Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Belts and batteries

A month or so later after getting the new engine in and the rockers replaced, as well as the exhaust welded up, I took it back to Mintech ( for a check up to make sure it was all settling down well enough. I've complained a little bit of low power issues and the car cutting out on long journeys, but nothing stood out as the main issue. As a matter of course, being a replacement engine for me, the lads decided to check and change the alternator/supercharger belt for me.

It didn't take long and they didn't even take off the wheel liner.  Clever chaps.

In the meantime I cheekily stuck a love:mini sticker on Tony Lynch's MINI Challenge race car that was in the garage.

Mintech's main mechanic, Martin, loves to jest and tell me how rubbish my car is and that I should buy something proper. He's just fed up that I keep coming back to make him fix things! Haha.

Current analysis
So with that in mind, he says to me the first thing I need to do is get a new battery, as the current one looks like the original one from 2004! A poor battery or poor electrical current could cause all sorts of issues, so it is important to have a strong current flowing.

Having worked with Minis for a while, I recalled a great battery company I'd used before called Odyssey ( I did some research and found that they do have a battery suitable for my MINI's battery box - the PC1230 - and that they are much more reliable and enduring than standard batteries using more plates and no hazardous liquid - the are solid state batteries. They do cost a little extra, but they perform better and last longer... so it pays for itself in the long run. For battery it looks pretty cool too.

So I took the plunge and ordered one, safe in the knowledge that Martin wouldn't be able to blame this part of my MINI for anything. A few days later I hear a lorry coming up my rural street...

It turns out it was JUST carrying my battery...

On this tiny pallet!

But look at it - it's RED and shiny. It fits well and looks the part, it's a shame it makes the rest of the rear look so grotty and in need of a clean up. However, we all know it's not how something looks... but I will get around to it.

So battery sorted, would this fix the power issues? Unlikely, but it's best to have a solid base and know the electrical current it strong and consistent. Then we can get a better read of the condition of other components as we track down the problems.

Mintech Spares

Odyssey Battery

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Teething troubles and too much verve

So I've got a sexy new John Cooper Works tuning engine from Mintech in my MINI to replace the one that died - what a result from the chaps in Bury. Boy the difference was like night and day, and I was soon buzzing the R53 around corners and ramping off over humpback bridges.

Well, actually perhaps that wasn't the best idea as not long later I heard a rather loud sound resonating from underneath the car - yes, you've guessed it - I'd snapped the exhaust.

Anyway, after having the new JCW engine in for a week or so I noticed a loud tapping noise coming from the engine bay. My past experience from classic Minis indicated to me a lack of oil or a tappet issue. So I checked the oil, but this was fine following the recent engine fit, so I gave Mintech a shout and they called me back in for a look.

My face around the workshop was becoming well known and Martin the mechanic has a proper dry British sense of humour where he likes to moan about everything. It's hilarious. Anyway, so I turn up and he's there cursing at me, asking what I've done to mess it up this time.

After explaining, he brings it in and starts examining the top end and suspects a loose rocker. He quickly identifies the culprit and instead of replacing the one rocker, just installs a new set for me in no time at all. Well that was a pretty quick fix.

With one job done I thought I'd better go and get this exhaust looked at. Fearing the worst (as is usually the case with me), I took it too my local garage for them to examine it. Thankfully it wasn't that bad, with a clean break at the back of the silencer. One hour later and with a wallet some £20 lighter, the exhaust was welded back together and gun-gummed up.

Whilst underneath Lohen had previously pointed out that the exhaust wasn't mated to the non OEM catalytic convertor properly and so there was a little leak with carbon deposits building up on the heatshield. A bit of gun-gum was stuffed in there as a temporary fix too.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Hmmm, again

So the trip to Lohen had been an eye opener. Sadly not for any positive reasons. On the journey back the car felt fine until I hit the home straight and then suddenly I would lose power, no revs, and I'd have to coast to the hard shoulder. 

Because this has happened so often now I'm kind of used to it, almost expecting it on long journeys. I try and restart the car while it's crawling along, but this seems to make no difference, the battery and starter are fine. After the terminal diagnosis from Lohen earlier in the day it was evident that the engine was on its way out, it was just a matter of how long would it last.

Eventually she restarts and I manage to get home and put some more fuel in, which always fixes the problem, despite having a fair amount of fuel already in the tank. 

A few days later - literally - and the engine finally dies a death. With an impressive 130,000+ miles on the clock, I was on my way to the supermarket when all the power went and wouldn't restart. Some fellow drivers stopped to try and help me bumpstart it, but it was no use. So I bit the bullet and called my roadside recovery to come and help me. 

In a small twist of fate the recovery operator was having a break in the supermarket car park I had broken down outside of. When he turned up he said he could take the car to a garage or back to my house. Unfortunately I had broken down on a Saturday, which meant most garages and the one I wanted - Mintech in Bury, were closed. 

Clearly the car had to be moved, but I didn't want it to count as being 'recovered' because I needed to get it to a garage on Monday. Technically the options were limited and I was in a bit of a fix. If he helped it would be a 'recovery'. Hmmm.

I asked whether he could just help me get the car onto the supermarket carpark for the weekend and I get it 'recovered' on Monday....  Hmmm, again.   He said I'd have to speak to my recovery service and clear it with them. After a bit of sweet talking, they saw the difficult position I was in, and proximity of the supermarket car park and agreed. Confirming I would be able to recover it on Monday to a garage. Great stuff. As it happens a local friend saw us broken down and offered me a lift home too. 

Fast forward to Monday, and guess what, there's complications with the recovery service. Despite making it clear on the Saturday and getting it all agreed, I again had to go through it all and explain before they agreed to finally take the car to our friends at Mintech in Bury. I'd already called them up first thing on the Monday to explain and they kindly agreed to sort it for me asap. What legends, without a car, I would literally be up the creek without a paddle, especially in my rural location.

A friend had lent me his works car - a shoddy Micra that has been ragged to an inch of its life with doortrim falling off, holes in the floor and dials that come off in your hand! Ha! But hey, it was a car that worked!

A bit later on I get a call from Mintech. They're putting in a new engine, which seems like the easiest (and probably the cheapest) solution, given that an engine strip at some garages can cost over £1000 alone. But there was a question... do I want a standard Cooper S engine, or an engine out of a GP? Hmmm, again.

What do you think?

Oh yes I did!!! 
(and they even put the correct coolant reservoir on, a new archliner and Cold Air Intake (CAI).


Back on the ramp.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

D-Day at Lohen... MINI inspection part 2

So we're at Lohen, the leading MINI specialist in the UK. We've already settled in and had a look round in part 1 - now we're going to get some proper diagnosis.

Once the MINI is up on the ramp I get my pad and pen out and prepare to make lengthy notes. Some say ignorance is bliss, but you can only be ignorant to your car's problems for so long before they come back to bite you - in the wallet! I take a deep breath... here we go.

It's definitely a Mini - it leaks oil.
Luke is our friendly technician and he will be casting his keen eye over the motor. First of all he raises it right up and takes a good look underneath with a torch. Here he points out the various places where oil is leaking from (for the record: rocker cover, gasket for oil filter housing mount, oil sump and timing chain cover).

A check of the bushes and mounts is also done; here he says the wishbone bushes are on their way out and the lower engine mount needs replacing.

Meyle HD bars rubbing the driveshaft
A surprising find is that the new Meyle Heavy Duty stabilizer bars I got from my local autofactors were infact rubbing against the driveshaft and had 'polished' them as you can clearly see! What the....   Needless to say, I wasn't best pleased and soon returned them with a complaint.

Carbon deposits indicate a blowing exhaust
Further back, Luke tells me that the exhaust is blowing and points to a carbon stain on the exhaust indicating the leak. This must have been when I had the new catalytic convertor put on in January, and it wasn't mated up properly. There was also a missing heatshield at the rear of the exhaust which had been absent since I bought it. I pointed out the big blog of crud on one of the rear callipers, but given my luck I thought twice about asking them to investigate it. They're on my list of things to upgrade anyway, and they're still working at the moment, so don't fiddle.

Engine mount rubber worn
No Cold Air Intake pipe
Bringing the car back to down to ground level and Luke was able to check out the engine topside - which is where my notes start getting longer and my ears prick up.

Immediately from just a visual inspection you can see a missing archliner (which has covered the engine bay in tar), a comical VW coolant reservoir instead of the MINI one. Oh, and the Cold Air Intake (CAI) pipe is missing, so the engine is drawing in warm air from the engine bay, which obviously won't help performance.

Further inspection finds the LH top engine mount is worn and a filter which is meant to cover the brake fluid reservoir is missing also. As far as those points are concerned, I can't complain. Fairly simple fixes, but it's not the pipes and filters that are missing that are my main worry - it's inside the engine!

Brown and black plugs...  guess which ones are bad!
So it's here that the serious business starts. Taking out the spark plugs we inspect their colour and condition. As you can see the two on the right are black, rather than the nicer mild browning of the other two. This clearly indicates some fuelling issue inside the cylinders, so using the torch Luke takes a closer look.

He calls me over to have a look myself and tells me that there is oil leaking into the cylinders. Asking what could cause this he says potentially the piston or piston rings, or valve stem seals - but the only way to know for sure would be to take it apart and have a look.

The news was bad. Tragic. Terminal even. But I put on a brave face, cracked a few jokes and soldiered on. Looking on the bright side, the car was still working for now... but for how long?

Compression test on the cylinders
However, the inspection wasn't finished. After checking the plugs Luke did a compression test, and unsurprisingly found two cylinders down on power, but one significantly more than the other. This along with the airleak that was recently fixed would explain the misfire I had had.

Combustion gas test
Finally, they decided to do a combustion gas test. This gizmo would monitor the gasses in the coolant reservoir, and if the engine had a gas leak, it would leak into the coolant and be indicated by the fluid indicator changing from blue to yellow/orange. See a video here to watch how it works

If there are any saving graces from the bad news discovered today, it was that the head gasket hadn't blown.

Look at the size of this place!
For this type of Gen 1 MINI health check with an oil, oil filter and pollen change it will only cost you just £99 (see it here), and you can get the next level of servicing for just £149 (saving £50). 

That's very competitive when you look what MINI are charging - and oil service alone is £115, with inspections starting at £185! Wow.

Alternatively you can get a health check with 3x dyno runs for £90. Amazing value! Mmmm dyno!

Can I be honest for a moment? Ask yourself, who would you really rather give your money to? MINI and its overinflated prices and questionable knowledge - following computer instructions and not being able to answer basic questions - or people like Lohen, who live and breathe MINI, who are happy to give advice and share their knowledge and recommendations. They are enthusiasts, just like you.

As you can see from my experience, they have done a good, thorough and comprehensive inspection of my MINI. Picking up numerous issues I wasn't aware of. And when these people see only MINIs, day in and day out, you can rest assured they know where all the common - and not so common - faults lie. It is this extra special knowledge and experience that sets Lohen apart from the rest.

Performance MINI owners trust Lohen.

So here is the full list of issues identified.

Worn tyres
Wishbone bushes
Link stabilisers rubbing driveshaft
Archliner missing
Cold Air Intake (CAI) pipe missing
Coolant tank incorrect (from a VW)
Filter on brake fluid reservoir missing
LH engine mount rubber worn
Oil leak from rocker cover
Oil leak from gasket for oil filter housing mount
Oil leak from oil sump
Oil leak from timing chain cover
Heat shield on rear of exhaust missing
Exhaust blowing
Lower engine mount needs replacing
Compression down in cylinders 3 & 4
Oil in cylinders 3 & 4

Thinking about it? Do yourself a favour and just do it.

Take a look for yourself...

So lots for me to consider. Find out how I survive....

Monday, 12 September 2016

Got a problem? Go to the best... we visit Lohen.

Impressive premises
I've been talking about this ongoing issue with Charlie the MINI since I pretty much bought it in January 2015. There was the horrible timing chain rattle as well as an undiagnosed misfire, and over the past year it had developed a serious fault when I was on long journeys and had filled up the petrol tank. As the fuel level dropped, it would more often than not suddenly just lose power whilst driving and I would have to pull over to the hard shoulder.
Loss of power on way home.

Y'know once or twice you might think this is an unfortunate accident or coincidence, but pretty much every time I was on the home stretch from a long journey it would cut out. My initial thoughts were that perhaps the fuel filter might be clogged up, or the injectors were dirty, or something from the fuel tank blocking the fuel flow which would cut out the power. After doing a little research apparently MINI claim the fuel filters are now miraculously lifetime items, and never need replacing. Well, from what I've heard, that is nonsense. And with my MINI having done over 130,000 miles, there's a good chance it's looking a bit nasty.

So, despite my quick fix from Mintech which helped resolve the power and air leak issue, there was still trouble brewing and so I booked an appointment with the best and most well known MINI specialist in the UK - Lohen.

Based in Staffordshire, pretty-much smack-bang in the middle of the country, it's a pretty easy to get to no matter where you are based. Even for me, up in rural Lancashire, it was a fairly quick hop along the M65 and down the M6. I was quite excited to visit Lohen's HQ. Having seen quite a number of classic and new Mini premises, it is fair to say that many can be referred to as 'sheds' and pretty underwhelming - but not in this case!

The large Lohen building in the centre of the industrial estate belies its facade - it looks big anyway from the outside, but once inside you realise it's huge. A large foyer has a fridge full of drinks for visitors before leading into an cool waiting room with large sofas, car magazines and a games console to play on. Well that will certainly make the waiting go by quicker!!

Next door is the awesome showroom which is stocked full of desirable goodies from ST Suspension coilovers, OZ Racing and Sparco alloys, to big-ass Brembo brake kits, loud popping and flaming exhausts, sexy K&N filters and colourful Forge Motorsport pipes. There's even a couple of engines on display with various the uprated equipment fitted.

But if you're really serious about your MINI, then you come to Lohen for work on the engine. We already know they stock the best products, including a large Alta and CravenSpeed range - and they have years of experience in all aspects of MINI - did you know they built and ran their own MINI Challenge racecar? - so they really do know what they're doing.

Want racecar performance?
That's why I'm here. My MINI has been playing up, and no one seems to have properly diagnosed the problem, so fingers crossed Lohen can. I'm told they see 2-3 R53s at the workshop every week for check-ups with many coming from far and wide just to have Lohen do the service. It says a lot.

But it's not just the in-depth technical work that Lohen are good at. They do the simple things just as well as anyone else too, again for competitive prices. So whether it's an oil change or an engine rebuild you'll find that Lohen can offer a solution for you - and with ultra friendly and knowledgeable staff why would you want to go anywhere else. It's like visiting friends, or an Aladdin's Cave, it's not just a trip to the garage but an event.

With Charlie then, they've agreed to do a vehicle health check for me. We head backstage into the mahoosive workshop with three ramps and four technicians to get the car looked over. This is where I meet Luke, who will be reeling of the list of problems to address. Around the corner is also dyno so they can check performance of your MINI, or if you get a bunch of club mates you could come down for a dyno day and see who is the power king! Sadly my MINI won't be going anywhere near that - I was just pleased we made the 100 mile trip without incident, we don't want to push our luck now do we!

Next time... the full diagnosis.

In the meantime why not check out Lohen's website and see what they can offer you and your MINI.

There are also some great deals on so have a look at those too and book early to avoid disappointment.

For Gen 1 Minis there's a couple of things to explore. 

Gen 1 Oil Service £69 (save £26)
Gen 1 Inspection 1 Service £99 (save £31)
Gen 1 Inspection 2 Service £149 (save £50)


Whilst owners of the 2nd Gen MINIs can take advantage of these deals.
Gen 2 Oil Service £69 (save £10)
Gen 2 N14 De-Coking £199 (save £41)

Monday, 5 September 2016

Engine misfire/air leak fixed

As I said last time, although the broken catalytic convertor had been replaced, the engine still had some sort of misfire and engine fault. Since I've had the Mini, it's been a battle to get it back up to scratch, lurching from one problem to the next, but slowly and surely they were being addressed.

A previous visit to the friendly chaps at Mintech in Bury had found some sort of air leak from around the head, so it was initially thought that the inlet manifold gasket was the cause. And at a more recent visit, Martin, the mechanic, showed me a split pipe that connects the intercooler and brake vacuum pipe - which would also explain why the brakes weren't working as effectively as the should have been. 

After finally getting booked in a few days later it didn't take Martin long to diagnose the problem - and a fairly simple one at that. After all the fuss and problems, it turned out to be a some loose nuts on the inlet manifold, allowing lots more air to be sucked in to the engine and ruining performance.

A few turns of the socket and the nuts were all tight again and the air leak was gone. But as we know, things are never just as easy as that for me... 

Diagnostic at Lohen