A little story... bear with me!
If you cant be bothered to read to the bottom the moral of the story is don't always trust specialists, and don't always knock standard garages!
So last year for my bella's service & MOT, I looked around the forums, and found that A&M alfas in Fareham got several good reviews on here... certainly the best specialist garage within Hampshire it would seem! Took my car there for a service but with Christmas and all that had to get it MOT'd elsewhere...
So off to another MOT garage. She failed first on the rear disks & pads being shot alongside the handbrake efficiency, so i took it back to A&M alfas, and he changed the disks and pads for the MTEC disks & Mintex pads which I bought. Took it back to the MOT garage, failed again on handbrake efficiency. Took it back to A&M alfas (a 45 min drive from my house btw!) and he said that the handbrake cables were probably worn, and so he replaced them too. Took it back to the MOT garage, failed again on handbrake efficiency. Took it back to A&M alfa's, getting pretty annoyed by now, and he tightened the handbrake and sent me on my way. Took it back again to the MOT garage (a 30 min drive from my house) and it failed AGAIN on the handbrake efficiency... This time i took it back to A&M alfas and he tightened it so tight it was touching the calipers, and sent it off again to (this time a different) MOT garage. Again it failed for rear handbrake efficiency, despite having new disks and pads all round, and new handbrake cables, and I was told that the calipers were all fine... mysterious! Anyways it eventually passed barely after i tightened the cable so tight that the pads were touching the calipers.... handbrake felt better than it was originally, but still was pretty bad!
Anyway so this year, now living in Bristol I took my car today to Halfords Autocentres, and at first it failed for the handbrake efficiency again... suprise suprise!! BUT instead of either a) sending me on my way or b) just tightening it and telling me its fine, they took the rear brake assembly apart to find the problem...
The problem they found was that one of the brake pads on the rear had in fact been put on BACKWARDS, which meant that the handbrake couldn't engage properly and the piston would unwind slightly every time i braked... hence the bad handbrake efficiency despite replacing the whole system! Anyways they put it on the right way and then it sailed through the MOT with no advisories, and a handbrake which now stops dead after just two clicks!!
So this was why last year i had all of those problems.... the first thing A&M alfas did was to replace the brakes, which they put on the wrong way round causing me all of the hassle last year and replacing the handbrake cable needlessly, Not to mention a year of driving a car with a dodgy handbrake!!
I'm just so surprised that the supposed specialists A&M alfa's didn't bother to fault find the problem and check that the brake disks and pads were on correctly, especially after it failed so many times!! Also neither of the 2 MOT garages last year bothered to investigate or spot the problem, just gleefully told me my alfa had failed again...
I'm not particularly annoyed, It was a year ago and i figure everyone makes mistakes but I sought out specialists because i wanted the best people to work on my car, and after all of that it was Halfords Autocentres who actually diagnosed and fixed the problem!!!
So yeah, IMO plus 1 recommendation for halfords autocentres in Bristol, £29 MOT and £42 for fixing the pad correctly, minus 1 for A&M alfas for making the mistake and not fault finding the problem or rectifying it properly!