(take a deep breath - big post ahead)
Since losing the use of my car on New Years Eve's Eve (as my brother, Jase77, put it) I'm glad to say that I got my 155
back last Friday, and the smile has now re-appeared on my face. It was very fortunate, that my girlfreinds 1.2 Clio
became available for me to use to get to work (I work shifts, some distance from my home) and very good of her to let me
use it, but having power under my right foot again and hearing the induction roar, has cheered me up no end.
I had bought the car only 2 weeks before this happened (having been searching for a good 155 2L for about 3 months, and
having decided before I had found one, what I was going to do to it, including fitting a SQUADRA chip after hearing so
many good reviews and talk of much improved low end torque and drivability) and was obviously gutted after fitting the
SQUADRA chip and realising after it failed to start that something was wrong.
While fitting the chip I had used all precautions nessecary for handling and esd (Electro Static Discharge - esd wriststrap
to earth/ground) and had been carefull to note which way round the original chip had been in the ECU, and making sure that
the SQUADRA chip went in the same way round (along with its copy protection device). I also kept the original Alfa chip safe
in the esd case (I advise you to do the same - it doesn't hurt to be careful, and you may at one point want to take your
performance chip with you to another car of the same type. These chips must be kept in a special esd container's or they
may be damaged by stray static from yourself or other objects - including an unsuitable container).
Copy protection device:
It appears from the changes in the installation manual on the SQUADRA website (manual C for my car - 2L 155 TS 16V P/'97)
from the first time I looked at it, that the addition of a copy protection device is a fairly recent change. Has anyone
fitted a SQUADRA chip to their 155 (same spec) without this device (ie, just the chip itself)? The device consists of
a socket (the same as on the ECU Printed Circuit Board - PCB) a thin layer of PCB, and underneath is a small chip (without
which I assume it won't work, and while connected I also assume the device can't be read & copied by those with the equipment
neccasary wishing to make cheap copies of SQUADRA chips) which is hidden by a plastic mount and extension legs that forms
the connection to be mounted into the ECU PCB. The chip arrives in an esd box, already fitted into its copy protection
After the car failed to start I removed the ECU from the car again and once indoors took the case off. When I removed the
SQUADRA chip (hoping that the fault was something simple like a bit of debri stopping a connection or at the worst a
defective chip, meaning I'd have to wait to get an exchange) I then noticed that the markings on the socket on the
copy protection device were on the opposite corner to the markings on the chip itself. I could have kicked myself for
not noticing this when I fitted the chip (I work in the electronics field), but had perhaps been eager to fit the chip and
after all, wasn't looking for faults as I wasn't expecting anything to be wrong with it. I then began to worry as I didn't
know what affect this might have (the chip was in the right way round, but the chip underneath in the copy protection
device was connecting to it and the ECU circuitry the wrong way round) and it clearly states in the manual, putting the
chip in the wrong way round will damage you ECU and the chip. What would this do?
For anyone who's interested:
In electronics all 'chips' that go onto a PCB, that need to go into the circuit a particular way round, have a marking of
some kind on the component and on the circuit board or socket to tell you which way round to fit/solder them (it usually
tells you where to find pin 1 on the chip). On this type of chip, the markings are a chamfered edge (a 45 degree cut off
one corner) for the orientation, and a dot/dimple for pin 1. The receiving socket on the PCB should have a similiar cut
corner on it or a marking of some other kind, or a cut corner marking or star printed on the PCB itself next to the socket
to match the chamfered corner or pin 1.
I then put the original Alfa chip back into the ECU and connected the ECU back up to the car - still wouldn't start
(turns over on the starter motor, but no responce from the engine). Also as before the code key light didn't go out.
At that point the screams could be heard for miles...
I phoned Alfasalv/Ian Stewart (UK distributor of SQUADRA) and he confirmed that the chip had to go in the smae way round
as the original, but didn't know about the orientation of the copy protection device, and directed me to SQUADRA, saying
he would also contact them about this.
There then followed a number of mails between myself and Stephan Lenior (SQUADRA), and also Alfasalv.
Various suggestions were made and questions asked and as my brother has mentioned, the responce times were very quick,
particularly since the first mails were sent on New Years Eve and people don't always check they're e-mail very regularly,
especially at this time and on New Years Day, and also remember Stephan is in another country (Holland).
I sent him pictures of the chip in the copy protection device via e-mail, and he replied telling me this was indeed the
wrong way round and that it was a surprising and unusual thing to have happened. This is the first instance that he or
anyone else I have spoken to has heard of a problem with a SQUADRA chip.
Also, I was getting ideas from Jason (my brother) who I knew was asking for help and suggestions from other Alfa owners,
although I only saw this thread for the first time a couple of days ago (I wasn't in the mood for surfing the Alfa sites
at the time - I'm sure you can understand) and I'd like to thank everyone who has contributed and given encouragment.
The questions asked and fixes/diangnostics attempted were:
- What does code key light do when starting ignition (should go out after a few seconds, to show code is recognised and
immobiliser disarmed, eg ECU fuel mapping enabled).
Light stayed on.
- What does injection light do when starting ignition (should also go out after a few seconds, to show injection system
Light stayed on.
- Tried setting key codes from immobiliser (procedure is included in post from wrinx).
Didn't work as code key light didn't go out.
- Tried emergency manual key code procedure (code on cards supplied with car, when problems with system, you can use the
accelerator pedal to enter the code on the card for emergency starting):
I will try to explain. You need to have the Alfa Code
card to do this. Use the 5 digit number.
- Turn the ignition key on (do not start).
- The red INJECTION (not the orange key code) light
will go for just a moment off and then on again.
- Now push the gas pedal fully.
- The INJECTION light will go out after some moments.
- Release the gas pedal. The INJECTION light will be
- For example the first digit from the 5 digit code is
an 4 then wait untill the INJECTION light has flashed
4 times. Now push the gaspedal fully (light goes on)
and wait until the INJECTION light goes of again.
- same way for the second digit
- same third.
- same fourth
- same fifth.
- After the last digit release the gaspedal.
The injection light now can do two things. Quickly
flashing means the code is OK and you can start the
engine by turning the ignition key.
If the injection light doesn't flash the code is not
OK. Then try it again.
I didn't have the code cards neccasary (previous owner didn't have them), but the car's responce to my attempts to start
procedure could give SQUADRA more detail about what was wrong with the ECU system.
Didn't work at all as code key light didn't go out.
- Tried reseting the ECU - Disconnect the battery terminals (careful) and short the leads together for 30 secs. Re-connect
to the battery and try starting again. If fails, try shorting again for 1min.
This failed to make any difference on my car.
At this point I realised that the ECU was likely to be pretty much buggered. I had already made an appointment by now for
the car to go to a local garage where the boss was a Bosch specialist (I have a Bosch motronic ECU) and had full diagnostic
equipment and was also an expert Alfa mechanic and had worked for Alfa in the past (also been a racing driver, a part of many
racing teams for different makes and had "been there, done that" for most things concerning performance cars). The garages
boss is Job Gevers from Automotive Services. If you need a good garage for work on your Alfa (or any other make) and you live
in or around Fife in Scotland - check him out. Job is also dutch and was able to communicate with Stephan Lenior (SQUADRA)
better than I could, speaking his language both technically and geographically.
He told me that in situations where it is beleived that a chip has damaged an ECU, it is likely that the immobiliser unit
(yellow plastic box above fuse/relay holder tray) is also damaged. Didn't look to good.
He carried out tests and realised that the immobiliser unit was okay. He then had to manually probe all the connections
to the ECU as it was dead and none of the diagnostic machines could 'speak' to it. Diagnosis = ECU knackered.
Where is the ECU:
For those who don't know, the ECU is in the passenger footwell (approx at the same height as the wiring protective rubber boot
going into the door) at the side of the footwell nearest the door behind a plastic cover. The cover is help on with 2 nuts
(I forget the size). Remove this and the ECU is visible held down by 2 nuts on the closest edge and one at the rear. These
nuts are a pain to get off as space is restricted and you'll probably be on your back, with your head in the footwell.
The connector won't come off untill it is removed from its mountings and has a lever arrangement to disengage it. The ECU is
then turned to unhook from the hinge on the connector. If you do this yourself, remember to use esd protection (a wrist strap
connected to earth/ground) at any time when you may be touching the ECU PCB or either of the chips. If you're unsure of what
proper grounding is - buy one from an electronics shop that has a mains socket on it.
He then sent the ECU to Bosch in England who carried out tests and decided that the ECU was unrepairable. It was then sent
to another company (ATP) who did a one-for-one swap for a reconditioned ECU (and it was re-programmed there). This reduced
the costs compared to buying a brand new ECU from Alfa (through contacts I could have got a brand new one for £510, the recon
was around £390, both inc vat). The ECU was fitted and I got my car back, at a cost of £515 and about 2 weeks after the
SQUADRA chip was fitted. I think Job was conservative with the hours of labour he billed me with, and could have charged me a
good deal more.
Next I contacted Stephan and asked if SQUADRA was willing to pick up the bill for the damage caused by fitting the incorrectly
assembled chip, and also for a replacement chip, as after all this I still want the bloody chip - I've not going to have gone
through all this stress and hassle for nothing!
The reply was - yes. SQUADRA would pay the bill from Automotive Services and have me re-inbursed, and also replace the wrongly
assembled SQUADRA chip. Of course I'm very pleased (obviously, not that this all happened in the first place, but with the
best response I could hope for) and perhaps in some ways surprised, as Job agreed, I would be struggling to get the same level
of service and commitment to customer satisfaction from the majority of companies in this country. A mistake was made, yes,
but it appears to be one of those one-off's that I wouldn't expect to see again, and as Stephan has said there will now be
particular attention to checking this assembly is correct on all chips before they leave SQUADRA. But, the all that could be
done to try and fix my car was suggeted and attempted and then when parts had to be replaced, they agreed to pay the bill.
This is also showing good faith in me, the customer, which is appreciated and inspires confidence.
As far as I'm concerned SQUADRA have lived up to their reputation as a good company, and I look forward to enjoying the
improved driving that many have commented on since having a chip fitted. If you're thinking of buying a SQUADRA chip, then
this website will soon be selling them, and Alfasalv and SQUADRA themselves supply to customers. If you're worried about
what has happened to me - check it before you install it (I think the information I've given here about the chip and it's
correct assembly is understandable - does it make sense?). If you are unsure of how to install it yourself, get a local
reputable company to fit it for you. They should only charge a modest fee of around 1hrs work, and remember they've done it
all before. As I'm sure you've noticed my brother has continued to support those wanting to get a SQUADRA chip throughout this
ordeal and still plans to get one himself. Once the chip has been fitted (I'm getting Job to do this, I'll be quite happy if I
never have to look at my ECU ever again) I'll let you all know how I get on.
One last point about SQUADRA - as I'm sure you can see, Stephan isn't at all happy that this has happened and doesn't want
this to mark his companies reputation. I'm sure that he will be quick to assure anyone thinking of buying a chip that this
won't happen again.
A further point is that the damage to the ECU may not have definately been caused by the chip assembly itself, but due to
the resulting problems caused by the chip. I'll explain. The car ran flat after a number of attempts to start after putting the
original chip back in (the battery may be getting old). The car was then charged using jump leads from my brothers car and this
may have caused damage to the ECU, from power spikes from the other car's alternator (the SQUADRA chip may have caused problems
in the ECU that possibly could have been reset by shorting the disconnected battery terminals, without damage). This is what
I think from what Stephan and Job have explained to me, but it is again a possible answer to what exactly happened - there is
no way of knowing for sure. If you need to charge your battery from someone elses car - it might be better to take off the
battery terminals first, then reconnect after disconnecting the jump leads. I'll try and find out if this is best.
This has led to another question that I would like to ask SQUADRA (something also mentioned on a nearlier post on this thread).
Should the battery be disconnected before removing the connector from the ECU. This isn't mentioned in the installation manual,
but is it a reasonable extra precaution? Again I'll try and find out.
There are some other notes of interest that I have come across during this time, one is that the 155 ECU and many (all?) other
ECU's are 'adaptive' ECU's, as in they adapt to your driving style. This means that if you roast it for a prolonged period
(remember only once your oil is up to temperature = approx 80 degrees, pushing hard when the oil is cold kills you're car
quickly) the cars response and performance actually increases. Of course after a while of normal driving it returns to normal.
If you drive like Miss Daisy, then thats what your car will feel like. Job says that sometimes people come in with cars like
Beemer M3's (that don't really see much hard use due to what they're capable of) and they feel slow and lacklustre. Reset the
ECU and make the car work hard for a while and the change can be dramatic. Jason also told me of a post on a Scooby (Subaru
Impreza Turbo) site that described owners reseting their ECU's and then piling up weight in the car (be it freinds bodies or
weight in the boot) and then pushing hard up hills for a while. Do it long enough and the ECU adapts to the new demands being
made of it and once the weight is removed the car has a new lease of life.
Again, its something I'll need to go and find out more about.
Another thing i've found out is that it seems to be a reasonably common problem for immobiliser/key code/ECU systems to die for
no apparent reason during normal use. There are many stories of people returning to their cars after shopping or whatever and
finding the car won't start. They take it to a garage, and it turns out that the immobiliser/ECU is broken and needs replaced.
Because of this Job offers all customers the choice to have their immobiliser disabled when having the ECU replaced. Mine
has been done. I'm having a Toad transponder immobiliser fitted soon (which cuts the ignition as well as the fuel - some cars
have been stolen by driving off, slowly, on the starter motor).
That's it for now (my fingers are bleeding...)
Thanks for all the suggestions and help,
Thanks to SQUADRA for living up to their reputation,
Thanks to Job for all the excelent work and advice,
Enjoy your Alfa as I intend to enjoy mine,