Sunday, 1 November 2015

Straight ahead - wheel alignment sorted

Last time I had just been to Kwik Fit to get some new tyres on, and now it was time to get them aligned.

As I mentioned last time, I chose Kwik Fit because I had serious wear issues on the tyres and saw that they had invested in the Hunter Laser alignment tech, and I thought this would be the most accurate way of getting the car set up.

Once up on the ramp, four sets of sensors are attached to the car, one on each wheel which would be monitored by a laser at the front of the car providing readings to the operator. In this case the operator happened to be an ex-Mini owner who used to work at Mini Sport (for his sins). We had a nice chat and looked at what the machine was saying.

As expected the alignment was shocking, with serious toe-in on the rears. However, according the machine a special tool is required to adjust the rear set-up, but without one to hand, we resorted to a big breaker bar! After calling over a colleague to add some weight to help make the adjustment the rear alignment was corrected.

Up front and there needed to be some adjustment too, but as I've found with my time with classic Minis, things get rusty and after years of being covered in crud, they seize up. So out came the oxy acetylene torch. Some 20 minutes later and the heat had loosened up the arm enough for adjustment - the problem was getting a wrench on it while it was still hot - wait too long and it would cool and be unmovable again!

Anyway, after a lots of messing about with the blowtorch and rusty parts the operator got all the wheels lined up and within the tolerances. Great... a car that drives straight - that's a good start, let's see how I get on.

Thanks to Kwik Fit.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Kwik Tyre Fitting

So fitting time for the new tyres. I contacted my local Kwik Fit to arrange a professional fitment and setup, as I wanted to ensure the car was properly aligned to prevent the type of tyre wear I'd seen on the old tyres.

The chaps at the local Burnley outlet were very friendly and accommodating. Before they'd even started on the wheels they gave the car a complimentary screen clean and topped up my screenwash.

I'm sure plenty of you have had your car's tyres replaced, and it's the same process pretty much wherever you go, just that some places have more up-to-date technology, and that's why I chose a big national outfit instead of the man on the corner. Kwik Fit brag of having this awesome tracking alignment system, as my tyres had had such bad wear I was assuming the set-up was badly wrong - and Kwik Fit would be the people to put it right with their funky equipment.

Back to the tyres and whilst I waited for my turn to be served I was given an informative video to watch, about tyre balancing and alignment and why these are important factors impacting upon your tyre life. 

When my time came around the lads popped the wheels off one at a time and set about fitting some fresh 17-inch rubber. The first job is to break the seal between the tyre and the wheel rim to let all the air out. Using a specialist piece of equipment, with various tools for different parts of the job of tyre changing and wheel balancing, the seal was broken and the wheel moved ready for the next stage.


Here the wheel is clamped from underneath and rotated as pry-tool is inserted between the tyre and wheel in order to lift the edge of the tyre over the rim for easy removal. As the wheel rotates, more of the tyre is flipped to the other side of the wheel rim.

The rim of the wheel was then scrubbed to remove any residue or old rubber or tyre weld or what not that could have been inside. Cleaning the wheel is essential to ensure a tight seal of the new tyre against the wheel rim to prevent air leaks.


A little grease is applied to the rim to enable easy fitting a air tight seal. The new tyre is the fitted using a very similar technique to the one used to remove the tyre. The new tyre is placed on the wheel and the edge is pryed over the lip of the wheel rim until one side of the tyre is on. Then repeat with the other edge of the tyre.

The wheel rim and tyres are given a quick spray clean and a wipe to remove any excess grease or dirt before being inflated with a reassuring pop when the tyre seals into place against the rim. One of four done...  repeat four times.


But this is not the end. Of course the wheels each need balancing. This is done to ensure weight around the wheel is evenly distributed, otherwise the wheel won't rotate evenly, causing excess wear and poor driving feedback through the wheels. 

Over time, wheels that were perfectly balanced after manufacturing can pick up knocks and scuffs which can cause imbalances. To counteract this each wheel is rotated on a special machine to 'feel' whether the wheel is equally balanced. 

The highly sensitive machine can detect imbalances and inform the technician where a weight and of what size is needed, and where on the wheel. These small weights are stuck to the inside of your wheel's rim in the precise place it is needed to balance the wheel. These are removed and replaced at every tyre fitting/balancing.


So that was the relatively easy bit, fitting the new rubber. But I'm more concerned about the tracking. Given the shocking state of my rear tyres I am expecting the alignment to be really far out - and hopefully the can fix it! Find out next time...


Friday, 25 September 2015

Picking a new set of tyres for Charlie

Keen readers will have noticed some of the pictures I posted up previously showed a severely worn (and illegal) tyre on the rear offside. Funding issues and priorities meant that I was not so smart and had delay the acquisition of a new set of tyres.

This was despite the previous owner telling me that he had put four good tyres on the car before I bought it in January.

Finally, I got around to it and did an in-depth search of the tyres available and their ratings. Classic Mini owners will know that there are limited options for their 10, 12 or 13-inch wheels, but when you move up to 17-inchers, the choice becomes a little overwhelming.

With little prior knowledge of the 'best' tyres to go for a I did a Facebook shout out, as well as looking at sites such as A million different answers from a million different people helped keep the water muddy, but with my own research I think I'd found a winner.

Tyres sold in the EU now legally have to display three ratings: one for fuel efficiency/rolling resistance, one for wet weather grip and one for road noise levels (in dBs). By prioritising the purpose of these tyres I could narrow down my selection.

Being a bit of a tightwad, I looked initially at the fuel efficiency rating - I don't see the point in wasting money/fuel! Despite the ratings for tyres running from A-G (A being most efficient), I couldn't find any A or B-rated tyres for fuel/rolling resistance. The best I could find was the Dunlop Sport Maxx RT with C-rating - it was also an Award-winning tyre with Auto Bild magazine. However, at £123 per tyre... it was too much to swallow.

MINI has more recently been using Hankook tyres as standard, but I didn't want to get run-flats, so I looked at some other brands aswell including Continental, Dunlop and Pirelli, but again finding the right combination of cost and efficiency was tricky.

In the end I looked a lot at the customer reviews for the Hankook tyres I had narrowed down (Ventus V12 Evo2), and this was pretty much the deciding factor. 

Despite the E-rating for fuel efficiency, the reviews were glowing in every respect and I liked the style of the tread. So I took the plunge and soon took delivery of a brand new set of four priced around £88 each.

This was a big relief, and there was a lovely smell of fresh rubber in the house for a couple of days until I got them fitted... which I will tell you about next time.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Engine work with Forshaws and BMS Direct

Regular readers will know I had a big list of jobs to do when I first bought my R53, Charlie. One of the main problems was an engine misfire. I had taken the MINI into our friendly local MINI specialist Forshaws, in Nelson, for a quick inspection and I'd asked about the rattling and squealing noise. They suggested the timing chain was the cause of the rattling, but the squeaking would need further investigation. The lads quoted it as a four to six hour job! With standard garage rates at over £50 an hour you can see where the costs add up.

So I booked Charlie in and ordered the bits from new MINI parts supplier BMS Direct, who amazingly got the timing chain kit (£160 with sprockets and guides) sent out the same day and to me for the next. 

I took all the parts to Forshaws and they started taking Charlie apart to do the job. However, once the new kit was opened we realised it didn't come with replacement tensioners. As it happens, on the strip down of Charlie they found that the crank pulley was pretty worn and in need of replacing at the same time - so it was back on the phone to BMS who promptly sent out a tensioner (£47.99) and a new crank pulley (New £230/Used £100) and auxillary belt (£19.99).

Fortunately the garage was OK with keeping the MINI there and lent me their courtesy BMW 316i which was pretty old and used to say the least... bits falling off!

The boys at Forshaws used the extra time to strip down the engine ready for the new parts when they arrived the next day. I'd asked BMS to send the items direct to the garage, so by the time I arrived the next day, they were almost finished and I'd missed out on some photos.

The crank pulley lay on the floor ripped apart with the force of prying it off - and the senior technician, Chris, explained how a couple of o-rings and seals had worn and needed replacing too. With no local supplies, we decided that gasket seal would need to be used to prevent any oil leaks from the timing chain cover.

Whilst on paper, and looking at the engine, it seems like a big job - it looked quite methodically easy. Removing the intercooler, coil and leads, rocker cover, engine mount and you're not far off. The difficult bit is when you need specialist BMW tools to remove a puller or whatnot... and that seems to be the trouble - manufacturers are making them unserviceable to owners, without extortionately expensive tools. I'm sure there is a work-around, but when the car and the parts cost so much, it's not quite the same as accidentally trashing a £10 part on a classic Mini!
With the new chain on, it has a bronze link to help line it up, and the new pulley and belt, I was hoping the squeaking and rattling had gone and Charlie would sound more MINI-like rather than a dirty diesel (although it's a petrol!). So once reassembled, the moment of truth... squeaky rattling diesel or happy quiet petrol? See the video below...
Disappointed doesn't cover it. The advice received is, that they've discovered that the idler pulley is worn and is the cause of the squeaking - and most likely my lack of 'pull' when I first put my foot down. Fortunately, the job to replace the idler gear isn't as tricky as the timing chain, and apparently can be accessed without pulling the engine apart. That's some good news. But hey, I suppose at least the timing chain rattle has gone and that's one major job tackled. 

I had a word to the big bossman, Tony Forshaw, about the misfire and he took the car for a spin to see what he could garner from a drive. After plugging in the latest BMW diagnostic tool he didn't discover anything new aside from what we already knew - a misfire on cylinder four.

He advised me that it could be the coil and leads, and that would be the first area to replace and check. I was pleased he had taken it upon himself to try and address the issue as it was and still is a big bugbear - misfiring when at idle. So for me, the next step was to get a different coil pack and some new leads and sparkplugs to test.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Free rust repairs thanks to MINI and Jimmy

Back to getting my R53 MINI - Charlie - up to scratch, and when I bought him there were a couple of areas of rust bubbling through the paint. Surface rust I thought, and with an 11-year old car, I suppose it was to be expected a little, so I didn't think much of it at first... I had bigger issues to deal with.

However, whilst randomly airing some views and pictures on Facebook, fellow MINI owner Jimmy Hedivan informed me of MINI's 12-year paint guarantee. Interesting, if true, I thought, and certainly worth enquiring about.

So I contacted our friends over at Bowker MINI in Blackburn. Speaking directly with the Service Manager, Stewart Rose, he indeed confirmed that all MINIs have a 12-year paint guarantee and as Charlie was built in 2004, he qualified to be inspected. Great!

The car was booked in and Stewart, in his smart suit, greeted me and took me into the workshop to explain the process. He said that they would check the depth of the paint on the car to see if it had been repainted. This was because the MINI Paint Guarantee only covers the original factory paintwork. Because MINI uses robots to spray each car to a specific density the depth of paint is almost impossible to replicate outside of the factory by human hand.

Stewart tested around the areas of the panel where rust had developed for silicon splats and using a paint depth guage (a magnet) he checked the paint depth to see if the panel had been repainted. A measurement of over 40um would indicate this.

On Charlie, he had originally been fitted with twin stripes centrally from front to back, but when I bought him only the roof stripes remained. On the boot, above the registration plate, where one area of rust had appeared, it was obvious it was previously beneath the stripes. I suggested that perhaps the stripes had trapped some moisture beneath when being fitted. However, there was no excuse for the second area of bubbling rust around the rear light cluster.

Once Stewart had finished his 30 minute inspection, it was clear to both of us that the car had not been repainted and that, in theory, it should qualify for the free rust repairs. He said he would have to send the paperwork and test results to HQ and wait for them to come back to him. Then he sent the car for a courtesy wash and valet too!

A few weeks later I received a phone call from the local MINI-approved bodyshop to book Charlie in. They said it would take four days - which I thought was pretty quick, but then again, I suppose they have to be efficient.

The local bodyshop was actually in my town, so not far to travel, and I was offered a courtesy car - initally something horrid, so I pressured them into giving me a MINI, and was served up with a 2015 MINI Countryman One, with little over 2000 miles on the clock.

To cut a long story short, the 4-day job took around four weeks to do, after MINI had apparently wanted to double-check something or not sent the new panels to the bodyshop because of paperwork or something like that. Either way, in the end they got the job done and I got to knock around in a wobbly Countryman One with buggar all power for a month. Still, the MPG was amazing!! and the kids loved it.

Finally the day came to pick up a rust-free Charlie and get some power back under my lead foot once again. What can I say? He looked amazing. Perfect new panels and paintwork and they had even fixed a few little bits of trim that were loose. Top work, I couldn't have been happier.

When I initially dropped Charlie off for repairs, I cheekily pointed out to the guy taking it that there was a little dink and paint loss on the edge of the driver's door. I think had been done against the side of my house (where I park) by either me or the kids. I asked if, whilst they were there, they could fix that little bit too pretty please. By the time I got Charlie back I'd forgotten I'd asked. However, once I went to get in I could see how different it looked. It wasn't perfect but it was a big improvement and I just gave the guy a big smile and the big thank you.

That was it. A bit of a wait, but there were no major hurdles, just checking the car to see if it had been repainted. I've heard horror stories since I had Charlie done of people saying MINI wouldn't repair their paint because they didn't have a full service history, or that they weren't the original owner...  well, this is my story, and I believe that if you make a guarantee you should stick by it. It makes no difference who services it or who owns it... it's not going to affect whether there were impefections in the panels or paint application process is it?

Any problems, drop me an email.