Having studied the Alfa 159 electrical system at some length after my 'little' problem with the heated mirror. I can't see that there is any possible way to bypass the VPS error. If you are getting the 'Vehicle Protection System Not Available' Message on the dash panel between the dials and nothing else lights up you have an electrical problem that is stopping the power distribution beyond the Steering Lock ECU. As well as controlling the physical action of locking and unlocking the steering, this little unit attached to the steering column manages the power distribution to the main body computer and the engine starting process. Hence the car is going nowhere!
Frustratingly, it seems that an electrical short (including damp or damaged wiring and connections) on almost any item of the car, which is powered through the Steering Lock ECU can contribute to this error! As well as a fault within the Steering Lock ECU unit itself or the Key Reader. The Steering Lock ECU and Key Reader both have direct and independent power supplies, so check the respective fuses.
On my car, upon insertion of the key in the reader the VPS message would display but the steering lock actuated. Beyond this, I got a strange frog type croaking noise from a solenoid when the start button was pushed. None of the fuses had blown and I wasn't aware of anything that wasn't previously working. At this point I could only see the Key Reader and Steering Lock ECU with MultiECUscan attached to the OBD port. Although this showed the B1001 Fatal Error on the Steering Lock ECU, I wasn't convinced that it was the unit itself at fault, as there was some life when the start button was pushed.
Here are some reported 'quick fixes' that have resulted in some joy:
- Check Fuses (F3 (Steering Lock ECU), (F32 (key reader), (F49 (Start Button), (F38 (Dash panel and left door)
- Try disconnecting the battery for 20 mins by removing the earth terminal connection. (mine has a quick release connector).
- Move the steering column up and down using the normal steering wheel adjustment method. This may help if there is a problem with the connector and or wiring to the Steering Lock ECU.
- Lift the brake and clutch pedals by just hooking your toe under the pedal. This may release the switch if either one of them is causing an electrical short. Other indications of problems in this area are the 'Hill holder not available' 'Cruise Control Not available' messages or the brake lights continually illuminated.
- Check stop-light bulbs and holders for moisture of shorting.
- Left heated door mirror. Pop the glass out with a couple of soft leavers and disconnect the 2 heater wires.
- Replace Key Fob battery. I have seen this reported. Although, I would have thought the 'Key Not Recognised' message would show as well if the Key Reader was causing an error.
- Disconnect and reconnect the Steering Lock ECU block connector. To gain access to the connector which is attached to the steering column. You have to remove the upper panel in the drivers’ foot-well by means of undoing the 2 large plastic knobs. No tools required. But, them you need a torque key to undo 1 screw to remove the foot-well air vent. The connector itself has a slide-lock which you need to push towards the engine bay to release.
- If the steering lock isn't releasing try gently rotating the steering wheel to take any pressure of the lock bolt when inserting the Key in the Key Reader.
- Check battery voltage and condition
- Main earth lead in engine compartment, just forward of battery. Clean contacts and check for corrosion.
- Check the Main Cabin Earths located behind the carpet in passenger foot-well on the transmission tunnel side. There are 2 of them with multiple black wires going into blocks bolted to the floor.
- Check all the connections to main body computer located just below the fuses to the right of the steering wheel.
After that I think you're really into testing and chasing trough the electrical systems and will need wiring diagrams, appropriate test equipment and a degree of skill. Although I equipped myself with Alfa 159 e-learn workshop manual, all the tests, which I followed through for the Electric Steering Lock resulted in the instruction to 'replace' the Steering Lock Node. So this obviously isn't a totally conclusive set of tests.
The prominent areas to look at seem to be: clutch and brake pedal switches, left door switches and connection, VDC and ASR sensor and modules, stop-lights, battery condition and earth points.
If however, your car is showing the 'Vehicle Protection Not Available' message on the dash centre panel with the key and the steering wheel icon in the bottom left corner and the car still goes. You can either ignore it, It may go away, if it is just a damp or faulty connection. But, I would recommend that you get your 159 to your Alfa specialist to diagnose any possible fault ASAP or equip yourself with MultiECUscan and an appropriate OBD cable on a laptop to do so yourself. It will give you a much better chance of tracing the problem before you potentially get stranded with a dead car!
Here are some links for OBD usb cables and MultiECUscan software. I used the idiagnostics cable. You only really need the main cable for the Alfa 159 assuming it has the correct pin configuration.
Please don’t take this as the final word on the VPS issue, and I’m sure that my findings are not exhaustive. But as I plan to keep my now slightly aging Alfa, I thought it would be best to get to know what makes it tick or not as the case maybe. I still love the looks, fantastic V6 sound track and hopefully for many more years to come yet.
I’m still not sure what conclusive test you can conduct on the Steering Lock ECU to see if it has actually failed. Has anybody got any ideas?