This Guide is intended for anyone intending to buy a Fiat Brava/Bravo/Marea from about 1992-2001 as they have a few nasty things that can bite you in the backside if you're not careful!!!!
1) Red Key
DON'T buy any Fiat car in this range without the Red Master Coding Key - this contains the encryption algorithim to get replacement blue ones made and its at least £200 to recode the Code Box, Immobiliser and Management ECU if the blue key corrupts!!! Also if you *ONLY* got a *RED* key, get two new BLUE keys made straightaway on taking ownership of the car - I have heard the red key will corrupt permanently if you use it too many times for routine starting!!!
Unless you have Diesel Engine Servicing Experience I'd leave the diesel versions alone as they are atrociously poorly documented!!! Haynes don't cover them at all and even the Official Fiat Auto Workshop Manual Volumes 1 to 4 is missing most of the Diesel repair information!!! I have found the Fiat 1910cc TD100 and the common-rail JTD105 Engine Repair Manuals impossible to obtain, either CD or on paper, and not for want of trying either!!!
3) Red Injector Spray light
This commonly lights up intermittently on the dashboard for some unknown reason associated with lumpy/poor running and lack of oomph - its a "limp-home mode" built into the control management ECU and its atrociously difficult to be sure you've cured it!!! If you're buying one of these cars as a runner ask the Seller to take you on a drive on both urban and rural roads of at least 45 minutes duration to make sure the light stays out!!!
4) Airbag Warning Light
This is another thing that can bite you up the backside!!! DON'T make repeated attempts to start one of these cars if the battery is in any way dubious as the Airbag ECU will switch the warning - light on if its power supply dips below 8.5V and its a swine to put out, needing a Main Dealer's Fiat Examiner or Uniscan tackle to reset, the first of which costs dearly and the second needs an antediluvian laptop with 2 serial ports running DOS and worse still, the instructions only come in Cyrillic!!!!
Diesel and the 1.8 versions have their alternators at the bottom of the engine-bay behind the driver's side wheel arch below the PAS pump and its an horrific lousy rotten job dismantling all the suspension to get at a dud one - guess what mine's been off the road over a year for???!!! Take a cheap pocket Digital Voltmeter from Lidl or Maplin with you whenever you go to look at any car in this range, and measure the battery voltage with the engine running at idling - speed and the headlamps on full-beam - if you've not got 14V or more steer well clear!!!
6) Timing Belts
The 20V HGT-etc models need the engine out to replace it and the 1.6 needs a plethora of awkward special tools including a Measuring Disc Gauge - either negotiate with the Seller on price if it needs doing or look for another car whith a recent timing-belt replacement invoice!!!! ALL the engines in these cars are of the "unsafe" type that will smash to smithereens if the belt goes!!!!
7) Ticking Rear Wiper
This is a common annoyance caused by an underpowered - motor and an internal cut-out relay with poor contacts!!! The Fiat BOO (Bravo Owners Organisation) Forum does have a guide on fixing this but its a pain dismantling the tailgate to get at the thing!!!!
8) Temperature/Fuel Gauges Erratic
Another well known Fiat Electricals problem caused by the surface-mount on the back of the instrument-cluster going rotten or dry-jointed!!! If you see the Temperature Gauge needle wandering or flicking rapidly upwards during normal driving or it shoots back down to cold of its own accord, stop at once and make sure the coolant level is correct ***and the coolant is circulating*** before assuming the gauge is telling fairy-tales!!!
A Rough and bumpy ride often occurs on these models due to hard or perished Anti-Roll Bar Drop-Links, Wishbone bushes and sometimes the lower Wishbone Ball-Joint!!! (A worn Wishbone lower ball-joint is also an MOT failure!!!) Its best to replace both of these as a pair on each side of the car to ensure as smooth and comfortable ride as possible, only trouble is the nuts often corrode to buggery and you need the strength of the Incredible Hulk to dismantle it all!!! If, like me, you weren't born Charles Atlas or a Sandow its best to steer clear of a car thats over-bumpy or get one with an invoice for Wishbone/Drop-Link Replacement already done!!!
Hope this helps, and I'll add to it further if I can think of more later!!!