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.

Written By: Gabe

  • 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.


    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.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!

  • Pingback: moroNICS.net » R50/53/52 Maintenance()

  • 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…

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