First Generation MINI Oil Leaks & Checking Your Oil (Updated w/more Info)

Over the past couple of years a very serious issue has reared its head in many a 2001-2006 MINIs (aka the R50/R53/R52). The problem stems from oil seals or gaskets going bad (usually towards the front of the motor) and allowing oil to leak from the reservoir. If unchecked this could result in oil starvation and engine detonation.

I own an R50/R52/R53, What Should I Do?

For starters go check your oil… now. If it’s not low, make a mental note of the date (or better yet write it down) and be sure to check it again once a week (to see how to do this, you can watch DB’s demonstration below). If your oil is low head down to your MINI dealer and pick-up some of that unique BMW/MINI Castrol synthetic oil. And remember, once your car is older, it’s generally not wise to change oil from one brand to another. Now once your levels are where they need to be, look under the front of your car towards the front of the engine. If you see obvious signs of oil on the bottom of the engine (or even on the ground) you’ve got a problem. Schedule an appointment at your MINI dealer or local independent MINI shop.

The real problem

For this we turn to an expert: Chad Miller, owner of the MINI only shop Detroit Tuned.

I see several leaks out of the early cars. The first one that leaks on all cars is the crank sensor. It has an o-ring on it and shrinks after it get hot after 30K and it allows oil pass it only when the car is running. It leaks down the front of the block and collects lots of dirt that comes through the radiator.  It will continue down the front of the motor to the pan and blow off when driving. It never drips as it is well above the oil level when the car is parked at any angle. The fix for it is to clean it up, pull it out, RTV it, Put it back in. To do this you HAVE to pull the front of the car off. 

The second (and biggest) place I am seeing oil leak issues is the crank seal/gasket. This seal dries up and will also work its way out and allow oil to be pumped out as its right at the oil pump behind the crank damper. It’s the same on cooper or cooper S and it’s an easy fix once you pull the crank pulley. When this seal goes it will cover the front cover and the oil pan gasket and will make it look like the pan gasket is going. Sometimes it’s good to replace this seal first as it is easy and cheap before you pull the pan and replace that one. The seal is $13.48 the next one is the oil pan gasket. It’s a big job and very messy. (ED: This seems to be what most problems are that we’re hearing about.)

You also have to pull the front end of to pull the air compressor. The gasket is a MINI only part, and lists for $36.71. There are no aftermarket parts for it. I always seal up the crank sensor when doing this job as you already have the front end off, even if the leak is not bad or not at all. I can almost guarantee that, at some point, it will start leaking. 

I also see the oil cooler seals on the cooper S go. They get really hot and dry up and get hard. It starts as a drip, and can drip on the driveway. They can also just go and pump all the oil out of the motor. Again a very cheap part at $3.80 each (you need 2) and it’s a special square o-ring that you’re not going to just pick up anywhere. It’ll take about an hour to install and requires removing the oil filter to stop the drain of oil in to your work area. You can get to it through the drivers wheel well so it’s an easy install.

So there you have it. The majority of issues relate to the crank seal but there are a couple other that could also produce oil leaks. As Chad mentions, the parts aren’t pricey. However it’s the labor that gets the old parts off and the new parts on that is. In total it should run you around $800 at most MINI dealers. Independent shops should be a little cheaper.

As always if you’ve had any experience with the problem and the fix let us know. This is a growing problem in the R50/R52/R53 MINI world and will only get worse in the years ahead. We can only assume multiple aftermarkets solutions will be available soon and that MINI may even redesign the OEM part since the failure seems to be so widespread.

  • that.guy

    So, are you talking about the crank sensor seal? Because “oil seals or gaskets going bad (usually towards the front of the motor)” is pretty darned vague…

  • http://www.werkinmini.com Keith

    “…once your car is older, it’s generally not wise to change oil from one brand to another.” That’s a strange thing to say; care to elaborate?

  • Rocketboy_x

    Don’t rely on your oil light either. It really only indicates a starvation situation.

  • Wweldin

    Is MiniUSA acknowledging this as a extended warranty issue? Are they covering any portion of the repair costs?

  • Todd

    The oil pan gasket/seal is what is being referred to here.

  • Michael

    Is MINI going to do a recall or cover this defect?

  • Ron

    Thanks, this was a useful post! I assume it applies to the R52 MCSC too? I just checked my October 2006-built MCSC and it looks good. Although this is another item for my “reasons to sell the MINI before the warranty expires” list.

    Any reason to hope that this issue might have been fixed in the 2007+ MCSC R52? In which case maybe my car has the fix since it was a late 2006 build that had the 2007 changes.

  • apexer

    You refer to the problem being with the Cooper S then show how to check oil on a standard Cooper. Dip stick location and reading the oil level completely different between the Cooper & the S. BTW: Comment about not changing oil brands is bull.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    “…once your car is older, it’s generally not wise to change oil from one brand to another.” That’s a strange thing to say; care to elaborate?

    It’s advice that has been told to me for years by several BMWmechanics – both official and independent.

    Is MiniUSA acknowledging this as a extended warranty issue? Are they covering any portion of the repair costs?

    This issue is just starting to become known now that these cars are getting older. Since the cars are generally out of warranty, I wouldn’t expect MINI to feel compelled to cover this. Individual situations may warrant some coverage if it is within the warranty period.

  • C4

    Sorry to rain in your parade, bud, but replacing the oil pan (even 3 times back to back) is still much cheaper than trading in your car for a new one with the “excuse” of getting a warranty.

    Americans are in so much personal debt and financial trouble because of this “disposable” mentality. There is nothing wrong in keeping an older car out of warranty and keeping up with maintenance and repairs. It is cheaper to keep a car 5-9 years than to trade in every 3 or 4.

    I still have my 2005 R53 S that I bought new almost 5 years ago. I have been out of warranty for almost a year. The car has required this year $3,500 worth of out of pocket repairs. Still much cheaper than trading the car in for a new MINI with warranty and monthly payments (My 2005 has been paid off for over 2 years now). Assuming $400 a month payments times 12 months = $4,800 a year. Repairing and maintaining my older MINI is still cheaper than buying a new one with warranty.

  • http://www.turningwrench.com brad.

    Any chance this effects the R50 as well? My oil pan gasket had a bit of weeping as of a year and a half ago, but no noticeable oil loss even after two track days.

    I keep strict tabs on oil level after noticing the slight seepage. Not to mention keeping a keen eye on coolant level after having the t-stat gasket go belly up.

    And $800 for an oil pan gasket change? Ouch! Other than the plastic fascia and pan, what has to come off? When I’ve done oil changes/brakes/cooling system work on my R50 it doesn’t look like that much is in the way of the pan. Is the R53 more involved?

    thanks,

    brad.

  • C4

    Brad, find an independent to do the oil plan replacement for you. Those $800 quoted for the repair take into account $130 per hour dealer labor rates. The job is a pain in the ass and takes 2-3 hours at the very least.

    I have an independent that charges $75 per hour and that, my friends, makes a huge difference.

  • rkw

    The problem also affects non-S Coopers. It happened to my non-S 2006 R52 at about 42K miles and was repaired under warranty. I didn’t even know it was leaking but the dealer saw it while doing other work.

  • rkw

    BTW, it should be no surprise that it isn’t just an R53 issue because the parts are the same across all models.

  • http://www.turningwrench.com brad.
    C4 Brad, find an independent to do the oil plan replacement for you.

    Yeah, already on that! I have a friend who works at one and it came in real handy when the dealership over torqued my oil drain plug at the “free” service. I’d never take my MINI to the dealership for the oil pan work.

    DB tells me that the techs have to remove the front fascia and the belt as well to get to the pan. Sounds more involved than I had expected. But that’s what you get with a small, well designed car. Gotta stuff it all in there somehow!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1207868968 Steve Rosenblum

    My 2002 MC has had a weepy oil pan gasket for about 3 years.. Dealer offered $800 to replace it. I’ve just been keeping an eye on it to make sure things don’t get worse. I think I’ve needed to add oil twice between changes since the car was new.

  • CraigE
    And remember, once your car is older, it’s generally not wise to change oil from one brand to another.

    This is only partially true. Not all synthetic oils are created equal. MINI recommends using a synthetic oil that has a LL-01 rating. Using BMW or MINI branded oil guarantees that your oil has this rating. You can us any brand that meets or exceeds those ratings. The federal government has a requirement that all engine oils sold in the USA be chemically compatible. So mixing oils of the same rating will cause no problems.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1131392915 Wayne Dyer

    Brad, there’s no reason why the gasket problem wouldn’t happen on an R50 — they’re probably the same material. My wife’s R50 also sprung a weeping leak, we had that taken care of.

  • http://www.turningwrench.com brad.

    Here’s a DIY write up:

    http://r53minicooper.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/diy-do-it-yourself-oil-gasket-replacement-for-mini-cooper-s-r53-summary/

    Definitely more work than I had anticipated. It’s doable as a shade tree mechanic, but it would take a while to do it as stated above.

  • PocoToro

    Well it’s a British car it’s supposed leak oil……. I almost bought a MINI when it first cam out. Than I found out it had a Chrysler motor and decided to wait for a BMW motor. Now that I’m ready to buy a new car I find my self unemployed ………

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554839220 Chad Miller

    These leaks can happen on an R50, R52, or R53 (but the oil cooler seals are only on the Cooper S).

    Chad Detroit Tuned

  • Axel

    I own an 02 R53 with 116k and yet to see the so called leaks but, will do so next time. True its cheaper to keep her than getting a new one!!!

  • veggivet

    As PocoToro said, MINI designed these oil leaks into the cars to maintain their true British heritage of the Mini.

  • http://www.turningwrench.com brad.

    Thanks Chad and Wayne. I noticed that the part #s for the gasket are the same for the R53/R50 after looking at realoem, but I wondered if the MCS had a higher operating temp or overall oil pressure that might have lead to the failure of the gasket. But it pretty much sounds like the gaskets are crap in general regardless of engine specs/performance.

    Looks like I’ll be spending a weekend installing a gasket in the near future!

  • Jack Grouell

    Since your check oil video seems aimed at the inexperienced owners (that is a good thing) you should have added as step 1: Make sure your car is parked on a level spot, even a slight incline can affect your oil level reading.

  • Kirkworks

    Looks like Fel Pro offers a MINI oil pan gasket P/N “OS 30800 R”. Since no one has mentioned it, I assume no one has tried it either? Not sure if it is available, but at least it looks like the aftermarket is attempting to offer an option to the standard MINI (BMW) or is it Chrysler (since they built the TRITEC motor) as an offering. I have a minor leak on my 04 MCS (27K) really more like a slow drip, so I am going to delay for now.

  • Aussom

    Can agree with most of what has been posted, as my 2002 MCS oil gasket has recently started leaking & needs replacing. I read somewhere that this issue could also be potentially caused by a faulty positive engine pressure release valve on the top left-hand side of the engine (which has a rubber hose going towards the front supercharger region)and not replacing this valve could see the sump oil gasket issue recurring in future?

    Regarding change of oil manufacturers – my local official BMW garage uses Castrol oil (which was used to top up my lowered engine oil level), whereas the regional MINI garage (where I have the major services performed) uses Shell Helix Ultra.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=780739777 Chris Harte

    @C4 I have put approx $6700 in maintenance parts alone into my R53 since 1/1/08, with 51000 miles driven since then. Over the course of those 51k miles or so, that adds to 6700/51000=$0.13 cents per mile. To put all things in perspective, My fuel costs since 1/1/08 to approx. 8/23/09 have been $5896/51000=$0.115 per mile in comparison. Therefore it has cost more in parts than fuel by roughly 2.5 cents per mile. Small numbers. Yes I agree it is cheaper to keep a car for 5-6 years, not 2-3. Yes I agree it is cheaper to replace an old car with a new one. And yes I contradicted myself. It varies on everyones individual situation, therefore there is not a correct or incorrect answer to your response. I have a neighbor across the street with a Chrysler K-car, with about 22000 original miles. I bet that car has never needed more than 1 set of tires, three batteries, and who knows how many unnecessary oil changes!

  • Jack Grouell

    Just wondering if any of the oil leak problems could be associated with incorrectly or even corretly installed oil catch cans?

  • that.guy

    Data point: At 100k I did the crank sensor seal as it was beginning to weep. So far no issues with the crank seal or the pan gasket.

  • that.guy
    If unchecked this could result in oil starvation and engine denotation.

    What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is “engine denotation” anyway? Sounds interesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552856942 Ian Harrison

    I think he means “detonation”, but I could be wrong.

  • MadisonKobalt

    To weigh in on the oil debate. “And remember, once your car is older, it’s generally not wise to change oil from one brand to another.” This used to be recommended if you switched to a full Synthetic in the early days of synthetics. The early Mobil1 formulation was especially notorious for not mixing nicely with others. And once the damage was done or a switch was made, there was no going back without cleaning out the entire oil system. Besides who really wants to go back to conventional oils and changes every 2 – 3,000 miles, if you can get at least 2x to 6x the lifetime. CraigE is very right. Not all synthetic oils are created equal. All the current day major synthetic oils sold in the US market will mix with each other with out issues. However, there is a lot of debate about which one is the better of the two types of Full Synthetic oils on the market. Type3 is a cracked polymer chain and blended oil derived from the black stuff formed by age and geology, often called Dino Oil (i.e. Dinosaur oil derived) and type4 a full synthetic oil which basically has a laboratory birth. I have run both types and been happy, I think they are all better than the other stuff. If you want to know how your oil performs in comparison to others, I recommend the web site http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/ Or if you have an opinion about an oil, I am sure someone will debate it with you on this site. I am running and recommend the “European” German Formulated Castrol Syntec (GC) and yes there is a difference.

  • glangford

    @C4 and Chris,

    Wow, those are huge repair costs for any car. That shows the real problem of Mini in my mind. Both of you quote repair numbers for a year larger than the sum total of all the repairs ever done to my 10 year old Honda CR-V. 108,000 miles, 1 set of front brakes, two sets of tires, two batteries, countless oil changes, one timing belt change, a couple of plug changes, and a couple radiator flushes.

    If my R56 MC demonstrates those type repair costs then maybe it does become time to upgrade.

  • http://www.lilcoopr.com lilcoopr

    Quick question: if you have a oil leak, will it actually be noticeable as a puddle underneath your MINI or could it leak somewhere else? As in, could I use this as a sign that everything is ok since I do not have oil dripping? Thanks! :)

  • http://dbmini.us DB

    Since your check oil video seems aimed at the inexperienced owners (that is a good thing) you should have added as step 1: Make sure your car is parked on a level spot, even a slight incline can affect your oil level reading.

    I realized I forgot that after it was done. Doesn’t help that my MINI was parked on an incline either. I’ll find a way to make a correction. Thanks!

  • that.guy
    Quick question: if you have a oil leak, will it actually be noticeable as a puddle underneath your MINI or could it leak somewhere else?

    Read Chad’s excellent write up above. The crank sensor seal will NOT leak when the car is not running, so no telltale puddle for that one, but that does not mean that you could not be losing oil at a good clip.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=552701444 Paul Graziano

    Wow – you mean to say that a british car can leak oil when it starts getting old? I’m shocked…

    I’m at 146K on my 03 MCS which is now officially over 7 years old. Yes, there are some small leaks. The skid plate catches most of it so I clean that up at every oil change. Still no drips on the driveway though. I’m not going to pay big $ to fix this right now, but I keep an eye on the oil level and top off when needed – but it typically doesn’t lose a full qt between oil changes.

    And I use whatever 5W30 full synthetic I see on the shelf when I go down to Wally World. Most of the time it’s Mobil-1. I change it every 7-8K. There’s no way I’m driving all the way to the MINI dealer to buy Castrol Syntec in MINI packaging at $8/qt.

    This is life with an older car. No big deal…

    Want to talk about how much oil my 1971 Volvo 1800 leaks? :-)

  • Paul!

    Is the Castrol Syntec (aka MINI/BMW) oil sold by dealers the US or European version?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1145665586 DUDE!

    Hey DB kool vid? But I think your thinking with your dipstick…. 😉

    Some Autonista suggested the vid only covers the Cooper, what he can’t find the dipstick on his “S”..? Whoa and he drives!

  • beken

    My oil pan gasket was replaced last year just before warranty expired. I had mentioned an oil drip mark on my garage floor so my MINI dealer changed it. However, I notice a fresh drip again. Not a lot of oil and not enough to require a top up. Now that my warranty has expired, I will wait until it becomes a serious problem.

  • glangford

    Paul,

    Its the Euro version. LL-04 spec for bmw vehicles. I buy it from my local bmw dealer as my mini dealer is 100 miles away. He charges about 5.80 a quart.

  • bee1000

    I took my 04 R53 in for a busted motor mount and they said “the spots in your parking space are from the motor mount, but you’re also really low on oil.” No warning light at all, so I guess you can’t trust the idiot lights to help. For my car it was the valve cover gasket that was replaced for $250 or something. As C4 would say, less than a car payment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/goofytruax Robert Truax

    Ok can we get some pictures of the different places to check for the leaks. I don’t have a clue where these gaskets are located in the engine.

  • Ralph

    DB:

    At the end of your Mini Public Service WWR video it states to “check your oil with your engine warm.” Everything I’ve read and been taught is to check your oil when the engine is cold. Does the Mini owners manual note to check the oil with the engine warm? What page (if it does)? I haven’t seen it.

    A suggestion for your next video on engine oil leaking; can you show the area (either via pictures of video) the places (spots) where to look for the leaks.

    Thanks.

    P.S. Nice video and choreography.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1087159099 Bob Hayhurst

    …My hat’s off to all the R53/50 owners who generated 44 comments on this issue in a days time. I hope MINI is paying attention; We are passionate about these cars and the costs associated with ownership. The long term viability of MINI hinges on these problems being taken seriously and promptly addressed at the dealership level. The cold start rattle associated with the R56 is something that probally could have been handled better by MINI but we all (hopefully) learn by our mistakes…

  • that.guy
    If my R56 MC demonstrates those type repair costs then maybe it does become time to upgrade.

    Dude, R56 repair costs over 100k miles will be higher than R50/53. The car has a freaking French engine! If you are looking for Honda-esque total cost of ownership, you definitely picked the wrong car.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Dude, R56 repair costs over 100k miles will be higher than R50/53. The car has a freaking French engine! If you are looking for Honda-esque total cost of ownership, you definitely picked the wrong car.

    Not sure how there is still a misconception about this. The R56 family of engines was designed by BMW in Munich (I’ve met the lead engineer) and is built in the UK. The only that comes from France is the block.

    Now will it have similar issues in terms of oil leaks. We can’t say that yet. We do know that BMW took over design and production to improve quality among other things. However time will be the ultimate judge.

  • CraigE
    Not sure how there is still a misconception about this.

    I’m sure a major contributing factor is that the window stickers of all R55/56/57 MINIs in the USA (except JCWs) list the country of origin for the “engine” as France. Even though the motor is assembled in England and designed by BMW, the largest component comes from France. Therefore that is how it must be listed on the sticker. I’ve even heard Top Gear and Fifth Gear refer to the Prince motors as French.

    This makes me wonder if BMW made a mistake by using engine blocks manufactured by PSA. If they were able to source the block from any other country, especially England or Germany, it would help their image.

    As far as oil leaks, I think one of the contributing factors is that the oil pan on the R50-R53 is aluminum attached to a cast iron block. The different rates of thermal expansion probably contribute to the problem. This is similar to when manufacturers started switching to aluminum cylinder heads on cast iron engine blocks. This often resulted in failed head gaskets.

    Does anyone know if the oil pan on the Prince motors is aluminum or steel?

  • lavardera

    Before you ask if the pan is alum or steel you should realize that the engine block is now aluminum and not iron.

  • that.guy

    Ok, it’s not a French engine, it’s a “Freedom” engine!

  • http://dbmini.us DB

    At the end of your Mini Public Service WWR video it states to “check your oil with your engine warm.” Everything I’ve read and been taught is to check your oil when the engine is cold. Does the Mini owners manual note to check the oil with the engine warm? What page (if it does)? I haven’t seen it.

    I don’t have a manual handy, but in the 24 years I’ve been around cars, I was always told and always read that you want to check the oil when the engine is at operating temperature. Checking the oil cold could result in adding more oil than you need and that can be almost as bad as not having enough oil (or, at least that is the case on small block chevy motors).

    A suggestion for your next video on engine oil leaking; can you show the area (either via pictures of video) the places (spots) where to look for the leaks.

    That’s a great idea! That said, I don’t have ready access to a lift, so actually getting those shots will be a long time in coming. I can say (since everyone seems to be having a hard time with this) that when I do have the occassional leak, it appears to be coming from the middle of the MINI, just behind the front wheels.

    And thanks for watching the video!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1145665586 DUDE!

    DB I think you’ve got that wrong. Checking engines when they are warm does not allow all the oil to settle back into the sump for proper quantity or oil level check. Check an Automatic trans while warm is what I’ve been told.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1207868968 Steve Rosenblum

    <a href=”http://www.motoringalliance.com/pdf/manuals/2002manualminicoopercoopers.pdf”>Here is a link to the manual from MotoringAlliance.. It does say a warm engine after waiting 5 minutes.

  • Ralph

    DB wrote:

    “I don’t have a manual handy, but in the 24 years I’ve been around cars, I was always told and always read that you want to check the oil when the engine is at operating temperature. Checking the oil cold could result in adding more oil than you need and that can be almost as bad as not having enough oil (or, at least that is the case on small block chevy motors).”

    According to the Car answer guys from the Chicago Sun times:

    Q. When are you supposed to check your oil, when the engine is warm or when the engine is cold? Paul

    TOM. That’s an excellent question, Paul. We’ve always told people to check the oil level first thing in the morning when the engine is cold.

    RAY. There were several reasons for this. First of all, when the engine is cold, all of the oil has had a chance to drip down from the top of the engine and settle in the oil pan, where it’s measured by the dipstick. That way you’re getting a true and accurate reading of exactly how much oil is in the engine.

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-4381978.html

    Also from the Engine Oil Bible site is states:

    So what’s the best way to check the oil level?

    If your engine is cold (for example it has been parked overnight) you can check the oil level right away. The oil will have had time to settle back into the sump. Just make sure the car is level before you do. If the engine is warm or hot (after you’ve been driving) then you should wait for 30 minutes or so to let as much oil as possible drain back into the sump.

    http://www.carbibles.com/engineoil_bible.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=780739777 Chris Harte

    @ glangford If you drove your Honda 30k per year, not 107,000/10 = 10700 per year, do you think your total parts consumption per year would increase? also at that it assumes for your case, imagine if your car had 300K on it. If you look at the costs required in maintenance over the course of one year, you have to consider how much the car is used per year. Obviously if I drove one third the distance, the price of parts would be one third what they are. Just trying to clear up some confusion. It varies too much between cars, and between the means for which they are used. Ive seen cars in our shop that are toast at 36k, and cars that are perfect at 120k. The gap between a city useage car and a highway car is phenomenal. To put that in an easier visualization, picture the parts and repairs on a NYC crown vic taxi versus a Texas state police crown vic interceptor! Considering they both do easily 100k per year, which would you rather buy at auction when they’re turned over!

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  • yeehaa it

    BMW main dealer sold friend in 2007 1.6 sohc mini cooper s 36000 miles later on its last service bf waranty ran out they said it needed new header tank , and thermost . But they would not charge for parts just labour .

    not to bad you think !! bmw fitted them and he paid the labour . Then at 38000 miles warranty 2 weeks out it overheated and cracked the header tank again . Turned out to be supercharger to water pump p.t.o broke up . BMW service told him warranty ran out sorry 3000 to fix plz !!! BMW tech should have new that at service !

  • http://twitter.com/stuey_m1 Stuart Harmer-Meakin

    It amazes me that a company such as BMW can let things like this happen! I’m having the oil leak problem on my 52 plate cooper s and its VERY annoying. It’s in today to try and finally get it resolved. The oil on mine has got onto the alternator, pulley wheels and belt AGAIN, i’ve had the rocker cover gasket replaced, sump gasket done TWICE, i just hope it’s not something more serious…