Thanks for the comments so far everyone.
However, the story continues......
Wasn't happy with the aircon situation and also a "spooling up" noise that the car is making when I accelerate in 2nd gear. Neither of these faults were happening before the car went in for its service and MOT. So I took her back to the main dealer to have it checked out. I had also found a bolt rattling around in the engine compartment, and I wanted to ask about the fact that they had changed the timing belt but not the water pump. It seems to be the consensus that that is a weaker link than the timing belt (which I have been told is reinforced on the 159 and didn't need changing at 60k - I think there might be differing opinions on that!!). What bothers me is that when the pump is changed in the near future as a matter of course then the timing belt will need to be removed again, and if it fails first then its going to be a bit of a disaster. Having just spent £2700 I told the service manager that I didn't want to have to fork out again, especially as the faults weren't there before they had it. I also said that I wasn't happy to find from others that I could have avoided having the whole steering rack changed.
Got a call from the dealer later in the day to say that there was a leak in the air con and that they would regas it and put dye in it - not a surprise. They denied that their technician could have done any damage to the aircon hoses while changing the steering rack or the timing belt. Anyone got an opinion on that?
Then the real coup de grace - Sir, your gearbox is in danger of imminent failure and will cost you £2500 for a new one, and while we're at it we'll change the clutch for £243. I obviously have got a clone of UnknownPain's 159!
Told them not to do anything other than the aircon, then asked if they were going to charge me as it had been okay before they had it and was told that it would be £99 to gas it and put dye in it - and that's before they fixed the problem. I refused their kind offer and went and picked the car up. Had something of a go (politely of course) at the service manager who just shrugged his shoulders in a "that's the way it is manner", but a younger member of the service department took me out to the car and told me that I should write to ARUK (which I was already in the process of doing anyway) and that they'd probably help out. They would have got the letter on Wednesday, and I haven't heard anything yet, so I'm going to call and email on Monday. i sent it to Customer services at their Slough HQ, but if anyone has the name of the right person to contact then i'd appreciate it.
But that's not all......On Tuesday I was on the way back from work and stopped to fill up in North Watford. Got back in the car and pressed the button...nothing. Just a click. Called breakdown recovery, and we got it going by doing a towed bump start. Wasn't too keen on doing that, but it worked - although the weight of the car when I let the clutch out snapped his tow rope!! Drove 40 miles home on the M25 praying it wouldn't stop, but made it. Once switched off it wouldn't start again so sat in the drive all week while I borrowed my very understanding wife's car for the rest of the week.
I knew the battery was on its last legs and had been displaying recharge on the indicator ever since the alternator failed last year, so ordered a new one and fitted it on Friday morning. Still nothing, and an error message saying Glow Plug heating not available. My immediate reaction was that the fault must be with them and I tried and failed to get hold of a couple of local mechanics that I know. so I joined the AA! They came within the hour, and found.......that the engine wasn't earthed. The lead had obviously fallen off somewhere and the AA man couldn't find where it was, so he improvised and fitted an earth lead from the engine block to the
- ve terminal on the battery. Everything is now fine.
Again, I suspect that this might have happened because my lovely main dealer undid something and didn't do it up properly, but that might be hard to prove. They'll probably just say that vibration over the years has loosened the bolt. Has anyone got any idea where the strap connecting the engine to ground is on the 159? If I can find it then the picture miight become clearer.
Sorry to bore you with another long post, and thanks for your help in anticipation. By the way, if Alfa don't come up with the goods then i've got an independent lined up to deal with the gearbox at a much better price!