Common problems

MINIs are like any other type of cars, there are some issues that are common to them. What follows are some issues I have run into that seem to be pretty common occurrences with members of the clubs and forums we frequent. Please note that common does not mean that it happens to everyone, just to enough that I felt it needed to be talked about here.

N18 and N14 engine coil packs

One of the most common problems I have seen out there which also happens to be one of the easiest and cheapest to fix is a failed coil pack. MINIs have a coil pack that plugs into the top of the valve cover right on top of the spark plug. This is a great design for a lot of reasons but I suspect the added heat of where the coil pack is located is also causing them to fail more frequently.

Symptoms of a bad coil pack are that the engine runs rough and has no power which of course will be accompanied by the warnings shown in the above images. When I say no power I mean it feels like you need to get out and push, and the car will barely climb hills. On a hill, you are genuinely concerned that you may not make it.

The diagnostic for this is easy as well, with the engine running unplug the wires from the top of the coil pack and see if the engine changes.  This requires sliding the top cover off and then pulling up on the release lever on top of the coil. Pull up slowly and easily so that if the engine starts to try and die you can quickly push the release back down and re-engage the coil. If the engine dies or tries to die that coil is good, plug that coil back in and move to the next. If the engine continues without change, that is the bad coil.

Coil packs for your car can run from $20 up to over $100 with typical replacements running from $40 to $80. If you can not find one for a MINI I was told by a MINI mechanic that the ones for the same year BMW 3 series fit the N18 engines. The spares I carry are the Delphi GN10328 Ignition Coil I get from Amazon. These are standard coils, nothing fancy, but absolutely will get you back on the road cheap and easy.

After having this happen to me once I carrying a couple of spares in both Lola and Buster just in case. Buster has actually lost two coils in about 100,000 miles almost 50,000 miles apart.

One last note is after you replace the coil the car will start running just fine, but the engine problem light on the bottom of my center screen as shown above stayed on until I cleared the code. This can be done by any auto repair shop, most auto parts stores, or you can buy your own code reader like the one I use, the Autel MaxiLink ML619.

Check engine light for no reason

I can not count how many times I have been told a MINI had their check engine light come on because they simply did not tighten their gas cap all the way. I have also been told that if you go to a dealer with this problem they absolutely will charge you for a diagnostic.

If you get a check engine light do yourself a favor and check the gas cap first. If it was even a tiny bit loose, turn off the car, wait ten minutes, then turn it back on and see if that solved your problem. If the light is still on try taking it to an auto parts store and having them clear the code, or you can buy your own code reader like the one I use, the Autel MaxiLink ML619 to clear it and see if it comes back

Carbon buildup primarily on N14 engines

The N14 is well known to drink a little oil past the valve guides which builds up inside the heads reducing power and causing the engine to run rougher. Often the solution to this is said to be a walnut treatment where they clean the intake and cylinders with crushed walnut shells.

Does this solve the problem? Yes, and no.

This does indeed clean the carbon deposits out and make the engine run better, returning the smoother idle and increasing the power output. It does not, however, correct the original problem which is now worse than it was before.

Why is it worse? Because all valve guides wear, they are more worn at 100,000 miles than they are at 50,000, and they will be more worn at 150,000 than they were at 100,000. The more worn they are, the more they leak. The more they leak, the faster the carbon buildup happens. The faster that happens, the sooner you will need to to the walnut treatment. It’s a vicious cycle.

The actual fix is to either have new valve seals installed or to have the valve guides replaced with better guides and better seals.

The first option will also require that you get the walnut treatment and will probably be good for another 50,000 miles or more. This can run from $1,500 to $2,500 or so to replace the valve seals and get the walnut treatment.

The second option will require the removal of the head, resurfacing of the valve seats and replacement of the valve guides (using inserts and new, better seals). This will result in the removal of all the carbon deposits so there is no need for the walnut treatment after this is done. This repair will run you $2,500 to $3,500 but is considered a permanent fix in that your engine will most likely fail from other issues long before this problem occurs again.

Can this be prevented? Maybe. Rumor has it that placing an oil catch can in line with the intake can reduce the amount of oil burned and therefor lower the likelihood that this will be a problem. Personally I disagree because the primary underlying issue is not oil being sent through the intake, but oil leaking through the valve seals. Sure, some oil coming through the intake absolutely can be burned and cause carbon buildup, but from what I hear that is a distant second to the valve seals leaking. However, I am not a MINI mechanic and did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night so my opinion is worth exactly what you paid for it.

Windshield wipers not working right with aftermarket blades

I have learned that on the smaller MINIs, particularly on the convertibles, the windshield has a unique curve to it and every set of aftermarket blades I tried on my wife’s 2009 convertible left large portions of the windshield unwiped.

I am not talking about a little spot here or there, I am talking about a huge swath right through the areas you need to be able to see through.

As much as it pains me to say if you have a convertible or any MINI where your new windshield wipers are not clearing your whole windshield as they should, go buy the ones directly from the MINI dealer and see what happens. They are a little more expensive but not too bad, and the difference they made on Lola was worth every single penny.

The ones for my 2015 Countryman are the MINI 61610038597 blades and the ones for Sue Ann’s 2009 Convertable are the MINI NMK3119 blades which also fits 2002-2012: R50 Hardtop, R52 Convertible, R53 Hardtop, R55 Clubman, R56 Hardtop.

Special note when changing your own oil

A problem when I first started changing my own oil was finding an oil filter that came with not only the rubber O-ring that you need to replace on the filter housing but also the copper crush washer that you need to replace on the oil drain plug.

Not replacing this washer can and will cause the drain plug to leak. Some people then think they have not tightened the plug enough and crank down on it. This can strip the plug entirely which in the best case (unlikely) causes you to buy a new bolt, or worst case (much more likely) strips the threads out of the oil pan requiring you to either buy a new oil pan (correct fix) or have the existing oil pan rethreaded for a larger bolt (incorrect fix).

I found that Fram filters come with this crush washer and I can usually pick one up at Walmart and I always check to make sure both the washer and O-ring are in the box before I check out.

Some oil change places will neglect this too so I would ask them before they start the work to return the old washer when they are done.

The last tip for your oil change is to make sure you always torque your oil drain plug to the correct torque and not just “tighten it”.

Programming your battery?

Newer MINIs have to have a new battery programmed into the computer. No, this is not a joke, and no, the auto parts store can not do it.

As batteries age, they charge and discharge differently. The computer in your MINI knows this and adjusts the charging rate to keep the battery in good shape as long as possible. Once the battery fails, however, the computer needs to know that a new battery has been installed and what its specifications are so that it can charge it correctly.

If you replace the battery yourself and do not program the computer the best case is that the battery will just not charge right and you have a check engine light on all the time. The worst case is it could actually damage the battery, possibly even to the point the battery could fail catastrophically.

The good news is that some independent mechanics have the ability to perform this programming, particularly ones that work on BMWs and MINIs. If you get your battery replaced at a deal or one of these independent shops then you should be fine, just ask the shop about it first.

If you insist on doing if yourself, those same shops can still program it but will almost certainly charge you a fee for doing it. After all, the equipment they use to do this job is not by any means inexpensive. You can not, to my knowledge, use an inexpensive code reader tool like the Autel MaxiLink ML619 that I use to reprogram your battery charging.

Don’t know if you need to have your MINI programmed or not? From the ones I have looked at the way to tell by looking is to look at the battery cables where they connect to the battery. If they look like regular old battery cable ends then you do not have to have your MINI programmed. If they have a little box or something attached to the end right before the connector, then you will probably have to have it programmed.

Let me say it again, I am not a MINI mechanic and did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Run-flats vs non-run-flats

All new MINIs come with run-flat tires. These tires can keep you on the road when your tire becomes punctured or suffers other minor damage, usually for 50 or so miles after the damage occurs. They do not allow you to keep going at full speed and are usually limited to 50-60mph. They also do not let you keep driving if there has been catastrophic damage to the tire such as a large cut, blown sidewall, etc.

Many MINI owners opt to replace their run-flat tires with non-run-flats (is that enough hyphens for you yet?).  Why is that?

The first reason is that run-flats ride rough, really rough. Simply replacing the tire with the same exact size tire in a non-run-flat variant will substantially improve your ride quality and quiet your ride.

The second reason is that run-flat tires are usually more expensive unless like me, you tend to run really nice performance tires which cost a small fortune. For the general consumer, however, run-flats can be anywhere from $50-$100 more expensive per tire, possibly more.

Lastly, the non-run-flats corner better. You know how when you take a curve pretty aggressively on your run-flat tires you feel that little hopping in the back? Yeah, that doesn’t happen with non-run-flats, at all.

The only problem is getting a spare tire. If you have one like my wife’s you can get the 4-Lug for Clubman R55, Hatchback R56, Convertible R57, Coupe R58, Roadster R59 spare tire for about $170. I also carry a can of Fix-A-Flat and a small roadside air compressor. The fix-a-flat and compressor has come in very handy, fortunately only once.

Deflector lips on the Countryman/Paceman

Torn right front deflector

If you look right in front of the front tires of the Countryman or Paceman you will see what looks like a spoiler or air dam. This piece is called a wind deflector lip and is prone to being damaged. This makes sense if you stop to think about it since it is hanging down right in front of your front tire.

In 100,000 miles I have had to replace three of them but depending on how and where you drive you may replace more or less of them. Fortunately, they are easy to replace and not very expensive.

You simply remove the five plastic expanding rivets holding the lip on, remove the lip, put the new lip into place and reinsert the rivets to lock it into place. On occasion, I have needed to replace the expanding rivets which are very inexpensive so I always recommend you buy some when you buy the deflector just in case.

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