Classic Mini FAQ

This page contains a list of questions that I receive now and again from fellow Mini enthusiasts, along with my answers. The intention is for me to keep returning to this page to update it as I receive more questions or I change my answers to existing ones.

Q. What is the fuel economy of a Mini City E?

The short answer is that it is somewhere between 42-55mpg. The long answer is that it depends on whether your car is stock (standard) or has had any modifications. My 1990 998cc car averaged around 42mpg but then I fitted wider tyres, alloy wheels and an adjustable suspension and was seeing slightly better consumption. Now that I've fitted a stage 1 kit I expect it will change again until I get the mixture just right.

The 998cc Mini City E is one of the best Minis where fuel economy is concerned.

Q. How do I remove the rear subframe?

Carefully! No seriously, take your time removing the rear subframe as it can be a right pain to remove. The back of the car gets covered in all the road crud thrown up by the rear wheels. It gets everywhere in every nook and cranny, and that damp muck starts to eat away at the metal, rotting your subframe, the nuts and bolts and all the fixings.

I wrote quite a few pages about removing the rear subframe starting with removing the old rear subframe, then overhauling the radius arms, followed by fitting a new rear subframe and new suspension and brake hoses.

If I can pass on a few words of wisdom regarding replacing your rear subframe, it would be to take your time removing the old one, and when it comes to fitting the new one, copper-slip the bolts and paint and underseal the subframe to protect it as much as possible from stones and crud. Trust me, it will last longer if you take your time treating it to a few coats of hammerite followed by a rubbery underseal.

Q. How do I fit an internal bonnet release?

It's pretty straight forward. You can read how I fitted an internal bonnet release to my Mini for more details. You could take a mechanism from another car and hack that into something that will do the job, but it's far easier just to buy a kit and follow the instructions.

After you have fitted your internal bonnet release you can add a little extra security by changing your grill to one that does not have the hole for the bonnet release lever, or you could weld a piece of sheet metal to the back of your existing grill if suitable.

Q. What type of wheel arches will look good on my Mini?

It all comes down to personal taste and the width of your wheels and tyres. In the UK the law states that your wheel arches must cover the treads on your tyres. So while your plastic arches will adequately cover your 145s, you'll need at least group 2s to cover your 165s. You can go wider and have your wheels look recessed, or add spacers and wider wheels and tyres to go with even wider arches. Like I said, it's down to your personal taste.

I went for 165 wide tyres so I had to upgrade my plastic arches to groups 2s. You can read how I fitted group 2 wheel arches to my Mini.

I did find a great web page with some examples of wheel arches on Minis that may help you decide - Mini wheel arch examples (external site).

Q. How do I change the oil in my Mini, and what oil do I use?

Changing the oil in your Mini is one of the easiest jobs you can do yourself, and one of the most rewarding for both you and your Mini because the car drives and runs much better after an oil change.

When it comes to what oil to put into my Mini I usually opt for the cheapest petrol engine oil available that meets British Standards, and I change it every 6 months. I tend to opt for 15W40 but I know others also use 10W/40 and 20W/50 mineral oil in their A-series engines.

Q. How do I fit a Stage One kit to my Mini?

There are many stage 1 kits out there for each Mini engine size. You can buy a complete kit from an online Mini parts specialist or you could make one up yourself if you know what you need.

For me, I wanted a Stage 1 kit similar to the one Mini Spares was selling for the 998cc saloon with a side-exit tail pipe. I started by reading various articles online about stage 1 kits and came across a great article on Mini Spares web site that recommended a combination of a K&N air filter in the standard air filter housing, a maniflow free-flow exhaust manifold and an RC40 back box.

I got lucky and managed to source most of the parts through a friend, and bought the needle, RC40, downpipe and mounting kit from Mini Spares.

To fit the kit you have to remove the stock system and then fit your stage one kit, followed by a little tuning.

Q. What is the best online web site to chat about Minis?

When I have a Mini related problem that I can't answer myself using a Haynes manual or Google, I pop on over to the mini forum. It's also a great online site to just hang out chatting about Minis and Mini-related subjects.

I go by DTXDave on the mini forum.

Q. What mark is my Mini?

Depends on the year of manufacture. The Clubman ran from 1962 to 1982 but the saloons ran from 1959 to 2000 and featured various special editions. There are considered to be seven marks each with various differences such as lights, hinges, panels, dash, steering wheels and interiors to name but a few. Going by the year of manufacture the following is an indicator of which 'Mk' your Mini is: Mk 1: 1959 - 1967, Mk 2: 1967 - 1970, Mk 3: 1970 - 1976, Mk 4: 1976 - 1984, Mk 5: 1984 - 1992, Mk 6: 1992 - 1996, Mk 7: 1996 - 2000.

Q. What is the best type of suspension for my Mini?

It's a matter of preference, and money. You can replace your oil-filled dampers with gas adjustables. Good makes are Koni, KYB and Spax. They come as standard, lowered or with coil-overs. The rubber cones can be replaced with a better quality competition cone or the popular Moulton cones. The cast-metal trumpets can be replaced with adjustable arms known as hi-los. Don't forget to replace your knuckle joints and bump stops while you are replacing the suspension.

Q. What are the best tyres for my Mini?

Yokohama (A008 and A539) are the most popular. Second to the Yokohama tyres in popularity are Falken.

Q. How much fuel can my petrol tank hold?

The standard saloon petrol tank can hold 34 litres (7.5 gallons) of fuel.

Q. How do I know if the front suspension on my Mini has collapsed?

When you turn the wheels they will catch on the front lip of the wheel arch, or you hear a scraping sound when you go over bumps indicating that your tyres are hitting your arches.

Nine times out of ten your rubber cones have probably collapsed, or 'doughnutted' and will need replacing. After you fit new cones, especially Moultons or Smootha rides, you will find that the car sits much higher for the first 3 months. The ride height can be as high as 5 inches between tyre and arch! It took my Mini around 5 months just to settle one inch after fitting Moulton Smootha rides.

Q. What size is my Mini engine?

Look at the engine number stamped somewhere on the engine block. The 850s start with an 8. The 998s start with 99H. 1100s start with 10H and the 1275s start with 12.

Q. Where do you buy parts for your Mini?

For general items such as fan belts, spark plugs, bulbs and well, pretty much everything, I phone my local dealers. I've found that if you look around where you live, (I'm in the UK) you will eventually find 'that one car parts shop that all the locals - who fix their own cars - use'. It's usually an independent or motor factors place on an estate somewhere that is crammed full of shelves and shelves of parts at a fraction of the prices being quoted at well-known auto parts chain stores.

I usually look online first to get an idea of how much the parts I need will cost me, including delivery. Then I phone my local supplier to see if they stock the parts. More often than not the local guy will work out cheaper. Sometimes, like with the FAM7821 part, it will be cheaper to buy online because the part is too expensive to source locally because there isn't much call for it.

When buying parts online I tend to use sites that I trust and that I haven't had a bad experience with in the past. I also tend to wait until I need a few items before I order so that I can group them to save on delivery costs.

For lubricants, cleaners, polishes etc I find that supermarkets and discount stores sell the brands I like a lot cheaper than auto shops.

Q. How many cars had an A-series engine besides the Mini?

The A-series was a popular engine and was not exclusive to the Mini. It first appeared in 1951 and lasted until 2000 when the last Mini rolled off of the production line. One of the most common engines in the world with capacities ranging from 803cc to 1275cc, the A-series was tweaked in 1980 and became the A-Plus.

The cars that featured an A-series engine besides the Mini were: Austin A30, Austin A35, Austin A40 Farina, Austin-Healey Sprite, Austin Seven, Austin and Morris 1100 and 1300 series, Austin Allegro, Austin America, Austin Sprite, Austin and MG Metro, Austin Maestro, Austin Montego, Morris Minor, Morris Marina,, Morris Ital, MG Midget, Mini Moke, MG 1100, Riley Elf, Riley Kestrel, Vanden Plas Princess 1100, Wolseley Hornet and Wolseley 1100.

Q. What type of oil do I put in the carb dashpot?

I use the same oil that I put in my engine, 15W/40. I have used 3-in-1 in the past but found it thin and disappeared a lot faster than engine oil.

Q. What is the best way to buy car insurance for my classic Mini, especially if my Mini is modified?

Shop around! I start by gathering some quotes from car insurance web sites. Most web site quote software won't provide quotes for modified cars so I get a quote for my classic Mini without any modifications. I'm not lying to the insurance company, I just want the quote so I can call them and say this is the quote I have from your web site, but my car has X Y and Z modifications, what is the best quote that you can do? The ones that will insure the Mini usually tack on around 15% to the quote I already had, and add the modfications to the existing quote in their system (which I couldn't do online). I have had some silly quotes in the past but there are hundreds of car insurance companies on the books of most brokers so it pays to start looking at least two weeks before renewal so you can take your time to shop around.

Once I find car insurance with a quote I am happy with that covers all my Mini's modifications at the coverage level I want, I mention the web site discount code I wanted to use (which you dont get over the phone, hence starting with a quote from their website), or a coupon code, voucher code, roadside assistance card number, supermarket points card, nectar points card, etc. You get the idea. This last step usually nets me a further discount.

One tip with car insurance is to check the paperwork when you get it as there are often mistakes and it's up to you to make sure everything is correct. I've had modifications left off or not listed at all, Austin instead of Rover, Mini City without the E, etc.

Let me know if you have any further tips on buying classic Mini insurance for your (UK-based) Mini.

Q. What do you look for when buying a Mini?

When I buy a car I look at the bodywork and the general condition of the car. I don't mind having to do some work but I don't want to buy something that has more rust than metal! I start the car and check the exhaust for signs of blowing. You can put a rag or something over the end of the exhaust to see if the engine coughs and splutters and starts to die. If it doesn't it's probably blowing somewhere. I remove the dipstick with the engine running and look for blue smoke. With the engine turned off I remove the oil cap from the rocker cover and check for white or silvery gunk inside indicating a head gasket problem. I also look for oil or any fluid leaks under the car before, during and after the engine has been running.

Look under the car and check the condition of the subframes and all mounting points. Check the sills and wheel arches while you are at it. Check the seat belt mounting points and the inside of the boot for rust holes. Turn the ignition on and check that all the lights work. Check for cracks in the windscreen glass, especially in front of the driver. If you are taking it for a drive a rainy day is best as you can spot where any water is getting in.

Check the tyres and turn the wheels to full lock left and right and drive in a clockwise and anticlockwuse circle and listen for knocking sounds or rubbing sounds to indicate worn bearings or collapsed suspension. Check for water in the driver and front passenger's footwell. This is normal for a Mini but it can rot the floor if left untreated for a long time. Also lift up the door seals at the bottom checking for rust and to see if the inner and outer sills have parted company.

Finally check that the body and engine numbers match the documentation.

Bear in mind that the newest classic Mini is now nine years old so no used Mini will be in perfect condition (unless buying a finished project from a reliable source). So when looking to buy a classic Mini go armed with an idea of how much work you are prepared to do on the Mini to get it how you want it.

Q. Which Mini magazines do you recommend?

In the UK you only really have Mini Magazine or Mini World for the classic Mini. Minis occasionally appear in classic car magazines but not often enough to justify a subscription. I used to subscribe to Mini Magazine but it's impossible to get discounts on subscriptions these days, and when you can it's not much of a discount. Still, they are great for tips on working on your Mini, for styling ideas and looking at other readers cars. After I'd finished reading them I'd often cut out pictures of steering wheels, calipers, brightwork and other mods for my ideas board. Of course you can get all that for free from the Mini Forum, which is my environmentally-friendly real-time alternative to a printed magazine (and they don't pay me to say that).

Q. What are the stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, stage 4 and stage 5 performance upgrades for the classic Mini a-series engine?

There are 5 stages to improving the performance of an a-series engine. The first stage usually comes in the form of a kit. In addition to this kit it is usually a good idea to replace worn components such as spark plugs, HT leads, distributor, coil, etc. Then after you have the stage 1 kit installed it's just a matter of upgrading various components further in order to advance a stage and increase your engine's performance.

A summary of the stages:

Stage 1: K&N air filter, needle replacement, inlet manifold, exhaust manifold and exhaust system (usually RC40), gasket and exhaust mounting kit.

Stage 2: Uprated stage 1 parts with a modified cyclinder head, replacement rockers, head gasket, optional uprated camshaft.

Stage 3: Uprated stage 2 parts plus bigger inlet and optional bigger exhaust valves.

Stage 4: Uprated stage 3 parts plus bigger inlet and exhaust valves.

Stage 5: Uprated stage 4 with extra modifications.

Q. What books do you use to assist you with working on your Mini?

This is the book I tend to refer to the most, the Haynes manual for the Mini. It can be very helpful when troubleshooting problems and carrying out most of the jobs that you will encounter. The instructions are not always easy to follow but with a little patience you can use this manual to assist you in getting the job done.

The second book I use is on tuning the a-series engine. This is very useful if you want to know how to improve the performance of your Mini's engine. There's a great chapter on all the types of air filters available and the testing undertaken to find out which ones are the best. If you are thinking of adding a stage one kit then this book will tell you about the options available to you. There's a lot of advanced information in this book should you want to really ramp up your cars bhp.

The third book I use is the Mini restoration manual. The Mini Haynes manual was written using brand new cars, but most Minis out there are old and rusting with ceased and worn components. This book assumes that your Mini is not in great condition and tells you how to repair and restore your car. There's a lot of good info in here, especially on the subframes and body.

Q. How do you change the fan belt on an A-Series engine?

To change the fan belt on an A-series engine loosen the alternator bolts so that the fan belt becomes loose. Then slide the fan belt off the alternator pulley and over the radiator fan. If the gap between the radiator fan and the radiator is not wide enough then you will need to pivot the radiator back. To pivot the radiator back remove the two bolts at the top of the radiator (in the radiator to thermostat housing plate) and loosen the pivot bolt at the bottom of the radiator. Tilt the radiator back and slide out the old fan belt and slide in the new one. Reposition the radiator and top bolts and tighten the pivot bolt. Place the new fan belt over the water pump and alternator pulleys and lift up the alternator until the fan belt is tight and tighten the radiator bolts.

To test if the fan belt is tight enough, turn on the engine, the headlights, hazard warning lights, radio, wipers and any other electrics that will place a load on the alternator. If the fan belt makes a squealing noise then it is slipping so turn the electrics and engine off, loosen the alternator bolts and lift it higher so the fan belt is tighter with hardly any play. I prefer to slide a long socket set extension bar under the alternator and rest it against the engine block so I can use the bar to lift up the alternator body with one hand and use the other to tighten the three alternator bolts. I then press down on the top of the fan belt between the alternator and water pump with one finger and if there is more than a little play I will raise the alternator a little higher. The real test is that the fan belt should not slip (a high-pitched squealing noise) when under heavy load (slow speed or idling with lots of electrical components switched on).

FAQ last updated: 15th January 2012

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