Home » Meet The Unkillable Mini: Tales From A Service Advisor

Meet The Unkillable Mini: Tales From A Service Advisor

Mini Forever Top
ADVERTISEMENT

It all started about a year and a half ago. As so frequently happens, a Mini showed up in our parking lot. The owner, Kellina, was new to the car, and as far as she knew, the previous owner had put the front of the car into a snowbank. The car had been reassembled somewhat haphazardly and in fairness to the previous owner, they didn’t try to sell it in “good condition.” As it was October, this would have occurred sometime before this little blue car with suspicious ride height came to us. But it was no big deal, as we see cars with new owners and all sorts of backstories all the time. Since the car was new to the owner, we thought it would be wise to do an inspection too; let’s see how much work this “runs and drives but needs some work” car actually needs.

And thus began the journey of a 2004 Mini Cooper that by all logic shouldn’t be alive today. As soon as I took it around to the back lot, I knew something was up. The brief 100-yard journey revealed a cacophony of alarming noises from the steering and suspension, but at least the car was running somewhat. Which is to say it started on the first try and made it the whole way without dying. 

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
2cfebdbb7363a10fb67465733e4f7aaac1d928bf (1)
Photo: via author

The diagnosis from the snowbank misadventure and overall inspection wasn’t pretty. Many Mini Coopers have a radiator core support that seems to be made of the flimsiest plastic it is possible to get away with. I swear, if you merely sneeze too close to the front of the car, the support breaks. We see them frequently destroyed by owners who pull into a parking spot and stop when they feel the front of the car touch the curb. Acceptable behavior in an SUV can be an expensive bill in a Mini, especially if it’s been lowered. Naturally, it didn’t stand a chance against a snowbank. The suspension had also taken a good bit of damage too though if that was from wintery misadventure is anyone’s guess. On top of this it was leaking oil, about half of the steering components were toast, there was no air filter for the engine, and it was showing a few warnings on the dash. (Editor’s Note: Standard Mini stuff, basically. -PG)

This was the kind of car where I need take a moment to prepare before I break the news to the owner. This wasn’t one of those cars that will be fine a thousand dollars later. It also wasn’t a car with a five-figure value. This was a car where the repairs were going to eclipse the value of the car pretty quickly. This was going to take more than the 600-character limit on the text message, Kellina’s preferred form of contact. 

Using my soft and gentle text message typing, I laid the situation out and much to my surprise the answer was to get it lined up for repair. As I soon discovered, this was no ordinary Mini, this was Minnie

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnie had quickly become Kellina’s darling and she was prepared to take the repairs in stride. I like to encourage owners to tell me their car’s name as it makes them more like a beloved pet and in theory, they’ll take better care of it. My own herd consists of Ibisco, Speranza, Lucretia and Death Wedge and my husband has Fishy, Sushi, and Snowball. I quickly found there was zero chance of Minnie being marched the six sad blocks to our local junkyard.

We set it up as a segmented repair, breaking it up into A and B sets; in this case, some quick stuff we could knock out then the bulk of it a couple of weeks later. Splitting up the repairs on cars with a large number of issues is something we do pretty often and helps to reduce the overwhelming feeling of such cases. It’s easy enough to prioritize a drive belt over hood struts for example. We’d rather our technicians have to prop your hood up while replacing that belt than have to fish out forbidden spaghetti while the hood supports itself. 

In time, Minnie got a pile of new power steering parts, her radiator core support, control arms, a new oil filter housing, a new A/C condenser and a couple of other odds and ends. All things seemed to be in order, or at least progressing in that direction.

Then Minnie made it about two months before she was back. 

Some of it was just bits held off from the original list, the “C” group. More pressing was a new check engine light and a new oil leak. Something had hit under the car, smacking the oil pan and radiator, causing the fan to work overtime and be much louder than normal. The CEL was just a good ol’ fashioned cam position sensor. For once it felt nice to write up a diagnosis that seemed oddly normal. Once again, Minnie spent a couple of days on the rack being revived from a state that a lesser owner would have sent her to the junkyard for. 

ADVERTISEMENT

We thought Minnie was all patched up and would behave herself, but as it turned out, Minnie had other plans. Every month or two Kellina would report something new. A door handle that stopped working, an intermittent headlight problem, another check engine light for oxygen sensors, an old aftermarket coolant expansion tank that no longer sealed well, a failing high-pressure fuel pump, a dead alternator. 

Kellina Front End
Photo: via author

Bit by bit, we fixed her up. All the while Kellina started to get to know us more, bringing in doughnuts and breakfast burritos now and then. If you want a shop to become your friend, just bring us food. We’re simple folk and we enjoy a good sprinkle doughnut. On one occasion she even brought in a box of Ritz crackers for us to “feed” Minnie. On the one hand, we love Kellina, on the other we were starting to get a little nervous every time a blue R53 Mini pulled up out front, even when it was a completely different car. That poor Mini just had no intentions of behaving like a normal car. 

Mid-summer, I got a dreaded text. Minnie had been minding her business in the Red Lobster parking lot when a big, mean pickup had smacked into her. Kellina had tried to drive her home thinking the damage was superficial but quickly found she wasn’t going to make it the whole way.  Minnie showed up the next morning on a flatbed with a flat tire, broken side marker light and a cracked bumper as the visible damage, but underneath, we found that a coilover and axle were toast. 

At least this was a good excuse to get rid of those poor-quality coilovers; this was just when Pro-Struts had become available for early modern Minis. The little car that refused to stop having problems would make a perfect test candidate as we knew she would probably be back in a month or two and we could get feedback on this new style of part. It was agreed that we would try these new spring, strut and strut mount assemblies on all four corners. And with that success we felt comfortable putting them on several others since then. Minnie proved to be an outstanding guinea pig and about a dozen other first and second-generation Minis have left the shop with significantly more affordable suspension repairs thanks to her.

By now Minnie was finally starting to behave at least a little bit. She had gone long enough without a major engine repair that she finally started qualifying for normal maintenance. After nearly a year she’d finally pulled off six thousand miles to earn herself a normal oil service. Her inspection didn’t even reveal any new catastrophes, just a valve cover seep that had progressed to a fairly common leak. It was a relief to finally see a “regular” sort of issue that happens to many Minis that have reached their 18th birthday. 

ADVERTISEMENT

At first four weeks passed. Then another four. Our texts remained oddly quiet. Could it be that this Mini—which by now was built from probably about 30 percent replacement parts—could finally be sorted? Of course not! Shortly before Thanksgiving, Minnie developed a washer sprayer problem and an awful noise from the radiator fan. Not satisfied with a mere handful of new parts, she chose to come home for Christmas as well. Somehow through all of this, her battery had been alright until it finally fell victim to a cold snap. Somehow, she ate her brand new alternator as well. We don’t have to warranty too many parts, but if ever there was a car that would have the bad luck to get the one that slipped through quality control, of course, it would be Minnie.

20230528 174718
Minnie and her owner. Photo: via author

As I write this in the spring, Minnie has been out in the wild and apparently behaving herself for nearly three months. A couple of times I’ve looked up from my desk and seen a flash of blue go by with Minnie and Mickey decals on the side and a white polka dot wrap on the spoiler. But the light blue Mini Cooper that should have been declared dead about three or four times over by now hasn’t turned into our parking lot. 

Now, of course, by writing this I’ll probably get a text tomorrow that an alligator somehow escaped the zoo and sank its teeth into a radiator hose or something, but it’s ok, Minnie is probably close to due for her next oil service and she’ll only be up to about 32 percent new parts.

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Popular Stories

ADVERTISEMENT

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
110 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rafael Ruivo
Rafael Ruivo
3 months ago

Theseus approves this post 🙂

Yo Lo
Yo Lo
3 months ago

This whole affair is maddening. This person does not seem to have a solid grip on the cost of owning something that should have been sent to a junkyard. I do not know the author’s background here, but as a service writer it seems like the best thing to do would have to be honest with the customer. When the cost of repairs is darn well known to exceed the value of the car several times over, the advice should have been to tell them to go buy a better version of the same thing. It was only hinted that such a conversation took place. It seems predatory and dishonest to keep throwing good money after bad on a very common car. If it were something truly unique or maybe passed down from a family member, ok maybe that emotional attachment is warranted. This was a crapheap pulled out of a snowbank and sold cheap. This thing should have been a parts car and the owner should have been told so much. With the money wasted on a crappy example of a car that has a well-known poor reliability record, they should have been sent to cargurus to look for a pristine example which would have been better to own and cheaper as well.

To me, this is not entertaining, this is just sad. Additionally, who has this much money to keep dumping into a car?! I’m not poor, but I got burned ONE time when I was young on overpriced repairs before I learned my lesson. I spent $7k on repairs for a shitty $1600 Sunbird GT Turbo because I was in love with it. After all the repairs, it still kept having issues, so I dumped it. Now, it’s simple: if across a year, the monthly repair costs approach or exceed a payment, it’s gone. Anything I get as a replacement will be better, more fun, faster, more reliable, etc.

Life is too short to form emotional attachments to crappy cars and there are too many other fun things to drive.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
3 months ago
Reply to  Yo Lo

Andrea explained that to Minnie’s owner. This isn’t a rational financial transportation choice. This is a desire to have an emotional connection with an inanimate object. No different than spending money on name brand clothes, going to a movie, or decorating/renovating homes in a way that doesn’t maximize return.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
3 months ago
Reply to  Yo Lo

I frequently have that conversation with Mini owners. In fact the first story I wrote for The Autopian was entirely about that conversation. The owner was given the facts and chose to save Minnie. Yes, she has put a lot of money into the car, but not without the understanding that the money she puts in is well past the value of the car. My job is to present the options and advise on them, not to choose the fate of any given car, nor to judge the choice of the owner.

ScottyB
ScottyB
3 months ago
Reply to  Yo Lo

Don’t be a carmudgeon. One person’s crappy car is another person’s happy place. This article gave me all the feels.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
3 months ago
Reply to  Yo Lo

Tell me you don’t like cars without telling me you don’t like cars… for me it’s entirely about emotional attachments to cars, whether crappy or not. All the while acknowledging that at a certain point, being let down too many times tends to void the emotional attachment.

Bas Jelle Kragt
Bas Jelle Kragt
3 months ago

Now that my R53 is in the shop for a major repair, this hits a little too close to home.

They are fantastic cars, but damn can they be a pain in the ass

Mine is currently in for:

  • Chain set
  • Headgasket
  • Hoodlatch (Driver side, pain in the ass)
  • Window mechanics on driver side
  • Clutch cylinder and hydraulic lines
  • New intake manifold
  • New thermostat
  • New gaskets, lines and sensors where found and needed
  • 4 New tires

I thought I was lucky by just having regular maintenance last year, but I’ve got at least double the costs this year haha

I wish Minnie the best of luck. Every R53 preserved is a job well done.

121gwats
121gwats
3 months ago

If you’re doing the clutch, its a good time to top off *both* the supercharger oil chambers, replace crank position sensor o-ring, and get control arm bushings/ball joints/end links done. Most of those are expensive due to labor, not parts, cheap if you’re already in there.

There’s a software reset for the windows, I think you hold it up for 10 seconds then down for 10.. maybe 20 seconds. Worked for me a few times. Google it, I cant remember exact instructions. If that doesn’t work, its the actuators, those are notorious, but luckily ~cheap/easy.

KennyB
KennyB
3 months ago

Leased a 2017 Ram 1500 and named it Trucky McRamface. When the lease was up in 2020 the replacement Ram 1500 was Rammy McTruckface. Rammy was replaced by a 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe that hasn’t earned a name as of yet.

Previous named vehicles:
Fun Size – 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sahara. Was simply called “the Wrangler” until we purchased a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited which is known as either “the Big Blue Jeep” or “Big Gretch”. We still have Big Gretch; she ferried David Tracy from the airport to an Autopian meet last month and also attempted to eat her front driveshaft at the Autopian off road event at Holly Oaks last fall.
Death on Wheels – 1981 Chrysler LeBaron Two Door
Ella – 1994 Pontiac Sunbird Convertible
The Truck – 1984 Ford F-150
The Emasculator – 2003 Ford Windstar

Many other vehicles have come and gone and while some were memorable, they didn’t exhibit enough personality to earn a name.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago

My older sister drives a first gen Ford Focus that she loves. She’s not a car person by any means, but she was really struck by how it looked when it came out, and got a used one a few years later.

That car spends at least 2-3 months in the shop each year. Most repairs at this point obliterate the market value of the car, but no breakdown has been catstrophic enough that it couldn’t be repaired – that car has never been behind on regular maintenance to be fair – so my sister just keeps that car on the road no matter what. And you know what? I understand that. It’s not even a matter of sunken cost fallacy; sometimes we just love a car too much to be rational about how much we spend repairing it. I’d quite likely still be spending some €1000/year on small repairs to my beloved Espace if the engine hadn’t died completely one day.

Last edited 3 months ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
3 months ago

Yeah, I have an 03′ ZX-5 (just the American spec five door hatch) and I’ve spent waaay too much to keep it roadworthy. First because it was the only new(ish) car I ever got (it had under 3K when it was purchased). But now that my father passed away, it has even more sentimental value since he bought it for me. So this first-gen Focus will be on the road for many years to come.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

And that’s a beautiful thing. No one should question the motives for someone keeping a car on the road longer than usual.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
3 months ago

My Focus Wagon (rusty, crusty, awful) is nicknamed Focal Matter. Every time I decide to donate it for a tax break, it miraculously stops having issues until I become dependent on it. Also, it is nice to not have to lug large, dirty objects in one of the cars I like, so I guess Focal Matter is going to stick to me a bit longer.

BentleyBoy
BentleyBoy
3 months ago

My parents had an old Morris Minor convertible called the Tiny Wee. Lot of fun trips in that car.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
3 months ago

The relentless anthropomorphization can’t help but bring a smile to my face. At first I thought this was going to be a story of a Mini that was somehow unkillable because it was reliable, like the Mini version of Jet Li’s The One. Instead it’s “unkillable” because its owner will not let it rest. Adorable.

I’ve anthropomorphized a few of my cars. In high school I had a Volvo 740 sedan named Buddy (after Buddy Rich, the car was equally temperamental), then later I had a 2001 H6 Outback named Moya (from Farscape). Currently I’ve got Quorra the Volt.

Joe Day
Joe Day
3 months ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

I suppose this Volvo had a tendency to fly off the handle? Or did it simply curse out the rest of the band and threaten to show them what it’s like?

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
3 months ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

I was also thinking unkillable in the Volvo 240, DT AMC Inline-6 manner. Pleasantly entertained!

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
3 months ago

I love it when people stick with their car beyond reason. It always makes me smile when I see the most basic, 20 y/o enconobox in better shape that it’d deserve. I try and do that with my ’99 Clio 2 which has a very short list of issues (central locking is dead, so is the air recycling actuator and one of the spray nozzle should be replaced)

Edward Szwarc
Edward Szwarc
3 months ago

A few years ago my wife and I picked up a 10AE Miata off Copart for 1600. In the 5 (almost) years we’ve owned Mia she’s gotten new TEIN EDFC shocks, poly bushings on all the control arms, new cooling system, new soft top, new (used) hard top, new exhaust, new braking system, new clutch system, and a whole host of other smaller things that have totaled more then 5k in parts. But she’s a project for my wife and I to do together and learn more about cars together so it’s been worth every penny to me. Mia is our forever car, and even when she dies one day, as many parts as possible will go into a new one to keep her with us.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
3 months ago

The only cars I’ve ever owned with names were the ones a then-girlfriend named for me, and they were derogatory curse words she might use when describing other women who demanded some of my limited free time. It made for a colorful few years…

Paolo
Paolo
3 months ago

I bought an ‘05 Cooper S off Criaglist with the full expectation that it would need everything, as these cars tend to do, and it did. But once the suspension was sorted (using the same setup as in the article) and a rear sway bar added to correct understeer, it has surprisingly held up great. There will always be some fiddly plastic bits going with age but these cars can get sorted out well if someone is willing to put in the DIY work or has a mechanic who cares.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
3 months ago
Reply to  Paolo

It’s nice that there are more and more metal replacement parts popping up on the aftermarket for those, making it one of the few cars that can get more reliable with age.

Joe mcLaugh
Joe mcLaugh
3 months ago
Reply to  Paolo

I bought my ’05 Mini new and still own it- between your comment and the article, what is this “new” suspension solution being mentioned? I know I need new shocks, so this info is awfully timely…….

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe mcLaugh

They’re called “Pro-Struts,” and are a strut/mount/spring assembly. We get them through a wholesaler, but that company also owns Advance Auto Parts so uh, ask to order them there. It’s also a good time to put in strut tower defender plates.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
3 months ago

My brother’s poor Mini is past the point of strut tower defender plates; our mechanic said that he won’t remove the old struts because there is no actual metal left into which to install new ones. It’s just hanging together by habit for the time being. He is looking to buy a lower mile R53 with minimal rust; feel free to post links…

Geoff Dankert
Geoff Dankert
3 months ago

I was just wondering when your next dispatch might pop up! Great suggestion on the food; Sandy The Indestructible Acura is at my preferred shop right now (shout out to Ashland Tire!) for a new cooling system and whatnot … I’ll pick up some doughnuts for the gang on the way to get it.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
3 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Dankert

I have to balance writing my dispatches with doing my job that gives me the subject matter to write my dispatches. But yeah, techs are always happy to be fed! ????

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
3 months ago

Some cars instantly reveal their name, others take awhile. Our 93 Ranger was simply “The Ranger” for 9 years. On the other its sort of replacement Saturn SL2 was promptly dubbed Safari Car by our 4 year old son. The Saturn’s stablemate a green 95 Escort earned its nickname The Dumpster Car after 6 years of service when carrying two small children left it green and full of trash. We still got 15 years out of it before selling to Pick “n Pull.
We’ve had three cars succumb to repair costs, the Escort because it need a lot of work and I could buy a transit pass, the Saturn when the transaxle grenaded as S Series transaxle do and the Mazda5 dubbed Ha Ha (Japanese for Mommy) by our weeb daughter was T boned by a pickup running a stop sign and totaled.
The Ha Ha’s replacement was a Mazda CX-5 dubbed Chi Chi (daddy) as an obvious progression. Other driveway denizens are the white Buick LeSabre dubbed Moby Dick, the Ford F150 Super Cab long bed called Long Truck because at over 20′ long truck is long, and Oderus Urungus, a 96 Suburban our son got dirt cheap due the stench of mold and wet dog when purchased and industrial strength cleaner afterwards.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
3 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Had an SL2 named “Mabel.” Replaced it with a Ranger. No idea why Mabel was the right name, it just was.

Jesse Lamphere
Jesse Lamphere
3 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

I have a 2000 Ranger that was nameless for the first 13 years, even with my wife’s insisting that I come up with a name. One day, while fighting a stubborn bolt, I grumbled “one of these days, Alice! To the moon!…” She’s been Alice ever since. Alice is about to get a new engine at 275,000 miles, after I rebuilt the original 4.0L pushrod V6 at 143,000.

Daniel Kerr
Daniel Kerr
3 months ago

If I had the coinage at the time, I would have kept my 2004 Forester XT going until the end of time. Alas, my previous mechanic had misdiagnosed a couple important issues in the past that broke the bank, and I had to be realistic.
+1 for the Mini of Theseus, whoever said that!

R53forfun
R53forfun
3 months ago

Yikes! I’m just gonna keep counting my blessings, I guess … and preparing my savings, too.

Bas Jelle Kragt
Bas Jelle Kragt
3 months ago
Reply to  R53forfun

Be very prepared :’)

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

My current car has not earned a name yet, but in the past I have owned Stockholm Syndrome, Stockholm Syndrome II, and Stockholm Syndrome III.
Oh, and Joe. Joe always liked to be there for me ready to serve and cheer me up.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
3 months ago

I see you’re a former three-time Subaru owner…

Last edited 3 months ago by PaysOutAllNight
Joe Day
Joe Day
3 months ago

Glad to help.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
3 months ago

I do love these articles…this one reassured me NOT to get a MINI

pliney the welder
pliney the welder
3 months ago

After a trip to Argentina drinking great , cheap Red for a week and a half we picked up a brand new just off the transporter 2019 Delmonico Red Ram Laramie. His name is ” Tinto . “

Brian Kipper
Brian Kipper
3 months ago

I usually don’t name my cars. I’ve only had one or two where the name stuck. The one I remember most was Otis, a grey 1988 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan….

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago

What kind of maniac doesn’t name their cars. Hell, even my old beater Prizm has a name. Rocinante, he’s well past his prime but still a noble steed.

Last edited 3 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Joe Day
Joe Day
3 months ago

My 1977 VW Westfalia in cheddar yellow-orange was named Velveeta – no explanation necessary. I had a Scion xA that was “the rollerskate.” The massive Ford Club Wagon XLT that pulled our camper across these United States on our move from Oregon to Florida is fondly remembered as Van Morrison.

My first car was a 1978 Camaro. It had an obvious nickname related to running over the neighbors and having an Exxon credit card.

Lee Lovette
Lee Lovette
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe Day

Love the Dead Milkmen reference

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
3 months ago

“This wasn’t one of those cars that will be fine a thousand dollars later. It also wasn’t a car with a five-figure value. This was a car where the repairs were going to eclipse the value of the car pretty quickly.”

I’m about to sink in excess of $1500 into the blueberry – nearly as much as it’s worth, or would be worth from an honest seller in a sane market, anyway – and given the current low-end used-car market, I’m fine with that, since I know the car’s history and condition.

A rebuilt basket case? I’m just glad to hear Minnie’s beating the odds. Neat to hear how you used her to develop aftermarket parts, too. Great article as always, Andrea!

Maryanne Mach
Maryanne Mach
3 months ago

As the overly proud owner of an 04 r50 Mini-pit, I stand by every decision. I’m fact, I just texted my trusty mechanic that it’s rear brake time. Because last month was entirely new AC system time and March was new clutch time and December was new front brakes time, and…well, there was a small break in there with just a transmission oil change and fuel filter. But let’s not forget July and August’s new struts and exhaust from the cat down. And headlights/taillights, plugs and coils. Oh, and the body work on the front end after a pick up backed into me after I’d just spent roughly $4k ????????????
Honestly, it’s an almost 20 year old car. I know what I’m in it for, and honestly, she’d never given me a day of trouble until old parts just started getting old. She deserves everything I can give her. Yes, HER, of course Eleanor has a name.

She also just had new bonnet stripes delivered that I’ll be working on this weekend.

110
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x