Putting many miles on a Mini
July 27, 2015 7:35 PM   Subscribe

My partner owns a 2010 Mini Cooper S. He loves the car, but doesn't want to drop big bucks every time he needs an oil change. Are Minis so special that he can only go to the dealership or a specific import mechanic? Or can he venture to Valvoline?

The Mini doesn't need anything serious, but we'd like to ensure that it's on the road for as long as possible. My partner has heard some horror stories of mechanics not dealing with Minis correctly, but I'm inclined to think that those situations may be user error or just once in a mini mistakes. Can the Mini forgo the dealership treatment every time it needs some work? We're on the North Shore of Massachusetts if anyone has recommendations (and bonus points for places that will do inspections too!).
posted by thefang to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Minis like their synthetic oil, but other than that, it's just nuts and bolts. Any "you must go to the dealer" is pure FUD.
posted by notsnot at 7:51 PM on July 27, 2015

There is absolutely no need to go to anyone special for oil changes at all. Just synthetic oil is needed (as with all modern cars).

You absolutely don't need a dealer to work on a 5 year old Mini. Specialist that uses genuine parts, sure. But not a dealer. I'd always use OEM (manufacturer) parts on a decently engineered car like a Mini under 10 years old either way.
posted by Brockles at 8:48 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

You do not need to take a Mini to a dealer for every single thing. Ninety-nine percent of every repair you'll possibly need can skip the dealer.

Dealers will always have the highest labor costs for everything. Going to a dealer for an oil change is wrong, wrong, wrong.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:49 PM on July 27, 2015

I have a 2004 Cooper S. In my experience, taking a MINI to a Valvoline or Jiffy Lube is a crap shoot because they often don't have the oil filter in stock and the techs aren't familiar with where things are on the car. If they do have the oil filter, it's a specialty item and not covered in the low advertised price. By the time I added in the up-charges for the filter and full-synthetic oil, the oil change cost as much as the dealer. (Not including the power steering fluid I had to buy at AutoZone because the Valvoline didn't carry it at all and it needed topping off.) So, no, you don't have to go to the dealer, but I'm not sure you save money by going elsewhere unless you don't have a dealer nearby.

I don't know if it's still true, but MINI of Peabody had a very good reputation for service back when I was keeping up with the boards.
posted by weebil at 8:54 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had an oil change in my old Saab 900S, and they put in the wrong fuel filter (I think). I think at a Jiffy Lube. It just stopped running on the highway because, hey, the fuel filter didn't fit, and while it seemed to fit pretty well (to them, when they put it in) and drove for a while, ultimately it just didn't fit and that's a problem.

I'm not saying always go to a dealer, but it might be a good idea for a somewhat unusual car to find a mechanic that is familiar with that particular type of car.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:22 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

If the warranty has expired, then where he got serviced doesn't matter.

OTOH, I don't trust Jiffy Lube and similar places. I'd rather pay a real mechanic, and that's something you have to get through word of mouth / annual review of best places in the area / that sort of thing.
posted by kschang at 11:14 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Taking the Mini to an independent mechanic is perfectly fine. I haven't taken my own car to the dealership for service since it fell out of warranty coverage some years ago. However, I've heard nothing but bad things about oil-change chains like Jiffy Lube and as the owner of an older/somewhat uncommon car I would never recommend going to one. A friend once took his Audi to a Jiffy Lube, and when the technician couldn't figure out how to put a part back in after performing the service he tried to throw the "extra" part out (!).
posted by 4rtemis at 11:43 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just heard a horror story about Jiffy lube and a Mini. They overfilled the Mini with oil by over 15 quarts of oil (yes 15). The Mini mechanic ended up with 20 quarts in the pan when they were done draining plus whatever was on the floor. Poor Mini ended up needing a new engine.

Both my Minis (a 2011 Hardtop and a 2014 Countryman All4) are still under warranty -- I got the extended with the 2011. You're better off finding a good local mechanic if you don't want to go to the dealer.

Check out North American Motoring. It's a good start for picking brains of other Mini owners that do work on their own cars. You might also want to see about joining one of the local Mini groups. Those people can definitely hook you up with the right mechanics.

Good luck and motor on!
posted by dancinglamb at 11:58 PM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

There are actually two questions here: should we use the dealer for servicing (probably not) and should we go to a low end franchise mechanic (also probably not). One does not have to lead into the other.
posted by deadwax at 4:59 AM on July 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Like others, I wouldn't go to a dealer unless it's under warranty (though oil changes aren't covered by that usually anyway) or for a recall, but I'd also avoid going to an oil change chain as they can be pretty terrible and love to pressure you to change more than the oil. Avoid major department store mechanics for oil changes as well. Finding a good independent mechanic is the best solution. Ask friends, family, coworkers, MeFites in your area, etc., if they can recommend one. In general I find independents are far more willing to talk to you (so you can discuss what the recommended oil is for the Mini) and explain what's going on and what may need or may not need to be done (especially in comparison to oil chains or dealerships who I have found rarely tell you that something really doesn't need to be done).
posted by juiceCake at 5:42 AM on July 28, 2015

Quick-lube places are a big crap-shoot. For one, most modern cars require full-synthetic oil, and quick-lube places will charge extra for full-synth. Second, many cars specify a particular grade of oil (for instance, many Hondas of recent vintage spec 5w20 synthetic, and my 10-year-old VW specs 5w40 synthetic) and the quick-lube places don't regularly stock those grades.

Another issue is capacity. My daughter's Nissan Sentra takes only 2.75 quarts for an oil change! My wife's Honda Fit takes only 3.5. Quick-lube places are notorious for over-filling, which can be a whole lot worse than under-filling.

Honestly, if you can manage it, I'd change the oil yourself. I do both of my cars, so I know it's done right. If that's not a possibility, find a reliable independent mechanic and have them do it. Heck, buy the correct oil and filter yourself and pay them to do the oil change with them.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:03 AM on July 28, 2015

I know Worcester isn't all that close to the North Shore, but Greasy's Garage is one of the best MINI mechanics I've ever been to. My in-laws live in the area; I do not. If I did, I would go out of my way to take my car there for service.

Basically, no you don't have to go to the dealer, but you should go to someone familiar with your type of car.
posted by bedhead at 7:02 AM on July 28, 2015

Here is an exhaustive list of things that you should take your car to a dealer for:
  1. theft-relevant parts that cannot be replaced elsewhere (ignition lockout, etc.)
Here is an exhaustive list of things that you should take your car to Jiffy Lube, Midas, and other "quick lube" places for:
  1. you don't like your car and are willing to risk serious damage to save a buck
For everything else, I'd pick a good independent mechanic or do the work yourself (oil changes are super easy for most cars.) Oh, and forget the "every 4000 miles or three months" oil change recommendation. That hasn't been good for decades -- modern oils + filters are much, much better and engine tolerances are much tighter. Follow the interval specified in the car's manual unless you have very good information to do otherwise. (Example: you run a highly-modified, forced-induction car, you track it, etc.)
posted by -1 at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2015

I've had a 2002 Cooper and now have a 2013 Cooper.

Nthing that you should definitely take the MINI to a reputable non-chain place for oil changes and other routine work, but not necessarily the dealer. Jiffy Lube's one attempt to change the oil on my 2002 Cooper was… well, laughable.

Depending on where you live, you might not have a MINI-specific mechanic near you, but a good BMW mechanic is a good place to start. Also nthing North American Motoring as a good place for questions and mechanic recommendations.
posted by culfinglin at 9:10 AM on July 28, 2015

My last car was a MINI. You want to find a good indie mechanic who knows MINIs and let that mechanic do everything for you. My MINI Guy was so familiar with my car that he recognized when I had changed the tires! And he was very reasonably priced. (Any Atlanta-based MINI lovers, Way Motor Works is your spot.)

MINI owners are enthusiastic; you should be able to poke around online and find some recs for a good place to take your baby.

I miss that car.
posted by oblique red at 3:00 PM on July 28, 2015

I'd recommend finding a shop that does European imports, mostly because BMW is pretty particular about the fluids they recommend. The Mini and BMW communities are tight knit, look for local recommendations. Ask Mini drivers at the gas station, we're a friendly bunch.

How much does your dealer charge for an oil change? The dealer I use in Va charges about $40 more than it costs for me to do it myself. Included in that tidy sum is a full inspection and a loaner car if I can't wait around. They have found a few problems that I take their estimates and either go to the parts counter to fix myself or take it to my regular mechanic. I'm sure they lose money on me, as the hour they spend on the inspection is worth more than $40. And there's the free coffee and bagels at the dealership. I do this every other oil change, so once a year or so.

Do not use a quick lube place, the only thing they might save you is a little time. If they have the right fluids, they will charge you extra for it beyond the low advertised price, or they won't have the right fluids or won't bother to check and use the wrong stuff because they don't care. My brother managed a Jiffy Lube for a couple years, he has told many stories of ruined cars because they hire just anybody. If you want your car to last, why would you take it to the place that employs the lowest skilled and least experienced mechanics whose only incentives are to keep the line moving and upsell as much unneeded service as necessary?

I have a Mini, I do my own oil changes. They take 15 minutes with an oil extractor. Here's one from West Marine. You feed the extractor tube down the dipstick tube to the bottom of the drain pan, pump a dozen times. When the extractor begins to suck air, you can replace the filter and oil. Here's a great video of a guy doing it. Your car is going to be a little more difficult, only because the oil filter is harder to get at. With the oil extractor you never have to get under your car, and that means no jack stands or RhinoRamps. It was pricey, but it has paid for itself between oil changes, a power steering flush, and that time my sister filled her windshield washer reservoir with antifreeze.

Use the oil that's recommended in your owners manual. Oil filters can be hard to find at Pepboys places, so either order online or get at the dealership (but maybe easier for you as you have a newer model). My model is on a 15000 mile service interval, but I do what many suggest on North American Motoring, change the oil and 7500 and at 15000.

And finally, parts and labor are expensive for this car, the good news is that it should last a long while with proper care and feeding.
posted by peeedro at 10:17 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for considering doing your own oil changes. Along with tire rotation and maybe brake pads, it's one of the few maintenance items still possible to do on modern cars. You save a little money, maybe, but more importantly you know it was done right.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2015

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