A huge thanks to Aleks for taking on this herculean task of answering your questions. Not only did Aleks use his own time to answer these questions, he also passed along the proposed responses to MINI USA to get their take on everything. So with that, I give you Aleks and his answers…

Hello MotoringFile Readers!! I am really excited and looking forward to answering as many questions as possible. Without going too specific, I will say that the best way to have any of these problems resolved is to go see your trusted MINI dealer. Being a MINI Service Advisor and previously a Motoring Advisor I have seen a lot of the issues described here, but every symptom requires a unique diagnosis. Electrical issues, clunks, rattles, buzzing, squeaking, thunking and any other noises need to be heard first hand by specifically trained MINI technicians in order to be resolved. Anything else will just be speculation until verified by a technician. It can be extremely difficult to diagnose an intermittent problem, especially when it isn’t occurring at the time of service, and any information that will help recreate the situation is always very helpful. It highly suggest to take time and read both your Owners Manual and the Service and Warranty Manual that come with your vehicle before bringing your MINI in. That said, I will draw on my experiences to try and help shed some light on the more common issues and I hope the information is found helpful!

Scheduled Maintenance Basics

Everybody wants their MINI to look and run great. In order to take care of your baby, it is important to follow the Scheduled Maintenance guidelines that MINI has set up. How you drive your MINI will also determine most of its service needs. The first service is a perfect example. There is some variance in when to come in for that first visit because of the conditions we drive in. The Service Interval Indicator (SII)) that shows up in the odometer when you first start your MINI is constantly adjusting to how you drive, your fuel consumption, how often you go motoring, as well as what traffic conditions you encounter. On that glorious day you picked up your MINI, upon first startup, the SII indicator read 9750 miles to go until the first OIL service. This is because your MINI has been filled with long lasting synthetic motor oil that can actually go up to 15000 miles in certain conditions. As you tack on experience (a.k.a mileage) that number will countdown until it eventually reaches zero, even possibly negative numbers. You should avoid driving the vehicle when the “-“ symbol is showing. Typically the service indicator will drop faster when the vehicle is driven under more harsh conditions such as stop and go traffic, very cold/hot conditions, or during more frequent short trips.

So when is the typical first service, you ask? There is no set amount but it does seem that more often than not, it is between 9000 and 11000 miles. I have seen cars come in as low as 6500 miles with a SII reading less than 300 miles to go but these are few and far between and have obviously led a hard life. The best practice is to either come in one full year after your delivery date, or when the SII shows 300-400 miles to go, whichever comes first. This is one of the reasons a Key Read is done when your MINI comes in, to log mileage and the SII data. For those that do not know, a key read will provide information to your service advisor like the VIN number, mileage, mileage to next service, as well as battery voltage. On late model BMW vehicles, the specific condition of the brakes, oil and micro filters is also displayed. Pretty cool stuff. If you come in for an annual service and do not have the minimum recommended mileage then your MINI will receive an Annual LOW mileage oil service and the service indicator should not be reset. You should return to your MINI dealer either 1 year from that date of this service or when the SII reads 300 miles to go (whichever comes first) in order to receive a FULL Oil service. The oil and filter will be changed again along with the cabin micro filter. Wiper blade inserts can also be changed when the service is done only if needed and if they have not been replaced by an aftermarket blade. At this point the service indicator will be reset and will read 15500 miles to next INSPECTION. Again you will either come in one full year from your Full service for another Low mileage service, or when the indicator reads 300 miles to go for the INSPECTION I service. As a general rule, the Inspection I will not be performed unless a minimum of 10.000 miles and 1 full year have passed since the 1st FULL oil service. If those criteria are not met, then one full year from the last service your MINI will receive another Low mileage oil service.

After the Inspection I is performed then the process repeats except after the 2nd Full oil service, instead of an Inspection I the vehicle will have the Inspection II performed. Refer to your Service and Warranty Manual for details on what is done during these inspections. It would be far too much to list here.

Besides the scheduled service there are two services that are strictly time based. One is a brake fluid flush and the other is a coolant flush. The brake fluid service should be performed once every 2 years from the production date of your MINI regardless of mileage. The other is a coolant flush which should be done 4 years after the production date. These are important because over time the effectiveness of these fluids diminishes and will result in decreased performance of the respected system.

It is important to note that the Inspection I and II services are very comprehensive check ups and should be alternated between your regular oil services, but not between the annual low mileage services. You should follow this maintenance schedule even after the 3year / 36000 mile scheduled maintenance warranty has expired. Also, please note that you can extend your Maintenance coverage to 4 years or 50000 miles for an additional charge. This must be done before the 3 year or 36000 mile period has expired and the vehicle has to be at the dealer for mileage verification. Also note that while this is the recommended maintenance schedule it is ultimately up to the owner to care for his or her MINI and preventative maintenance is always your best bet! It is also an individuals’ prerogative to perform more frequent services if they so desire, but these services will not be covered if they do not coincide with the scheduled maintenance guidelines.

Service Engine Soon Light, What Gives?

I probably see this indicator light more often than any other on the dashboard. The Service Engine Soon light (SES) will come on for a variety of reasons unlike most of the other warning lights which correspond to one specific area. It will always come on for a few seconds when the vehicle is started but this is normal. The most common reason for its prolonged appearance is that there is some sort of leak in the fuel venting system. In your owners manual there is a separate pamphlet informing you to make sure that you always fill the vehicle with the engine shut off, to make sure that you are using at least 91 octane fuel (preferably higher), and more importantly make sure that when closing the fuel cap that an audible click is heard to ensure that it is sealed properly. The MINI is designed to run off high octane fuel and in order to extract the most out of its small but mighty 1.6 liter engine, there are a number of sensors that monitor the engine and exhaust behavior. Any deviation in the fuel quality or perhaps air in the fuel system can cause the SES light to come on. This is seen as an emissions issue. Even when the cap has been sealed correctly and no leak is present, the SES light may still come on due to poor fuel quality (water and fuel mixed), a misfire from the engine, or one of the sensors monitoring the engine/exhaust have failed Bottom line if the SES light has come on, the first step I would take is make sure that you shut the car off and check the filler cap. The vehicle will need to go through a few warm up cycles before you will know if the light will clear completely so it is necessary to drive the car for a few days and see what happens.

How soon is soon you ask? If the light does show up and any rough running or loss of power does occur then it is probably indicative of some larger problem. Try to schedule an appointment and have the MINI hooked up for diagnosis as early as possible and avoid any unnecessary use. Even if the vehicle is running normally but the light has been on for a few days it is a good idea to have the MINI checked rather than wait to see if the light will go out on its own and have some larger problem come up.

Clattering from Engine Bay/ Driveline

From your questions and my own knowledge, I bet that many of you have had a clattering noise coming from the engine bay / driveline when at idle. If the clutch pedal is depressed and held down, the clatter can no longer be heard. I can speak from direct experience on this issue because both my ’04 and ’05 MCSs have experienced this. On my 2004 vehicle I had the car diagnosed for this problem and it turned out to be a faulty throw out bearing and pressure plate. Both were replaced and the noise was not heard for just about 700 miles before it returned. Seeing many vehicles experience the same issue, many of them with high mileage in the 40 and 50k range, I decided that when the problem occurred on my ’05 MCS I would just let it be. Less than a year later, and almost 14000 miles on the odometer, the clattering has not gotten any louder and the clutch still feels as tight and crisp as it did on day one. One thing I have found is that if you let the clutch pedal out slowly while in neutral the noise will subside, even go away. When the clutch is released more quickly the noise is usually louder. Again this is only when the car is in neutral, not while shifting between gears or pulling away.

Some of you mentioned that the clutch pedal feels tough, even crunchy throughout the travel. I would definitely have this checked out and it may be due to the throw out bearing beginning to fail. Other items may also be the cause such as some type of hydraulic problem that is preventing smooth action. Best bet is to compare it to another vehicle with the same transmission and model year. Similar mileage would be nice too. If both pedals feel the same then more than likely all is well, that or they are both faulty! Schedule to have the Service Advisor take it for a drive with you if time or conditions permit. We see a ton of MINI’s every day, if something is strange I bet your SA will pick up on it.

A louder than usual clunk from 1st to 2nd gear was also mentioned. I assume this is on the MCS and if so, I have been told that this noise has something to do with the way the synchros are set up in the Getrag 6 speed for the MCS but that it is normal behavior. I have also felt this on some of the E46 M3s as well whose transmission is very durable and smooth but not exactly quiet.

Cold Start Issues

During the MINI’s infancy in 2002 there was a known issue with some of the early Cooper S vehicles where they would take multiple attempts to start in colder temperatures. After a few cranks the vehicle would eventually turn over and then run normally. This issue was quickly resolved with updated software. I suspect that the issue James is dealing with is similar to this. If your JCW MINI is taken to the dealer they will be able to hook up the diagnostic tool and see what’s going on. It could also be some mechanical part that has failed; (a vacuum leak etc), which once the engine is warm masks the problem. If the vehicle issue is temperature dependent then a key factor in diagnosing this problem will be the technicians’ ability to have the car available for a cold start diagnosis first thing in the a.m. and see for him/her self. Any warning lights on during the warm up process? You didn’t mention so I assume not.

I have noticed that when the MINI is cold, there are a lot of unique noises heard at startup. Gurgles and whirring, even the sound of the navigation unit spooling up can be heard from a quiet garage. Both of my MINI’s have done this, and it is usually in the colder weather that these noises are most evident. I do not consider these noises a defect. I always let the engine and driveline warm up before driving away. When it is first started I typically see the RPMs start out at about 1200 — 1300. After about thirty to forty five seconds the engine speed drops to just over 1000 RPMs, and then I will drive away and let the rest of the warm up process happen while I drive moderately and shifting at low revs. The hardest few seconds in an engines life are when it is first started and cold. I try to minimize the idle time, but I won’t sit there for 5 minutes because I believe this is even worse than driving it cold. The car warms up much faster driving and should be fine as long as you keep the revs and speed down.

New Delivery Options List

There are a slew of options that can be customized before delivery of a new MINI. The most common requests are the daytime running lights and the convenience opening. In early 2005 MINI made some changes to the default settings, one of which is disabling convenience opening. Other options such as Follow Me Home Lighting, which will keep the headlights on for a set amount of time and help light your path are available. Drive away locking will lock the doors when the car reaches a speed of 10 mph. The doors can also be set to unlock as soon as the key is taken out of the ignition, this will eliminate the need to double pull the handle to exit. You can also set all the doors and boot to unlock with one push of the remote key rather than the selective unlocking that is default. Overall many of these features will make life easier. If you haven’t had some of these activated at delivery, your dealer can still activate them for you but there may be a charge associated with it. Also note that there are slight differences between production dates.

JCW Suspension on Convertibles

The latest information that I have shows that the convertible MINI’s are not compatible with the John Cooper Works suspension kit. I have read that the suspension kits were simply not calibrated for the weight of the convertibles. One other issue has to do with the narrow area for the rear shock tower mounts. There is very little room in the rear of the cabrio because of the hydraulics and other mechanisms for the top. I was told that the lack of clearance will not allow for enough adjustment of camber when the suspension is lowered, and will result in excessive rear tire wear. I would also question how much abuse those rear mounts could take with the stiffer settings. Another reason is the stiffer suspension would accentuate any cowl shake that may arise. The suspension calibration on the Cooper and Cooper S convertibles are marginally softer than on the hardtops to counter this specifically. I couldn’t tell you if it’s just the spring rates or dampers as well.


When looking at the performance of a car people are always concerned with the 0-60mph times, ¼ mile and how many g’s it will pull on a skid pad. One of the most crucial factors in a vehicles performance is the brakes. Luckily the MINI comes with some awesome brakes right from the get go. Stopping distances are shorter on the MINI than many high end sports cars and the size and weight of the MINI will contribute to that, but the construction and the set up also takes plenty of the credit. Most people know that the MINI has ABS, but very few will know what CBC or EBD are. If you do, pat yourselves on the back and bask in your own MINI prowess. If not check out the MINIUSA website for more details, but the quick and dirty of it is that the brakes on the MINI are able to distribute braking power to the wheels that need it most. Not only from front to rear, but also between side to side, and theoretically all four wheels can have a different amount of braking power when needed. One analogy I would use is that it is like all wheel drive working in reverse. This system really works well when you need to scrub off some speed while cornering hard. Having a braking system this advanced is usually reserved for a much more expensive class of vehicles. The pads and rotors are designed to work with all of the electronic devices and changing any variable of this system may lead to unpleasant side effects. I have seen it done well, but unless you plan to track your car, or just love to tinker, I would stick with the OEM equipment, or the JCW Brake Kit.

Getting off my soapbox, some of you have asked about swapping out factory pads for aftermarket ones when the time comes to change them. It is your MINI after all and you should be able to customize it any way you want. When going in for a scheduled maintenance, the dealer is only allowed to use factory recommended replacement parts. Individual dealers can swap them for you, but this should not be done in conjunction with a MINI warranty / maintenance repair. Also some of you might know this, but there is a difference between the pads on the Cooper and the Cooper S. The Cooper S uses more durable and better performing set of brake pads.

There are a lot of solutions for upgrading the brakes but keep in mind, just because the rotors are larger, or the calipers have more pistons and painted a cool color, this does not always equate to shorter stopping distances or better performance. The rotors spin and their weight will be affected by centrifugal force and small increases in size/weight will be amplified. The proper balance is needed to see a noticeable benefit.

Brake dust is something that BMW and MINI owners have been dealing with for a while now. I just see it as a small trade off for having a brake pad and rotor combo that works very well (an especially annoying trade for those with the white wheels!). Noises can sometimes arise because of this dust. More often though, especially when your vehicle is not driven for some time, rust will accumulate on the rotors. When the brakes are applied this rust will cause a harsh grinding noise, and cause the pads and rotors to wear unevenly. If driven regularly and you wash the vehicle regularly, most of the dust can be washed away and this will minimize the squeal. When the pads and rotors are worked on an anti-seize lubricant will also be applied to them to prevent them from making noise, but that eventually wears as well. If the pads and rotors just need a cleaning, this will not be covered under the MINI warranty or maintenance plan, but if the noise is severe then there is probably something out of the ordinary. Don’t take any chances, have them checked.

Center Clock Runs Fast

Recently I have seen more than a few late model (’05-’06) MINI’s which have a clock that will run fast by about 7 to 10 minutes per month. I have only seen this on cars with the large center speedometer not the chrono-pack or navigation unit. Only a small percentage of MINI’s seem to be effected, but there is a fix. The center cluster will need to be swapped out for a new one and that should do the trick.

Bonnet Stripes

Simple, yet very effective, bonnet stripes really complete the MINI look. If they are starting to wear funny, bubble, yellow or start fading etc., they can be replaced under warranty but ONLY if they came from the factory or if they were installed by an authorized MINI dealer. I have not seen many cases of this, but once in a blue moon you do see a bonnet stripe that has some sort of anomaly. Stone chips, rips, tears are not covered nor are any other body or trim damage. If a stone chipped the paint on the bonnet you wouldn’t expect the dealer to cover it, same deal here.

SRS (airbag) Light

Other than the SES light, this is probably the second most common light I see when bringing cars in for service. The SRS light (Safety/Supplemental Restraint System) otherwise known as the airbag light, actually covers many other safety systems other than the airbags. Seatbelts, crash sensors, door sensors, along with a plethora of wiring and basically anything else you can think of that is there to save your hide in an accident can be related to this light. The SRS light is right up there with your brakes in terms of making sure you get it checked out ASAP.

As far as the passenger weight sensor is concerned, there is a mat in the seat which helps to determine if there is some one sitting in the seat. This is only for late model MINI’s starting January of 2005 build. Insufficient weight, or even an improper seating position will cause the airbags on the passenger side to be disabled and the airbag indicator up above the rearview mirror should stay lit and read off. There is no specific weight limit. Consult the Owners manual for more information. It is recommended that children always be placed in the back seat with the proper child safety device. Many times people will also throw large objects or even have pets in the front seat and along with having an unbuckled seat belt will cause a chime to sound for an extended period before stopping after two minutes or so. If you have any issues with the SRS light or are hearing a chime when pulling away and both the driver and passenger are buckled up, get things checked out. Don’t take any chances. Oh and those little Velcro strips on the belt buckles are they for sound insulation, don’t let them keep you up at night.

Flickering Xenon Headlights

I have had a few xenon lights come through that will cut our intermittently. Usually it is just one light, not both. In each case the cause has been something different, but usually it is a problem with the xenon bulb, a loose connector, or a faulty control module. After it is first diagnosed, should the problem persists we may have to replace the bulb in questions and both headlight control modules. Check with your dealer but they should be able to resolve this issue for you pretty easily.

Alarm/ Anti-theft Device

The entire range of MINI vehicles in the U.S. come equipped with an engine immobilizer standard. This device uses a remote sensor embedded in the key and an antenna / receiver in the vehicle in order to recognize the vehicles own key. Even if you have a key that is cut exactly right, it will still not be able to start the MINI without being paired to the vehicle. This is not what I would call an alarm, but it is a very effective anti-theft device.

MINI also offers an audible theft deterrent that will equip the interior with motion sensors, a tilt recognition sensor and will set off a siren when the door, window, boot or bonnet, have been opened up without disarming the system. The motion sensors can also be deactivated if the lock button is pressed twice quickly when arming. This system can be installed at the dealer for an additional charge and is available for R50, R52, and R53 models now.

Window Issues

Not surprisingly, power windows have been an issue on vehicles since they were invented. Over the years quality and reliability have gotten much better for all manufacturers and these days it is hard to find a car that does not come with power windows as a standard feature. A few MINIs’ have experienced problems with the power windows as well. Some will exhibit slow movement when going up or down, others will not work at all. Many times these issues are related to the faulty motors. For the problem to be diagnosed correctly, the vehicle should be exhibiting the problem when brought in for service.

Streaking on the windows is usually due to dirty weather strips on either the outside or the inside of the door. Cleaning these strips with an alcohol based cleaner and the window with a regular glass cleaner will usually clear this problem up. Every once in a while one of these may need to be replaced. If the window is squealing when in motion, usually it is an issue with lubrication, lubing the window rails and making sure everything is in place behind the door panels should resolve the issue.

The frameless windows on the MINI hatches and convertibles have a feature which makes the windows drop about ¼ of and inch to facilitate opening and closing of the door. Without this feature, the upper weather strips will wear more quickly and not seal as well. From time to time, this feature will need to be reset on the MINI, and the process is actually described in the MINI Owners Manual of early 2002 — 2005 vehicle. Haven’t seen a ‘06 manual yet, but I bet it’s in there too. Open the door in question, and using the window toggle switch, lower the window completely and hold the switch for about 5 seconds. Then immediately after, hold the switch in the up position until the window rises to the top of its travel. You should see it drop slightly once it reaches the upper limit approximately ¼ of an inch. Continue to hold the switch for another few seconds and then release. Close the door and check the function of the window. This should reset things and hopefully get it to drop properly for opening and closing. If this doesn’t work bring the MINI in for a check up.


At our dealer, we have a dedicated MINI team that works exclusively on MINI brand vehicles every day. These techs know these cars inside and out because they eat sleep and breathe MINI. This in turn, makes them much more capable of handling anything that comes their way. I am very fortunate to have such talented people around me. It makes being a service advisor here that much more rewarding. As a result the MINI technicians are respected by their peers for being able to resolve issues correctly and efficiently. Along with many other people, from shop Foreman to technicians, Motoring Advisors to car washers, receptionists to drivers, they all help things come together.

Many people believe that in a shared environment the MINI clan seems to take a backseat to BMW customers and vehicles. I can tell you wholeheartedly that this is not the case at MINI of Manhattan, and if anything the contrary is true. From the moment you drive into our service area the idea is to make your visit as MINI as possible, all the while making sure you are taken care of. We love to see our clients, but we don’t like to make a habit out of it.

I want to send a big thank you to all the people who make MINI of Manhattan tick and as we continue to strive for excellence I hope it is evident to all our customers that taking care of every one of you and your MINIs’ with the highest level of customer service possible is our goal. If anyone has a question that was not answered specifically, I will keep an eye on the subsequent posts. A big thank you to our host Gabe and Motoringfile for this great opportunity! I look forward to doing this again.

While the writer attempts to make best efforts to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information, you should be aware that an occasional factual error or omission occurs. We apologize in advance for any errors or misstatements of this nature, and we advise you to independently verify the information you may question in advance.