First a little history. Back in 2002, BMW reintroduced the Mini Cooper in the USA with a body shape based on the British Motor Company’s Mini (first produced in 1959). The little car was enthusiastically received by the American buying public. With its small “cute “look and its John Cooper racing pedigree, it became an immediate hit with both male and female buyers here in the States. One wonders if BMW was prepared for the large sales volume that followed and ongoing orders for more and more of these market-niche vehicles.
BMW launched what was commonly referred to as a “world market vehicle”. BMW used American-made Neon four cylinder engines, Jatco-built CVT transmissions, Getrag manual gearboxes, Bosch electronics, outsourced labor and tried and true German research and development. BMW even aligned itself with Hollywood and launched the new Mini Cooper while theaters were playing The Italian Job, a movie featuring the new Mini Cooper and showcasing its performance and durability The movie vehicles were painted red, white and blue. The little Mini was back with a vengeance!
Through the years Mini Coopers evolved from a relaunched fond memory of yesteryear to a viable contender in the small car market. In many ways, the Mini has been, at least partly, responsible for the reemergence and return to market of other small cars, most notably the Fiat 500. Its styling has been mimicked by other manufacturers and sales have continued to be robust.
As more and more independent repair shops opened their doors to these cars, we found their repairs to be quite profitable. Tooling up was rather inexpensive, parts availability has been favorable, tech support (via diagnostic tool tech support centers) has been clear and concise and has offered sound solutions to technicians needing assistance. Customers found the cost of repairing and maintaining their beloved machines to be far lower at independent shops than at dealers. It was not uncommon to park one Mini Cooper out in front of your shop on Friday only to find three more there on Monday.
So, what has changed? As a result of BMW’s ongoing incremental changes to the platform, some interesting developments are afoot.
BMW has always used the Mini Cooper as a test platform for further ongoing research and development. As time has marched on, Mini Cooper has hosted a few different engine platforms, some good and some not so much. That is to say, as BMW / Mini Cooper has strived to meet federal emission standards and fuel economy standards here in the US, they have not been shy about trying different engine and transmission configurations, some with great success and some with problematic results. See, for example, failed timing chains in N14 engines or failed CVT transmissions.
The incarnations of the Mini Cooper are meticulously logged and studied by BMW. If one system works well it continues forward; if another system fails it is eliminated. Even solid systems, functioning well in their vehicles, are subject to further scrutiny and development in a never-ending quest by BMW to produce the” ultimate driving machine “(My apologies for the ad-speak.).
Besides many developments in body designs and an abundance of available options. BMW has moved toward cross-engineering: a Mini Cooper body platform can now be used as a BMW body platform. The basic unibody can roll down the assembly line and emerge either as a BMW or a Mini Cooper.
This article will focus on a few problems with the drivetrain, the heart and soul of any motor vehicle and (usually) the most problematic.
Over time, the Mini Cooper design team has tried many different engine and transmission platforms. All the data recorded from dealer input and CSI information has not fallen on deaf ears. As of late, Mini Cooper/ BMW is now moving into a more “modular” way of developing their automobiles. In other words, a more homogenized way of building a car. Systems that work in one vehicle can now be found in other vehicles. For example, the advent of the new B38 three-cylinder engine and the latest B48 four cylinder engines, the latter currently being used in the 3 series BMW.
These new engines are the latest in BMW research and development and are touted as the most efficient designs offered by this manufacturer to meet government regulations. One of the design changes, for example, places the timing chain in the back of the engine. Timing chain repair or replacement, once a very common and profitable engine repair, is now a significantly more involved operation and will require even more specialized tooling.
The use of SULEV (super ultra-low emissions vehicle) technology finds the new F56 Mini Cooper using a catalytic type radiator. Great idea? Sure. However, cleanliness is of the utmost importance. The coolant used must remain pure and pollutant free. If contamination occurs, as it has from failed thermostats or lack of maintenance, the radiator must be replaced; a very expensive undertaking outside of warranty coverage. So be warned, parts are getting expensive and repair of various systems must be very carefully estimated before taking on engine repair. If a shop gets a vehicle in for, let’s say, a leaking fuel injector, and the injectors must be replaced, there will be more special tooling required. Even simple diagnosis has become an arduous task.
Access to certain components, such as the high-pressure fuel pump, involves removal of many sound baffles and insulators and reinstallation of them upon completion of repairs.
A recent visit back to my old dealership, found me looking at a pile of replaced engines. Upon inquiring, as to why so many “dead soldiers”, I was told that under warranty, it was cheaper to simply replace the entire engine than attempt to repair it. And this is at the dealership! Not only did I see a whole lot of engines, there were also way too many transmissions lying about.
This modular systems replacement approach is yet another way for vehicle manufacturers to cut costs. It's not the first time a plug and play approach has been used by large manufacturers throughout the world. However, it is an approach that could leave aftermarket repair shops with not too much left to repair, and it could rob us of any chance to make a profit attempting to do so. Going forward, it's the smart well informed repair shop that will survive the next round of inventiveness coming down the pike from automotive engineers.
Be advised: it is not just Mini Cooper that will be functioning like this. Many vehicle manufacturers will adopt any means of increasing profitability without increasing investment. It makes perfect sense to them. And why not? You know how it goes: all these car builders watch what others are doing. And if it works, you know they will jump on board.
Tools, or lack of them, will become an issue. Carefully researched estimating will be of the utmost importance. Training will no longer be an option but a necessity, a must have for ongoing success. Last but not least, a top notch technical support team, typically provided by your scan tool provider, will be a very helpful asset.