21st January 1999
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Barchetta engines have what’s called variable valve timing, which is supposed to improve performance and fuel consumption. Some owners have found that, instead of their car sounding like the sporty roadster it should do, the engine makes a noise more like a black cab, because of a sticking engine valve.
In July 1997, Fiat Barchetta owner Dave Burt noticed that his car, which had done about 8,500 miles, was making an awful noise. He took it to a Fiat dealer, and discovered that the problem was the sticking valve. It was fixed free of charge because it was still under warranty. It was a problem that Fiat was aware of, because the company had issued a service news bulletin to dealers back in November 1996, with instructions to replace the faulty part with a special kit.
Last summer, Dave Burt’s Barchetta had a relapse. He took it back to his dealer who fortunately fixed the car as a goodwill gesture, because by then the car was out of warranty. It transpired Fiat had issued another service news bulletin back in November 1997, this time about replacing the replacement part because it too was sticking.
An added problem is that the fault often doesn’t appear until the engine’s done around 10,000 miles, by which time many owners’ 1 year warranty has expired.
Independent sports car specialists DTR in West London know all about the Barchetta’s problems, because the company has replaced the variable valve unit in 20 Barchettas in the last 6 months.
A variable valve should open when you accelerate and return to its original position when you decelerate. But if it sticks, you lose performance, use more petrol and your Barchetta begins to sound like a black cab.
Paul de Turris of DTR says:" We’re seeing this problem so regularly that in our opinion it’s a design fault, and it should have been rectified by the manufacturer in the first instance".
Watchdog has spoken to some owners who have had the work done for free, but there are owners who have been partially charged, and owners who have had to pay the full cost of around £400. We’ve also heard from disgruntled Barchetta owners in Switzerland, the Netherlands, France and Germany.
Fiat has told Watchdog that it is "aware of the concerns of some Barchetta owners in relation to an abnormal sound from the engine." The company stresses that the problem does not affect either safety or reliability, and says that performance and fuel consumption are unaffected.
It states that a solution to this problem is available and new parts will be sent to its dealer network starting from February 1999. This is now the 3rd replacement part that Fiat has brought in, but the company says this will offer a permanent solution to the problem.
Fiat says that as soon as the new spare parts are available, its dealer network will receive instructions to intervene - free of charge - on the cars that present the problem. Fiat Barchetta owners in the UK who have been charged by Fiat dealers to rectify this concern can expect a refund.
Fiat asks Barchetta owners with any concern over this matter to contact its information line on 0800 717000, or write directly to Customer Relations, Fiat Auto(UK) Ltd, Fiat House, 266 Bath Road Slough, Berkshire SL1 4HJ.