Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Need some help with a Mini Cooper S 2002-2005 (Any owners willing to discuss problems/maintence)

Hi everyone, I’m a long time listener of Car Talk, figured this would be the place to ask about buying a Mini Cooper S. I’ve been on a car hunt for about 6 months now. I have been on the hunt for a fun/sporty/daily driver, I’ve been in love with the Cooper S since the orginal launch. My Jeep is on its last legs and I’ve said its time I buy something I’ll be happy with. But will my happiness come with a lot of unexpected costs? I’ve done searching for almost a month now on MINI forums and trying to find a local owner who would talk about the Repairs and cost of everything. But no ones willing to help me. So my main questions for any MINI owners or mechanics that work on Minis regularly is: What should I look for when I go shopping for one? (Price range is $10-$11k mileage under 90k 02-05 R53). How reliable are they for every day driving? I’m always worried about getting stuck in the snow, are the good with snow tires or all seasons? What major problems and issues should I expect from a car that could be almost 10 years old? I’ve driven a few different cars and this is the one I’ve been leaning to since May. So any advice will really help.

Thanks everyone

With any used car, if you’re not mechanically savvy, get an independent mechanic to check it out before you buy.
This may cost $100 but it’s well worth it.

The Mini Cooper S has dismal reliability record at Consumer Reports, just about every year ‘much worse than average’. The non-S is better, with 2007 and later being ‘worse than average’ to ‘average’.

As for snow, get a set of winter tires on separate rims from somebody like

Edmunds (Intelefix) gives the Mini a high rating in 2004 and 2005. CR may accurately rate the Mini worse than average for those years, but that does not necessarily mean that it will be expensive to repair. Edmunds stops costing maintenance and repairs (M&R) after 2007. But for that model year, they estimate that it will cost $8245 for maintenance in the next 5 years and $4180 for repairs. A comparable car might be a 2007 Mazdaspeed Mazda3. The estimate is for $5148 in maintenance and $3788 for repairs. The repair costs aren’t all that different, but the maintenance for the Cooper S is much higher. Further, maintenance costs are easy to determine, while repairs aren’t. If the extra money for maintenance doesn’t scare you off, the Mini Cooper S might be right for you. BTW, a 2007 Mazdaspeed Mazda3 will be a couple thousand less than the Cooper S. A 2007 can be found on a dealer’s lot for around $10,000. If you haven’t driven one, you might test one.

“CR may accurately rate the Mini worse than average for those years, but that does not necessarily mean that it will be expensive to repair”

The ‘much worse than average’ problem areas were ‘engine major’, ‘engine minor’ and 'engine cooling, along with ‘transmission major’ through '06 and ‘fuel system’ '07-'10. All pretty costly.

I’ll only add that a 10 year old Mini S has a better than normal probability of having led a hard life. People buy them to drive the bejesus out of them.

If you do decide to go that route, follow Circuitsmith’s advice and get a good, thorough checkup with a detailed report before signing anything.

@texases, I stand by what I said. CR gives no hard details. They give squishy evidence like “better” and “worse”. Its OK as far as it goes, but to me, it isn’t very far. The source I gave gives you an idea of how much it might cost compared to a competing car. And it will be much more expensive - to maintain, but not necessarily to repair.

I will just tell you my experiences with my 2004 R53 built in November 2003.

I have loved this car since I have gotten it. However, in my euphoria, I overlooked the fact that I was buying a BMW…and that could mean BMW super premium parts and labor prices. Add to the fact that there was no guarantee that your garden variety foreign auto mechanic would be versed in repairing a car make that was only available for two years in the U.S.

Nevertheless, this car has been extremely reliable for me. True, there were a couple early problems (A/C, tie rods, coolant reservoir, electronic locks, muffler hanger), but these were taken care of under warranty.

Since then, here are the repairs I have had to do: left and right rear wheel bearings, brake pads and rotors all around, recharged A/C, driver’s side electric window motor, surpentine belt, plugs, wires, alternator, battery (my original battery lasted 8.5 years), power steering pump and cooling motor. This later repair is a known weak spot on the R53 and has been investigated by the NHTSA. There are things that can be done to reduce its rate of failure. All of repairs I did myself except for the alternator.

I did mixed driving and put low mileage on it during the first 4 years. After that, I changed jobs and have been doing lots of highway driving. The car has 134,000 miles on it. I have found it extraordinarily reliable for its age and mileage (OK, I’ve never owned a Corolla…). I have not replaced the clutch after all of this time (knock on wood…).

Oh, I forgot to mention the wheel speed sensors and the brake wear sensors. I’ve replaced two of each. I don’t know how handy you are or want to be, but any idiot can replace these and consequently save gobs of money. If you haven’t before, it really doesnt’ hurt to learn about your car by getting your hands dirty. There is lots of advice available on MINI-specific forums ( and North American Motoring…but remember, advice is cheap), and many online parts outlets so that you don’t have to pay full price for quality parts. AND, in my car, the ABS light has been coming on for 20 min on occasion and then going back to normal. This is supposedly due to the connection between the seat air bags and the computer. I think it’s another first generation quirk.

Regarding the snow, I have found the car to be OK in the snow. Not poor, not excellent. My car has ASC (automatic steering control) which you need to toggle off in some snowy conditions to enhance traction. I have not used snow tires, but I live in NJ. I’ve looked a bit at snows, and you can get them in 15 and 16 inch for this car. OEM MINI alloys are surprisingly easy to find and relatively inexpensive on eBay.

Gas mileage is fair to midland with the R53 - I get a little over 30. But compare that to the jeep. In my opinion, the MINI is more practical in general. I regularly carry my full-size road bike, but if you need to, there are dedicated trailer hitches available for your toys.

OK, I’ve said enough.

To "the same mountain bike"s point - yes, some MINI owners drive them hard, but we also maintain them and care for them mechanically in a stellar way. We really care for our cars!

I had a 2003 Cooper S, put 25,000 miles on it, never had a single problem.
Now have a 2006 Cooper S convertible…with about 50,000 problem-free miles.

They have both been wonderfully reliable.
The roof is starting to show a little bit of wear through the fabric, which I am not happy about, but I do put it up and down all the time, even in the winter.

Beyond that, nothing at all has gone wrong.

I would recommend snows on separate rims - will be fine in the snow. If the Jeeps are unbelievably fabulous in snow, than you will probably be disappointed with the MINI, but many owners I know drive it all winter long and are happy.

Go to NEMIINI.ORG and post your question - you will find a small,. local group (New England & NJ) group that is really helpful, especially to those who are looking to buy.

Good luck!

WOW I’m glad I posted here first haha. Thank you all so much for the help. TopdownMINI and mshakar, Your input was exactly was I was looking for, the rest also very helpful from everyone. I have driven both a MINI and a Mazdaspeed 3, I wasn’t to please with the Mazda for some reason. I’m going to look at a few more MINIs in the next week, hopefully I can find one very soon. TopdownMINI I will check out right now, I’m on but I never really looked around the site.

How about a GTI?

Also, you might type ‘Cooper’ in the search box at the top of the page and read some of the questions posted by owners.

Glad to help! NorthAmericanMotring is a great site, but sometimes it’s TOO big…NEMINI is a relatively small group. (I’m zzMini there.)

Now, I have to say, my first new car was a 1985 GTi - love, love. loved it! Of course, that has not too much bearing on what they are building today, so many years later!

I’ve looked into GTI, I’m not a fan of the 1.8t I had a chance to buy a built 98vr6 GTI but it needs something in the trans that makesmd very very nervous. Was looking at the newer (06+) GTI/GL . I just found one owner 04 cooper s with 55,XXX clean Carfax, in heresy for $7k I’m going to look at Tuesday. Seems like a deal/steal.(?)

Just make sure you pay to have it inspected before you make an offer.

Remember . . . it’s a BMW, not an Asian car. If I had the same problems that mshakar had with his Mini I would RUN from any Mini as fast as I could. Although I’ve had lots of cars and worked on lots more, folks don’t buy a BMW or a Mini for practicality. Sounds like you’re sold on the Mini concept already, so there’s no talking you out of it Remember that parts and labor for those cars are expensive (BMW . . . bust my wallet?) Get familiar with a decent independent mechanic and enjoy that Mini! Rocketman

Everybody In Our House Drives Large Cars And I Maintain And Repair Them. That Said, I Have Never Driven Or Worked On A Mini. There Are Seldom Any Near Here, But . . .

I was out of town and walked by one with the hood open at a repair shop. I knew the mechanic and watched while he worked under the hood. That was enough for me to decide that I could never buy a “car” like that.

Everything was so packed in under the hood and right up against the car’s front-end that it was no fun under there. The mechanic had to remove layers of components just to dig down to the one he needed to access.

Those little things might look cute to some people, but not to the person working on one.


I would budget a few thousand for just in case repairs on a used car of your vintage+purchase price. If that is difficult this is not the car for you. Not saying you will spend it but Mini chances are higher. You need to find a good independent mechanic for it. Otherwise they are guessing or you are stuck paying dealer(BMW) prices.

I would make sure if you buy one there is someone near you who can fix it. Turns out the only mini dealers near me is 2 hrs north and 2 hrs south.

I have a 2003 MINI Cooper S, an “R53”. I’ve put 179,000 miles on it over the 9+ years I’ve owned it. Overall, it’s been pretty reliable, but it does require maintenance. For example, Mini refuses to recondition brake rotors, and Mini rotors are quite thin, so I’ve replaced four complete sets. Luckily, the rotors are relatively small, and so not all that expensive. Some other things just seem to last. My engine has never been out or taken apart. I do change the synthetic oil every 10,000 miles like clockwork, and the engine only burns about a quart of oil in that time. I still have both the original gearbox and original clutch. But I did ultimately get one of those spontaneous, huge windshield cracks after about seven years. I had to have the entire engine wiring harness replaced (under warranty) at about 5,000 miles. After replacing the cheap, plastic coolant overflow tank three times, I finally bought an all-metal aftermarket for tank number four. The electrically-driven power steering pump died after about six years. I bought a set of four 15 x 6 steel wheels with 185/65 snow tires, and it does very well in the snow with those mounted. I still get almost 35 MPG on long highway trips at 70 MPH with the A/C running. It goes around corners like a go-kart on the 205/45-17 summer tires. By the way, I ditched the awful run-flats and added Koni FSD shocks, which improved both the ride and handling. And as they always say, Your Mileage May Vary. :wink:

Thank you KCShelby, I found a few I’m looking at, I’m glad to hear that you’ve had that luck with it. Do you think going with a bigger brake kit or something like that? Again thanks for feed back, I’m glad I got that much help on here