the car.

Along with the addition of the Sportwagon, Alfa Romeo introduced a number of changes and updates for the 2006 and 2007 159 models. The first of these was the introduction of a new six-speed Q-Tronic electronic automatic gearbox as an option for the 2.4 JTD and 3.2 V6 JTS engines. 1.9-litre diesel models received this transmission as standard, while the 2.2 JTS petrol model was given the option of a new-generation Selespeed gearbox that could be switched into “Sport” mode for those more enthusiastic driving situations.

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Some other updates included the introduction of 2.4 JTD model with four-wheel drive and all 2.4-litre diesel models also received a slight bump in power to 210 PS (207 bhp / 154 kW).

The last change for 2007 was the introduction of a sportier Ti model. The 159 Ti (Tourism International) was given sports suspension that lowers the 159 by 20 mm and also helps to provide a sharper turn-in response and less body roll. Despite this, Alfa Romeo managed to tune the suspension to provide these benefits without making it overly harsh, unlike some other sports suspension systems.

The new 159 Ti also received 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40 tyres as standard. These new wheels encompassed the Brembo calipers that were painted red to highlight the Ti’s extra performance.

To further enhance the car’s performance image Alfa Romeo fitted a subtle yet sporty body kit and burnished aluminium finish door mirrors. The inside of 159 Ti also received some attention with addition of red stitching and highlights, and the dashboard was trimmed in a unique burnished aluminium that was darkened to show of the unique red-ringed instruments. The last main visual changes included drilled aluminium sports pedals and of course a smattering of Ti badges and logos.

More Changes for 2008

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The interior was the primary focus of Alfa’s designers for the 2008 model year. most notable changes for the new 2008 models were focused primarily around the, particularly in the cockpit. Features like Titanium-coloured dashes and striking black upholstery in the Sport and TI versions were added to give them a more premium feel. The instruments on the dash were another area of focus, and a multifunctional sat-nav system was added to the centre of the dashboard. Some changes were also made to the dual-zone automatic climate control to make it a bit easier to control and use.

Improved comfort was another focus for the 2008 updates, with Alfa’s team equipping the car with wraparound ergonomic seats at both the front and rear. TI models were given sporty seats as standard, with buyers having the option of either leather or black trim. Lastly, a new rear logo with a “push” system for opening the boot was introduced.

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Mechanical wise there were two major updates. The first of which was that Alfa’s electronic “Q2” limited slip differential was included as standard. This helped to improve safety and traction. The second big mechanical update was the inclusion of a front-wheel drive version of the 3.2 V6 car that previously was only available as a four-wheel drive (Q4).

A new Sport configuration would also grace the 159 range for the 2008 model year. The new 159 Sport was given special 17-inch alloy wheels and some extra sporty design elements. On the inside, the new model was given a special steering wheel, a leather-lined gear shifter with black stitching, and sports seats with black Alfatex fabric along the sides and Floccato textile on the seat (available in black or red). The roof, luggage rack, and panelling were all finished in black, while dashes of aluminium helped to give the 159 Sport a more premium feel. The final major change for the Sport was the inclusion of sportier graphics on the display panel.

2009 Model Year

The last round of changes for the 159 would be introduced for the 2009 model year. The first major change was the addition of a new 1750 TBi model that paid homage to the much-loved Alfa 1750 Berlina. With 200 PS (197 bhp/147 kW) and 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of torque, the new turbocharged petrol 159 provided a more agile driving experience than the more powerful 3.2 V6 variant. The 1750 TBi would also eventually take the place of the older 2.2 JTS power unit, with its greater engine power and lower CO2 emissions.

Performance wise the 1750 TBi 159 could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in around 7.7 seconds and go on to a top speed of 236 km/h (147 mph). Alfa Romeo also tuned the engine to better perform during overtaking and long-distance driving. It could go from 40 to 100 km/h (25 to 62 mph) in fifth gear in just over 11 seconds and 60 to 100 km/h (37 to 62 mph) in sixth took just under 9 seconds.

The second major change was the introduction of a new diesel model powered by Alfa Romeo’s new 2.0 JTDM. While the new engine wasn’t as powerful as the range topping 2.4 JTDM, it’s output was still fairly respectable at 170 PS (168 bhp/125 kW) and 360 Nm (266 lb-ft) of torque. This helped propel the new diesel 159 from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in around 8.8 seconds.

The last updates for 2009 included five new trim levels: Turismo, Turismo Sport, Elegante, Lusso, and TI. Turismo Sport offered sporty enhancements like 17-inch sport alloy wheels, Blue&Me technology, sports seat cloth, a sports leather steering wheel with audio controls, and sports dials. The Elegante trim option was much the same as the Turismo, but with some additional features such as rear parking sensors, a visibility pack, and luxury Alfatex interior.

Alfa Romeo 159 Specifications

Petrol

Model1.9 JTS2.2 JTS3.2 V6 JTS1.8 MPi1750 TBi
Years2005 – 20072005 – 20102005 – 20112007 – 20112009 – 2011
LayoutFront-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, all-wheel drive (Q4) or front-wheel drive (2008 model year onwards)Front-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/Engines1.9 JTS – 1,859 cc, Inline 42.2 JTS – 2,198 cc, Inline 43.2 JTS – 3,195 cc, V61.8 MPi – 1,796 cc, Inline 41750 TBi (1.75 TBi) – 1,742 cc, Inline 4
Power160 PS (118 kW / 158 bhp)185 PS (136 kW / 182 bhp)260 PS (191 kW / 256 bhp) – FSE140 PS (103 kW / 138 bhp)200 PS (147 kW / 197 bhp)
Torque190 Nm (140 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm230 Nm (170 lb-ft) at 4,500 rpm322 Nm (237 lb-ft) at 3,800 rpm175 Nm (129 lb-ft) at 3,800 rpm320 Nm (236 lb-ft) at 1,400 rpm
Gearbox6-speed manual6-speed manual 6-speed Selespeed6-speed manual 6-speed Q-Tronic5-speed manual6-speed manual  
Suspension FrontDouble wishboneDouble wishboneDouble wishboneDouble wishboneDouble wishbone
Suspension RearMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-link
Brakes FrontFront – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 330 mm ventilated discs with Brembo four piston monobloc calipers (Red on Ti)Front – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 330 mm ventilated discs with Brembo four piston monobloc calipers (Red on Ti)
Brakes RearRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 292 mm ventilated discs with two piston calipersRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 292 mm ventilated discs with two piston calipers
Weight (curb)1,455 Kg (3,208 lbs)1,465 kg (3,230 lbs)1,655 kg (3,649 lbs)1,385 kg (3,053 lbs)1,505 kg (3,318 lbs)
Top speed214 km/h (133 mph)224 km/h (139 mph)244 km/h (151 mph) – Q4 250 km/h (155 mph) – FWD208 km/h (129 mph)235 km/h (146 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)9.5 seconds8.7 sec7.0 seconds – Q4 7.1 seconds – FWD10.2 seconds7.7 seconds

Diesel

Model1.9 JTDm 8V1.9 JTDm 16V2.0 JTDm2.4 JTDm
Years2005 – 20102005 – 20102009 – 20112005 – 2011
LayoutFront-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, front-wheel driveFront-engine, front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (Q4)
Engine/Engines1.9 JTDm 8V – 1,910 cc, Inline 41.9 JTDm 16V – 1,910 cc, Inline 42.0 JTDm – 1,956 cc, Inline 42.4 JTDm – 2,387 cc, Inline 5
Power120 PS (88 kW / 118 bhp)150 PS (110  kW / 148 bhp)170 PS (191 kW / 256 bhp) – FSE200 PS (147 kW / 197 bhp) 210 PS (154 kW / 207 bhp) from 2006
Torque280 Nm (207 lb-ft) at 2,000 rpm320 Nm (236 lb-ft) at 2,000 rpm360 Nm (266 lb-ft) at 1,750 rpm400 Nm (295 lb-ft) at 1,500 rpm
Gearbox6-speed manual6-speed manual 6-speed Q-Tronic6-speed manual 6-speed Q-Tronic6-speed manual 6-speed Q-Tronic
Suspension FrontDouble wishboneDouble wishboneDouble wishboneDouble wishbone
Suspension RearMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-link
Brakes FrontFront – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 305 mm ventilated with discsFront – 330 mm ventilated discs with Brembo four piston monobloc calipers
Brakes RearRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 278 mm solid discsRear – 292 mm ventilated discs with two piston calipers
Weight (curb)1,555 Kg (3,428 lbs)1,510 kg (3,329 lbs)1,565 kg (3,450 lbs)1,605 kg (3,538 lbs)
Top speed193 km/h (120 mph)212 km/h (131 mph)218 km/h (135 mph)231 km/h (143 mph) – 210 PS
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)10.7 seconds9.2 sec8.8 seconds8.1 seconds – 210 PS

Alfa Romeo 159 Buyer’s Guide

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Now that we have got all that out of the way, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying an Alfa Romeo 159.

As with most inspections of cars produced after the year 2000 or so, we highly recommend bringing along an OBD2 scanner like this one from BlueDriver. These sort of scanners allow you to scan and read fault codes on a vehicle, which could potentially uncover serious faults with the car you’re examining. There is a wide variety of OBD2 scanners available, and we have thoroughly reviewed several models on our website, including the Autophix 3210Fixed Scanner, and the BlueDriver Pro.

Setting Up an Inspection of an Alfa 159

Try to physically inspect any Alfa 159 you are thinking of buying in person before handing over any cash – While buying without physically inspecting a vehicle first has become more popular, we still recommend that you try and examine a car yourself first before handing over any money. If you can’t do that, we recommend that you get a reliable friend or third-party to do so for you.

Take somebody with you to look at a 159 – Another suggestion we have is to have a friend or helper accompany you during the inspection. Having another person present means there will be an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands to spot any potential issues that might otherwise go unnoticed if you just do the inspection yourself. Additionally, your friend/helper can offer their perspective on the Alfa Romeo 159 you’re examining and give you their thoughts on whether or not they think it is a good buy.

View the Alfa 159 at the seller’s home or place of business – It can also be a good idea to inspect a used vehicle at the seller’s residence or place of business (dealership for example). This can give you some info on the car’s typical storage, parking, and usage conditions. If the Alfa 159 you are interested in is stored outdoors on the street there is a higher chance of it developing bodywork issues such as, rust, leaks, and other related problems. Another thing we recommend that you do is to check the condition of the roads where the car is located. If these roads are rough or filled with potholes, pay extra attention to the wheels, tyres, suspension, and other relevant components, as there might be an increased likelihood of premature wear or damage.

Inspect the vehicle in the morning rather than later in the day – This isn’t something you have to do, but by inspecting a used car in the morning it gives the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak.

Ask the seller not to drive or warm up their Alfa Romeo 159 prior to your arrival – A warm engine can hide a number of different problems, so it is best to inspect a used 159 when the engine is cold.

Don’t tell a dealer you want to view a particular car before your arrival – Giving a dealer advanced noticed that you intend to inspect a specific vehicle can give them additional time to address or clean up any potential issues. However, this may not always be possible and will depend on how the dealer operates.

Try to avoid inspecting a used Alfa Romeo 159 in the rain – Water can cover up a number of bodywork and paint problems, which is why we recommend that you go back for a second viewing if it is raining during your first inspection. A second inspection under dry conditions may help reveal any hidden issues with the Alfa 159 that might have been temporarily concealed by water on the bodywork.

Get the car in direct sunlight if possible – Ask the seller to move their Alfa Romeo 159 outside if it’s being kept in a garage or showroom, as indoor lighting can cover up defects that are be visible in natural sunlight.

Buying an Alfa Romeo 159 with Significant Problems

Generally, we recommend that you avoid buying any used Alfa Romeo 159 with significant problems and just go with the cleanest example possible. However, if you understand what the problems are and you can find out roughly how much cash you will need to fix them, buying a used 159 with issues can sometimes be a good way to get one at a bargain price.

It is important to keep in mind that problems you uncover may be more extensive and expensive to repair than initially estimated, so it is a good idea to add a significant percent to any repair quote you get.

What is the Best Version of the Alfa Romeo 159?

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The 1750 TBi, 3.2 V6, and the diesel 2.4 JTDm are generally considered to be the best models in the range. Obviously, purchasing a diesel version of the 159 is less attractive for many buyers today given the extra taxes that have been (or are being) introduced on them in many places/cities across. If your area does not have extra taxes on diesels, the 2.4 and especially the 1.9 can be better for those looking for a bit of fuel savings. However, keep in mind that many owners find that the 1.9 can be a bit unrefined.

If you need a bit more practicality the Sportwagon (estate) models are probably the ones to go for and in our opinion they are the better looking as well (we understand that looks are subjective though).

For those deciding between a FWD or Q4 (4WD) we would base our decision first on condition and then how the wheels are driven. Front-wheel drive versions of the 159 tend to accelerate a bit quicker in ideal conditions as they are lighter and have lower transmission loses (however, they can be slower if things are slippery). When you get to some twisty corners the Q4 tends to be better as FWD versions can be a bit less enjoyable due to more of their weight being at the front.

If you are looking for a the most collectible versions of the 159 we would argue that the 3.2 V6 Q4 (either sedan or Sportwagon) and TI models are probably the ones to get.

What is the Most Reliable Alfa Romeo 159 to Buy?

We are going to discuss common problems in just a moment, but we thought we would give you a quick rundown of what the most reliable version of the 159 is. Of course, the reliability of a 159 will depend on a number of different factors, but generally the 2.0 JTDm, 2.4 JTDm, 1.75 TBi, and the 3.2 JTS are the most reliable engines (probably the diesel models more so than the petrol ones).

The 1.9 JTDm and the 2.2 JTS are considered by many to be the least reliable of all the Alfa Romeo 159 models, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get some good mileage out of these cars (especially if they have been maintained well).

Checking the VIN/Frame Number

It is always a good idea to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or chassis number on any Alfa Romeo 159 you go to inspect. The VIN can usually be used to gather a bit of information about a particular car like when it was manufactured, what engine it has, etc. It can also be fed into a checker service or website that may be able to tell you if the car has been written off at any point.

Where can I find the VIN on a 2005 to 2011 Alfa Romeo 159?

You should be able to find the VIN in the following locations:

  • Etched into the original windscreen if it still has it
  • Embossed under the access plate in the front foot well
  • Registration certificate/documents in many locations around the world

Engine

Credit: Alfa Romeo

While the Alfa Romeo 159 is not known to be as reliable as something like a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, many owners have managed to hit some very big mileages in their cars. However, the reliability of a 159 will depend massively on how it has been maintained, so if you suspect that the car you are looking at hasn’t been looked after well, be very cautious. In this section we are going to look at what you need to watch out for when it comes to the engine.

Starting Your Inspection

Check that the bonnet/hood opens smoothy and that the struts hold it up fine. It’s not a terrible problem if the struts do need to be replaced, but it is always something you can always use when trying to get a discount.

We also recommend that you have a look at the hinges and catch for any signs that they have been replaced, as this may indicate that the vehicle has been in some sort of accident or had another kind of issue.

Don’t be fooled by a spotless looking engine as this could be a sign of an owner who has washed it to cover up a problem such as an oil leak. On the other hand, a really dirty engine bay could be a sign that the Alfa 159 has been owned by somebody who hasn’t cared for it well.

Do a quick general check for any obvious issues or modifications. If you notice something like a huge oil leak straight away, we probably wouldn’t waste any more time on the vehicle and would thank the seller for their time and move on. 

Checking the Fluids

Make sure you check the car’s fluids. If you notice that the engine oil, coolant, etc. are in a bad way it suggests that the 159 hasn’t been maintained properly.

Black sludge can indicate that the oil hasn’t been changed in a while. It can also be caused by excessive idling and/or numerous short trips, environmental contaminants, hot spots in the engine, and more. Alfa Romeo 159s that suffer from this problem are more likely to experience excessive oil consumption, lower oil pressure, and possibly even louder running or strange tapping/clicking noises.

Be on the lookout for metallic particles and/or grit in the engine oil. While very tiny metal shavings in the oil are often quite normal, they aren’t normally visible to the naked eye, so if you can clearly see them in the 159’s engine oil there is probably an issue. Larger metallic particles and grit can indicate a more serious issue like contamination, bearing failure, and much more (probably best to walk away if you notice this sort of problem).

Make sure you check for foaming, frothy, or milky-looking oil as well, as this could indicate a very serious issue like head gasket failure. This sort of problem may also be the result of overfilling or condensation in the oil. If the cause is from overfilling, the bubbly/foamy oil generally won’t be discoloured, whereas if contamination has occurred due to a leaking gasket or cracked block, the foam will generally be lighter in colour.

If you are really keen on a particular 159 and want to make sure it is in the best condition possible, it can be a good idea to get the car’s oil analysed prior to purchase. Some dealers and sellers may have already got a test done prior to listing their Alfa Romeo, but this is very much the exception and not the norm (we have only ever seen it a couple of times during our many years of looking at used cars).

How Often Should the Engine Oil Be Changed on an Alfa Rome 159?

It is important to check how often the car has been serviced. Alfa Romeo originally recommended an interval of every 30,000 km (18,000 miles) or every 24 months for the engine oil and filter. However, most owners and experts think this interval is a bit too long and recommend a change ever 15,000 km (9,000 miles) or every 12 months.

Also check with the seller/owner to see what oil they use in their Alfa 159 as well. Using the wrong oil can lead to complications down the track, so check our 159 oil service guide for full details on oil weights, amounts, filters, etc.

If you find out that the 159 you are looking at hasn’t been serviced properly we would be cautious. This is because poor servicing is almost always one of the main causes of car issues, so try to find an Alfa 159 with good service records.  

What Are Some Common Oil Leaks on a Alfa 159 to Look Out For?

Valve/timing/rocker cover leak – This is something to watch out for on all models and is usually caused by a bad gasket (may also be caused by a bad sealing job as well). Most of the time the leak should be little more than a weep, so if it seems more serious we would be cautious.

Dipstick seal leak – This is especially common on the 2.0 JTDm and other diesel versions of the Alfa Romeo 159, however, it can happen on petrol models as well. Luckily, the seal isn’t too expensive to source and the job while annoying isn’t terribly difficult to do.

Oil temperature sensor inside the sump – The O-ring for this tends to go bad overtime, leading to a very slow leak. This isn’t usually too much of a problem as the leak is so slow and it may not be worth fixing if it isn’t causing too much trouble.

Oil heat exchange O-ring – A leak from this O-ring usually appears around the front right side of the engine and can be quite messy. This problem seems to be more of an issue on 2.2 JTS models.

Around the intake manifold – This can be a sign of the dreaded swirl flap issue (more on it later in this section).

Does the Alfa Romeo 159 Have a Timing Belt or Chain?

This depends on what model 159 you are looking at. Essentially, all the models except for the ones with a JTS engine have a timing belt (as you can see from the table below):

EngineYear RangeTiming Belt or Chain
1.75 TBi2009-2011Timing belt
1.82007-2010Timing belt
1.9 JTS2005-2007Timing chain
2.2 JTS2005-2010Timing chain
3.2 V6 JTS2005-2010Timing chain
1.9 JTDM 8V2005-2010Timing belt
1.9 JTDM 16V2005-2010Timing belt
2.0 JTDM 16V2009-2011Timing belt
2.4 JTDM2005-2010Timing belt

Checking to Make Sure the Timing Belt is in Good Condition

A belt failure can lead to some pretty catastrophic consequences on a 159, so it is important to check that the one you are looking at has had regular changes. While Alfa Romeo originally specified longer intervals of every 105,000 – 120,000 km or every 5 – 6 years (depending on the model), most experts and owners recommended a much earlier change every 60,000 km (40,000 miles) or every 4 years. The reason for this earlier recommended interval is because of the severity of what can happen if a belt or tensioner fails, and because Alfa Romeo was too generous with intervals on many of its previous generation cars (particularly the 159, 147, etc.).

If you find out that the owner hasn’t kept up with timing belt changes or it is currently overdue, we would be very cautious. Not only is it a big risk if the belt/tensioner fails, but if they haven’t even bothered to service such an important component correctly, it shows that the owner probably doesn’t look after their car and you should be seriously questioning how the rest of the 159 has been maintained.

It is often recommended that you replace the water pump with the timing belt just in case, so check to see when the pump has last been changed on the 159 you are inspecting.

Timing Chain Problems (Especially the 2.2 JTS)

While it is often said that timing chains should last the lifetime of the engine, this isn’t often the case for the 2.2 JTS 159s. A whole load of 2.2 JTS owners have experienced stretched timing chains, and unfortunately, replacing the chain and other related timing components is usually quite expensive.

Common symptoms of a stretched timing chain on an Alfa Romeo 159 include an illuminated engine warning/management light, a strange rattling noise (especially on startup), and even power loss in more serious cases.

The 1.9 and 3.2 JTS models are far less susceptible to this problem, however, it is still worth checking for it as it can still happen on these cars. Another thing to keep in mind is that a 159 that has not been serviced correctly will be more susceptible to timing chain issues as the engine oil lubricates the chain.

Swirl Flaps (diesel 159s)

The dreaded swirl flap issue is a much talked about problem with 1.9 JTDm owners and to a lesser extent, 2.4 JTDm owners. Swirl flaps are small plates that are fitted to the intake manifold, covering the cylinder head intake ports. On early 1.9 models (first six months or so of production) the manifold is made of aluminium with an external link/flap bar that runs along the top. On the other hand, later 1.9 JTDms were given a plastic manifold with stainless steel flaps and internal controls. The 2.4 JTDm was different again with plastic swirl flaps and an aluminium intake manifold.

The early 1.9 JTDm engines tend to cause the most trouble as the link bar often becomes detached due to wear on the ball joints. If there is a problem with the swirl flaps you may notice rough idle, increased fuel usage, excessive smoke, poor startup, and a loose link bar.

On later 1.9 JTDm 159s with plastic manifolds the metal flaps can cause even more issues as they break away and get ingested into the engine. This can cause catastrophic engine damage, so it is generally recommended that you do a flap delete/removal as soon as possible. This can reduce performance and fuel efficiency slightly (especially lower in the rev range), but for a lot of owners it doesn’t cause any issues and if you get an EGR delete done is well it can actually reduce fuel consumption.

We would ask the owner and check the service history to see if this has been done. If not, it may be worth factoring that into your budget.

The problem with the 2.4 engine is that the flaps themselves can collect a lot of deposits and oily residue from the EGR valve. This ultimately clogs up the flaps leading to poor running, engine fault codes and more.

Periodically checking and cleaning the flaps on all models can be a good idea if you do not plan to do a flap deletion mod.

Cooling System

The cooling system on any 159 should be one of your primary areas of concern. A failure here can lead to some pretty nasty consequences and very expensive repair bills, so keep an eye out for the following:

Coolant Condition

The original coolant is red in colour, but in truth the colour doesn’t really matter as long as it is the correct specification. However, if you notice that the coolant looks a bit brown/muddy it is a sign that it probably needs to be replaced. Alfa Romeo doesn’t seem to state a required change interval for the coolant on the different models of the 159, but we would personally like to see a change done every 100,000 to 160,000 km (60,000 to 100,000 miles) or every 10 years just to be on the safe side (modern coolants seem to last quite a long time).

Coolant Level and Leaks

While you are checking the condition of the coolant, have a really good look around the expansion tank, coolant lines, etc. for any leaks. Crusted coolant can often be an indicator of a leak, but it may be from something like a slight spill from servicing as well.

It is important to check for leaks both before and after a test drive on any Alfa Romeo 159 you inspect. When you come back, park the 159 in a different spot and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes before you recheck for any leaks. If you don’t see any leaks but smell the sweet aroma of coolant, there is a good chance that there is still a leak somewhere in the system. If you notice any very serious leaks we would probably walk away, as there is a much higher chance that the Alfa 159 has a serious cooling system problem and/or has overheated at some point.

If you notice any gurgling noises it could indicate that the coolant level is low or that there is a leak somewhere in the system. A gurgling noise can also be indicative of a bad water pump, so keep that in mind as well.

Look for Air Bubbles in the Coolant

Keep an eye out for any bubbles in the coolant as while this is quite common when the engine is warming up, it can be a sign of problems once the motor is up to temperature. If you do notice any bubbles, it could be down to anything from a bad bleed, a faulty radiator cap, a blown head gasket and much more. Another thing to keep in mind is that excess air (bubbles) in the cooling system can lead to a reduction in cooling performance, which can lead to more serious problems occurring.

Thermostat Problems

The thermostat is a fairly common failure point on all versions of the 159 and is probably the part that is most likely to failure within the cooling system. Common signs of a bad thermostat include an erratically behaving temperature gauge, lack of coolant flow, coolant lines that are cold to the touch, etc. Overheating can be caused by a bad thermostat, but oftentimes they fail in the open position, so if you notice high temperatures be very cautious.

Electric Radiator Fan

Make sure the electric radiator fan switches on when the temperature goes past 90 degrees Celsius and turns off again when it drops below that temperature. A problem with the cooling system (air lock, leak, etc.) can make the fan operate before it is meant to, so checking this can be a good way of determining whether there is an issue.

Water Pump

As we mentioned earlier, it can be a good idea to replace the water pump every 60,000 km (40,000 miles) or every 4 years (with a timing belt change). This is because the pump is known to be a weak point on these cars and if you leave it until Alfa’s recommended service interval, a failure is much more likely to occur.

Check the Heater

Make sure you test out the heater as if it is not working correctly it can be a sign of a malfunctioning cooling system. We have listed some of the common causes of heater issues below:

  • Clogged heater core – If the heater core is clogged it will restrict coolant flow and the heaters won’t work properly.
  • Bad thermostat – A bad thermostat will restrict or limit the flow of coolant, which will prevent heat from reaching the cabin and passengers.
  • Failed water pump – If the water pump is not working, coolant won’t be circulated through the system and the heaters won’t work. Other signs of a failed water pump include strange whining/chuffing sounds, knocking noises, coolant leaks, overheating, and possibly even smoke or steam.
  • Low coolant – If there isn’t enough coolant insufficient heat transfer will occur, so the heater won’t work properly or at all. This is probably the easiest one to check as you can inspect the coolant reservoir tank.
  • Stuck blend doors – If the blend doors are stuck in the cold position no warm air will reach the cabin.

Head Gasket/Cooling System Failure

Here are some of the main signs of a failed head gasket/cooling system on an Alfa Romeo 159:

  • Noticeable white smoke from the exhaust pipe
  • Sweet smelling exhaust fumes
  • Overheating engine
  • Bubbles in the coolant or expansion tank
  • White, milky oil
  • Reduced engine power
  • Fouled spark plugs on petrol 159s
  • Signs of low cooling system integrity
  • Presence of a coolant smell from the oil
  • Steam coming from the front of the Alfa 159

If you notice some of the problems above we would probably walk away as while good condition, well-maintained Alfa 159s are becoming more difficult to find, they are still out there and you don’t want to be buying something with serious cooling issues.

Failure to Start Due to Injector/Intake Valve Issues (Particularly the 2.2 JTS)

A fairly common issue with the 2.2 JTS is that it won’t start first try after leaving it to rest for at least a day or two (hence why it is a good idea to not get the owner to pre-warm the vehicle). This can often be caused by the following two issues:

  • Build up on the intake valves
  • Dirty or clogged fuel injectors

This issue may happen on other models as well, but it is far less common on them.

Crankshaft Sensor 2005 to 2009 159s

A common problem on earlier 159s was a faulty crankshaft sensor. The sensor’s primary role is to transmit a signal to the engine management system, guaranteeing the ignition of the engine. If the sensor fails, the engine management system will not receive the necessary signal, and the 159 won’t start. Replacing the sensor isn’t too expensive, but keep in mind that this problem could be caused by another issue as well.

Fuel Pump Problems

Some owners have experienced fuel pump issues (seems to be more of an issue on 2005 to 2008 cars and especially the 2.2 JTS – The GM engine was known for fuel pump issues in other brand’s models). If the pump is bad you may notice the following issues:

  • Difficult starts or the 159 starts and then shuts down again
  • Strange whining sound from the pump/fuel tank
  • Power loss and surging power
  • Stalls and sputtering engine
  • Reduced fuel efficiency

The fuel pump was redesigned for 2009 159s, so they shouldn’t experience as many failures, but it is still worth keeping an eye out for the symptoms above.

Coil Burnout

Melting coils is a relatively common topic with 3.2 JTS 159 owners. Most owners tend to find that number 4 coil is the problem one, but other owners have experienced failures on other coils as well. There seems to be a whole load of different reasons why this happens, so make sure you ask the owner about it and be cautious if the car has a history of very frequent coil pack changes.

Bosh apparently revised the design of the coil packs (0221604104 to 0221604112) to fix the issue, but some owners have continued to experience problems. Another fix that has helped some owners is to switch from Bosch plugs to Denso ones that have a slightly smaller diameter electrode (4719 Iridium ITV20TT).

Dirty MAF/MAP Sensor

The symptoms of a dirty MAF/MAP sensor include strange roughness and jerkiness when accelerating, decreased fuel consumption, and an engine that dies soon after startup. Cleaning the sensor usually fixes the issue (see video below), but be cautious as these problems could be a sign of another problem as well. If you know it is the sensor, factor that into the budget as while a clean may suffice, a new one may also be needed.

Exhaust System

Have a good look at the exhaust system as a problem here can be expensive to fix. Listen out for any weird noises such as rumbling, scraping, rattling. Ticking and whistling sounds are also something to watch out for as well, especially if they change with the engine speed. Lastly, check that the exhaust is held on firmly as if it moves a lot the hangers probably need some attention.

Catalytic Converter Problems

Unfortunately, replacing a catalytic converter on an Alfa Romeo 159 can be expensive, so keep an eye out for the following:

  • Activation of the Check Engine Light along with fault codes.
  • Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
  • Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance.
  • Weird symptoms such as hesitation, skipping, bucking, or power surges.
  • Excessive heat under the Alfa 159
  • Dark/black smoke from the car’s exhaust
  • Emission test failure – obviously going to need to get a test done to find this out or use the emissions test feature on your OBD2 scanner if you have one

Using an OBD2 scanner to check for fault codes is going to probably be your best method of determining whether or not the catalytic converter is at fault. If you do notice the symptoms above, we would probably pass on the 159 unless you can get it at a great price. While it could be an O2 sensor, if it is a CAT, you will probably be looking at quite an expensive bill to get it repaired.

Another thing to be aware of is that the CATs are sometimes removed on cars. This is sometimes done when fitting an aftermarket exhaust system, so if the exhaust is not original be mindful of that. Another reason why a CAT may be missing is if one has failed and it has been too costly to replace for the owner. Lastly, another rather unfortunate reason is that in some parts of the world it has become popular to steal catalytic converters from cars for the materials inside them.

If the CATs have been removed on the Alfa 159 you are looking at, it will almost certainly fail any emissions tests that may be required for road worthiness. This means that you could be up for a big expense to just make the car road worthy in some countries/locations.

What Is the Correct Idle Speed for an Alfa 159

Below we have listed the different expected idle speeds for all the engines. Don’t be too concerned if the idle speed is a bit higher when cold, but it should drop back down once warm.

If the idle speed continues to remain at a high speed or it is lumpy it could be down to a range of different things from spark plug problems, injector issues, electrical gremlins and much more. You are unlikely to find the exact cause of the problem during a short inspection of a 159, so we would be cautious. Additionally, if the problem was an easy fix the owner probably would have got it sorted before putting their Alfa 159 up for sale.

EngineIdle When Warm
1.75 TBiAround 750 to 800 rpm
1.8Around 750 to 800 rpm
1.9 JTSAround 750 to 800 rpm
2.2 JTSAround 750 rpm
3.2 V6 JTSAround 850 rpm
1.9 JTDM 8VAround 800 – 900 rpm
1.9 JTDM 16VAround 800 – 900 rpm
2.0 JTDM 16VAround 750 rpm
2.4 JTDMAround 750 rpm

Bad Engine Mounts

Engine mounts will eventually need to be replaced, especially if the car has done a lot of mileage. Here are some signs of bad mounts:

  • Engine movement – Check to see if there is any excessive movement when revving the engine (this is where a helper can come in handy)
  • Excessive vibrations/shaking – Typically, excessive vibrations from bad mounts are usually most noticeable during idle. If the shaking is really bad, the car’s body may even shake.
  • Clunking, banging or other impact sounds (especially during shifts) – Noises such as these may be a sign that the engine is shifting slightly due to a failing or failed engine mount.

Installing new engine mounts isn’t usually too expensive, but keep in mind the symptoms above could also be a sign of another issue such as bad injectors, worn transmission mounts, etc.

Test the Air Con/Climate Control

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning is working as intended and plenty of cold air comes out of the vents when set to the coldest setting. If the A/C doesn’t work, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a recharge/regas. While that may be the case, it could be caused by another more expensive issue like a failed compressor or dried out seals that now leak. Here are some of the main causes of a malfunctioning A/C system:

  • Refrigerant Leak
  • Compressor failure
  • Bad blower motor
  • Faulty blend door actuator
  • Dirty or clogged condenser
  • Dirty cabin air filter

Smoke from an Alfa Romeo 159

It is important to check for smoke or steam as this is almost never a good sign. Don’t worry about a very small amount of vapour from the 159’s exhaust on startup as this is perfectly normally and is just condensation in the exhaust. The vapour should go away fairly quickly, but can stay around for a bit during a cold day.

Ask the seller of the Alfa 159 to start their vehicle for you for the first time. This way you can not only see what comes out the back, but also how the owner treats their Alfa. If they rev the nuts of it when cold it shows they probably haven’t treated it well.

Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke can indicate:

White smoke

A whole load of white or grey smoke coming from a car’s exhaust could indicate that water/coolant has entered the cylinders due to a blown or leaking head gasket. To confirm if it’s coolant, do a smell test to check for a sweet aroma from the exhaust. If the smoke is thick and lingers for a while, it could imply that the block or cylinder head is fractured.

Blue/Grey smoke

This colour smoke from an Alfa 159 could be down to various factors, such as worn piston rings, valve seals, and other potential issues. When checking for this sort of smoke it can be handy to have someone follow you while you test drive the 159. Alternatively, keep an eye on the rear-view mirror or get the seller to drive the car for a bit while you look out the back.

Black smoke

This type of smoke is typically an indicator that the engine is running excessively rich and burning an excessive amount of fuel. A whole load of different factors could be contributing to this problem, from dirty intake components to spark plug problems, injector issues, and much more. If the exhaust has a fuel-like smell, the engine is most likely running too rich.

Another thing to keep in mind is that unburnt fuel being sent through the exhaust system can lead to premature catalytic converter failure, which as we discussed already can be an expensive problem.

Ask the Owner What Fuel They Use

A good question to ask any seller of a 159 is what fuel they use as an owner who uses a more premium fuel probably cares for their Alfa a bit more

Rebuilt or Replaced Engines

Sometimes it is necessary to rebuild or replace an engine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a rebuilt or replaced engine in an Alfa Romeo 159, however, just make sure that the work was carried out by a competent Alfa specialist. Definitely be a bit more cautious if the work was done by a home mechanic as while there are plenty of good ones out there, many have more ambition than skill and you don’t want to be buying somebody’s unfinished project.

Try to avoid 159s that have only just had an engine rebuild or replacement as they are more of an unknown. A car with 5,000 km (3,000 miles) is going to be a safer bet than one that has only travelled 500 km.

Transmission

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo 159 was fitted with a number of different transmission options, including normal 5- and 6-speed manual gearboxes, a 6-speed auto, and the dreaded 6-speed Selespeed. Lets start off with the manual transmissions.

Manual Transmissions

The 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions fitted to the Alfa Romeo 159 tend to be fairly reliable compared to the other automatic and Selespeed options. Additionally, depending on who you ask, the feel of all manual transmissions is either good or bad, so you will have to drive a few different models to see if you like how they shift.

There isn’t too much to check for here apart from the usual. Make sure shifts are smooth and that the gearbox isn’t overly tight or loose. If gearshifts are really tight when the 159 is first started and during traffic stops, but are fine when the car is moving, it could be a sign of clutch or master/slave cylinder issues.

Listen out for any clicking, whining or roaring as this can be a sign of a bad bearing. The first and sixth gears on the M32 (1.75 TBi, 1.9 JTDm, etc.) seem to suffer from this problem the most, but it can happen on the other gears and other transmissions as well.

To lower the chance of bearing failure some owners get their M32 transmission upgraded with bigger, stronger bearings, however, this does come at a significant expense. Another alternative solution is to replace the M32 with the F40 gearbox out of the 2.4 and 2.0 JTDm models. This once again comes at a significant cost, but it is worth looking out for cars with these upgrades (just make sure they were done by a competent specialist/mechanic). You can read more about this modification here.

Synchro wear is definitely something to watch out for on all manual Alfa 159s, so check for the following symptoms that can indicate the problem:

  • Strange noises such as grinding, whirring or humming
  • Increased shifter resistance (this is why it is a good idea to drive multiple 159s so you can get a feel for how the gearbox should behave)
  • Transmission gets stuck in gear
  • Transmission pops out of gear

Synchro problems are usually repairable, but if you notice the issues above we would get a quote to see how much the repair bill could be (synchro and transmission problems are often very expensive to repair).

Check to see if the transmission oil/fluid has ever been replaced. While Alfa Romeo doesn’t actually state the transmission needs to be serviced, most owners and specialists agree it can help to improve shifts and longevity. However, it is important to note that a pressurised flush can do more damage if the transmission hasn’t had a fluid change before (or in a very long time). This is because it can dislodge detritus that has built up over the years, which then causes more serious problems. Essentially, only do a pressured flush if it has been done regularly otherwise it is better to just do a fluid drain and fill.

There is no recommended change interval for the transmission fluid, but lots of owners like to do it every 50,000 to 100,000 km (30,000 to 60,000 miles).

Clutch

Clutch problems are always something to watch out for, so make sure it is working correctly by doing the following tests:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Alfa Romeo 159 you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. If the bite point is closer to the floor then there is a problem (slave cylinder, etc.)

Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.

Clutch Drag – Get the Alfa 159 on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated or that the flywheel has gone bad.

Clutch replacements can easily cost in the four figures on these cars, so make sure it is working correctly. Additionally, if the car has travelled a good distance without a replacement factor that into the cost of ownership as they can often start to go around the 100,000 km (60,000 mile) mark. However, this is just a generalisation and clutches can often go on for a lot longer (160,000 km/100,000 miles plus) or fail even earlier.

Another thing to keep in mind is that clutch issues can often be caused by a bad slave or master cylinder. A bad slave or master cylinder can often lead to the following issues:

  • Low clutch fluid – often indicates as leak
  • Soft or spongy pedal
  • Changing engagement point
  • Dark clutch fluid – often a sign of a seal failing
  • Clutch gets stuck on the floor

Dual Mass Flywheel

If the clutch has been replaced on the 159 you are looking at, make sure that the dual mass flywheel (DMF) has been replaced as well (on models with one). This is because it is cheaper to do both at the same time rather than one at a time (labour on both is expensive).

Depending on the transmission/model, some owners have done a solid flywheel conversion to improve reliability, but this can come at the detriment of smoothness. Most owners will be better off sticking with the original DMF because of this and you can read more about the benefits and downsides of both systems here.

If the DMF has failed, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Shifting issues
  • Stiff/hard clutch
  • Strange rattling sound that disappears when the clutch is depressed
  • Increased vibrations through the clutch pedal
  • Slipping clutch

Q-Tronic (AWTF-80 SC)

The Q-Tronic automatic was fitted to a number of different models in the 159 lineup (moreso the diesel variants). It is known to be much more reliable than the Selespeed we will discuss next, but less so than the manual transmissions (although DMF issues can make manual 159s more of a headache to own).

The main thing to check with Q-Tronic 159s is that they are smooth. Jerkiness and excess vibrations can often be a sign of a failing hydraulic valve body or some other sort of issue. Hesitation is another thing to watch out for, so try suddenly putting your foot down when it is safe to do so.

If you notice that the transmission slips or hangs onto gears a bit too long it could be due to torque converter issues. A fluid change can sometimes fix this problem, but it could also be due to a more serious and expensive problem as well.

A bad brake band or sticky solenoid can also cause slipping, knocking, and lurching as well, so keep that in mind. If it is a sticky solenoid an oil change usually sorts it out.

As with the manual transmissions there is no recommended service interval and the Q-Tronic is meant to have a lifetime fill. However, as we mentioned above a fluid change can help alleviate some problems, so check to see if it has ever been done.

Apart from that, make sure you test all the gears at both low and high speeds. Check to see if the paddle shifters work, and reserve works as intended. If you do notice a problem we would probably walk away (unless we got a very significant discount). While a fluid change may fix the issue, it could be a much more serious and expensive problem.

Selespeed

The Selespeed is the most troublesome transmission fitted to the Alfa Romeo 159 and it is generally recommended that you avoid cars with it. The reliability concerns are made even worse by the fact that parts for the transmission are becoming harder and harder to source, making repairs even more expensive than they already are.

If you still want to purchase a Selespeed model, the main things to watch out for are a Selespeed failure warning light, bad shifts or failure to shift into gear completely, jumping and jerking, shuddering, and stalls. If you notice any of those problems, thank the owner for their time and walk away.

When you first turn on the car, try to shift into reverse or gear as quickly as possible. If it won’t go into gear initially but does eventually do so, it could be a sign that the Selespeed pump isn’t working as intended (it should prime when you open the door). This is an early warning sign and would probably put us off any Selespeed 159.

Listen out for any clicking noises as this could be a sign that the Selespeed pump is failing. Clunking noises are also a sign of big trouble and watch for any oil leaks from the Selespeed system.

Sometimes a reset of the gearbox and recalibration of the clutch can fix Selespeed issues, but we wouldn’t take the risk on it, even if we could get the car at a great price.  

Steering and Suspension

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The main issue to watch out for here is a bad steering rack as the design is known to be quite poor (same with the Brera). If there is a problem it will usually be accompanied by weird knocking or popping sounds when turning the steering wheel (can be at various different speeds). The issue us often caused by worn and corroded inner rack ends, which aren’t too expensive to replace. However, the problem can also develop further with a whole steering rack replacement needed (very expensive). As this is the case, we would try and find out what the fix will involve before purchasing the 159.

Another common steering problem is a failure of the power steering reservoir or pump. If this happens you may notice a strange whining/grinding noise when turning the wheel, brown coloured liquid in the reservoir (should be green), and or very heavy steering. The fix isn’t too bad if it is just the reservoir, but if it is the pump or some other sort of issue it will be much more expensive to get sorted.

It is believed that some of the power steering failures are due to the use of incorrect fluid, so as we just mentioned in the paragraph above, make sure the fluid is green. The red fluid that is sometimes used doesn’t flow as well, especially in colder weather and the 159 handbook was updated to reflect this (early 159s were initially filled with red fluid).

Apart from those Alfa 159 issues, keep an eye out for the following problems that may indicate that the suspension and steering components need some attention:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability or floaty/nervous feeling through the steering wheel
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (suspension should only rebound once when pushed down otherwise it may indicate that the shocks are worn)
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive
  • Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock)

Don’t forget to visually examine the suspension and steering components. A torch/flashlight and a mirror can be useful tools to have on hand for areas that are hard to see. If you notice that the components on one side of the vehicle are different or seem newer than the other, it may suggest that the vehicle has been in some sort of accident. You should also be on the lookout for rust as this can be quite a common issue with the steering and suspension components on these cars if they are driven in places with harsh winters/salted roads.

Check the Wheel Alignment

Make sure the Alfa 159 you are test driving runs straight. If you notice that it veers to the right or left on a flat straight section of road it is probably down to bad wheel alignment. Improper alignment can lead to excessive tire wear, which can be costly in the long term and can also compromise the driving experience and safety.

Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.

Wheels & Tyres

Don’t forget to check the wheels thoroughly as they can often be a good indicator of how a particular 159 has been treated and driven. Lots of curb damage may indicate that the owner or a previous owner has been a bit of a careless driver. A bit of curb damage is to be expected given the age of these cars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the problem to your advantage when discussing the price.

Another thing to check for are any dents, cracks or buckling as depending on how bad the problem is the wheel may need to be replaced. Alfa Romeo 159s running larger rims are going to be more susceptible to this problem than those running the smaller base rims. If one or more of the wheels do need to be replaced, definitely factor that into the price as they can be quite expensive to source, especially if you are looking at something like a Ti model.

If the Alfa 159 has aftermarket wheels, make sure they are the right size and fit properly. Larger aftermarket wheels may affect the car’s ride quality and increase the risk of curbing. We also recommend that you ask the owner to see if they still have the original wheels, as they can add value to the car (especially for something like Ti models). If the original wheels are not available, try to haggle for a discount.

Tyres

Nice quality tyres can be expensive and to get the best out of an Alfa Romeo 159 you are going to want some good ones. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
  • Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the 159. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – In terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance, increased wear and may even be dangerous.
  • Pressure – It can be a good idea to check tyre pressures when conducting an inspection. If the tyre pressures are wrong it can cause the car to pull to the left or right during acceleration. Incorrect tyre pressures can also lead to increased wear and fuel consumption as well.

Brakes

There isn’t too much to worry about here apart from the usual brake related stuff you should watch out for when inspecting any used car. Try to check the condition of the pads, discs and calipers, watching out for any obvious issues. The pads can wear on 159s quicker than previous generation Alfas due to the increased weight, so if they do need to be replaced factor this into the price. Listen out for a squealing sound as this can indicate that the pads need to be replaced as soon as possible (could also be due to another issue as well).

Make sure you test the brakes in various different situations at both low and high speed. If you find that the brakes are weak or spongy there is a problem as they should be more than adequate for road use.

Another thing to be on the lookout for when test-driving an Alfa Romeo 159 is any shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel. This could indicate that the discs are warped, which is often more of an issue on cars that are tracked and driven hard regularly. Warped discs are usually more noticeable when braking from high speed, so make sure you try that (if it is safe to do so).

Seized calipers are another thing to watch out for. If one or more calipers have seized, the car may pull to one side, feel like it is low on power, and the brakes may get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell or even smoke. In some cases, the car may not want to move at all or produce a loud thud-like noise when pulling away. Pinkish coloured discs can be another sign that the calipers have seized as well.

The last thing to check is the parking/hand brake. Find yourself a nice incline and make sure that the brake holds the car.

Body & Exterior

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Body and exterior issues are always something to be on the lookout for as they can be a nightmare to fix and can drastically reduce the value of a car.

Accident Damage

Crash damage is one of the most serious things to watch out for when inspecting a used car. We have put together some things to watch out for that may indicate that the Alfa Romeo 159 you are looking at has been in an accident and/or had bodywork repairs:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – If you notice any misaligned panels on the Alfa 159 it may suggest that it has been in a collision. Make sure you inspect the bonnet/hood, doors, bumpers, boot/trunk, etc. for any uneven gaps. Uneven gaps on one side of the vehicle when the other side is nice and even are a good sign of accident damage.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – Have a good look at the doors as if they are loose or difficult to open/close, it could be a sign that the 159 has been in an accident. Additionally, if the doors drop when opened there is some sort of issue that needs to be investigated further.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – A problem here is more likely due to a respray/repair than a factory issue. However, it is also possible that something like a slightly different bumper colour is caused by paint fade. Additionally, dealers sometimes get a respray done at the front if there are a lot of stone chips, so that may be the cause of the inconsistent paint job.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – Even a minor collision can cause this sort of problem.
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – Repairing the area around the lights and getting it straight can be very difficult, so check them closely.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While checking the underside of the Alfa 159, make sure that everything is properly aligned. Inspect the suspension, brake and steering components, and if there are any differences between the right and left sides it could be a sign that the Stinger has been in an accident.
  • Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
  • Paint runs or overspray – This is unlikely to be a factory issue and is more likely the result of some sort of repair. As we mentioned above, some dealers may perform a respray on the front of the car to address stone chips, which does not necessarily mean that the car has had significant damage.
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
  • Pay particular attention to the front axle area – The Alfa Romeo 159 is quite low to the ground and as such it is not uncommon to find damage to this area from going over speed bumps, curbs, etc.

If you find out the Alfa Romeo 159 you are looking at was involved in an accident, try to determine how severe it was. Minor to moderate damage that was repaired by a skilled body shop/panel beater is usually fine and it can be a great way to get a bit of a discount. However, if the accident was serious and/or the repairs were done poorly we would probably pass on the vehicle.

Most sellers will try to downplay accident damage and watch out for those who try to claim their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has. Alternatively, if the seller can’t provide information about why there is damage and repairs, it is possible that it occurred while somebody else owned the vehicle.

Rust/Corrosion

While 159s don’t rust nearly as badly as Alfa Romeo’s older vehicles, the problem is still unfortunately quite common on these cars. Below we have listed some of the main areas to watch out for:

  • Wheel arches and wells
  • Sills, particularly the rear of them – rust behind the sills can be invisible without actually removing them, so keep this in mind. This area often rusts badly because the drain holes get blocked, causing water to become trapped inside
  • Front subframe – Alfa Romeo used wafer thin paint here and this is one of the most common areas for rust on these cars
  • Rear suspension and shock absorbers

Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on an Alfa Romeo 159

The vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, parts of North America, etc.)

  • Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked or stored near the sea for prolonged periods
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Rubbing body parts
  • Old or no underseal in places where it is needed (parts of North America, etc.)

If you live in a location where rust is a common issue it can be a good idea to ask the seller if their 159 has been rust proofed. It isn’t really necessary in places that don’t salt their roads and don’t have harsh winters, but it can go a long way to preventing/minimising rust in places like the UK and Canada.

Be cautious of black rubber undercoating as rust can often form underneath it. Additionally, some dishonest sellers may apply it prior to sale to conceal existing rust. Oily/wax-based undercoating is a better option as it allows you to see the original condition of the frame.

Looking for Rust Repairs

It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Clearcoat Peel & Paint Fade

Check the paint for any faded areas or places where the clearcoat is peeling, especially if the car is always stored outside. These issues can obviously be fixed, but if they are quite significant a full respray may needed. Red 159s seem to suffer the worst from paint fade/peel, but it can happen to other colours as well.

Interior

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The 159’s fantastic looking interior was one of its standout features when it launched in 2005, but how are they holding up after all these years? Thankfully, despite the usual age and wear related issues, the Alfa Romeo 159s interior seems to be pretty hardy and there don’t seem to be any specific design faults. Of course, things like cracked/worn leather seats are something to watch out for, as if they are too far gone a full retrim will be needed (at a significant cost of course).

Another thing to watch out for on any used 159 is seat movement during acceleration or braking. If this happens during a test drive it is a major safety concern and will be an MOT/WOF failure. Make sure all the seat adjustments and features work as well as these can be very expensive to fix if they go wrong.

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Make sure you get some higher speed motorway/highway driving in as it can often reveal annoying buzzing, clicking, rattling sounds that are not noticeable at lower speeds. Finding and fixing the source of these sorts of sounds can be an absolute nightmare, especially if they originate from difficult to access places (behind the dash for example).  

Don’t forget to check for any leaks or signs of dampness in the cabin. Water can cause damage to the electronics and lead to unpleasant odours. If you notice water residue on the bottom of the floor mats, it could be a sign of a past or present leak. Leaks from an unusual place could be a sign of accident damage.

Another thing to do is to pay close attention to the headlining above the driver’s seat. While smoking is less popular than it used to be, if the headlining appears discoloured, it may be an indication that the car has been owned by a smoker.

Electronics, Software and the Rest

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The factory Blue and Me Bluetooth system that was developed by Microsoft is known to be pretty terrible. It only allows for calls, so if you want to play some music via Bluetooth you are either going to need to upgrade the head unit or get yourself an FM transmitter like this one. Even if you don’t need that functionality, the Blue and Me system is known to fail regularly, so we wouldn’t rely on it. If the 159 you are looking at has already been upgraded with a more modern head unit/stereo, check that it works as intended (can also be a good idea to check reviews).

Don’t forget to check that all the lights work correctly. The headlight and rear license plate bulbs can be a bit tricky to replace and it is not uncommon to break the brackets for them during installation. Sourcing new brackets isn’t too expensive, but replacing them can be a bit of a process (given how easily they can break).

Changing the front lights bulbs or rear license plate bulbs is quite difficult and you have a good chance of breaking a bracket.

Make sure that the owner/seller has both keys and that they both work properly. While they are not nearly as expensive to replace as some earlier Alfa Romeos with their infamous red keys, they are still a good chunk of money for a small piece of plastic. Check that the doors work intended as well, along with the windows and other controls around the cabin. Electrical problems can often be a nightmare to fix, so you want to take your time here.

If no warning lights appear during startup it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on there is a fault that needs to be investigated further. It is worth taking the car to an Alfa specialist or mechanic who can read the codes. Alternatively, you could invest in an OBDII scanner like this one from BlueDriver, so that you can check the codes . Lastly, be mindful of sellers who have cleared the codes without fixing the issue as some less honest people may do this.

General Car Buying Advice for an Alfa Romeo 159

Credit: Alfa Romeo

How to Get the Best Deal on a 159

When considering purchasing an Alfa 159, whether from a dealership or a private seller, it is important to remember that knowledge is power. Being well-informed about the car buying process can help you save money and make a more informed decision.

Research heavily – Before beginning your search for a 159, it’s a good idea to determine your preferred specifications and condition. Are you looking for a low-mileage, later year Alfa 159, or would you be open to a 2005 model that has done a lot more miles?

Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Alfa Romeo sold a fair few of these cars so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.

Go look at and test drive multiple Alfa Romeo 159s if possible – It is a good idea to test drive as many cars as possible This will help you determine what makes a good and what makes a bad Alfa 159.

Adjust your attitude – Avoid impulsive buying as being in a rush to purchase a car only increases the likelihood of getting ripped off. Take your time evaluating potential Alfa 159s and only consider cars that show promise, unless you’re specifically looking for a project vehicle.

Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Pay attention to any issues or wear and tear. Use these problems to negotiate a lower price during the purchase, mentioning specific repairs or replacements that need to be done such as new tyres or brake pads.

Don’t trust the owner completely – It is important to keep in mind that not all sellers are completely honest about the condition of their vehicle. While some may be truthful, others may exaggerate or omit certain issues with their Alfa Romeo 159 in order to make a quick sale. It is essential to conduct a thorough inspection of the car and verify the information provided by the owner, rather than relying solely on their word.

Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.

Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition  

When looking at any used car, we always recommend that you prioritise the condition of a vehicle over its mileage. While low mileage is a great selling point and can be good, it can also be a bad thing as well. Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Additionally, rubber seals and plastic parts will deteriorate over time, regardless of mileage, and cars that are not used regularly may be more susceptible to rust and electronic failures. Therefore, it’s important to thoroughly inspect the vehicle and take its condition into account before making a purchase.

Service History and Other Documentation 

Credit: Alfa Romeo

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Alfa Romeo specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Alfa Romeo 159 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.  

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the time the service history is stored digitally with Kia, which may be why the seller can’t show you it at the time of inspection.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them. 

General Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner  

  • How often do you drive the car? 
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by? 
  • How much oil does it use? 
  • What oil do you use in the car? 
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle? 
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed? 
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made? 
  • Is there any money owing on the car? 
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle? 
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust? 
  • Has rust been removed at any point? 
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time? 
  • Where do you store/park the car usually? 

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important. 

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from an Alfa Romeo 159

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.  

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof 
  • Money owing on the car  
  • Stanced  
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner  
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression 
  • Bad resprays 
  • Significant rust problems  
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines  
  • Significant track use (although tracked cars are often maintained well, so this can be argued the other way)
  • Major engine or transmission issues  
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something) 

Notes on the Owner  

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Alfa Romeo 159 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.  

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well. 
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away. 
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer. 
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump? 
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions? 
  • Do they know anything about the Alfa 159 and the model they are selling (Ti, 3.2, etc.)
  • What can they tell you about previous owners? 
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer. 
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond. 
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?  
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car? 

Alfa Romeo 159 Buyer’s Guide Conclusion

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Overall, the different versions of the Alfa Romeo 159 are great cars. While there can be some reliability issues with them, a well looked after 159 should provide many miles of motoring enjoyment.

We will continue to add info to this guide and if you have any additional information you feel should be included, let us know in the comments below.

References

Noah Joseph (25/02/2008) – Geneva ’08 Preview: Alfa also showing updated 159 sedan & wagon – Geneva ’08 Preview: Alfa also showing updated 159 sedan & wagon – Autoblog

Autoevolution (08/10/2020) –  Alfa Romeo 159 – All ALFA ROMEO 159 Models by Year (2005-2011) – Specs, Pictures & History – autoevolution

Alfa Romeo Australia – ALFA ROMEO 159 SPORTWAGON PROVIDES A UNIQUE COMBINATION OF STYLE AND FUNCTIONextension://bfdogplmndidlpjfhoijckpakkdjkkil/pdf/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Faustraliancar.reviews%2F_pdfs%2FAlfaRomeo_159Sportwagon_2006_PressKit_200607.pdf

Alfa Romeo Australia – ALFA ROMEO ADDS AUTOMATICS AND A NEW DIESEL TO THE 159 SEDAN RANGE – extension://bfdogplmndidlpjfhoijckpakkdjkkil/pdf/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Faustraliancar.reviews%2F_pdfs%2FAlfaRomeo_159Sedan-19JTD_2006_PressKit_200702.pdf

Ateco Automotive Pty Ltd (30/08/2007) – Alfa Sharpens Sporting Edge With 159 Ti – Alfa Sharpens Sporting Edge With 159 Ti | Scoop News

JON156VELOCE (14/05/2012) – Potential Problems with 159 1.9JTDm – Potential Problems with 159 1.9JTDm | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

Vij (02/02/2016) – Most trouble free 159 engine? – Most trouble free 159 engine? | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

wouldluvanalfa (10/09/2010) – What are the most common issues with 2nd hand 159’s JTD saloons  – What are the most common issues with 2nd hand 159’s JTD saloons | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

Autolusso – SWIRL FLAP DELETION – Autolusso – Alfa Romeo Specialists

thevkanth (03/10/2017) – 159 3.2JTS Coil Burn Out!! – 159 3.2JTS Coil Burn Out!! | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

md1241 (22/02/2020) – M32 Gearbox – M32 Gearbox | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

Pete McK (27/10/2012) – Power steering fluid – green or red? – Power steering fluid – green or red? | Alfa Romeo Forum (alfaowner.com)

Author

  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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