It's a good haggling point. There are 2 possibilities.
There are circumstances where your ECU will forget the indentity of the red keys. This is rarer than bottom end failure, cambelt failure or many other ailments that an Alfa can suffer but if it is going to happen it will be when the battery goes dead, so avoid running it on a weak battery.
The burgundy key is used to allow the ECU to relearn the red key identities. Once you are in this situation you will need to send the ECU and code box off to a specialist and the bill is around £200 ish, or you can replace the ECU, code box and keys from a car that's being scrapped for about the same from a breaker, or better still wait for a cheap one to come up on eBay and put it to one side just in case (this is what I did- it cost me £15).
The labour involved in an ECU Code Box & Lock swap is around an hour. Somebody on here recently swapped the insides of the keys quite easily which would mean no need to change the locks.
If you lose a red key I believe a lot of key cutting places can copy a red key and the key code at the same time, so no need to reprogram the ECU in this instance (Please correct me if I'm wrong about this one).
Thanks for the replies, that's some useful info. I rang my local Alfa dealer to ask for the "official" viewpoint. They advised me not to touch a car that didn't have the master key. They said if you ever did have a problem then you'd need to swap the engine and immobilser ECUs and all the keys and locks and quoted "up to £800" to do it.
Sounds like you could do it cheaper through other routes but really not sure I want to buy into the risk of that when I can probably find another car that does have all the keys if I wait for a few weeks.
Well rule 1 for me in Alfa ownership is not to touch the main dealers with a barge pole.
There is a good choice of specialists out there who can fix them properly at a fraction of the cost, or even better, fix it yourself.
Lessons learned from one Fiat group car can be transferred to another so it is well worth any effort you put in to learn about them IMHO.
A forum like this has more collective knowledge than any individual in an Alfa dealer.
Hold on boys.....a W-reg 146 will have the same ECU set-up as the 156 - ie ECU mounted on top of the throttle body. The earlier (ally-topped engined) cars had the ECU mounted under the passenger floor. The two types are not interchangeable.....
If the car is otherwise OK, don't be phased by key issues....if there was only one key, maybe, but if you've got two, unlikely to have problems unless you make a habit of losing keys - even then Alfa can supply key and coding for around £150.....dealer talk of "having to replace ECU etc is typical dealer crap.....
I guess this is the issue. This thread reflects everything else I've read on the web. One person tells you never to touch a car without a master key, another tells you not to worry about it.
Likewise, the solutions to not having a master key vary from £800 at a main dealer to £15 on ebay taking in "remove your ECUs and send them away for £200" or "take it to a dealer and it costs you £150" along the way.
The likelihood of ever seeing a problem ranges from "every time your battery goes flat" to "your engine is more likely to detonate before you ever see a key problem".
I'm not having a go and appreciate all information but it's hard for a newbie to Alfa such as myself to know quite what to make of it all…… my MG Midget seemed a lot simpler……
Can I correct the battery assumption?
I didn't mean that it would fail every time the battery went flat but that you would minimise the risk by not running a knackered battery for months.
As far as I understand all of the above solutions are possible.
To put this in proportion I have had 2 Fiat Coupes, and 4 Alfa 145/6s over a period of about 8 years (all using the same CODE system), plenty of flat batteries etc.
Bodger and rgwm are correct.
This "replacement ECU and £800 Cost" may have been a bigger issue 10-12 yrs. ago when this was first introduced but technology has moved on and this can be sorted for as little as £50. The "Red Key" or Master key which is actually burgundy and confuses the issue even further is obviously better had than not but it will only be needed if you lose your other 2 keys.
I have owned a Fiat Coupe 20vT and my 145 I have now and both were bought without Master Keys. It's very unlikely I'm going to lose 2sets of keys as in over 30 years of driving I have never lost any car keys.
Well I would.
A W reg QV has the really nice teledial wheels, red paint that doesn't fade, little or no rust, and maybe even low mileage.
If you can haggle a couple of hundred off the asking price for a key you probably won't need so much the better.
I can appreciate the opinions of those who wouldn't- it's down to individual attitudes.
Thanks for all the replies. I've just spoken to our local Alfa specialist who said almost word for word what Ascari just posted.
He says technology has moved on and unless you're dumb enough to put both your keys on the same key ring and lose them you'll never have a problem. He said he could make a new key for £50 but also said you could probably get an Alfa key copied at any shoe repair / key cutter in the high street.....
Since the 145/6 hit the shelves it went through a number of differnt versions of key systems 1st. was the key without alarm buttons and a a dark red master key which was a code 1 system, 2nd. Was still code one but incorporated the alarm fob. 3rd. was in 1998/9 where code two system came in where alfa moved away from the master key system so i would imagine that a 2000 (W) will have a code two system. This also goes for the 156 from 1998 onward. To find out the there should be a number on the key its self. Code one either has no number or a number 1, Code two should have a 2.
Hope this helps
I just got one red key with the alarm button on it when I bought my 145...
I dont see the big fuss... If the key fob fails, either get a new one and get it reprogrammed or get a cheap alarm/central locking kit from ebay which will operate your doors and alarm..