R56 MCS Cold Start Issue

We’ve held off on reporting on this issue for the past few months trying to gather as much data as possible before presenting it to readers. After some investigation, we now believe we have a good picture of the issue as well as some real evidence of it. While a cold start problem doesn’t seem to be an entirely widespread phenomenon, there’s little question that there are more than a few of owners dealing with it around the world. The following report is one owner’s experience with it.

The following story was written by new MF Contributor Mike Hansen


For most owners, purchase of the new MINI R56 has been a very positive experience. As first model year cars go, the second generation new MINI has been relatively free of problems. Sure, surfing NAM or MINI2 one will have seen the slew of rattles, or crooked bonnets… and yes there have been a couple transmissions and clutch plates replaced… but all in all, these problems have generally been easy to identify and correct. To be honest, they aren’t outside of the realm of issues associated with the previous generation car, even after five years of production. That is, until now.

Beginning this past spring there has been a common theme popping up in the Faults and Fixes threads on various MINI forums. Specifically, MCS owners complaining about a peculiarly loud engine rattle on start-up. Now the R56 is an “interesting” sounding engine to begin with. The combination of the VANOS system and the direct fuel injection solenoids give the car a very diesel-esque sound at idle. But this is a very different sound altogether.

Generally, owners experiencing this rattle note that the “cold start” aspect has less to do with the ambient temperature as it does with the inactivity of the engine. Usually this rattle occurs during the first start of the day when the engine itself is “cold” and oil has drained into the sump. Appearing to originate along the left side of the head near the cam chain, the rattle is out of synch with the normal cadence of the engine and has a metal on metal tapping quality to it. It seems to decrease with higher RPMs and as the engine warms up to operating temperatures. For most the noise starts off as an infrequent occurrence and only a minor annoyance and many don’t feel the need to bring it to their dealer’s attention. Eventually however, the frequency, duration and sheer volume of the rattle increases.

The noise is a sporadic problem and does not occur with much predictability. It therefore becomes a very difficult thing for owners to present to their dealerships or for Service Technicians to diagnose. Based on the perceived point of origin, most MINI Service Departments who have actually heard the rattle for themselves have logically focused their attention on the cam chain tensioner. Many cam chain pistons have been replaced after fining that they were receiving less than sufficient oil for proper operation. This fix has been documented under MINI Service Bulletin #110207. Unfortunately for most owners, it has only been a temporary fix with the rattle returning in only a few short weeks.

Once the replacement chain tensioner fails, focus usually turns to the head itself. Specifically the hydraulic lifters, valve guides and the VANOS Solenoid. Again the theory is that oil is failing to properly enter the head and operate the valves during cold starts. Several owners have received what equates to a full rebuild of the car’s head in an attempt to diagnose and eliminate the cold start clatter. Some owners have reported the installation of a one-way check valve during the rebuild to keep oil from draining after the engine has been turned off. Unfortunately these too seem to be only a temporary fixes with the engine rattle returning only a short time later.

Ultimately MINI has taken the giant step to replace a handful of engines not only to solve the problem for the owner, but to bring the offending power plants back to MINI for inspection. One would think this would be a sure way to stop the engine rattle… but that has not necessarily been the case. At least one owner on MINI2 reports the noise came right back after only a few months of operation following a complete engine and head swap.

So is this even a problem? Some owners report being told the cold start rattle is “completely normal” and only a “trait of the engine”. One dealership in the UK has suggested that the cause of the noise is a lack of equalization of pressure within the head by the crankcase vacuum pump causing the pump to vibrate in its journal bearings. The suggested fix was to remove the vacuum pipe during start up. Otherwise the noise was said to be causing no harm and could not be fixed by a replacement part. Again, a trait of the engine design. This is tough pill to swallow for most experiencing the issue. I would argue that a metal-on-metal rattle that goes away with some combination of oil flow and operating temperatures has to be increasing wear and tear on the internals of whatever specific parts generating the noise. For some, merely living with this cold start rattle will not be an acceptable option.

Another theory posted by one R56S owner on the Michigan MINI Motorin’ Club website provides probably one of the best technical discussions on this particular issue. The basis of the theory is that air is getting into the oil circuit operating the hydraulic lifter system causing the valves to open and close out of time and “slam” into the closing ramp of the cam (causing an out-of-time knocking from the head). A decent theory, back up by some good technical know-how (and pictures for us laymen) and the answer provided may even be a simple solution: minimize the valve lash adjustment and use lower viscosity oil. For those experiencing the noise, the recommendation was made not to rev the engine over 2000 RPM until the oil properly fills the circuit and the noise goes away as damage could occur at higher RPM’s. Sounds like a very plausible theory, but time will tell.

So why should anyone care if it’s not effecting their car? Well, speaking from experience, my car did not produce this rattle for the first 5000 miles. When it began, I heard the rattle once or twice during that month. Over a two month period it got worse and worse. Some have noticed the problem within the first 1000 miles of operation while others have yet to hear any noises of any concern. Build date doesn’t seem to be a factor either, as some November and December cars are demonstrating the same cold start engine rattle already.

Mine is one of the engines that is going back to MINI for further inspection. I have been down every road described above to no avail. I will say that my dealer (Northwest MINI) has been more than helpful and has shown their dedication to working with MINI to find some answer to this problem. The bottom line is that the cause and solution to this cold start rattle are still unknown or at least unacknowledged by MINI. Based on what I’ve seen, I believe a full engine replacement will only be a temporary fix and in effect buy time for MINI to come to a more permanent solution. Keep in mind there have been no changes to the 2008 power plant to suggest that this issue will be limited to first-year production cars. So any MCS or Clubman S could theoretically have the potential to develop this rattle on start up.

I have my car back now after six weeks in the shop addressing this cold start rattle. With a new engine in place, I am starting my break-in once again. The engine is starting and running fine but I must say my overall confidence level in this car is non-existent right now. I’m about 1/3 of the way through my warranty and have no assurances that the new engine will not develop the same problem over time. In fact, I’m aware that it most likely will. If it’s anything like the original block, it’ll be 5000-8000 before I hear it again… which puts me 2/3rds through my warranty. Like I said, ZERO confidence.
If you factor in the first attempt to address this cold start rattle (cam chain tensioner replacement) I have been without my car for 2 months out of 11. So 18% of my ownership experience to date has been spent without my new car. I sincerely hope a permanent answer comes sooner vs. later. I for one would like to recapture some of those positive feelings I had towards my MINI just a few short months ago. 

Clearly there is a lot of speculation by owners as to what’s causing the horrible cold start rattle, if any damage is occurring and what will be done (if anything) to correct the problem. Most currently believe the relationship between the oil, oil pump and ECU should be the next point of focus and that all previous “fixes” have addressed the symptoms, but not the cause of this rattle. As you might recall, the R56 will slow or stop the circulation of certain fluids during start up to speed up the engine warm-up process and conserve energy. But again, this is just owners talking and the expectation is that the MINI engineers will eventually get to the bottom of things. Speaking as a new MINI owner experiencing this problem first-hand… I for one hope this answer comes sooner rather than later.

If you would like to read more from owners experiencing this cold start rattle, or share your experiences with other owners going though this process, check out these threads over at NAM or MINI2


Update: Since this story was written last week, we’ve been touch with MINI USA about the issue. While this problem doesn’t seem to be wide-spread (everyone I spoke with were unaware of the issue due to lack of warranty reports), they urge anyone who believes they have an issue to contact their dealer as well as MINI Customer relations. Despite not having first hand knowledge of this particular problem, everyone I spoke with seemed genuinely interesting in resolving any potential issue (whether it be cold start related or anything else) quickly and effectively.

Written By: MF Reader

  • Axel

    No problems with old reliable R53 6 yrs old and 102K on it ;)

  • TK76911S

    I now have the dreaded CS death rattle. ’08 MCS – del. 2/08. 12,000 miles. Without prompting, my son asked me what the horrible noise was. I can tell you it dashed any desires re: the JCW factory, cabrio or Stage 1 JCW/JCW suspension, etc.

    What gives at BMW? With winter rolling around again, doesn’t BMW realize the issue will be back again and this time with the same engine in its coveted new Clubman? Wait till it hits those who sunk $40k in factory JCWs.

    The noise is a downright embarassment when I start the car. BMW should be horrified.

    If this persists, I’ll sadly forego any MINI/BMW product and simply trade for a less-troublesome vehicle and brand. I otherwise love the little car, as does my wife who was starting to see one in her future.

    Do the math BMW: the rule of thumb is that for every single disgruntled customer, twelve future customers are lost. How many here and on NAM have already posted re: their unanswered complaints?

    Gabe and MF Crew, any updates?

  • Chris

    “Do the math BMW: the rule of thumb is that for every single disgruntled customer, twelve future customers are lost. How many here and on NAM have already posted re: their unanswered complaints?”

    I’m one of those potential customers that is sitting on the fence until there is some resolution. If the issue reduces engine life, a long-term buyer may be stuck with massive repair bills down the road. The resale value will also plummet. The only way to avoid the risk is to lease the car. But, leasing is not a good option for many customers.

    BMW needs to fix the issue regardless of cost. Don’t let the green eye shades decide how to handle the problem as the issue directly affects the value of the brand itself.

  • mataku527

    maybe this needs to be restickied on MF at the top. The issues are back since it’s winter again.

  • Kevin Kaufman

    My 08 Clubman S has been loud on ALL cold start-ups since I bought the vehicle in June. I told my dealer that it sounds like an old VW bug when I start up. Naturally when it was in their shop they couldn’t hear it. (B.S.!) Thanks to all for putting this together, I will be contacting my dealer for a replacement engine. (after they accept the fact that there is a problem)

    Kevin Kaufman Alexandria, KY

  • Gary

    Count me as yet another customer keenly interested in a new MCS or JCW but who most certainly will NOT make the investment until BMW (1) establishes a clear and verifiable root cause for this issue; and (2) modifies the design of the offending component accordingly.

    I can live with a few slightly misaligned body panels, an interior rattle or two, or an occasional sticky sun roof, but I just can’t swallow the potential risk of the cold start engine issue manifesting itself as a post-warranty failure for that much $$.

  • Darren A.

    I really hope MINI figures out what is causing this and gets it fixed completely. I definitely feel for the owners who have or are currently experiencing this issue w/ their cars.

    I think I’ll hold on to my ’04 R53 a bit longer and maybe wait for the next iteration of MINIs before I replace it. As highly annoying as the freezing door handles and intermittently lopey idle can be on my R53, I’m more willing to deal with that than a clattery engine.

  • Axel

    I am with Aussum and Darren A and many others who have the R53, we are happy about our babies but if Mini does not take care of this issue I guess I might have to go for 135i series. The R53 with its HICKUPS!! is fairing better than the diesel noise on the newer models my questions is.Were our comrades in Europe having this issue before the USA launch and WHY has Mini not been able to resolve this issue? Huh, I forgot it took them a couple of years to do the same for the HICKUP issue on the R53s and give reflash on the ECU with V40 flash which did SLIGHTLY help? Anyway, I am looking towards the DIESEl engine if freaking CALIFORNIA lets it pass so that it may be purchased in or side of the pond.

    P.S. And I want a Clubman Diesel by the way.

  • Ray

    I got my 09 JCW in Aug. It has been making a very subtle noise since new. Now that we are in the cold weather in chicago I hear it on and off. Yesterday I drained the oil at 5600 miles. It was jet black like what a diesel does to oil. I filled it back up with Castrol Syntec 5w30. The past 24 hrs it has been fine. I’ll post an update if the noise doesn’t reoccur. The dealer says the noise is normal. Thats fine with me as long as I don’t have to replace the engine once out of warranty. However I don’t think it’s normal. If it doesn’t get any worse I can live with it. This by far has been the best car I have ever had.

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  • Mehdi

    Well this is my horror story. I bought a brand new MCS 3 weeks ago it now has about 1500k on and bam the engine started to putter and felt like it wanted to die.

    I took it into Mini and today they tell me that the car needs a new VANOS system. I was and still am in total shock that a brand new car that i still have not finished breaking in needs a new timing chain and valves.

    NEVER will i get another mini. I would rather buy a KIA then a Mini.

  • Delta Lima Xray

    Just bought an 09 JCW, 2 weeks old and 2k KM later I know have the death rattle. I’ve owned an 02 MCS, and an 04 JCW, and this thing is utter garbage. It sounds like a diesel, and from all reports it now needs servicing.

    What do you expect from a French engine. Oh, and if you think thats a general statement, try working on ANY Renault or Pug product. Junk. What its doing in a Mini engine bay is of course another exec board cost cutting decision. Too bad as this used to be a fun and reliable-ish car.

    Too bad I didn’t do the research. Buyer beware.

  • Slawomir Tylutki

    So, faulty timing chain tensioner, hand full of replaced engines and transmissions? MINI relations suck big time. I will never return to this brand name. I came from a E36/ E46 M3 automobiles and because of those automobiles i build up myself an image of reliability of a BMW. So i go an purchase a 2008 Mini Cooper S. After owning it for over a year , the cold start rattle welcomes me once every often. and about a month and a half ago, while driving home, i experience a loss of power. So i pull over, i cant start the car. After getting it towed to the first dealer ( Huntington, LI) they deny to fix it after taking it apart and stating that the timing chain is broken , hmm, wonder why??? They charge me $200 for the labor ( dis assembly of the valve cover).They deny it becasue i have a M7 wing on my car and they feel that its giving me a 1000hp gain. Ok, trip number two , off to Freeport, LI. Same story except this time they didnt even take the engine apart , but they did notify the mini “engineer” , and with their both expert eyes, they conclude that infact the wing does give 1000hp extra , which relates to the timing chain tensioner not being able to withhold such amount of power and therefore making the timing chain slip and snap. Hmmmm, weird. Anyway, after numerous phone calls to mini and speaking to the “mad” mini “scientist” , they deny to fix their own STOCK car under warranty, why? Because, they “suspect” that my car was modified , hmmm, wait suspect? or is modified? Bone stock car , with JCW suspension upgrade and M7 Mini Challenge wing, yes, breath taking modifications….so, now, i am looking around for a lawyer to handle this situation properly. Shame on you MINI/BMW!!!!

  • Raymondo

    Great article! I actually have a Peugeot 308 GT THP 175, which has the same engine as in the Mini (the engine is a collaboration between MINI and PSA), and the rattle is commonplace in 207’s, 308’s and MINI’s. Mine is a July 08 model with 12000miles, rattled twice last month and went to the dealer with no fault found, yesterday at 2C it rattled for 0.5miles after being driven 4 hours earlier… today is started fine at -2C after being left overnight! I’ve booked it into the dealer tomorrow to have another look, hopefully if they have it overnight the rattle with reappear. It doesn’t seem to be affecting performance, however does sound like tappet rattle. If it happens again I’ll be ready with the camera-phone to capture the offending footage and get the car back into the dealers.

  • Sharon

    We ordered a new Mini Cooper S and took delivery in December 2008. The noise started about a month ago with about 10k miles on the car. Now it sometimes sounds like a Diesel truck when it starts. It started out with just a brief noise we thought might be cold weather related. It did it on warmer days also and more if parked nose down. BMW/MINI have had a long time to find and fix this problem and looks like they have not found the root cause. Ours is going back to Crown BMW of Richmond this month to see what they will do to make it right.

  • Jarkko

    Is the problem solved by manufactor ?

  • Wayne LoPrete

    My ’08 MCS with dealer installed JCW package had the rattle last winter, and the dealer claimed it was “normal operation.” Two weeks ago at 9100 miles the same dealer replace the timing chain plus 10 other parts (guide rails, tensioners, etc.) So far so good, but the noise was most prominent when the temp was in the 20s or below; since the ‘fix’ the temps have been in the 30s. I will closely monitor this. Has the problem caused damage or premature wear to the engine?? I love the car (mostly) but my enthusiasm for MINIs has waned…

  • Beowulf

    I have a Peugeot 207 RC with the THP175 engine. It has 23.000 km (about a year and a half) and has never done it until last week. First time I heard the noise. It does sound like a metallic diesel noise that lasted for about 3 or 4 minutes after starting the car. It has not happened again since.

    I’ll keep an eye on it to see if it does the noise again. I don’t think it is weather related (it is quite warm here in Lisbon but it has never done it even in cold days in the past) or has anything to do with parking position.

    I also read this on a mini forum:

    “After two years of research into the issue MINI now has official repair information at dealers that will eliminate the issue. The PuMA measure number that will need to be referenced is 10686850-13 (we’ve seen 10686850-12 mentioned but we believe 13 is the latest) and the part number is According to the information we’ve seen, all cars affected in with the issue will get a new timing chain, chain guides and cam sprockets.”

  • http://www.youtube.com/sangatsengal sangatmalas

    Here’s a video I took of my 2006 R56 Mini Cooper S with that distinctive engine noise. This video was taken in May 2010.

    I took it to a Mini Garage and they said it was the Timing Chain Pre-Tensioner fault. They replaced the Pre-Tensioner and re-programmed the engine all free of charge under the Approved Used Mini Warranty.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1251152118 Kenneth Hale

    My 2007 MiniS has been repaired twice for this problem during 5 trips to the dealer. In each case, the problem began intermittantly then became constant. Once you hear the noise you know that damage is occurring to some internal part of your engine. It is not something you can live with. My car now has extraordinairly bad drivability when it is cold and often backfires under hard acceleration in a higher gear. When it does so, it emits a large cloud of grey smoke. I originally planned on keeping the car for many years, now I won’t keep it past one out of warranty. Oh by the way, the first time they repaired my car, they replaced the chain tensioner. The second time they did the same plus replaced some cam followers and other assundry valve train components.

  • Giorgio

    Hello guys,

    Same trouble here in Italy..for fixed the problem BMW/mini, presented the new engine (184cv) sic!!!!!

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  • Gmvandusen

    Guess I was lucky enough to have had my Mini for 4 years before this particular issue has happened. Have 95000 mile on it, started making that “diesel” noise about a week ago. As some stated it was only a noise for about the first 10 minutes of driving then subsided. The day before the timing belt finally slipped was the first that the noise continued for any longer time. Made enough noise that I wouldn’t drive it until I was going to go directly for service. The day I went to do this the car decided it had had enough and wouldn’t keep running. Sure hoping that Mini has a good solution to this problem, I sure would hate to purchase a new engine since I am out of warranty.

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  • Bert

    BMW played the same game with the 330 e46 enigine. Strange knocking tractor-like sounds. And as usual, BMW has never heard of this problem, and the dealships say it’s well within operational standards. Too much money spent on PR and advertising while ignoring vanos and valvetrain development.

  • Hank Rearden

    Cold start noise is the timing chain slapping into the upper chain guide.

    Once the plunger-tensor fills with oil, the tension is enough for the chain not slap any more.

  • DPA

    Any updates on a resolution of this issue from Mini? Just started happening on an 07 Mini S here.

  • Edmund J. Janas

    Good to see some real analysis on this problem. I found the perfect 08, but these stories are making me think twice about MINI.

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