Alfa Romeo 166 Buyer’s Guide – 1999 to 2007

If you are looking for a late nineties to mid-2000s executive saloon with a bit of style, the Alfa Romeo 166 could be just what you are looking for. Produced from 1998 to 2007 with a facelift in 2003, the Alfa Romeo 166 was Alfa’s range topping luxury model.

While the Alfa Romeo 166 is a fantastic car and represents good value today, they are getting a bit long in the tooth and there are a number of things you need to watch out for when buying one. In this guide we will point out all the major problems to keep an eye out for, so you can get the best possible 166 for your money.

Engine

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Check to see when the timing belt and tensioner was last replaced – Alfa originally specified a replacement interval of every 116,000 km (72,000 miles) or every 6 years for the 166. However, many owners experienced premature failure, which led to some very expensive repair bills. Because of this Alfa halved the recommended service interval for petrol 166s to every 58,000 km (36,000 miles) or every 3 years. If you are looking at a diesel model the work should be carried out every 77,000 km (48,000 miles) or every 4 years (5 maximum).

The Water pump should be replaced with the timing belt – In addition to this many owners replace the original pump with one with metal impellers. The plastic impellers on the original pumps are prone to breaking, which causes the engine to overheat.

Check how often the oil and filter has been replaced – The oil and filter should have been replaced every 10,000 km (6,000 miles) or every 12 months. The original replacement interval was every 20,000 km (12,000 miles), however, most owners don’t recommend waiting this long.

Check what oil has been used – Below we have listed the correct oil weights for each model:

EngineOil CapacityRecommended Oil GradeOther Oil Grade
2.0 TS4.5L10W-405W-40 or 5W-30
2.0 V6 TB6.1L10W-6010W-40 or 10W-50
2.5 V65.9L10W-405W-40 or 10W-60
3.0 V6 24V5.9L10W-60 or 10W-4010W-50
3.2 V65.5L10W-405W-40 or 10W-60
2.4 JTD5L5W-40 or 5W-300W-40
2.4 JTD M-Jet5L5W-40 or 5W-300W-40

Check oil level and try to find out how much oil the 166 consumes – All engines in the 166 range can use quite a bit of oil, especially the 3.2 V6 which often uses around 1 litre per 1,600 km (1,000 miles). As this is the case, check the oil level of the car you are looking at as it can quickly drop below the minimum. If you do find it is below minimum the 166 has probably been neglected and you should walk away.

Check the condition of the coolant and for any coolant leaks – Brown or muddy coolant is a bad sign and if you don’t see a leak, but smell the sweet aroma of coolant there still is probably a leak somewhere in the system.

Bad Heater Core Matrix and low coolant level – The heater core matrix can leak, causing a short on the airbag module. It can also seep onto the ECU and the automatic transmission module as well. Obviously, this can cause a whole load of problems and expense, so if you notice any leaks or that the coolant level is low be very, very cautious as you don’t want to buy a 166 with this problem unless you can get it at a bargain price.

Check that the heater works as intended – If you don’t get any heat it could be due to a problem with the cooling system (failed water pump, etc.)

Bad Mass Air Flow Meter (MAF) – A failing MAF is a common problem. The usual symptoms are poor idle, poor fuel consumption, low power, a CEL (Check Engine Light), and general rough running. The lack of power is usually most notable higher in the rev range.

Credit: Alfa Romeo

White smoke –A few white puffs could be caused by condensation in the exhaust, but it should soon go away. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from a 166’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 166. 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.

Excess engine vibrations/shaking – 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. Lots of shaking at idle or when revving the engine is another sign of this problem

This isn’t necessarily a specific issue with the 166 as engine mounts are a component that will eventually need to be replaced on pretty much any car. Higher mileage 166s are going to be more likely to suffer from this problem, so keep that in mind.

Transmission

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Watch for synchro wear on manual 166s – Grinding or graunching during shifts is a common sign of this problem. Seems to be more of an issue on third and fourth for most models, but it can depend. Synchro wear can be a sign of a car that has been thrashed regularly (although this isn’t always the case).

Many owners recommend replacing the transmission oil every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or every 3 years

Watch for clutch slippage or high clutch engagement – The clutches on the 166 tend to be quite reliable if looked after properly, but slippage or high engagement indicates that a new one is probably needed soon.

Watching out for any thumping or jolts on automatic 166s – If you notice any thumping, jumping or grinding when gear changes are happening we would probably walk away.

Make sure Sporttronic cars kick down and go into the sport and manual modes – These are common signs of a failing transmission. Depending on what the problem is with the transmission, the fix could be quite simple or very expensive, but we wouldn’t take any chances either way. Find a 166 with a well-functioning Sporttronic transmission and you will be much better off (or just go with a manual).

Bodywork & Exterior

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Check for rust – Rust protection is much better on these cars than something like the 156, but it can still occur. The most common areas are bottom of the wings, around the sills (especially if there is any chipping), back of the rear wheel arches, above the steering gaiters, anywhere where accident damage or stone chips have occurred.

Check for rust proofing/protection – See if the 166 has any rust protection and that it has been reapplied regularly. This can go a long way in protecting a car, especially in places with harsh winters and salted roads.

Inspect the car thoroughly for any accident damage – We have listed some of the common signs below:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – If you notice any misaligned panels on the Alfa 166 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 Alfa Romeo 166 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 could be a factory issue, but is more likely due to a respray/repair. 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 166, 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.).

Suspension & Steering

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Listen out for any creaking sounds and check for any play in the suspension – The high upper wishbone is susceptible to premature wear. If this has occurred, the creaking noise often sounds like it is coming from behind the dashboard.

The suspension bushes are prone to wear on the 166 – If the bushes are bad you might experience clunking during acceleration/braking, a loose feeling in the steering when turning, and a strange pulling experience during braking/acceleration. Strange or uneven tyre wear is another sign of this problem.

Common signs of suspension issues – If you notice the following it is a good sign that the suspension is past its prime:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are in use
  • 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)

Visually inspect the suspension and steering components for any damage, signs of leaks, etc. – Also check to see if the components are original or modified.

Rebuilding the suspension can be very expensive on these cars

Make sure the wheel alignment is good and the car tracks straight – Bad alignment can quickly ruin tyres and could be a sign of a neglected car.

Inspect the wheels for any damage – Lots of curb damage is a sign of a careless owner and if you see dents, cracks or buckling on a wheel it probably needs to be replaced.

Brakes

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Check the pads for life and also make the sure the discs are in good condition as well – If the pads or discs need to be replaced try to get a discount.

Watch out for shuddering or shaking when braking – This is often caused by warped discs/rotors and is usually most notable when braking from higher speeds.

Make sure that the brakes are not seized – If a caliper has seized you may notice that the 166 pulls to one side during braking. Another couple of signs of a seized caliper include an acrid smell from burning brakes, and reduced performance (can sometimes feel like the handbrake is on).

Check that the brake fluid has been replaced every 2 years

Interior

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Inspect the entire cabin for wear or damage, including the seats – Pay particular attention to the seat material as reupholstering or replacing the seats can be very, very expensive.

Make sure the seats don’t move during acceleration or braking – This is very dangerous and can lead to an MOT/WOF failure. Also check that the seat adjustments work and they are structurally sound.

Excessive wear can indicate a 166 that has had a hard life – Check the shifter, steering wheel, carpets, etc. for wear. If it looks particularly bad for the mileage we would be questioning why.

Check the headlining above the driver’s seat for discolouration – This can be a sign of a smoker

Watch out for any leaks – Check the carpets and in the boot/trunk. A leak can cause a nasty smell and can play havoc with the electronics. Water residue on the bottom of the floor mats can indicate a leak has occurred in the past.

Electronics & Other Things

Credit: Alfa Romeo

Make sure the air conditioning works as intended – If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a regas as it could be something much more expensive (compressor, etc.)

Check the locks, doors, etc.

Test all the electronics (Lights, radio, indicators, etc.) – Electrical problems can be a nightmare to fix, so take your time here. Sometimes a new battery is all what is needed to get things functioning properly, but we wouldn’t take the risk.

Check for any warning lights – Also make sure the warning lights come on when the car is started as if they don’t it is a sign that they may have been disconnected.

Author

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  • 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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