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A winter of discontent....


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#1 OFFLINE   MrRegieRitmo

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 12:48 AM

Having a bit of grief with my Alfa 146 at the moment, I could live with it before but it's getting to the stage where I feel a proper break down is imminent! :( I've had the car since last April & noticed one or two niggling problems but nothing major & nothing that affected my ability to get from A - B in it. However recently that situation has been beginning to change & that statement is no longer true. Over the past couple of months leading upto last Saturday I've had one or two episodes of concern & since then I've now had another two episodes with the car so the problem is escalating which is why I've been forced to seek advice as it's got to the stage where I've lost my confidence in the car!

The first episode happened after I was about a mile up the road from leaving home, suddenly without warning the car began to slow down & lose power and pressing the accelerator made no difference. I was coming to a halt so I put my hazards on & tried to pull in without really having anywhere to pull into. But just before the car died & I was imagining having to get the AA out, I tried to accelerate again & the car suddenly sprang back to life & the power returned. I was able to carry on the rest of my journey without anymore problems. The car didn't stall, I thought it had but obviously it hadn't because I hadn't come to a complete halt & I didn't need to turn the ignition again it just suddenly picked itself up again. Loose connection to the battery or something?

Another time the car simply died after I went over a speed hump! I wouldn't say I was going over it too fast as there were several speed humps but it only happened after the final hump, although more steep than the others. The car just died after I went over it and this time it had completely died so I had to turn it off & on. Again it was ok for the rest of the journey.


Fast forward to last Saturday, I'd been away on a course for a week & the car had sat unused. Would it start? Would it heck! It wanted to start, it was trying it's best but it wasn't having it. We assumed it was damp but we got the AA out & after having a go starting it, it wouldn't do it, so he popped the bonnet open, got out a can of carburettor cleaner, removed a pipe & said could I have a go starting it whilst he was doing this? So I went to start it & it fired straight up quick as a flash! He said "It wasn't supposed to fix it, merely diagnose it!" He expected it to start spluttering so he could find out whether fuel was getting through or something else was amiss but the car started as if he'd got healing hands. The job must have taken 2 minutes of his time & been one of his easiest ever but he said it was good & bad; good because it's obviously running now but bad because he can't now diagnose it, doesn't know what caused it & if or when it might happen again! We then stopped & started it several times to prove it wasn't a fluke & it started each time on the button! How infuriating, that was almost a waste of a call out, although he did technically fix it I suppose.

Used the car fine on Sunday & Monday without any further problems.

Tuesday morning, again the car was fine. Tuesday evening coming home from work......another episode! I was about 5 miles from home out of my 30 mile journey when suddenly I could feel the car losing power again, I was coming to a halt so I mounted a kerb just before it died. Then spent the next few minutes trying to start it again whilst contemplating having to ring my friends at the AA again. I must have tried about 3 times, got it started on the 4th but it died again straight away, then tried a 5th, then got it going again on the 6th & kept it going & again managed to complete my journey without any further problems so I never actually called for assistance. I don't mind too much if it wants to play silly buggers as long as it can guarantee it will come back to life again after it's had it's fun ( I know it can't though & that's what's bothering me in case I end up stranded somewhere!).

Then this morning, the journey into work was completed without any problems. Coming home?.....hmmm. Well let me see, drove just a few feet away from where I was parked, still in first gear, doing less than 5mph when the car suddenly jolts me! Now, I really hate this jolting thing, it's something the Renault used to do to me when that was giving me grief (AA diagnosed head gasket on the way out but we now know that wasn't true, so could this be the same thing - water shorting out my electrics & causing rough running?), it's like the engine suddenly 'jumps' without warning, a bit like when you're driving along & you change down a gear but you're still going a bit too fast for the gear & when the plates collide the car will bounce, or when you've left the car in gear by mistake & when you start it the car lurches? Well it's like that but you're moving at the time & it catches you unawares & you can't think of any reason for it but I despise it when it happens, it's very disconcerting & makes me want to park the car up by the side of the road then & there & get out & walk! :flame: Anyway, twice it did this on the way home, the 2nd time whilst I was in the outside lane of the dual carriageway so I was forced to move over to be next to the hard shoulder in case I suddenly lost all power again (I didn't). I still had about a quarter of a tank of petrol but I knew I'd have to top up soon (this is one thirsty car - £20 every other day) so I stopped for petrol & after that the car drove really well with alot of acceleration & no more jolting but the car only seems to drive well when I've got at least half a tank of petrol, the rest of the time it's sluggish, can that be right? Anyway I got home ok without any power loss but when I pulled up I left it running just to listen to it, the engine sounded meek & pitiful as if it was barely running & the idle revs were hovering below 1000 so much lower & I'm sure the car would stall as it wouldn't have enough to keep going. So this wasn't filling me with confidence for tomorrow's journey, more like dread that I'll have more jolting & power loss episodes!

This leads me to another problem I've got which I already knew about. That I need a new sensor because my idle speed rises & falls erratically upon first start. It's up down up down up down, rising upto 3000 then down below 1000 where it starts to shiver because it feels like it will stall as it doesn't have enough to keep running. This has caused me to stall whilst maneuvering because the revs are so shallow that it's dies whilst I'm trying to park. I also have to rev it more than usual when pulling off at junctions to make sure it has enough go to overcome the low bit of the rev cycle & doesn't stall when I'm trying to drive off. Usually after a few seconds it settles after starting up or when driving normally, it's only when I come to a rest or at first start up it acts wildly. Anyway, this couldn't also be causing the jolting & unexplained loss of power could it? We're only talking about it playing havoc with my idle speed, the problems in the paragraphs above must be caused by a different fault, yes?

What symptoms do you get if your variator needs replacing? Because I've matched my symptoms to sounding a bit diesel like when starting, performance not as sh*t hot as it's supposed to be, & using more petrol than it should be. I believe my car ticks those boxes, or is that just Alfas in general? Again, could that cause jolting & random power losses?

The other annoying thing I've found is that my windscreen wipers seem to go to sleep.....is there supposed to be a sleep mode or has my car just invented one? When it's raining I turn them on, then after they've been running for a while, I'm suddenly made aware that they've stopped wiping & my subconscious tells me I must have turned them off.....except I haven't, so when I go to turn them on again by pushing the control arm down, all I succeed in doing is sending them into a manic warp speed because they were already in the on position, so why in god's name weren't they still wiping? I'm finding it very frustrating that they just decide to stop when they feel like it, as if they're rain sensitive or something except even then there'd still be something wrong because they're blatantly ignoring the rain that's falling on my screen! :huh:


Do any of these problems sound familiar to you? If so then please share because these problems are getting in the way of what has otherwise been an enjoyable Alfa experience! I have been putting up with most things to be honest because while the car still drives I didn't like to make a big thing out of any of the problems I've got as I didn't want to give anybody the satisfaction of "I told you so!"'s when I decided to get my 100k Alfa having never had any previous experience with Alfas or known anyone that has, especially from the other half in her dependable Vauxhall Astra - dull but worthy - pah! It's had it's problems trust me! So I've sat on my own ones for as long as I could it's just now they're getting a bit hard to ignore & I'm a little concerned to say the least. I don't regret anything for a moment, I went in with my eyes open & as far as I'm concerned & anyone else for that matter, the fact that I had 9 months of enjoyable dependable driving & no AA up until Saturday in a slightly tired 6 yr old Alfa sticks two fingers upto the usual horror stories! :D

#2 OFFLINE   wuvvum

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 01:06 AM

Welcome to the wonderful world of Alfa ownership! My 166 has been running and driving sweet as a nut ever since I got ti but pretty much every electrical ancillary (including the battery) has gone wrong in some way or other. As far as the running problems you're having, they go way beyond my very limited knowledge of ECU-controlled engines. I'd try replacing the idle control valve as my neighbour's Clio had similar problems with erratic idle and power surging and waning on the dual carriageway when his burned out. The cutting out issue could be almost anything, but possibly the fuel pump on its way out? My old Dodge 50 recovery truck used to cut out over speed bumps - never did work out why, but I suspect the fuel was probably surging away from the pick-up pipe in the tank and air was getting into the system. The wipers thing - my Saab 9-5 did exactly the same thing - the wipers used to die randomly, usually when I'd had them on intermittent but then they'd refuse to work on any setting. Problem with modern wiper circuits is that there are so many fuses and relays in the way and a slightly dodgy contact on any one of them can bring the whole system shuddering to a halt. My usual fix for this kind of thing (if I'm going to be keeping the car long enough to make it worth fixing) is to run a wire straight from the battery to a switch somewhere in the car to the relevant motor/bulb/whatever and cut out all the bullshit electronics. It's always worked so far...

#3 OFFLINE   Mr Lobster

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 07:40 AM

What symptoms do you get if your variator needs replacing?

Sadly, thats not whats causing all this. If the variator needs replacing you get a bit of a diesel like rattle on cold starts and a very slight power loss. But thats it, it won't affect performance to any great extent nor reliability, they can carry on with a noisy variator for quite some time.This does sound familiar to my experience with my 145 Cloverleaf - that would occasionlly not start for no apparent reason, I also suffered with loss of power, stalling and some of the other stuff you have. Eventually it was fixed with a new airflow meter and cam speed sensor.With the wipers - there is a black box full of fuses on the n/s/f corner under the bonnet, its worth taking them out and giving them a clean as they can go a bit furry with age - mine also had the intermittant none working wiper problem and to be honest I never solved it. By the time I got the car running again the car developed more problems and I ot to the point where I dare not go out with RAC card and mobile as I couldn't trust it 100%.Its a shame because they are great cars but the reliabilty problems everyone mentions are all too real unfortunately.I bought the best one I could find - full history etc etc, in the space of almost two years I still spent an eye watering amount of money on it!As Wuvvum says, welcome to the wonderful world of Alfa ownership!Hope you get it sorted, might be worth posting your symptoms on alfa145.com as they are generally very knowledgable.

#4 OFFLINE   nigel bickle

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 09:49 AM

Reg- I'll help if I can -but right now I'm as flexible as a plank (and about as intelligent!)When was it last serviced? (R 14 experience suggests you might be a bit 'economic' on service intervals).Cutting out sounds like a lose battery connection (do all the lights go out?) or knackered HT leads/cap etc. This wet weather plays havoc with electrics....Wipers -I too would guess fuses. Take them out -one at a time -wipe it and spray a little WD40 or water disperser -then replace. Might be a relay (-same process, probably on the same board -or close by).If it helps - bring it here. I cant put all the stuff I 'might' need in the boot of a car.......
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#5 OFFLINE   mk2_craig

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 01:22 PM

Clogged fuel filter?

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#6 OFFLINE   Baz

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 02:02 PM

Welcome to the wonderful world of Alfa ownership!

Maybe I was lucky, but both my Alfas ('90 Spider 2000 Veloce S3, '99 156 2.0 Twinspark Lusso) gave faultless performances....I think good servicing was the key....Although that in itself was blimmin' expensive! :shock:

All find that with ANY Italian vehicle, car or bike, I have a love/hate relationship....When they're gone though, I miss them terribly....I still mourn the day that I let my Spider go! :cry:
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#7 OFFLINE   Dead_E23

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 10:05 PM

Eventually it was fixed with a new airflow meter and cam speed sensor.

I'm told you can diagnose the AFM by unplugging it - if the engine runs better then it's a dud.Alternatively, there's some software you can download to read all the fault codes stored in the ECU. It's called AlfaDiag and costs about £45. You also need a laptop with a proper serial port (i.e. not one of those USB-serial adaptors), a cable to plug into the diagnostic socket and a little bit of circuitry to isolate the PC from the car's 12V. I reckon about £100 all in, but I'm tempted to get one for when my 156 starts playing up.

#8 OFFLINE   Justin Case

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 11:22 PM

Your problems sound very similar to those of Mrs A's now departed VW Polo 1.2. plus the emissions light would go on unless the tank was kept nearly full and only Shell petrol was used. Checking with a VW specialist and also looking at various websites pointed to either the ECU or one of anumber of sensors. So a thorough check of the electronics might be a good idea.We never found out in the end, as a number of other things were also playing up, so she decided to cut her losses and get a nice reliable Nissan :)

#9 OFFLINE   Waderider

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 12:30 AM

I've an old Fiat that has displayed similar symptoms on a few occasions. A few times it has been an easy fix. I have a tool for such occasions, a pair of tweezers with light wet and dry superglued inside the jaws!Drill is go round each engine management wiring plug one by one, clean the pins using the tools, smear with vaseline to deter water and re-attach. Easy as.Another time I had bad idling and erratic acceleration it turned out to be loose exhaust manifold bolts. Back pressure was pulling air (oxygen) in over the lambda sensor causing the problem.The time my idle control valve went left it only effected the idle. So in my experience I wouldn't look there.What I'm saying I guess is it could be anything.......so tell me, why is Practical Classics putting bloody engine management in an old car?!

#10 OFFLINE   MrRegieRitmo

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 09:39 PM

Thanks for everyone's input on my tale of woe, much appreciate you taking the time to empathize / sympathize! Rather typically, since I expressed my concern, the car has driven faultlessly, hasn't missed a beat!Maybe that's the point that I was missing, maybe Alfas are supposed to give you lots of problems but only temporary ones as opposed to other more dependable makes that might only give you one or two problems during ownership but take alot of time & money to sort out? Maybe owning an Alfa just means that you have to be ready for anything but a journey with a problem doesn't mean that problem will persist or indeed ever be there again! (the next day it will be an entirely different problem, that will also only last for that day & so on.....) rather than Joe Smug in his BMW that will race about his daily business with no trouble whatsoever for 5 years & then one day suddenly conks out & finds he needs a new (engine/gearbox/car) delete as appropriate :mrgreen:

#11 OFFLINE   MrRegieRitmo

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 09:40 PM

Hope you get it sorted, might be worth posting your symptoms on alfa145.com as they are generally very knowledgeable.

That was my first port of call! :wink: http://forum.alfa145...showtopic=11731

#12 OFFLINE   MrRegieRitmo

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 09:52 PM

Reg- I'll help if I can -but right now I'm as flexible as a plank (and about as intelligent!)When was it last serviced? (R 14 experience suggests you might be a bit 'economic' on service intervals).Cutting out sounds like a lose battery connection (do all the lights go out?) or knackered HT leads/cap etc. This wet weather plays havoc with electrics....Wipers -I too would guess fuses. Take them out -one at a time -wipe it and spray a little WD40 or water disperser -then replace. Might be a relay (-same process, probably on the same board -or close by).If it helps - bring it here. I cant put all the stuff I 'might' need in the boot of a car.......

Thanks Nige, if it happens more regularly I'll swing by (if I can :shock: )Servicing? Our family don't do servicing.....I've never seen my parents do that sort of thing, & their 'non habit' habit has been passed onto me. Heck I'm worried enough about the MOT in April, plus another £100 in March for 6 months tax, servicing just sounds like another expense!I don't think the lights went out, I can't remember if they went out when it first died, I believe they were still on because I opted to turn them off whilst I attempted to get it started again! Certainly when the car wouldn't start after I'd been away for a week, everything else electrical still worked because I tested the lights, windows etc!It does have the slight hallmarks of when my fuel pump went on the Fiesta & the car acted like it was being starved of petrol, stuttering etc, that's why I was going to keep the level high because it drove much better after that. Although now I'm not so sure because, it drove great the last 2 days & the petrol level is now low again & I don't think a problem like that would ease off, I would expect it to fail completely quite quickly.




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