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Day to day in an Alfa Spider

One of the best pieces of advice that can be given about owning an Alfa for any length of time is GET TO KNOW THE CAR. Drive it around a lot, especially when you first get it (this shouldn’t be tough… the cars practically beg to be driven). Learn what noises your car makes and doesn’t make. Drive it with the top up as well as down. Get used to it.

From that point on, PAY ATTENTION. Cars are not like people… they don’t fix themselves. If your Spider starts doing something out of the ordinary, then something is wrong. It doesn’t matter how small a glitch it is… if it begins making a new noise, or starts a slight vibration, or gets a new smell, these are signs that should be examined quickly. As with any car, a certain amount of redundancy is built in to a Spider’s systems. Just about any one thing can fail and still allow the car to be driven for miles. But, left unchecked, these small problems can turn into very big problems, and then, like cancer, spread and effect other systems of the car. If something is strange, get it looked at. If something is broken, GET IT FIXED.

There are, however, some things that tend to wear out in an Alfa that don’t normally wear out in other cars. Some examples:

TIE ROD ENDS AND LOWER BALL JOINTS. The cars tend to be very hard on the two tie rod ends that connect the center link to the steering box and idler arm. The classic symptom of tie rod end failure is loose steering. If your Alfa’s steering starts getting a little flaccid, check these tie rod ends first. Lower ball joints tend to fail as well. This can cause the car to feel "jiggly" and be affected by roadway imperfections. Fortunately, neither item is expensive, and both are relatively easy to replace by even a novice mechanic.

U-JOINTS. The cars also seem to enjoy eating U-joints at regular intervals. The classic symptom of U-joint failure is drivetrain vibration. If your Alfa gets a vibration that seems to be coming from UNDER the car, and especially if it seems to get worse while you change speed, check the U-joints. Again, these items aren’t very expensive, but I have been told by two different professional Alfa mechanics that it is a very bad thing to try to hammer them in and out of the U-joint yokes. Apparently the yokes are fragile and bend easily. Take the assembly to a machine shop and have them pressed in instead.

NOTE: your Spider’s driveshaft is a balanced, multi-piece affair. Before removing it for whatever reason, be sure to mark its position with chalk so you can put it back together correctly.

RUBBER DRIVESHAFT DONUT. While nothing as bad as the 116 series cars, Spiders do have a single donut and it does sometimes fail. This device acts in place of a U-joint just behind the transmission. Failure is usually indicated the same way as U-joint failure… a sudden increase in drivetrain vibration. Always inspect the donut twice a year by getting under the car and checking it visually, and manually by feeling for cracks and tears. If it is damaged, get it replaced. Letting a damaged donut go can ruin the output shaft on your transmission.

ELECTRICAL FAILURES. 90% of all Alfa electrical problems seem to be caused by loose connections. Before getting out your multimeter (or taking it to an auto electrician), turn the device’s switch ON, then run your finger across the fuse box (just under the driver’s side dash, on the left of the steering wheel). Be sure to turn each fuse at least a quarter turn as you rub it with your finger. Many times this will bring back the failed connection. Note which fuse it is, and next time you are cleaning the car get some sandpaper or steel wool and clean that connection. Especially on the later cars, be sure to clean all the ground wires you can see with a special-purpose electric connection cleaner.

REAR PINION SEAL. This is one that isn’t mentioned much in the books, but I’ve seen pinion seals fail no fewer than four times on different cars. The symptoms of this failure are a puddle of fluid at the REAR of the car, a differential housing wet with very sticky oil, and a very strange burning smell coming from the rear of the car after a long drive. You can keep the car going by making sure the fluid in the rear axle is topped off. Be aware that if you let this one go too long, your rear axle will get progressively louder and louder, and it will stay loud even after you fix the seal and fill the rear end.

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By Scott Johnson - Copyright 1996 - Third Edition, Released August 2001 - All Rights Reserved.