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MINI’s Quality Problems Not an Issue?

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It’s something we’ve been wondering for years. Is MINI immune to quality control issues? I’d say yes and no. The recent quality issues I speak of are the much publicized results of the recent JD Power survey where MINI came in last (with authority I might add). I think there are two reasons that these results don’t impact MINI as much as other cars. As mentioned in a recent New York Times piece, much of the complaints new owners have revolve around the complex (and at first maddening) interface controls of the climate, sound and car control systems. We can just imagine the confusion most consumers have getting into a new MINI for the first time coming from such appliance like cars as a Camry or Civic. While the interface may not be ideal (we’d call it less than ideal) it is something that people get use to. So a fault, yes. A quality control issue? Not in our book. This is the first problem with the survey and a larger problem with how JD Power conducts the tests themselves.

Secondly the survey takes into account all issues even including things like brake dust and rear window dirt. All areas that are not faults with the car but are normal issues related to performance or the general shape of the MINI.

It all adds up to a car with character that owners are not only willing to live with but to love and recommend to their friends (something MINI has always scored well in). While there are issues with MINI’s build quality at times, we feel it’s generally less than what the JC Power results would indicate.

Written By: Gabe

  • Mk1

    I agree with the assessment that the JD Powers results may take into account a lot of things that are minor issues, or just MINI idiosyncrasies. But I also think MINI build quality is on the poor end of any QC range. Coming from a local MINI club 150 strong, I can count on one hand members who had no mechanical issues with their MINIs during the first few years of ownership. Almost everyone had multiple service trips under their belts for every year of ownership. Fifty of us at a recent meet discussed it in a kind of “badge of MINI ownership”, to see who had the most and least days in a service loaner their first year of ownership. Only one of the fifty MINI owners there had none at all for their first year, the bulk had between 5 and 10 days, and the winner had 48 days. Not a car we’d rank at the top of the charts, where QC was concerned. Fun, yes. Recommended, yes, but I always tell those who I recommend to, that mine has spent at least 10 days a year, every year I have owned it, in the shop for repairs, and that’s pretty common.

  • http://www.northamericanmotoring.com/marketplace/showproduct.php/product/5777/cat/12 lsumini

    The “quality” issue resulting in my decision to not buy another MINI to replace my ’05MCS concern the differences between the 1st Gen’s (R50, R52, R53) and the 2nd Gen’s (R56, R57, R58). More in terms of build quality and workmanship versus user friendliness. It seems to me, that when the New MINI was introduced to the world by BMW, they were over-engineered. The earlier models have a more solid and sturdy feel than the newer ones. Even as my ’05 ages and things wear, it still feels like it’s on rails in terms of suspension and steering. The engineering on the newer models doesn’t seems as refined in the way parts fit together. Go check out an ’08 or ’09. Look in the wheel wells of a brand new MINI, is that carpet ? You know that’s going to shred into natty, strings after a few years. The doors sound and feel like a Japanese car, not a stout German. The switches, knobs, door hinges and seat adjustment levers feel like flimsy garbage in comparison. And why does the little wind deflector that pops up for the sunroof look like it is made of pantyhose. As far as design goes, the decision to update the cockpit/center console was poorly made. This area is the soul and spirit of the MINI, so why make it less robust. Now it appears to have gone on a diet or slimmed down, with elements spilling onto the headliner. It all just seems so plastic and mass produced, obviously an effort to trim production costs after the car gained a captive audience. This is no way to reward loyalty for someone looking to replace their older MINI. The car itself is so much fun to drive, and for someone living in an urban area without a large family, it is a very practical solution to sporty transportation without breaking the bank. Just not sure that I can ever buy another unless serious quality improvements are made.

  • RJ

    Is the MINI so unique that other brands don’t have learning curve issues among new buyers? If so, you should see a number of brands crowded together towards the bottom of the JD Powers survey, with similar low rankings.

    Perhaps it’s time for MINI and for the MINI enthusiast community to stop trying to explain away the issues, and face the problems for what they are.

  • http://www.northamericanmotoring.com/marketplace/showproduct.php/product/5777/cat/12 lsumini

    MINI idiosyncrasies, absolutely. I go to the dealer every other month. It wastes anywhere from 3 hours of drive time in addition to however long it takes to wait. The dealer network needs to be drastically improved. I live in New Orleans, and have to drive 100 miles for service, no surprise to everyone. I have to share this dealer with owners who don’t feel like making the drive to Houston, Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta or Jacksonville. That’s pretty huge, and I know there are points within that radius that are much further. Would it be that big of a deal to involve the parent company BMW, for service, warranty, and possibly even new sales ?

  • Isumini

    Isumini, I disagree with you on the feel of the switches, knobs, etc. I’ve owned an 03 and now an 08 and the switches and knobs of the 08 have a much more refined chunkyness to them. However the “look” and placement design of the center stack is complete crap. I had steering components replaced on the 03 and just recently had the water pump replaced on the 08. Doesn’t really bother as I didn’t buy the mini for reliability reasons.

  • C4

    @RJ:

    Well said. Its time to face the music and stop putting blame on the consumer for poor design and/or quality control. This is the same crap that GM did the last 40 years. And look where that attitude has landed them.

    I used to be a MINI apologist. Not any more. Love the cars, but they do have issues. My Clubman S now has a warped bonnet scoop. How come that has never happened with my ’05 S? An annoying defect that means yet another trip back to the dealer.

    QC at the factory is spotty at best. If BMW claims to build a world class product, then stop making stupid excuses and do what it takes so these otherwise wonderful cars don’t end up being the butt joke of the industry.

    Sweeping the thrash under the rug ain’t going to make the garbage go away!

  • C4

    And lest not forget the cold start issue that appears to remain unsolved to this day. I wonder if MINIUSA ever reads the repair and problem report forums over at NAM and MINI2? Oh yeah, I guess all reported issues are nothing but the product of very active imaginations, right?

    I would like for the top brass at MINI to spend a full week or two behind the desk of a MINI service advisor. The internet has become both, the friend and the foe of the car industry. Keeping issues well under wraps has become a daunting task. Consumers are not stupid.

    Face the issues, run a tight ship and stop blaming the consumer for your lame decision making.

  • CraigE
    Would it be that big of a deal to involve the parent company BMW, for service, warranty, and possibly even new sales ?

    Yes, distinct brand identity is very important for the long term success of MINI. Branding is extremely important in every business. Just think of your household brand names. If that name changed occasionally or was used periodically by another company how would it change the perception of the brand in the public eye?

    BMW needs to be distinctly BMW and MINI needs to be distinctly MINI. Anything else would dilute the brand.

  • DBM

    I think the IQS survey is nonsense, because of how everything at the end is tallied, and it seems very subjective. There are issues with MINI reliability. I’m actually very concerned that most cars will become less reliable in the current state the auto industry is in. There is a lot of pressure of for innovative designs but to cut corners at the same time too save $$$$$.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504171221 Jason Mills

    Most of the issues that come up with the MINI are fine and dandy while under warranty but for those who’s warranty is up, repair bills are adding up quickly. Just have a look that fill most of the faults and fixes message boards worldwide. It mostly all comes down to the same big issues.

    Transmission Steering Pumps Rust

    None of these items should anything to worry about on cars this new.

  • Dave MacMini

    I had an ’02 MC, lots of problems but I loved it, then got an ’05 MCS. Lots fewer problems, and I loved it. Now I have an ’07 MCS, and in my opinion, it is a much better car, more refined and less clunky. I had an ’06 for a loaner while I was getting service, and it felt like a truck! I don’t mind the center stack, and I would not go back to an older model. Did I mention that I loved them? It’s just that the newer generation is a much nicer drive, without giving up much in the way of performance. When the lease is up I will likely look at a Clubman. Maybe the timing will be right and I will get one with the mid cycle refresh, but I really cannot see my driveway without a MINI in it, even though I also have a 745i.

  • that.guy

    I assume the cold start issue was the killer, not the “interface” design.

  • AN

    DBM is correct.

    IQS and factory QC are two separate issues.

    I’d posit that only one matters.

  • Jason

    I wish I had never sold my ’03, but I claim temporary insanity from all of the rattles and ‘minor’ issues.

  • robble

    If you want to see reliability instead of the JDP so called “initial quality” just look at consumer reports. They are using a much more scientific approach to reporting actual car problems.

    MINI does pretty darn well compared to most brands in that regard (hence the ‘recommended’ from CR). Even if you are having problems with your MINI it doesn’t mean everyone in a MINI is having those same problems.

    It’s tough to judge the reliability from reading the “issues” forums. Read a Honda forum and you’ll find lots of problems there too.

    If you look in a trash can you are likely to find trash…

  • Dede

    Quality and usability issues have forced me not to buy another mini to replace my 02 S.

    Quality – least reliable car I have ever owned, by far, including an incident where the car never truely shut off resulting in a drained battery and an inability to start the car the next morning…to take my wife to the hospital when she was in labor to give birth to our first child! No joke. The wife has a reason to hold a grudge!

    Usability – current generation interior, fundamental principal, you shouldn’t need a manual to uh, I don’t know, operate the radio….

    So yeah, quality and usability resulted in one hardcore fan to move on…

  • gokartride

    It always struck me as odd that MINI initial quality survey results tended to be poor while the owner satisfaction results tended to be stellar.

  • tony

    While the JD Power survey isn’t totally convincing, scanning the Faults and Fixes threads on NAM and MINI2 has really put a damper on my quest to get a MINI.

    Long running issues like the sticking sunroof, melting hood scoops, cold start rattle, and various “window issues” that are still running on and on have me very concerned as a new car shopper. I understand working through the teething issues, but the R56 has been out since late 06.

    Quirky-ness with the controls don’t concern me in the least. Real problems that require the car to be in the shop multiple days a year with sparce dealer support are not confidence inspiring.

    MK1’s comments on many members of his club comparing the amount of days spent in the shop is not a good image for MINI.

  • jp

    MINI USAs defense of the dismal JD Powers ranking is not echoed by BMW Munich who acknowledged on Bloomberg News that they were going to put things right. After all, BMW is a premier automotive brand, and I expect there are emails and memos burning up the air waves between the parent company and Oxford, UK. BMW is not going to risk losing such an important market as the USA. Blaming complex and quirky controls for the poor showing on JD Powers surveys is down right laughable and insults an owners intelligence.

  • KipperFillets

    I don’t know what proportion of MINI owners complaining about quality on this site are from the UK/US, but it does seem that the US have more problems.

    I don’t know if it’s the extremes in climate, the road surface or just the dealers ( I would never suggest the drivers! ).

    I consider myself lucky that my 2002 Cooper S has never let me down, and only once went in for repair when the passenger seat locked forwards (possibly the fault of my son who pushed it there). It’s rather ironic that most UK drivers are probably only about 20 minutes drive from a MINI dealer – who are generally attached to a BMW garage anyhow.

    None of my MINI owning friends have had any problems at all. Not exactly a huge survey, but it makes me wonder if it’s a particularly “bumpy ride” transporting MINIs across the water!

  • KipperFillets

    Talking of quality issues, have none of you noticed that the yellow MINI in the title picture has the steering wheel ON THE WRONG SIDE!

  • Person

    I used to work for the company that supplies the cockpit to BMW Oxford for R50/2/3/5/6/7.

    The assembly quality standards we had to meet were pure BMW QZ standards, tough! Many hours of root cause analysis, containment & countermeasure.

    Yes warranty is high but so it assembly complexity, much higher than normal drivers think!!!

    Engineering of the whole car is to BMW standards (the same as Rolls Royce!) and Plant Oxford are regularly checked by BMW for its assembly quality.

    Remember that for many customers the MINI brand is totally new and so has no history to help/hinder its brand perception. So far that brand is carrying the car high.

  • niggelig

    bmws and minis are developed by the same people and its annoying for any buyer of the makes to get the feeling that quality gets down. we own bmws now for about 30 years, starting with a 1500 in 1975. my first bmws got their first repairs after 5-7 years. mostly they only needed inspections and oil changes. but our last 4 cars (2 minis, 1 3-series, 1 5-series) started repairs (pumps, steering, gearbox, cooling) just after warrenty ended. i think, bmw do not believe in the quality of their own products – they take a lot of money for prolonging the warranty to times other (non premium) makes give as regular warranty. premium means quality in every aspect of ownership, not only in look and feel, styling or social group building.

  • Mk1

    Robbie – Consumer Reports is a joke. They only survey their subscribers, not a real statistical owner sampling. And then they “subjectively” decide on what data to use from those surveys. They have been sued many times by manufactures for printing skewed reports. Example: they were sued for posting “Clean-Room” Hepa filter tests for vacuume cleaners – when an insider let on that their “Clean Room” was some plastic painter drop-cloth paper-clipped to ceiling tile supports in a corner of their open office area, right next to a break room. You had to walk THROUGH this “clean room” to get to the break/coffee area – so constant foot traffic through their “clean” test area.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=573925989 Jerry Bradbury

    I ordered, watched the build, followed the transport and picked up my custom built Mini in 2004. I flogged it unmercifully on the Bay Area back roads and the track. The only problem I had with it was that the inside front wheel would spin under hard acceleration out of the corners. So I sold it to someone who still loves it and ordered an 05 with the factory LSD. Case solved. I have flogged it unmercifully ever since with no service problems. I feel for the folks who have to make a long haul to a dealer – There are 4 Mini dealers in the SF Bay Area – but that’s not a quality issue. This country is just so durn BIG!.

    I think part of the perceived QC issue is that people expect perfection and anything that goes wrong becomes a major issue. Case in point: almost all of the comments here are complaints – and that’s what gets picked up by JDP. They don’t care about customers like me who have none.

    Cheers, Sid

  • C4

    @jp:

    Here is a link to the Bloomberg article that you cited:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aTN_lhjkJn8w

    The tone is completely different from MINIUSA’s initial response to the poor JD Power survey showing.

    “BMWs, Mini brand, ranked last by J.D. Power’s initial quality survey in 2009, vows to remedy some of the quirks that prompted customer complaints, starting with the noisy sunroof.”

  • C4

    This is another excerpt from the article, but this claim is incorrect:

    “Not all of the car’s idiosyncrasies are likely to change, including the location of the hood release. Mini Cooper owner Peter Schweitzer, a fan of the auto, searched in vain and finally had to dial the dealer.

    “Where the hell is the hood release?” the Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, resident remembers asking. The latch, he was told, is located on the passenger side, a counterintuitive placement because in most cars, it sits near the driver’s seat.”

    Peter Schweitzer is an idiot. The hood release in the R50 and R53 is on the passenger side footwell. Why? Because the original BMW MINI was a RHD biased design. Now enter the R56, and this is where the article is wrong…. The hood release is now located on the driver’s side footwell. Why? because the R56 is a LHD biased design as LHD world markets out number countries that observe RHD traffic design.

    Now, one thing that irks me about the R56 and R55 is how hard is to find and actuate the second release safety latch under the hood. In the R53 it was a breeze.

    MINI should learn from VW/Audi. When you open the hood of a VW product, the second safety latch pops out immediately to facilitate opening the hood. In the R56, you have to stick your hand below the opening while getting all the grease and grime stuck to you.

  • C4
  • lavardera

    I got the JD Power survey in 07. I pocked the dollar and dropped the survey in the recycling bin. If I had a complaint I’d have probably filled it out. I wonder how common that is and how scientific the survey is.

    This whole thing sounds like a bunch of rubbish.

  • alpinamike

    Thats what I did, took the dollar. I did not do the long survey.

  • Roccorocket

    After owning both a R53 and R55 I have to say I was in the shop for the R53 often enough but, the issues were quickly handled. For the R55 that was not the case. Software issues and engine issues, that is still un-resolved, with new issues popping up. The car goes away in 4 days and in some ways my wife will miss it in others the whole experience will not be missed. If someone asked about buying a R56/R55, I would tell him or her to wait for a while. It seems to me MINI dropped the ball when they changed everything. If I replace my R53, it will be with a slightly newer R53.

  • goat

    C4 – Mercedes also uses the “pop out” secondary hood release, at least on the B-class. It’s a design touch I appreciated from my VW days too.

  • discodan

    Remember folks, if you’re on this board you’re an ENTHUSIAST. and enthusiasts tend to be very picky and fickle about their cars. they nit-pick more than your average driver. i don’t think every MINI owner out there (like me) are 6 years in and problem free, but there were some problems i had that i wouldn’t consider bad enough to make me hate the car.

  • MINIOwner

    I will chime in, having leased/owned 5 MINIs in our family (06 S, 07 Cooper and Cooper S, 08 Cooper, and 09 Cooper).

    On the cars I owned, (O6 S and 08 Cooper),I feel the build quality is fine.

    However, the two 07 models had problems, with one car constantly in the shop. That issue was finally rectified. So far the ’09 has been fine, as one would expect.

    Compared to other cars I have owned, I’d say I’m very happy with the brand, and I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak….

    There is definitely room for improvement; like most I hate the PlaySkool center stack/radio climate controls, and I really miss my ’06 Cooper S interior and exhaust burble.

  • walk

    @lsumini:

    I had a Focus ZX3 for 9 years that had that carpet-like lining in the wheel wheels and it never fell apart. It does look cheap on a MINI however.

    Again, compared to the Focus, I am disappointed by the number of rattles and squeaks from my R56 Cooper. I’ll have to see if my local dealer can fix them this month.

    Ignoring the odd button/switch layout, I just don’t feel the interior of the MINI is good enough for a ‘premium’ small car. It’s great fun, but I’m not sure if I’ll look at another MINI when the lease it up.

  • Dr Obnxs

    Gabe, I think that you miss the point of the survey, and yes, it is a bit of a badly named survey. But what it is really measuring is how is the initial ownership period as benchmarked by two or three criteria. 1) Repair issues (things that come up in 90 days really indicate build quality); usability issues (things like the inane center stack design); engineering problems (brake dust and rear window dirt). One can make an arguement that the last two are just different facets of the same design intent expressions.

    And all the car companies are judged by the same ruler. So to that extent it is objective. Comments about who participates are valid, but not really controlable, so one just has to know that there is a possibility of bias due to different types of people that have different survey response rates being drawn to different types of cars. While this is true, the results speak for themselves.

    What is somewhat maddening is if you go to the JDP website, it’s very, very hard to get good information, or to find the results of previous years to see if there are any trends evident. While it’s all fine and well to sensationalize the last place finish, it doesn’t really say much but surely does stirr the pot.

    It would be more informative to see how the a) industry trends are going (overall, is the average going up or down) as well as specific brands (was the 165 reported issues higher or lower than the previous years… What does the Mini results look like since the brand was introduced?) trends….

    Does Mini have quality issues? Yep, they sure do.

    Do other companies have quality issues? Yep, they do to.

    Is Mini doing better or worse than they used to, by a significant amount? I really have no clue.

    Also JDP does more than just this survey. While I don’t think that JDP is the end all be all of automotive review, their results do have some value, and just dismissing them out of hand isn’t a good idea.

    Also, I didn’t move from a Camry or someother appliance car, and I sure would marked Mini down on both we’ve bought (02 MCS, 08 Clubbie, both short and long term perspectives) and I also would have given a high level of satisfaction with the car. These aren’t mutually exclusive. All it says is that responders like me really like our cars, but think that Mini could have done a better job in some aspects of design and build quality.

    Matt

  • Dr Obnxs

    I did a little more digging

    2009 Ind Ave: 108 Mini: 165, 0 companies worse 2008 Ind Ave: 118 Mini: 163, 1 company worse 2007 Ind Ave: 125 Mini: Too few respondnats to list. 2006 Ind Ave: 124 Mini: 150, 7 companies worse 2005 Ind Ave: 118 Mini: 130, 11 companies worse

    Now, JDP says that because of changes to the study in 2006, you can’t compare 2006 and later number to 2005 and earlier…. But the trends are there, the industry is getting better on average, and Mini isn’t. In fact, each year for which there are number, Mini is getting progressivly worse. That should be worrysome for any manufacturer, no matter what. Also, these are rankings done by Mini owners, so no matter the level of enthusiasm vs other brands, the very same target group who buys Minis is saying that the cars are getting worse not better.

    After reading all this, I’d have to say that yes, Mini does have issues. And they better step up thier game. A good chassis and driving experience only covers up for so much crap that a company does.

    I don’t buy the notion that Mini drivers are such a breed apart that the results of surveys like this can’t be taken seriously, especially in the face of Porsches consistantly very, very high ranking (another relatively low volume car with very discerning owners).

    Matt

  • Dr Obnxs

    Yet more digging (and let’s see if the formatting works!)

    Looking at dependibility study (this is a survey of cars three years old, so the 2009 results are after owning 2006 cars for three years)….

    2005 Ind Ave: 237, Mini: 383, companies worse 2.

    2006 Ind Ave: 227, Mini: 280, companies worse 8.

    2007 Ind Ave: 216, Mini: 247, companies worse 11.

    2008 Ind Ave: 205, Mini: 233, companies worse 12.

    2009 Ind Ave: 170, Mini: 205, companies worse 12.

    This shows a slow and steady improvement for long term ownership issues that is still below the industrial average on a 4 year old chassis. The improvement is good news, the fact that a “well sorted” chassis is still having these issues through its entire life is worrysome. Next years dependability study will get the first of the 2007 cars. And before everyone uses this as an excuse for apossible drop, many companies are managing to keep thier numbers improving despite new model introductions…

    Anyway, from the dependibility point of view, the cars aren’t that great, but have slowely been getting better.

    Matt

  • illegalhunter

    My R56 had 14 return trips to the dealers in the 1st 9 weeks . Quality control was laughable back at the start of production.

  • DavidT

    No issues on my 2006 JCW other than having to replace the cracked exhaust (JCW specific) with a redesigned one, under warranty and during an oil change. That issue cost me only a half and hour. Not bad for 3 years and 50K miles, especially since the front end was repaired after an accident. I would have expected that to have cause later problems at least…

    Oh yeah, the mushrooming shock towers issue but that has cost me nothing since I chose to ignore them. Happened driving home from the dealer so does not seem to have caused problems.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1365900163 Dave Pevsner

    i have a high-mileage 2004 R50, and i’ve decided the best way to look at quality control and reliability is to compare what you’re paying in maintenance (not including collision work or fluid fill-ups) to what somebody leasing your car would be paying on the lease. i just went on a lease guide website, and right now, someone with a credit score of 700 who puts a down payment of $2000 on the car can lease it from $260 a month for 3 years. over the course of one year, that’s 3 grand in lease fees. while, admittedly, my mini cost me a little over a grand last year for a power steering assembly, rear tires, spark plugs and i think an intake filter, it doesn’t scratch the surface compared to a lease, so it’s actually a reasonable car to own.

    while i’ll admit that the cheapness of certain things on the mini will always annoy the heck out of me, i also think some people blow the problems out of proportion.

  • RB

    I think the quality issue comes down to how picky owners are.

    For example I had a rattle in my dash. Being the picky enthusiast that we all are, it bothered me and I brought it in to the dealer to get fixed.

    Where as my fiancee’s Mazda3 has had a similar rattle since the beginning, but it just does not bother her.


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