Monday, January 30, 2017

When the Bear Eats You...

…there are days like that, and today was one of them. So I'm driving to meet Mark Passamaneck for lunch, then we're headed over to the big, spectacular Liberty Firearms Institute to talk about filming my last 2017 season SHOOTING GALLERY episode on pistol caliber carbines there. I am driving my 2015 Mini Cooper, a car I more or less like and that I bought new. I make a left turn at a light…not a screaming, crazed sliding turn, but a slow, as in "I'm in traffic," turn. As I turn the corner, whammo blammo, 4 lug nuts on the right front wheel SHEER OFF (I heard them let go), leaving the wheel hanging on on a single lug nut that partially pulled out.

Think on that…4 lug nuts sheer off…WTF?

I pull to a stop and block the lane, luckily not a bust street, and get out to see what's happened. I see that I am screwed, call Mini Roadside Service and Mark P., then have a seat and wait. Here's my punch line on this…same thing happened last year, except that it was only a couple of the lug nuts that sheered, and the vibration damaged the front end. When I took it into Mini of Loveland for service, I was told that the right front tire had been "miss-installed," so the vaunted Mini warranty didn't apply…natch. So I assumed I had some massive brain fade when I put on the snow tires, ponied up the $800 and resolved to pay more attention changing tires. I put on the snows in December, and I was METICULOUS in checking the tires, especially the right front.

So my Mini gets hauled to the dealer, where I'm informed there's a recall on my car, and they may well have to replace the engine…think on that…replace the engine…and it may take awhile.

Super. At least that's covered under the warranty, along with any damage I might incur while having sex with a buffalo while in the car...

Let's talk about Minis. My Sweetie got her Mini the first year, and it has been a wonderful car. Still runs like a scalded dog, handles like a go-kart and has been amazingly maintenance-free. The dealership that delivered her Mini, Ralph Schomp Mini in Denver, were great over the years, everything you might want a car dealership to be. Since I had a work truck — my aging Honda Element, as close to a bulletproof car as I've ever owned (Honda discontinued it, or I'd have bought another one in a heartbeat) — my Sweetie said, "Buy a Mini of your own."

So I did.

The Mini hasn't aged well. What started out as a quirky, minimalist box-rocket has become a real car, bigger, bulked up, less zippy…but, in fact, still better than most of the options. And let's face it, I'm not really a car guy. I pretty much drive 25,000 miles a year to and from the airport, appreciate a decent sound system and prefer manual transmissions. That's kinda it.

From the beginning of my fizzled love affair with my Mini, it was a bundle of not-particularly-attractive quirks. It is, in fact, an annoying car. It's electronics appear designed by Apple, that is to say, by people who have never actually seen a car and only have the vaguest idea of what a car might be used for. I have studied the controls for heat/cold…they still make no sense…"Auto" isn't auto, "manual" isn't exactly manual; thankfully, the seat heaters work. The turn signals, well, suffice to say they work…sorta. Like many of the other dubious "features" in the car, the concept of "intuitive," like, say, something that might need to be operated in a steel and plastic box hurtling down the highway, seems to have been dismissed. Plus, the electronics don't necessarily work all the time; perhaps they're operating on a shortened British work week, like my old MG's hydraulic system. Switches might turn something on or off, usually exactly the opposite you might expect.

The only electronic feature that I would class as 100% is a bizarre ring of colored lights around the speedometer. The lights flash in rhythm to…something…perhaps Kanye West's blood pressure, or the phase of the moon. I am told that, was I younger, I could be taught to program the lights, personalize them, perhaps to pulse to the soundtrack of "Saturday Night Fever" or Madonna's monthly outrage cycles. I do wonder why the only thing that works 100% is a feature designed to distract the driver! Maybe in the next model year Mini can arrange a cleverly placed, brightly colored squirt gun to blast confetti into the driver's eyes when the speed hits, say, 70. Cheeky!

I won't go into the dealership…yet. My favorite visit was when some brain-dead snowflake who worked there yelled at me about how good their customer service was. Hmmmmmmm. I haven't seen her in a while, Maybe she's stuffed into a trunk on the lot.

Oddly enough, for all the irritation, I still like driving it. I rent lots and lots of cars, and I
'd have to say that most of them suck worse than the Mini. It's pretty good in the snow, and I've trained it to get to the airport virtually by itself. God knows how much it's going to cost me to get it out of hock…no doubt the dealership will find that because I used oatmeal instead of real lug nuts, it's all on me.


Larry said...

Entirely a self inflicted wound, Michael, and you should have known better - it's a British car, despite Cooper now being owned by BMW (das Deutsch have their own vehicular foibles; for reference, dig into some of what they built in the runup to WWII, including aircraft, and during the post-war years).

I spent my formative years (high school and college) spinning wrenches on lots of different stuff, including British motorcycles and cars, and developed a healthy disrespect for anything from the Sceptered Isle (except single malt...). They build them fast (Lotus), they build them impressive (Rolls), they build them to handle abuse (older Land Rovers), but every freaking one is built different. I've seen across-the-line engineering changes instituted between the front and rear axles of whichever car was on the production "line" at the time. I've seen individual motorcycles (esp. 1970-72 Triumphs) with an incomprehensible mixture of SAE, metric and Whitworth fasteners. I've seen brand new Nortons with cylinder bores misaligned with the crankshaft (the older Nortons handle terrifically, but the engine internals are kin to Moto Guzzi's use of brass bevel gears on their single-cylinder overhead cam drive shafts) and in electrics Italians (esp. Ferrari and Fiat) are cousins to Lucas.

The Japanese have their faults (I've yet to see any production motorcycle from Nippon that handles like the average Brit bike, but the engines always run and run well) they build Stuff That Works (had "Muricans also paid attention to Deming, we could have been 20 years ahead of where we are now in that department). A Camry isn't the vehicle for enjoying twisty roads that a Sprite or Elan is, but at least one knows that one will be able to traverse the entire twisty road.

And, AFAIK, the Brits are the only people who attempted to mass produce a car with a wooden frame. 'Nuff said. Thank your lucky stars for your wife's Mini, sell yours (after it's fixed) and move on.

Jerry The Geek said...

So, who are you trying to convince? Me? Or you?

I'm driving a Ford, bought it used 3 years ago for $8k with 60,000 miles on it and added another 40,000 since then. I take it in for a lube and oil change every year or two.

When it dies (hopefully before I do) I'll buy another used Ford. And I don't even LIKE Fords!

(I do have one complaint; the battery runs down during cold weather, so I have to put it on a charger overnight every winter. Man, I hate this killer "maintenance" regimen!)

Unknown said...

Glad you are ok, Michael!
jeez, while reading that, death by car wreck or death by brain anuresim seemed to be the two most likely outcomes!

Anonymous said...

Ahahahahaaaa! A classic post! Don't feel bad though, I have a GMC Sierra with an engine that has a collapsing lifter every 7,000 miles. It's one of those fancy engines that go from 8 to 4 cylinders to save fuel. I doesn't work, I get 10 MPH. Anyway....since the lifter craps out every 9 month and under warranty, GMC pays for the repairs to the tune of $2000. So far they've replaced the lifter 5 times. Will they replace the engine? Nope. I've done the math for them but they'd rather bleed $2000 every 7,000 miles than replace the obviously defective engine.

I love the truck, hate the engine.

BTW, a Honda Element is NOT a truck.

John Richardson said...

Went to a Mini dealership in St. Louis in December with my brothers-in-law. For a little car, they are damned expensive.

I think perhaps you'd have been better off to buy two Honda Civics which would have cost you about the same. Better yet, one Civic and spend the rest on guns and ammo.

Anonymous said...

Oh the lure of the "foreign" and "exotic". I'm of nj's vintage and experience; 1966 Triumph Bonneville "TT", BSAs, etc., but much more experience with American iron. I "grew-up" when I sold the trouble prone (as nj described and for all of those reasons) "Bonny" and bought a '54 "Pan-Head" Harley. Everyone made jokes about 'em but you could fix 'em and ride 'em hard. That Triumph? It was like a fighter jet for sure. 36 hours of maintenance for every 4 hours of "flying".

My buddies were enraptured by Triumph, MG, Austin Healey and Fiat cars back then too. ALL were junk as far as I was concerned. Nearly all of them rusted away in a few short years, otherwise fell apart and all were as quirky as you could imagine. In the mean-time, I kept motoring around in my various Chevys, old and new.

By the way, how can the TIRE being "improperly installed" have caused the sheared lug bolts? Do they mean the WHEEL installation? I've done some poking around the aftermarket on the net just now and guess what? Conversion kits that replace the lug bolts with stronger lug studs seem to be a popular item. That tells me that there's a problem with the existing design.

Anyhow, buy what you like, but as with guns, it may not always work out as you want it to.

Life Member

Nyfty said...

Michael, join the masses of CO, get a Subaru. Quirky, check. Dependable in spades. I bought one 11 years ago drive it to 117K miles. Friend of mine was looking for a school car so I sold it. Upgraded to a 2016 Outback. Wife drives a 2011 Forester. Daughter drives a 2015 Crosstrek. No major problems, just regular service, tires and brakes. And I've driven mine anywhere you would take a 4x4, except rock crawling. Heck I don't even live in CO, live next door to the east. My shooting friends kid me about it until I tell them it's the most heavily armed Subaru in the state.

I think you'd like/enjoy a WRX.

Anonymous said...

MB driving a Mini... The humanity :-)

I had this happen on a very, very old first model year Ford Exploder. Took her back to the shop where the recent tire work was done and ate the repair cost; 4 of 5 damaged studs, rotor but fortunately no wheel damage. Something felt really screwy and I stopped - good thing, I was only a little away from a lost wheel.

I don’t really know what I “envisioned” MB would ride / drive, but I can say that a Mini was not one of them.
Car problems are a PITA and when they happen to you unexpectedly, it sucks but the good news is you’re typing about it and not in the hospital.

hopefully the days will get better.

Dave Y

kmitch200 said...

Dump the mini and buy a Tacoma. Get really important body parts above the impact point. A broken pelvis is much better than a crushed chest and head.
As Jordan mentioned, if the mini doesn't kill you, the stroke will.

Ever see a mini that hit (or got hit by) something? It ain't pretty.

Anonymous said...


Obiwan said...

After my Asian vacation in 1970 I bought a MGB-GT. Fun to drive but electrical system, starter, heater, and tachometer (!) sucked! Body rotted out after 6 years (and 95k miles). I also had a 82 Pontiac Grand Prix with an "odd fire v6" and paint that faded in 5 well polished years and the roof started rusting out in the same 5 years. That car really sucked. Went Japanese and never looked back. Reliable, economical and reasonably good looking (I get frequent compliments on my latest Accord coupe).

pigpen51 said...

I used to drive tons of miles a year. When I played music plus worked a full time job in a foundry, I put 80,000 miles on a new car in 2 years. It was a Plymouth Colt, an import of a Mitsubishi from Japan. It had a 5 speed, and I got an honest 40 miles per gallon. This was without any fancy electrical motors or any trick things of any kind. I bought it brand new. I never did figure out, in over 20 years of putting that many miles on vehicles, what was the best route to go. New, slightly used, heavily used. No car held up, with that many miles put on them, they all wore out back then. Now, you can put over 200,000 miles on them all.

Will said...


Talk to the dealer and importer about those wheel studs. Determine if swapping the OEM ones for the improved aftermarket parts are acceptable for continued warrantee coverage. If not, check with the auto parts people about replacement parts from a name brand maker of lugs and nuts, that are made here in the US. Don't forget to mention the liability for Mini due to the wheels falling off!

It's not like this is some new type of tech. This is a mature market for hardware. The problem comes when the factory tries to save a few pennies, and turns a blind eye to the lowest bidder.

Toyota did the same thing on their T100 trucks back around 2000. There was only two results when you had to change a wheel: The studs broke, or the thread was gone when the nut finally came off (it required a 2 ft breaker bar to move them). The parts on the shelf at the dealer was the same crap. You had to replace them all with non-factory studs to fix the problem. At least they weren't shearing while driving! (that I know of)

DamDoc said...

Honda is run by engineers. Always buy Honda.... Honda ANYTHING... Wish the manufactured guns!

Anonymous said...

I second Nyfty's suggestion. Get you a scoobie doo. The WRX is going to be comparable in interior trim to what you're used to, comes standard with a six speed manual, and is a hoot to drive. I just bought a 2017 Tacoma (it was by-god hard to find a truck with a manual, but I finally succeeded), but I kept my 2009 Impreza. feels like a go-kart by comparison. If you desire to keep the hatch, drop down to the Impreza or the Crosstrek (better ride height in this one too) - both available with a manual.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Mike fess-up! You're really a "Raptor Pilot" waiting to "loose your earthly bonds". Springfield Armory rolled theirs out at the debut of the "Saint", their excellent new "AR". I'm eye-balling one now. But alas and alack, I'll probably "pop" for another Super-Duty, since I need the BIG towing and hauling capacity. My 2002 7.3l crew-cab "dually" has guys, real men, walking up the long driveway asking if it's for sale. There's great American iron out there too.

Lie Member

Jack said...

Definitely borrowing this and putting it on the wife's "baby shoe" car.

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