Hi Jason, welcome to the forum mate:
The answer to your question is:
Some cars have flaws and some cars have "bad, uncaring" owners too... There are a lot of good ones too in comparison.
Rule 1: (and this is even more important with Alfa's)
Dont buy with your heart!
Many, many alfa owners have done this and regretted it financially... Always keep in the back of your mind, "There is always a better example to look at"
Always plan to see at least five examples, two of them as a rule of thumb will be spot on!
Rule 2: Service history is important,
if they are loved, they will be respected. Look at higher mileage examples where the second or third cambelt period has just been done and proved... By this time, all the parts that can go wrong have been changed/replaced so less to go wrong....
Be wary of the mileage if its a few thousand mile short of the next major service like 35, 71, 107 thousand miles..or slightly below that
. This means big bills will come your way sooner than you think.
Rule 3: All the keys and paperwork like reciepts present
... Keys can be expensive to replace so if it has one only working... walk away... Same goes for the remote central locking, if it isn't working properly, exit left! Also make a note of the registration number and check the VOSA MOT website, if it had any advisories after the last MOT it will show you what they were, then.... If the owner doesn't show you those advisories with the paperwork, you then know how "honest" he is!
Rule 4: Always, always test drive it.
.. It should be smooth, quiet, faster than you imagined and no squeaks or rattles, if it does then bushes and suspension parts require changing. Check the wear on tyres, they are always a tell tale sign of suspension/ steering wear front and rear!
Rule 5: Check all the buttons and switches are working the way they should.
.. Anything that isn't, use as a bargaining tool todrive the cost down... Warning lights on the dash should come on the dash on turning the key and extinguish once the engine has started, if not then £££'s to set right!
Rule 6: So now you are satisfied? This is now for your future ownership happiness..
. Take some ramps and get the owner to drive up them... get a torch and give the underneath a damn good look over...
Rust on the floorpans around the seat points and sills is now becoming an issue..
. So any patches, walk away! While you are there check the exhaust, on TS's the exhaust flexi-joint can be a weak spot and costly so bear that in mind....
Any oil/ fluid leaks? Take this all into account and be careful..
. An average TS will use between half and one litre of oil per 1000 mile
so if any leaks, it will accelerate this usage... And if the oil light should illuminate, it's usually too late by then! Thus bottom end failures! (which is quite rare)
And I apologise in advance to anyone who is selling on EBAY.
.. But i'ts certainly not the best place to be looking for a prime example of a 156... There is a reason why many owners sell them on their for spares or repair... If in doubt, see rule 1
Hope this helps mate and it's just a general guide and many will add points to this I'm sure... But being to specific only confuses.
Do your home work!
Read and read again until you become an expert on what you are looking for... These cars require owner input at all times, If you have owned a germanic car and you are lazy at maintainence in any way, then it isn't for you... An Alfa will actually reward you for looking after it, A VW won't!
One last tip:
Any owner can make a Alfa look spot on, they look fantastic nice and clean.... The important stuff is underneath, that's where all the money is well spent and all the hard work and effort is paid off. If it's solid and secure underneath, you know that the rest is going to be ok. As an MOT examiner I can't emphasize this part enough!