Ask MF – When Do You Give Up On A Troubled MINI?

Many of us have been there. A surprise repair is one thing. But it’s another thing when there’s an extra digit and the first number starts with a 4. We get a ton of questions here at MF that we typically answer offline. But every so often we get one that we feel the broader readers would find interesting and want to help answer. This is definitely one of them.

So with that we’re going to turn it over to reader Matthew O’Brien to tell his story:

I have an 09 Cooper S – with all of the packages, and 60,000 miles. It’s paid for, but it’s been having lots and lots of issues and repairs. Today, we have another $4,000 repair. MINI USA is covering half of that (and we’re obviously out of warranty at this point) – but still, we’re on the hook for $2,000. I’m wondering if you can give some MINI advice – is it time to dump the car? And if so, do we private party sell it or do we trade it in somewhere?

It’s really heart-breaking because I ordered this car in 08 and waited 3 months for it – but it’s been nothing but problems since the second day I’ve owned it…(they actually had to tow it out of my garage on day #2 because of a loud “knocking” sound). I was planning on keeping the car until it died – many more years and miles. But it is just getting silly with these ridiculous repairs for it. I feel like we’re throwing money away for a car that just can’t seem to stay out of the service bay. Why is this? Are these MINIs just really that bad of cars? Have you had any other readers with issues like this? Any advice you can give? Thanks in advance – Matt.

PS – It’s extra-sad because I did love MINI so much. I’m a designer and I love the design of the car. There really is nothing else I’d consider – but I just don’t know if I can bring myself to buy another MINI again.

Sad story for sure. Our take is that yes, it might be time to dump the car. Selling it via a 3rd party site like Cars.com is typically what we recommend for top dollar. But what to get next is the real question. The F56 is a new car with a completely designed and manufactured BMW powertrain. It’s proving already to be more reliable but the jury won’t truly be in for another few years. Still we’d look at a new MINI given the radical changes they’ve seen since the R56 generation.

That’s our take. What’s yours?

  • MikeUK

    Having decided to sell my 2003 R53 with 100K miles and virtually no trouble at all from new, MINI was my first choice for a replacement. I needed more space, so I got a Countryman. In fact there was nearly a year overlap from buying the Countryman to finally selling the R53, I just didn’t want to part with the old girl.

    Having heard plenty of horror stories from friends buying Honda, Ford and Toyota it seems a gamble whoever you buy from. It’s just more palatable when your car is fun to drive.

  • Paul

    I am now on my third Mini, but have been extremely lucky with all of them. The only issue I have had with any of them was my 07 Cooper S, and that was the known timing chain tensioner issue and it was covered under warranty. I have, however, spoken to many people who have been in the same boat with cars that have had issues from very early on.

    I sold my 07 Cooper S after the timing chain issue and bought an 11 S because I had heard that things were much improved as far as the timing chain issue, carbon buildup, and other problems. I still have the 11 S but have given it to my wife as she had a VW that was starting to cost us a fortune. I now have a 16 JCW.

    With all that said, I would dump the car. There are some cars from the 07-10 period that people have never had a single problem with and there are some that have been nightmares for people. Same with any car really, just the people with problems tend to shout the loudest so some cars will get a bad reputation from that. I would probably do so by private sale (have sold 2 cars by Craigslist and received far more than I would have through trade-in).

    The only consideration I would make to trading is if you are getting another Mini. If your dealership knows of the problems you have had, maybe they would do the right thing and make trading it in worth your while. I would check that first, then sell.

  • Jan Wojcik

    I find it curious that folks continue to romanticize their ownership of cars. They are inanimate objects that are owned to do a job. Once ownership becomes expensive and a net loss, it is time to move on. Just had to go through with this with my wife and her ’11 MCS and she is quite happy with her ’16 MCS. Personally, any major costs lead to reassessment and consideration of trading in ….

    • Eric

      Objectifying like you do, is kind of romanticizing, you know

  • MVJCW

    I’ve been driving my ’09 JCW for 7 years now without a single problem (unbelievable!). The whole timing chain assembly was replaced at their request under warranty. I keep hearing that the F56 cars have the superior BMW-designed engines. It’s ironic that the also BMW/PSA designed Prince engines have won Engine of the Year Award for 8 years in a row, and even this year it received more points than the 1.5L engine. The new 2.0L engine didn’t even place in the top three in their displacement category. I believe the VW/Audi engine got top honors.

    • Jan Wojcik

      The new 2 L motor is less than awe inspiring in terms of power. My TTS 2L puts out nearly 300 hp and my previous Golf R put out 271 hp at the wheels. There is a lot of competition out there in the 2 L range from other manufacturers as well. They need to get their game up …

      • MVJCW

        They sure do!. The 2.0L developed by VW/Audi is also used in the Porsche Macan. Just like BMW, they use that engine throughout different cars in different tune (economy of scale). That BMW 2.0L engine doesn’t appear to impress too many people. Even the engine sound has to be be artificially enhanced and piped through the speakers in the cabin. I’ve driven the new Cooper S and then back to my 1.6L, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. If anything, revving up the onramp to the Freeway really made me appreciate what I have! That engine will not define The Ultimate Driving Machine!

  • Catherine Adams

    I have a 2012 MINI Cooper S. It’s an R56 and I’ve had ZERO problems with him so far. Of course it’s only 2 years old and 36K miles.. but he drives every day like a brand new car. I have friends who have 1st gen models, over 200K miles and they still run well enough to make it to the Dragon every year. They stay on top of maintenance. It’s like a second hobby, just polishing and grooming your car. It’s a high performance machine and if you drive it like one, you better maintain it like one. That being said. I have another friend with a 2008 MINI Cooper S that had 60K miles, maybe 70K.. it suddenly (within a couple months) developed a list of expensive problems and she couldn’t keep it.

  • We have (had) several MINIs and haven’t had any issues.

    Our 2003 R53 is still in the family and other than a few retrofits (revised coolant expansion tank, cowl vents, etc) it hasn’t had any issues and is still going strong. My 2006 R53 with stage 5 Dinan tuning was an absolute dream right up until I sold it with 80k. My only repair on that car was a $12 thermostat gasket outside of warranty that the dealership did for free.

    Our current cars are a 2010 R56 JCW with 70k and a 2014 Countryman All4 with 40k and we’ve once again had zero real issues. My R56’s timing chain was replaced with a newer revised version under a service bulletin, my hood scoop was replaced after it melted and they retrofitted on a heat shield to prevent it from happening again.

    Edit:

    Almost forgot, the roads in the great state of Michigan (with the help of my JCW suspension and 18″ wheels) murdered one of my R56’s wheel bearings and MINI replaced it under warranty.

  • As for giving up on a car, for me it’s purely a numbers game. Once my car is paid for, I keep making that payment into an investment savings account. If I have repairs that would put me into car payment territory for a 12 month period, I’ll fix it (if that makes economic sense) and trade it. I’d rather have an actual car payment and an accompanying warranty than the worry that my car won’t get me or my wife where we are going.

    $4,000/12 = $333/month = time for a new car

    • Jameel Nicholson

      I traded my 2008 Clubman S for a 2017 Toyota this month. I totally agree with you; I don’t care how fancy a car is, if it can’t do its fundamental job (of transport), it’s worthless. I had my MINI for just over 4 years, and I held on to it despite the repairs because I somewhat masochistically enjoyed wrenching on it. Electrical problem finally stranded my wife & daughter, so we all agreed it was time for MINI to go. I’m happily going back to cars built in North America.

  • r_k_w

    I sold my 2006 R52 last year at 80K miles. It had run well with only minor issues until 75K, when suddenly everything started falling apart. It had a series of major, expensive repairs in quick succession: water pump, power steering pump, front axle, and the biggie — valve job. I was starting a new commute that will be very tough on the car — lots of stop and go driving in traffic with hills. I didn’t have confidence about how well it would hold up and decided to move on.

  • kellywp

    Hopefully we can’t read anything into the missing ‘A’ in the title 🙂

  • MINI_CS

    I have owned 5 new MINI’s R56 Cooper D no issues at all R55 Auto Cooper S sunroof leaked badly. R55 JCW it was a pig constant issues traded it R56 MINI Inspired by Goodwood not a single issue still have it. R58 Cooper S still have this great car no issues.

  • Alan Tate

    I must be the anomaly. I have a very early 2002 Cooper S with 202k miles and counting. Just had the first clutch job. The car really has been good. I have had to replace most of the gaskets as they are just getting old. Changed the oil and rotated the tires every 5k and changed brakes when they were worn. that is about it except for a fuel pump.

    Honestly, cut your repair bills almost in half and go somewhere else besides the MINI dealership for service. Once it is out of warranty, visiting the dealer is a bad monetary decision.

  • EvanHVYWGHT

    My 2004 R50 has had a bunch of maintenance items over its 12 years and 121k miles. Only twice has it left me stranded (last year the starter went at 117k miles which isn’t unexpected really and two years before at 105k the brake lines went…). It still drives like new.

    My dad had a 2009 R56 Cooper which he did not do as much regular maintenance as I have with mine. At 125k miles (he drives a lot) he ignored an odd noise and the resultant repair bill was $3k which is what the car was worth so he left it at the dealer and bought an F55. He was ready for a new car and if he had listened to it more often, the repair bill would have been half of it.

    MINIs are quite variable- the first model year and often the second are best avoided as the running changes and improvements sort out most issues. When to get rid of a car is a personal decision- the financial impact and potential inconveniences of it versus the love of it. I’ll keep my R50 forever and am fortunate to have another car as my daily driver now so I will romanticize about him forever. I’ve had friends with Hondas and Toyotas with catastrophic and expensive failures. Any car can give you problems.

  • Mark

    I recently just purchased my first Mini, a used 06 r50. The previous owner took pretty care of it mechanically, 171k on the clock. I just replaced the drivers side axle. Although it’s not an S, I absolutely love it and it runs like a dream.

  • Missy P

    I bought a R58 Coupe JCW 2011 model. It had 20,000kms and I had it sent to me via a truck taking the risk that it would be in great condition. It was thank god but apperently the N14 engine has a few issues. The only problem I had with it straight off the bat was it would have a very rough idle when warming up and it blew a bit of smoke at the same time. I panicked thinking it could be the HP fuel pump, carbon build up or ECU but all fingers pointed to a quick but expensive fix, $900AUD to replace the engine coolant sensor (integrated into the thermo housing). My plan was to keep it until it died to, so far so good. Sorry to hear about your pride and joy.