Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Buyer’s Guide

If you are looking for a fun and exciting sports saloon (or estate/station wagon if that is more your thing) from the early 2000s, you can’t go far wrong with the 156 GTA. While it is often overlooked when compared to its competitors, the 156 GTA provides oodles of fun from its 3.2-litre Busso V6 engine.

While Alfa Romeos do tend to have a bit of reputation for reliability issues, a well maintained GTA should provide many miles of motoring enjoyment.

In this Alfa Romeo 156 GTA buyer’s guide we are going to give you all the info you need to make an informed purchase on a 156 GTA. We are going to be looking at common issues that pop up on these cars, what maintenance is required and more.

You might also like to read our Alfa Romeo 147 GTA buyer’s guide – if you are looking at another great, modern classic Alfa Romeo.

How to use this Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Buyer’s Guide

To begin with we will cover  specifications of the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA to give you some background info about the vehicle and the models that the company sold.

Following that we will get into some specifications about the 156 GTA and then we will look at what you need to know about buying one of these fantastic Italian sports cars. At the end of this guide we have more general car purchasing advice.

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Specifications

Model156 GTA
Year of production2002 – 2005
LayoutFront-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/Engines3.2-litre 24-valve V6
Power247 bhp (184 kW) at 6,200 rpm
Torque300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at 4,800 rpm
Gearbox6-speed manual


Brakes FrontVented 330 mm (13 inch) discs

Vented 305 mm (12 inch) discs – until November 2003

Brakes Rear276 mm (10.9 inch) discs
Tyres Front225/45 R17
Tyres Rear225/45 R17
Suspension FrontDouble Wishbones, Trailing Arms, Anti-Roll Bar
Suspension RearMacPherson Struts, Transverse Levers, Offset Coil Springs, Anti-Roll Bar
Weight1,485 kg (3,274 lbs)
Top speed250 km/h (155 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)6.3 seconds

Buying Guide

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Now that we have covered the history and specifications of the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA, let’s have a look at what you need to know about buying one of these fantastic cars.

Arranging an Inspection of a 156 GTA

Here are some tips when organizing and going to an inspection.

  • Try to look at the 156 in person or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – Purchasing any used car sight unseen is riskier than being able to inspect it first. Repairing any issues on an Alfa 156 GTA can be quite expensive, so it is always best to physically inspect one before purchase to make sure it is in good condition. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, try to get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you.
  • Bring a friend or helper with you – This is often a good idea as they may be able to spot a problem with the 156 GTA you are inspecting that you may have missed. Additionally, they can give you their thoughts on the vehicle as well and whether or not they think it is a good buy. Try to find somebody who knows a bit about cars.
  • Try to view the Alfa 156 GTA at the seller’s house or place of business – We recommend doing this as you can get a bit of an idea of how and where the GTA is stored. Is it parked in the street or in a garage? Has it got a cover over it usually? If the 156 GTA is always stored on the street there may be more bodywork issues, worn rubber parts, paint fade, etc. Additionally, viewing a car at the seller’s house or place of business will allow you to get an idea of what sort of roads it is regularly driven on. Rough roads with lots of potholes could lead to the suspension and steering components wearing faster than they would on smooth roads.
  • Try to look at the 156 GTA in the morning rather than later in the day – This can be a good idea as it gives the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak. When arranging an inspection, tell the seller that you don’t want the car driven or warmed up prior to your arrival (if possible of course). If the car is at a dealer, simply go down without telling them first. Warm engines can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious of prewarmed cars.
  • Avoid inspecting a used 156 GTA in the rain – Water can hide numerous different issues with the paint and bodywork. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect the 156, try to go back for a second viewing.
  • Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
  • Get the seller to move their Alfa Romeo 156 GTA outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.

Where to Find an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA for Sale

While your local auction/classifieds sites or dealers are going to probably be the best place to start your hunt for a 156 GTA, we do recommend that you check out any owners clubs in your area. The people in these sorts of clubs tend to be very knowledgeable and will usually look after their cars better (not always however). Here are a few examples:

  • Club GTA– Owners’ club dedicated to not only the 156 GTA, but also the 147 GTA as well
  • alfaowner– Dedicated to all Alfa Romeos including the 156 GTA. The forum has been running since 2001 and there is some really great advice on it from experienced owners.

How Much Should I Spend on a 156 GTA?

This is really one of those “how long is a piece of string” type questions. Any used car’s price will largely depend on its condition, mileage, model, where it is being sold and more. For example, a later model 156 GTA with low mileage and in original condition will be worth a lot more than an earlier one that has seen a fair bit of action and hasn’t been maintained properly.

To work out roughly what you need to spend to get an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA, we recommend that you jump on your local classifieds and dealer websites to check the prices of ones that are currently for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get a 156 GTA that you are happy with. Remember to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.

156 GTA Saloon vs Sportwagon – What Are the Differences?

Well, apart from the body style there really aren’t many differences between the two. The Sportwagon is obviously more practical, and you can get a bit more in the boot, especially with the seats folded down. Rear end rigidity is a bit less on the Wagon and because of this some owners have found that the back seats creak a bit more on rough roads. Looks are largely subjective but if I had to give my opinion I would say I prefer the Sportwagon as I feel that the longer roofline works better. One other thing to keep in mind is that Alfa Romeo produced less Sportwagons, so prices may reflect this in the future.


The Alfa Romeo 156 GTA features a 17-digit VIN that should start with the characters ZAR. The VIN can usually be found in the following locations on a 156 GTA:

  • On a plate on the slam panel (front of the car just behind the headlights)
  • Embossed on the right-hand front strut top
  • Base of the original windscreen (Obviously won’t be there if the windscreen was replaced at some point)
  • Registration documents, etc.

If the VIN doesn’t match between these different locations it could be a sign that the GTA has been in some sort of accident and has had major repair work. Alternatively, it could also be a sign that the car was stolen at some point. We also recommend that you check the VIN on a checkup website such as Carfax, Autocheck, or CarJam (NZ). If you are in the United Kingdom it is worth doing a an HPI check.

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Engine Inspection Guide

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The key thing here really is maintenance. A well maintained Alfa Romeo 156 GTA should provide plenty of miles of trouble free motoring. Unfortunately, many of these cars have fallen into the hands of owners who couldn’t afford (or be bothered) to maintain them properly, so it is important to watch out for any signs of poor maintenance.

To begin your inspection, move to the front of the 156 GTA and lift the bonnet/hood of the car. Check that it opens smoothly and that the struts, hinges, catch, etc. are in good condition.

The bonnet catch is known to fail on these cars. Alfa Romeo greased the catch on the 156 GTA from the factory. While this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, the grease can lead to a build-up of unwanted dirt and detritus. Eventually this prevents the primary catch from engaging properly and the only thing holding the bonnet down is the secondary catch. As you can imagine this isn’t good, especially at highway speeds. Some unlucky owners experienced the bonnet flipping up and smashing into the windscreen and roof.

Alfa Romeo did issue a recall for this problem, which involved degreasing, cleaning and refitting the existing catch mechanism. Some GTAs did receive new catches and later versions of the 156 were given a plastic mechanism instead of a metal, which largely fixed the issue (although not completely unfortunately). Overall, this problem shouldn’t be too much of an issue now, but just make sure the bonnet does close properly and the catch is in good condition and clean.

Once you have checked the catch, have a good overall look at the engine bay, watching out for any obvious issues such as leaks or damaged components.

A completely spotless engine bay is usually a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up (especially if it looks like the engine bay has just been washed).

Inspecting the Fluids

This is often something that is overlooked during an inspection of a used car, but we feel that it is one of the most important things you can do. The engine oil, coolant and other fluids are the lifeblood of the car and if they are not in good condition it can lead to increased wear and possibly even component/engine failure.

Have a good look at the engine oil and dipstick, checking for any metallic particles or grit as it could be a sign of some serious problems. Additionally watch out for any foam in the oil or on the dipstick as well. Foam can be caused by a few different problems from condensation in the oil to a failed head gasket, or it may be due to somebody overfilling the oil.

Don’t forget to check the oil level as well. It should be at the correct level and not under or overfilled. If the oil level is seriously out, walk away from the car as you don’t know how long it has been like that.

Ask the seller about the service schedule for their 156 GTA and make sure you have a look at the service history as well. If the seller won’t or can’t provide the service history it is a bad sign and you should be very cautious. While the GTA may have been serviced correctly, it is impossible to really tell without the service history. Additionally, having all the documents on what has been done to the 156 GTA over the years will only add value to the car and it will make it easier to sell in the future (if you decide to do so).

In the service manual, Alfa Romeo recommends replacing the engine oil and filter every 20,000 km (around 12,500 miles) or every 12 months. We feel (along with many owners) that this is far too long between changes and about half that distance is more suitable. Some owners even do it earlier, which is only a good thing in our eyes because it shows that they are quite fastidious with their 156 GTA. Alfa recommends that a good quality 10W-60 weight oil be used, so check to see what the owner has put in it.

Replacing the filter on Alfa’s 3.2-litre V6 engine is a nightmare to put it lightly. Because of this, even owners who like to service their car themselves often take their GTA to a dealer/specialist to get the filter changed. As the filter can be such a pig to change, it is not uncommon for the person to skip replacing it. Some owners recommend that you mark the filter before taking the car in to get it replaced as some less honest service centres will simply clean off the old filter and claim they have put a new one in. If you don’t believe us on the difficulties of replacing the oil filter in a 156 GTA, check out this thread on AlfaOwner.

Common Oil Leaks on a 156 GTA

Here are some common areas to watch out for when it comes engine oil leaks from a 156 GTA:

  • Oil cooler pipes – If you notice a leak that seems to originate from the front right of the vehicle it is probably the oil cooler pipesThese are notorious for corroding and a small leak can turn into a massive one in a single journey if the corrosion is bad enough. Unfortunately, the pipes and labour to fit them are not cheap, so if you suspect the 156 GTA has this problem, we would probably walk away unless you can get a very hefty discount (and then we would even be cautious of possible engine damage if enough oil has leaked).
  • Rear main seal – An engine oil leak from around the middle of the car could be a rear main seal – It is not uncommon for this seal to leak after a few years, but fortunately they do not seem to leak catastrophically. Check when the seal was last replaced as it should have been done when the clutch was last changed as the gearbox needs to come out to replace both components.
  • Oil filter and oil filter housing – An incorrectly installed oil filter or a failed oil filter housing can lead to a leak. If it’s the latter the car could be up for some serious expenditure depending on how bad the problem is.

If you notice a fairly rapid drip or any puddles of oil underneath the car during your inspection it is probably best to walk away as if it was an easy fix the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the GTA on the market.

Make sure you check for oil leaks (and any other leak for that matter) both before and after a test drive, as that shiny, clean engine bay may not be so shiny after a trip around the block.

Oil Consumption

The V6 engine inside the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA likes to drink a bit of oil when driven hard, but it shouldn’t be nearly as bad as the Twin-Spark version of the GTA.

Timing Chain or Belt on an Alfa 156 GTA?

Unfortunately, the 156 GTA’s 3.2-litre V6 engine uses a timing belt and not a chain, so you need to make sure that the belt has been replaced regularly. Alfa Romeo originally recommended that the belt be replaced every 116,000 km (72,000 miles), however, this was later reduced to around 60,000 km (37,000 miles) as owners were experiencing premature belt breakage.

If the 156 GTA you are looking at has not been driven much, the belt should have been replaced every 36 months. Some Alfa specialists/mechanics recommend 48 months, but a few owners have experienced timing belt failure in this fourth year, so we feel it is better to err on the side of caution.

Be very cautious of a 156 GTA that has a timing belt that is past the recommended service interval as if it breaks you could be looking at some very expensive repairs. Most of the time it is not actually the belt the breaks, but in fact the tensioner for the belt, but this can still lead to catastrophic consequences.

It can be a good idea to put your ear up to the timing belt area (left side of the engine) and have a listen for any strange rubbing or squeaking noises that could indicate a worn belt/tensioner.

Failure to change the timing belt and other components at the correct service interval suggests poor maintenance and you should be wondering what else has been neglected. If the timing belt needs to be replaced in the near future make sure you get a hefty discount or get the seller to replace it for you (check where they are getting it done).

What Else Should be Replaced with the Timing Belt?

When changing the timing belt on a 156 GTA, the following should also be replaced:

  • Tensioner
  • Aux belt
  • Pulleys
  • Water pump (every second change, but some do it every change) – many owners opt for a metal water pump over the original plastic impellor variant as they are much more durable

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Cooling System

Credit: Alfa Romeo

The cooling system on any used internal combustion engined car is something you really need to check thoroughly. A failure here could lead to some pretty catastrophic consequences and if the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA you are looking at has overheated in the past it could have some lingering issues. Here are some of the main things to watch out for.

Failing Thermostat Gauge

Alfa Romeo installed a pretty cheap and terrible thermostat in the 156, so it is a common failure point. The main sign of this problem is a low temperature reading. Anything under 80 degrees is usually a sign of trouble and the normal operating temp should be around 85 to 95 degrees.

A quick check with a diagnostic tool should be able to indicate whether or not it is the thermostat that is causing the issue (we would probably get a 156 GTA with any sort of cooling issues checked out by an Alfa specialist or mechanic prior to purchase). Replacing the thermostat is fairly inexpensive, so it is not a major problem.

Failing Water Pump

As we mentioned above, the original plastic impellor water pump (fiat number 55198357) that Alfa Romeo fitted to these cars is quite weak and is a common failure point. Many owners recommend replacing it with the metal water pump from the GTV (fiat number 55198358). The metal pump does have a slightly smaller diameter at 68 mm as opposed to 70 mm for the plastic one, but this doesn’t seem to cause any issues. Here are some signs that the water pump is failing/has failed:

  • Coolant leaks
  • Whining noises (usually high-pitched)
  • Overheating issues

Checking for Coolant Leaks

Have a good look around the coolant lines and coolant tank for any leaks or crusted coolant which may indicate a past leak. A cracking coolant expansion tank is a fairly common problem, as is a failing radiator. Sourcing the radiator itself isn’t usually too expensive, however, the installation cost can be depending on where you take the car to.

It is always a good idea to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, along with the coolant level (check for any big changes). Following a test drive of a 156 GTA, turn the car off and wait for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this, recheck for any fresh puddle of coolant underneath the vehicle. Additionally, watch out for the sweet smell of coolant as this could indicate a leak (even if you can’t see it).

Signs of Cooling System Failure

Here are some of the common signs of overheating and cooling system failure:

  • Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it) – usually a sign of head gasket failure
  • Steam from the front of the car

We would probably avoid any 156 GTA that is displaying anyone of the above symptoms, however, some of them are worse than others.

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Exhaust

Remember to have a good look at as much of the exhaust system as you can, as a problem here could be expensive to fix. Surface rust is fairly common, but thankfully you shouldn’t encounter any more serious rust/corrosion on the exhaust. If you do see some bad rust, it is probably worse than it appears on the surface and there may be rust else where on the vehicle.

Make sure there is no damage to the exhaust (cracks, dents, etc.) or any bad repairs that have been quickly done to get the GTA up to a saleable condition.

If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Additionally, watch out for any ticking noises as these sorts of sounds are a sign of a leak.

Catalytic Converter

The CATs can eventually fail, and they are expensive to replace, so check for the following.

  • Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
  • Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
  • Excessive heat from underneath the Alfa 156 GTA
  • Dark smoke from the GTA’s exhaust
  • CEL (Check Engine Light)

Some owners will do a decat if a catalytic converter fails or to gain a bit of power/torque, but keep in mind that this may mean that the vehicle could fail an emissions test. If the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA you are looking at is running a decat system, it may be a good idea to check if the car will pass an emissions test prior to purchase (probably won’t) as you don’t want to be left with an expensive bill just to be able to legally drive the car on regular roads.

Aftermarket Exhausts

There are a number of different aftermarket exhausts available for the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA, and quite a few owners opt for the custom route. If the car you are looking at is fitted with an aftermarket exhaust, make sure it is from a good, well reviewed manufacturer or custom builder (find out who made the exhaust and check for any reviews/feedback). If the exhaust is a poor quality one, it may be a sign that the 156 GTA has been poorly fixed for a quick sale.

Mass Air Flow Sensor (MAF) Issues

The air flow meter originally fitted to the 156 GTA isn’t the greatest and will often need to be replaced around the 110,000 km (68,000 mile) mark. Here are some of the symptoms of a bad MAF on a GTA:

  • Rough/poor idle
  • CEL (Check Engine Light)
  • Bad/inconsistent acceleration

The above symptoms can be a sign of some other issues as well such as a bad battery. To determine whether or not it is the MAF, disconnect it and the ECU will assume a default value. If you find that the engine runs better than it is almost certainly the MAF causing the issues (however, you are probably not going to get to disconnect it during an inspection).

Replacing the MAF isn’t too expensive, but we still recommend that you get a discount on the vehicle if you notice this problem and still want to purchase the car. Cleaning the existing MAF is another option, however, you do need to take extra care when doing so.

Smoke from an Alfa 156 GTA

Lots of smoke or steam from the exhaust (or anywhere else for that matter) is never a good sign, and we would personally walk away from any 156 GTA that has this problem. Rather than starting the car yourself for the first start, we recommend that you get the seller to do so for you. This will allow you to check what comes out of the tailpipes on initial start-up.

It can be a good idea to hold up a white piece of paper or towel in front of the exhaust to see how much soot gets on it during start-up. A lot of soot could be a sign that the engine is running a bit rich.

A small amount of whitish vapour from the exhaust on start up is perfectly fine, especially on a cold day. This is usually just condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour is very thick and white or you notice lots of smoke, walk away. Here are what the different colours of smoke indicate:

White smoke – As we mentioned above, a few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from a 156 GTA’s exhaust indicates that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.

Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.

Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

Engine Mounts and Vibrations

If you feel excessive amounts of vibration during acceleration/application of the throttle, it may be a sign that one or more of the engine mounts/stabilisers are in need of replacement. This isn’t necessarily a specific issue with the 156 GTA as engine mounts are a component that will eventually need to be replaced on pretty much any car. Higher mileage GTAs are going to be more likely to suffer from this problem, so keep that in mind. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Excessive vibrations
  • Engine movement – rev the car and see if the engine moves excessively
  • Clunking, banging, or other impact sounds that are a result of engine movement

Idle Speed & Other Things to Check

Once the 156 GTA is up to temperature expect the idle speed to be in the 750 rpm range. It is perfectly normal for the idle speed to be higher than this when the car is first started and is cold. Switching on the air con should also increase the idle speed a bit.

As we mentioned before, poor idle could be a sign of a bad MAF sensor, however, it could also be a sign of another problem such as a bad battery, coils, intake components, etc. It will probably be hard to determine the exact cause of idle issues (getting the codes read might help), so assume the worst and hope for the best. If the idle issue was a simple fix, the owner of the GTA probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market. Alternatively, they may simply not have noticed.

Checking the Dash for Warning Lights

Make sure you start the 156 GTA yourself at some point and check what warning lights come up on the dashboard. If no warning lights appear on start-up, it could be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide an issue. If a warning light stays on, check what the light is for and do not purchase the Alfa GTA until you can find out what is causing the issue (get the codes read).

Tips During an Inspection/Test Drive of a 156 GTA

We recommend that you get the seller/owner to start the vehicle for you for the following two reasons:

  1. So you can see what comes out the back
  2. If the seller gives the car a whole load of throttle when it is cold you know to walk away

When you go out on a test drive make sure you do not give the GTA a load of throttle before it has warmed up properly. Remember to turn off and on the engine a number of times to make sure everything is okay.

It is also a good idea to keep the windows down for a period of the test drive, so you can listen to the engine and any other issues that may be covered up by the cabin. Don’t let the seller distract you while driving the car.

Buying a 156 GTA with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine

While some buyers are put off by the words “rebuilt” or “replaced”, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a 156 GTA with a rebuilt or replaced engine. If the GTA you are looking at has had an engine rebuild or replacement, make sure the work was carried out by a competent Alfa specialist or mechanic who has plenty of experience with such work.

Be very cautious of home rebuilds as many home mechanics have more ambition than skill, however, there are some good ones out there. If the GTA you are looking at does have a rebuilt or replaced engine, find out who did the work and check any reviews (give them a call as well if you are really serious about the car as they may be able to tell you a bit more about it).

It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.

Should I Get a Compression Test Done Before Purchase?

While not completely necessary when purchasing a used 156 GTA, a compression test is often a good thing to get done to help determine the health of the car’s engine.  If you are taking one of these cars to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Transmissions

Alfa Romeo manufactured most 156 GTAs with a manual gearbox, but some also came with the company’s Selespeed (or silly speed as some call it) automated manual gearbox. Let’s start by looking at the manual transmission.

Manual 147 GTAs

The 6-speed manual transmission fitted to the 156 GTA is overall pretty robust and reliable, so just keep an eye out for the usual manual gearbox related issues. Make sure that the transmission feels accurate and slick and there is no/minimal sloppiness.

On the other end of the spectrum, watch out for a really tight feeling transmission as this could be down to anything from gear linkage corrosion to a gearbox casing that is slightly out of alignment. Don’t worry too much if the shifts are a little bit stiff when cold as this is perfectly normal, however, they should soon loosen up as the GTA warms.

Synchro wear is a possibility, especially if the previous owner has spent all day slamming gears. This problem usually manifests itself as graunching or grinding and can occur on both up and down shifts. While synchro issues can occur on all gears, the problem seems to be more common on third and fourth on the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA. Sourcing the synchros isn’t too expensive, but getting the transmission rebuilt is, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of purchasing a GTA with this problem.

Another thing you can do is to try and find yourself a bit of an incline and see how the transmission and clutch performs with a hill start.

While the official Alfa Romeo service manual never actually calls for a manual transmission oil change, many owners feel that it is an essential thing to do. They often recommend that you replace the transmission fluid every two to three years or every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so. If the 156 GTA you are looking at has never had a transmission oil change, it doesn’t necessarily mean the owner has done anything wrong, but we feel it is better if it has been changed.


The clutch is a common failure point on Alfa Romeo 156 GTAs, so make sure you test it thoroughly. They tend to last around 80,000 to 100,000 km (50,000 to 62,000 miles), but some owners have experienced clutch failure much earlier than that.

Watch out for a creaking noise as the clutch release bearings are known to go bad on the 156 GTA. The slave cylinders are another thing to watch out for on these cars. If the slave cylinder has failed, brake fluid may leak down the front of the transmission (clutch and brakes use the same fluid). You may also notice some inconsistent pedal feel/return as well. Replacing the slave cylinder is not a major issue, but it is still worth mentioning it when it comes to negotiating the sale price.

Here are some tests to conduct to make sure that the clutch is working as intended:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the 156 GTA you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.

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 Romeo 156 GTA 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.

Unfortunately, replacing the clutch is a massive job on these cars and will set you back well into the four figures. Do not purchase a 156 GTA with a bad clutch unless you can get a great deal on the vehicle or get the seller to do it for you.

Diff Failure

Differential failure has been a massive problem with the 156 GTA, especially in hotter climates. It is believed that the planetary gears for the gearbox and diff just simply aren’t strong enough for the job, even at as low as 50% throttle. Unfortunately, Alfa Romeo wasn’t exactly helpful when it came to diff failures and many 156 GTA owners had to fight hard to get the company to honour warranty claims for the problem.

What makes matters even worse is that there is really no warning when a diff is about to go on these cars. The only real solution is to replace the original differential with a Q2 diff that is a Torsen style LSD and is far more robust. There have been almost no Q2 diff failures, so it is seen by many owners as an essential upgrade for the 156 GTA. Check with the seller and in the service history to see if a Q2 differential has been fitted. If one hasn’t, factor that into the cost as the standard differential WILL go at some point (installation of the Q2 diff usually takes around 8 to 10 hours). Here is a bit more info on the Q2 diff.


We would personally opt for a manual Alfa Romeo 156 GTA over a Selespeed version, but if you do want this transmission type there are a few things to be aware of. The Selespeed transmission has a bit of a reputation for going wrong and leaving the owner with a very expensive bill (we are all too familiar with the Selespeed gearbox). Repairs are made even more expensive by the fact that spares are hard to come by, meaning that an Alfa Romeo dealer may be your only option if the gearbox decides to pack it in.

The main thing to watch out for when you first hop in the car is the Selespeed failure warning light. While “Selespeed System Failure” may simply be something simple like a faulty paddle (quite common), it could be something much more serious.

Remember to take the 156 GTA through all of the gears at both low and high speeds. Check that the paddles and shifter work as intended and make sure that the transmission shifts down gears automatically when the car slows. Watch out for random and slipping gear changes and if it doesn’t get out of “N” or any other gear walk away.

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.

Another sign of impending doom is longer priming when you first start the vehicle. While you probably won’t know what is normal, if it seems like a long time and you notice any other Selespeed issues you should move onto another 156 GTA.

Suspension and Steering

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Arguably the biggest problem here are the front lower arm suspension bushes. Alfa Romeo installed rubbish ones and what’s worse is that they are an absolute pain to replace. The upper wishbones are almost as bad and once again they are a nightmare to replace.

If you notice an irritatingly loud knocking/creaking sound it is probably the front anti-roll bar bushes. These can wear, which will let the bar slide from side to side and create an absolute racket (noise should sound like it is coming from behind the dashboard).

Rear traverse links are another common wear item on an Alfa 156 GTA and if the back-end wobbles excessively over bumps it is probably a sign that the trailing arm bushes are past their prime. Here’s a bit of a checklist to go through when checking the steering and suspension components:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps (trailing arm bushes)
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the front bushings or wheel bearings – watch out for the front lower arm suspension bushes, upper wishbones, and anti-roll bar bushes.
  • 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) – usually a bad CV joint. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well

Don’t forget to visually inspect as many of the steering and suspension components as possible. Look out for any visible damage, wear, leaks or modifications. A torch/flashlight and a mirror and really come in handy here.

If the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA you are looking at has aftermarket suspension make sure you are happy with its ride. Non-stock suspension can sometimes be setup a bit harsh, which can make driving on regular roads a bit uncomfortable.

Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment

Check the wheel alignment on a nice flat, straight section of road. Check that the 156 GTA runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. If the wheel alignment is bad it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear (costing you more money) and can even lead to a less safe and enjoyable driving experience.

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.

Inspecting the Wheels & Tyres

Have a good look at the wheels and tyres as they can give you a bit of an idea of how the Alfa 156 GTA you are looking at has been treated and maintained. Given the age (and mileage) of these cars, expect to find a bit of curb damage on the wheels. If you notice lots of curb damage it could be a sign that the 156 has been owned by somebody a bit careless.

If the 156 GTA you are inspecting is fitted with aftermarket wheels, check with the owner to see if they still have the originals. The standard wheels were 17-inch teledials or multispokes, however, 18-inch multispokes were available from a very limited number of dealers for the final year of production. If they don’t have the originals try to get a discount as they will only add value to the car if you decide to sell it in the future.

When it comes to the tyres check for the following:

  • 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 Alfa Romeo 156 GTA. 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 and may even be dangerous.


156 GTAs produced up until the end of 2003 were fitted with 305 (12 inch) discs at the front and 4 pot Brembo brake calipers. Models produced after 2003 were given larger 330 mm (13 inch) discs and radially mounted calipers that some say were from the back of a Ferrari F360.

The smaller brake discs from the earlier 156 GTAs are known to warp quite easily, so watch out for any shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel (usually first becomes noticeable under high-speed braking). While the larger brake discs on later 156 GTAs can warp as well, the problem is far less likely to happen.

As the later model’s brakes are so much better, it is quite common for owners of earlier GTAs to swap them onto their cars (Alfa Romeo did this upgrade for many owners for free, so check to see if it has been done). Another benefit of the larger brake set is that it is compatible with a wider range of aftermarket brake pads. If you want to learn more about this brake upgrade, check out this link.

Make sure you test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions, with some repeated high to low-speed runs being a good idea. The brakes should be more than adequate for road use, so any sponginess is a sign of a problem (may simply need a bleed or there may be a more serious issue).

Listen out for any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use as this could indicate anything from worn/bad pads to disc issues and more.

Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).

Seized calipers are a possibility, but don’t seem to be that common. If one or more of the calipers are seized, you may notice the following:

  • Alfa 156 GTA pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • You find that the 156 GTA doesn’t want to move at all
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

Remember to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the brake components. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use. If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing). Make sure the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so on the 156 GTA your are inspecting.

Bodywork and Exterior On The 156 GTA

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Getting body and paintwork issues fixed can be super expensive, so take your time going over the exterior. Here are some things to watch out for.

Do Alfa Romeo 156 GTAs Rust?

Alfa Romeos of old have a terrible reputation for rusting away, but by the time the company got around to producing the 156, most of these rust issues were ironed out. However, despite significantly better rust protection, Alfa Romeo 156s can still rust. This is made worse by the fact that some owners have found that the zinc coating has corroded away in places not well protected by the underseal/paint (it really is the job of the zinc coating as it is essentially a sacrificial layer). Here are some of the main areas to watch out for when it comes to rust on a 156 GTA:

  • Around the floor as Alfa Romeo did not galvanise it (however, the shell of the car is galvanised)
  • Front wing/wheel arches (above the wheels) – rear arches can be a problem as well, but the front ones seem to suffer from rust issues more frequently
  • Sills – these usually rust internally, so you probably won’t know it is a problem until it is too late. Best thing you can do here is check the sill area thoroughly and if you notice any signs of rust the problem is probably already quite serious.
  • Subframes and many other structural parts and brackets around the engine bay that were painted extremely poorly
  • Underside components and structure as some GTAs have extremely poor underseal (check if it has been reapplied at any point)

Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on a 156 GTA

  • 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/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Old or no underseal

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.

Accident Damage on a 156 GTA

Crash damage is arguably going to be one of your biggest concerns, so watch out for the following on the 156 GTA you are inspecting:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the 156 GTA has been in an accident.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Alfa Romeo you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the 156 GTA you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem). On the other hand, make sure this is not due to the bonnet catch release problem GTA’s are known for.
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the 156 GTA has been in an accident.
  • Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
  • Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray.
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
  • Damage to the roof –If you notice roof damage or repairs, it may be a sign that the bonnet/hood has flipped up from the bonnet catch issue. The most obvious sign of this I usually ripples in the roof or bubbling above the windscreen.

Many owners/sellers will try to cover up accident damage or downplay the severity of an incident, and in some cases, you may come across somebody who claims their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.

While accident damage and repairs are a very serious issue, we wouldn’t necessary walk away from an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA that has been in an accident. Light to moderate damage that was repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is often okay and can usually be used to get a nice discount.

If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.

Red Paint

We do love the look of a red 156 GTA, however, we probably wouldn’t buy one ourselves. Paint fade is a real problem with this colour, turning the paintjob into a patchwork of red and pink.

Unfortunately, the pink coloured areas cannot be polished back to red as Alfa Romeo decided to lacquer these the 156 GTA. The only way to get the paint back to the nice red colour it once was is to carry out a fully respray. If you can garage the 156 GTA and the paint is still in good condition, you shouldn’t have too much issue with the red paint colour fading.

Specific GTA Body Parts

Make sure that the GTA-specific body parts are present and in good condition as these can be difficult and expensive to source.

156 GTA Interior

Credit: Alfa Romeo

There isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to the interior on a 156 GTA, apart from making sure that it is in good condition and there is not an excessive amount of weak. Have a good look at the seats, checking for any stains, wear and/or rips (especially around the bolsters). Make sure the seats are firm and have not collapsed. Check that the adjustments work as intended for all seats. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.

Excessive wear on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and carpets for the mileage may be a sign that the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA you are inspecting has had a hard life.

Have a good hunt around the cabin for any leaks or dampness. Water that is left to sit can lead to a nasty smell, cause electrical problems and corrosion. If the 156 GTA you are looking at leaks around the roof it could be a sign that the car has experienced the bonnet/hood catch failure we mentioned earlier in this guide (catch fails and the bonnet flips and hits the roof). Look in the trunk/boot as well and if you notice water residue on the underside of the floor mats it could be a sign of a past or present leak.

Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

Electronics, Air Con, Etc.

Interestingly, the electronics are fairly robust and reliable in the 156 GTA. However, a failing battery can cause havoc with the electrical systems, so that’s the first place to start if you have an issue. Test all the switches, dials and buttons to make sure they work as intended. If you do notice electrical problems do not purchase the car until you can see how it works with a new battery. If problems persist with a battery swap be very cautious as electrical issues can be a nightmare to fix.

Make sure that all the door locks, windows, etc. work properly and remember to check that the seller/owner has the original keys. Replacing the original keys is expensive, so if the seller doesn’t have them and you still want to purchase the car, use that to get a good discount.

When you switch on a 156 GTA, the air bag, ABS, and engine management systems are checked. Do no crank the engine straight away and wait for these three warning lights to go away. If no warning lights appear 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. Additionally, you can also invest in an OBDII scanner for yourself. However, be mindful of sellers who have cleared the codes without fixing the issue.

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

General Car Buying Advice for an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA

Credit: Alfa Romeo

How to Get the Best Deal on a 156 GTA

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily –  Prior to starting your search for an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage late model GTA or do you not mind an earlier
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different 156 GTAs out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple 156 GTAs– It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Alfa 156 GTA.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a 156 GTA for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage –  Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner –  While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers –  If you are looking at multiple 156 GTAs, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. 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 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

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).

The service history will give you a good idea of how the 156 GTA 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.

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.

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 (timing belt, etc.)?
  • 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 a 156 GTA

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
  • 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 156 GTA (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 156 GTA and the model they are selling.
  • 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?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Alfa Romeo 156 GTA.

Recapping Our Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Buyer’s Guide

Hopefully this buying guide has given you some useful information on sourcing, inspecting and buying an Alfa Romeo 156 GTA.

These Italian beauties are undoubtedly “modern classics” and are becoming increasingly sought after, so it’s important you understand how to find a good example.

If you have any questions or suggestions, then feel free to leave a comment below – we would love to hear from you. If you have a 156 GTA of your own and would like to share some images with us, then feel free to submit those as well.


  • 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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