$250.00 for a master cylinder is about right for Firestone but it will cost a lot less anywhere else. We have the same problem with the Firestone store in my city.
First you need to prove the wheel fell off because of the previous brake work. Logic would say that is so, but how did it not cause problems for three weeks? There will always be some kind of noise or handling problem associated with something coming apart so the case can be made that you contributed to the problem by continuing to drive it like that. I know that doesn't sound right, and I've had problems of my own doing that I didn't notice, but I've also detected problems, (including a wheel about to fall off), caused by my students.
I doubt that whatever was "put back together" at the impound yard constitutes a repair. I suspect they simply set the parts in such a way as to not cause further damage. Let the guys at Firestone repair what they worked on, then, if it still needs a master cylinder, they should pay for that too if indeed the original problem was their fault. You should understand too that if something was still attached by a cable, presumably the parking brake cable, whatever broke might not even be related to their brake work. If they will not pay for the master cylinder, tell them to fix what they worked on, and you'll take the van as is to a different shop. You should still have one front brake and one rear brake.
The master cylinder can fail due to other hydraulic system problems with the brakes. There are lip seals that travel in only one half of their bores. When anything happens to cause a fluid leak, the brake pedal will go down further than normal, possibly all the way to the floor. That's when those lip seals run over the section where they don't normally travel. Crud and corrosion build up there. Running the seals over them can rip them resulting in loss of part of the brake system. That's why we always mention the possibility of needing a new master cylinder anytime a hose or steel line pops a leak. Sometimes you get lucky and don't need one, and sometimes the problem doesn't show up for a few days or weeks.
If you have the standard master cylinder, it should cost around $50.00 and could take about an hour to replace. It might take longer on your van because it is kind of hard to get to. I recently replaced it on my '88 Grand Caravan which was designed for ease of service, and it took less than 20 minutes. Most shops are charging around $100.00 per hour for labor which is a real good deal if you knew all the expenses they have. Still, I guess I'd want to know why they want so much at Firestone. Vehicles with anti-lock brakes will cost more because it can take longer to bleed the air out of the system.
If you end up at a different shop, don't complain about Firestone by name, at least not right away. They might be friends or mortal enemies, but you don't want their judgment swayed by the previous shop that worked on it. You just want a fair and honest opinion. Also, Firestone could have the most conscientious manager with an inexperienced new mechanic so it isn't fair to blame the whole business for the actions of one employee. It is more fair to judge them by how they handle this current problem. Do they want to make it right or do they value more money over your loyalty? Valuing more money is extremely common at GM dealerships and shows in their business practices and the way they design their cars to have to go back to the dealership very often for expensive repairs. Most other dealers understand taking care of you now will pay off in the long run with repeat business from loyal customers who feel they were treated right.
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 AT 6:35 PM