Ask MF: How to Choose the Right Used MINI

Choosing the right pre-owned MINI is no easy task. There are tones of, sometime contradicting, information online about the topic and it’s easy to get lost in the process.

Naturally, one of our readers, Vincent, decided to reach out and ask if we could steer him in the right direction. Vincent is interested in models from 2004 and onward, but he is not sure what he should be mindful of as far as potential mechanical issues are concerned.

The big choice there is between the R50/R53 generation and the R56 generation. In our minds both have excellent cases to be made but the only real deciding factor will be test drives.

Based on our experience, we have a couple of recommendations for Vincent:

  • LCI models are better options. That is MINIs between 2005-2006 and 2011-2013 (this is especially true of the R50/R53)
  • Stay away from automatic CVT at all costs in the R50
  • Watch for potential rust in the door sills of the R50/R52/R53 cars
  • Make sure to check the service records as MINIs are known to have oil starvation problems
  • On the 2007-2010 R56 be very careful to investigate any chain tensioner issues

My ultimate recommendation would be to reach out to Nathaniel as he is selling a very well maintained 2006 Cooper S, but that’s just me. There’s also the MotoringFile also Buyers’ Guides for the R50 and R53 that contain precious tidbits. And since I’m definitely not the mechanical expert, I’m sure our readers won’t hesitate to chime in and provide Vincent with valuable advice.

Thanks again Vincent for reaching our and thank you all in advance for your comments!

  • Mark @ MINI of the Main Line

    R50 and R 53 LCI cars are 2005/06 (2004 was pre LCI) Another suggestion would be to ask a qualified motoring advisor. (like me)

    • The LCI began with July first 2004 production as 2005 models and coincided with the launch of the convertible.

      • Mark @ MINI of the Main Line

        So 2005 model year cars (which started in July 2004)

  • John McLauchlan

    Good advice Alex, and agree with the LCI suggestion as well as reviewing the R50/53 buyers guide.

    Beyond that, it really depends on the individual car, how it was maintained, current condition, as well as the particular features and options desired. My only suggestion is that Xenons are a plus.

    Also, there are a lot of pre-owned MINIs out there so take the time necessary to find “the one”.

  • Chris Harte

    I respectfully disagree that the 05/06 cars are necessarily better. Maybe 5-6 years ago this would be true, but now that all the first gen cars have been aging, the maintenance history and frequency should be more important than drawing the line on model year. Any bugs in either an 02 or an 06 would be worked out by now, and you are just paying more to have an 05/06 that would still need the same maintenance and repairs that may have already been made on an 02 or 03.

  • MINIAC

    The term LCI was used for the 2nd Gen MINI. For the 1st Gen it was “facelift”.

    • LCI has always been the internal BMW term.

      • MINIAC

        I’ve been posting on MINI forums since 2001 and this is the first time I’ve seen the term LCI used in conjunction with the 1st Gen MINI.

        • The term didn’t really enter the automotive conciousness until BMW and MINI employees started to use it publicly around 2007-2008. However Life-Cycle Impulse has been a term used internally for a very long time.

  • ulrichd

    Still amazed at the sale prices that good first gen cars are commanding.

  • fishbert

    Wow, no love for the 2nd Gens from the commenters so far.

    • Mark @ MINI of the Main Line

      welcome to motoringfile.

    • James D

      Love my R56 JCW and do not plan to get rid of it even as I get newer vehicles. Since it is no longer my main vehicle, no longer under warranty and paid off, I have the perfect excuse to modify it however I want. The F56 still in my mind has deviated too far from the original MINI for me to even think about buying one.

      • hemisedan

        James, I had a 2011 JCW and loved it as you do yours, but I got the ragtop fever and I have a R59 JCW now. As for you stating that the new F56 JCW coming out soon has deviated too far from the original MINI. Well, the whole R & F series is no where near what the original Mini was. And comparing it to the R series MINI’s, it’s an improvement in most all ways. I have my concerns too on several issues, but all in all, the new JCW is curing some of them. I still hat the front grille opening, but dealing with the EU we’re stuck with something like that. Also, there is some BMW M in that design too, if you look at it.

        As for the F56 JCW will I be in the market, I’m not sure yet. I’m thinking toward it, but I just may use my next hotrod project for everyday use, a late hemi powered 67 Valiant. Economical, should be able to keep up with traffic, and hey, Mopar hotrods are in my genes.

        • ulrichd

          I don’t think the grill opening has anything to do with the EU pedestrian crash standards. We get to thanks those for the longer nose and higher hood line. I have a bigger problem with the intake design below the bumper on the S.

        • James D

          Yeah, that new face just doesn’t do it for me and the rear is pretty bad too. The interior design is lacking as well. The quality is up but the design in my opinion is just too bland. I love my R56 interior warts and all. I had an R53 and while I did like that interior, I still feel the R56 is a small step up in quality without deviating too much from the 1st gen in design. While the new JCW sounds like it will be a beast with the added power, in my book that is just something that is not high on my list of priorities in what I want out out of my MINI. I’ve got plenty of power now and wonderful handling as it stands in my R56. I am going to hold out before buying anything until I see what MINI will actually do with the F54 Clubman. That looks promising so far as they seem to have really cleaned up that nose. We’ll see…

        • ulrichd

          I agree the upcoming Clubman nose looks to be an improvement of the hatch but they unfortunately went conventional on the rear tail lights. I wish they had kept the vertical design.

    • For my money I’d aim for some variation of an LCI R55, 56 or 58 if I was buying used and wanting to spend money.

      • fishbert

        If you’re not buying used, what’s your opinion of the F56 vs Roadster (since you loved that car and it’s not too late to build one)?

        • Good question. If I has zero need for rear seats I’d get a Roadster. The design and packaging is just so perfect. The F56 is a better car in every way but a properly specced Roadster is a wonderful thing to live with.