What are the long term costs of a 110k mile 2004 Mini?
October 31, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I have been offered a 2004 Mini with 110k miles. What should I expect for future costs, if I take the car and use it as a daily driver?

A family member has offered me a 2004 Mini with 110k miles. The car has a banged up bumper from being backed into the family member's other car, but otherwise is in decent/good shape. The car is a manual transmission car. This past summer a family friend worked with a VW mechanic to do a tune-up and replaced one of the coil packs, topped off the oil (and it had gotten pretty low) and used a computer scantool to look for other problem areas. The offer itself is good (very low price), but I worry that the cost of upkeep on the car might be too much for me.

I put approximately 100 miles a week on my current daily driver, or perhaps a bit less, as I live 9 miles from work. It is a 1995 Ford Escort wagon with 110k miles itself. It does have a fair number of problems, but they are generally cheap-ish to fix and I can go to my local junkyard and pull parts from one of six similar generation Ford Escorts. I have checked online and there are no Minis at this junkyard. I suppose there could be some at other area junkyards.

The family member really wants me to take the car to have something more reliable, but I wonder about when things break. I remember that the single coil pack that was replaced was $100, whereas a spark plug for my Ford Escort is $5. I did read up and discover that the car has a timing chain rather than a timing belt, but still a timing chain needs service, too.

In summation, I am a shade tree mechanic, so I can do some things. I generally fix my current two cars (95 Ford Escort, 89 Chrysler Conquest) with parts from junkyards, or in the case of my Conquest from fellow owners from an online community. I don't think I can do that with the Mini, so I wonder what I might be in for.
posted by Slothrop to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
Has the clutch ever been replaced? Depending on how it's been driven it could be due. (That said, my 2001 Passat is still on its original clutch at 180K). FWIW my mechanic has told me the mini clutch is somewhat undersized & tends to wear out quickly.
posted by mr vino at 6:20 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a mini for about 8 years. Wonderful car. I loved it.

While it was under warranty, everything was fantastic. Out of warranty, anything that happened, cost a lot.

The alternator on my brother's F150 Ford went out, it cost $142 to replace, including labor. A month later, the alternator on my mini went out. The part had to be specially ordered from Europe, and it cost over $700, not including labor to have it installed. That was the final straw.
posted by Flood at 6:50 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I remember that the single coil pack that was replaced was $100, whereas a spark plug for my Ford Escort is $5.

You're not comparing like for like, here. A spark plug is not a coil pack at all, so don't let that kind of cost put you off. A spark plug for a Mini is probably no more than $7. Having said that a coil for a '95 Escort is much less than a coil pack too.

I'd be more worried about how low the oil was and how long it ran like that. That could cause much more worrying long term damage than any perceived unreliability. But that'd be the same with any car.

Specifics aside, a 2004 (BMW engineered) car is far, far better than a 1995 Ford engineered car. But, when stuff does break it will be more expensive. It's the eternal debate. It will be safer, better made, more comfortable and quieter, better engineered etc. but if it fails it will be more expensive to fix. It is an imported car, so parts will be expensive. That's your balance to weigh, right there.
posted by Brockles at 6:51 PM on October 31, 2013

One thing that has turned me off buying a used Mini is that apparently they come standard with run-flat tires. Which means if you ever puncture a tire, you're looking at a much more expensive repair than with standard tires.
posted by Sara C. at 6:57 PM on October 31, 2013

BMWs are pretty expensive to fix. as much as I miss mine, I really don't miss having to drop about a grand every time something went out (which wasn't all that often, for what it's worth). going to the dealer for even just the regular "Inspection" services (the simplest of which is essentially a glorified oil change) cost in the several hundred dollar range. however, you may be able to reduce the cost of ownership a bit. given that Mini is owned by BMW, you may want to do some research to see if there's any parts-sharing that goes on with these cars; there likely won't be anything engine-wise (that era Mini didn't use BMW engines) but there might be parts you can pull off of, say, a junked 3 series that'll work. also, find a good independent German-specific or BMW-specific shop, and maybe find some good online shops to buy things from (I used to hit up Bavarian Autosports a fair bit, there are others too). also, a code reader may be a good idea - I don't really know about Minis but the service indicators and stuff can only really be turned off with a code reader on recent cars. you may also want to hit up the local BMW club - if you're in one you can sometimes get discounts on stuff.

as far as runflats go: if it does have them, pull them off and put regular tires on. case in point: a friend recently had an issue with his (on a 2012 3-series) and not only did the dealer not have any in stock but it was something like $700 when it was all said and done. this was a single faulty tire. with a slow leak. BavAuto will sell you a donut or a rim or whatever if you want a spare.
posted by mrg at 7:23 PM on October 31, 2013

Purely one person's experience, but my friend recently traded in her 100k+ mile Mini and breathed a sigh of relief to be out from under the frequent repairs and their costs.
posted by cecic at 8:49 PM on October 31, 2013

I traded in a used bmw 5 series for a new Nissan Juke pretty much because 1. the bmw was going to be a lot of maintenance costs (a set of tires was about 1500 for the inexpensive ones) 2. the bmw was still worth a lot more than the Juke and so i got a new car free and clear (I got a great deal on the bmw-not free but significantly less than the cost of a new juke).

So if you want the mini I would just budget about 100 or so a month for expenses until you had a few thousand that could either be a down payment on a new(ish) car or repair something big on the mini. Personally I take the good deal on the mini, sell both the escort and trade in the mini (and use the extra cash from the escort also) to get something new (ish) and cheap to own. Honda fits are really, really good for a commuter car.
posted by bartonlong at 9:09 PM on October 31, 2013

I am an almost competent Chevy shade tree mechanic. I know MINIs. I would let a pro do most of the work. Why?

Many things that can fail are replaced as systems rather than parts. And several procedures require uncommon or MINI-only tools. Also the engine bay is cramped.

Low oil is a real worry. The MINI has no low oil sensor and can consume a quart quickly when it is even mildly unhappy. Low oil can lead to timing chain stretch which can eventually be a $1500+ repair.

Also, as I once overheard at my favorite MINI garage, the guy in the front office lamented to a mechanic bitching about something breaking, "we work on plastic cars!"

MINIs are fun, and they're precision engineered, but not at all for Toyota-like reliability and longevity.
posted by zippy at 12:33 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another cost to consider is, the 2004 Mini requires *premium* gas --- so while the car's miles-per-gallon might be good, those are miles using more expensive gas than, say, a Honda Fit with the same mpg rating. (If I recall correctly, Minis required premium gasoline through the 2010 or 2011 model year; the ones since then use regular gas.)
posted by easily confused at 2:21 AM on November 1, 2013

Only the Mini S models require premium gas.

I'm on my second Mini, and I love them despite their well documented problems. But I'm doubtful I would I buy one with 110k miles if I already owned a car with 110k miles that I could maintain and repair for a lot less money per repair.

Another thing to consider is there are some model years for which the turbo is a lemon across the board, such as the notorious 2007. (I owned one.) I would be on northamericanmotoring.com doing due diligence research to find out how owners of 2004 models are/were satisfied, especially if this is an S model. Does this model have the same problems with carbon buildup as the 2007, for example?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:19 AM on November 1, 2013

Is it an S or a regular? If it's an S, expect the cost of operation to be pretty high due to:
a) requiring premium gas
b) carbon buildup requiring a special process to blast it off with walnut shell that requires a special machine that's only available at the dealer and costs $$$'s.

If it's a regular, check when the timing chain was last replaced. In theory they should last the life of the engine, but in reality they don't and a failure here totals the engine.

Also note that Mini's use run-flat tires, which cost more than regular.

Mini's are great cars when they're still under warranty, but expect to have high costs once they're out.
posted by Runes at 5:05 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

as far as runflats go: if it does have them, pull them off and put regular tires on.

Warning on doing this, the R53 Cooper S can't carry a spare. The battery is moved to where the spare tire would be on the non-S.
posted by hwyengr at 6:52 AM on November 1, 2013

My next car has run flats, but most likely if I get a puncture I'll replace them with non-runflats and use one of those spray cans of 'instant run flat' in the tyre. It destroys the tyre to use it, but then so does a run flat and so does driving on a flat tyre.

But at least you're replacing a cheaper tyre....
posted by Brockles at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2013

Brockles - you're right that a coil pack and spark plug aren't great comparisons, but I guess I was trying to communicate that the Escort doesn't even have newer technology to have problems with. The big minus with the Escort is that it's an automatic transmission and that it used to be up north before I got it. So I occasionally find lines underneath that burst open because of rust and then have to quickly fix them before I lose oil, trans fluid, radiator fluid, etc. I am worried that the little automatic is giving way on me.

It's sounding to me like the Mini might be a bit of a stretch for me. To answer some of the questions that have come in : It is not the S model, it does not have run flats on it anymore and I don't think anything has been done to the timing chain ever.

Runes - you might find a regular restoration shop that uses a walnut shell blaster - I am pretty sure those are used for rust repair with old cars, to replace a previous process which used sand.

Thanks everyone for your feedback so far!
posted by Slothrop at 8:12 AM on November 1, 2013

Repairs can be a bit expensive. The clutch doesn’t last as long as it should. It’s a pretty great car but probably wouldn’t be my first choice if I just wanted basic transportation and wasn’t interested in having a great, fun to drive car. The car rides a lot more comfortable after you get rid of the run flats.
posted by bongo_x at 1:19 PM on November 1, 2013

I have an '02 Mini S with about 115k on it, bought new from the dealer 11years ago. Under warranty, it was fine. Six years, during a horrible snowstorm in stop & go crawling traffic, the clutch gave out. The repair was nearly $3k.

Since then, major repairs have been a new AC unit ($1200) and new rotors & brakes all-around (about $800). I'm in need very soon, I fear, of a new exhaust system (about $900).

I like the car, it's fun to drive and it's ok for a single guy. But it's not a comfortable ride, and for someone with a bad back' it's tough to get in and out of.

I finally switched to non-run flats last year, saving almost $150 per tire.

TL;DR version: pricey to run and maintain. But fun.
posted by jrchaplin at 5:36 PM on November 1, 2013

2004 Mini had a problem with the power steering that was recently covered under an extended factory warranty. Make sure that if you do decide to get this car, you get that taken care of.

My 2004 Mini with ~105k miles has needed a new clutch along with another couple thousand in repairs.

I love my car, but there is expense and hassle (parts often must be ordered from Europe) involved in owning one, and if 3 people ride in your car regularly, I would think long and hard about whether this is the right fit for you.
posted by Night_owl at 5:30 AM on November 2, 2013

« Older Sheet snob seeks advice ...   |   Skinny jean tailoring for the short girl Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.