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There and Back Again: A Mini Tale

May 2, 2010

Friday morning, I slid behind the wheel of my Clubman S, dropped the transmission into gear, and drove out of the service bay at Mini of Austin. Within a quarter mile, the familiar heft of the steering wheel, the thrum of the exhaust, and the eager demeanor had plastered a smile to my face. I had my Mini back.

It’s hard to believe that, just two days earlier, I was seriously questioning my relationship with Mini.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of the diminutive British car brand. I’ve never found another vehicle that’s as fun to drive at any speed, as functional, and as full of character as the Mini. I’ve owned two Minis thus far – a 2006 Cooper S and my current 2008 Clubman S, and despite a growing family, I’ve been pretty determined to stick with Mini.

So would could possibly have happened that could make me question the relationship? That’s what this post is all about.

Check Engine

The first signs of trouble appeared a little over a week earlier. I was heading back to work after meeting the wife and boy for lunch when the accelerator went all spongy. At first it felt like I was in the wrong gear, but then the check engine light came on with a fury. It was yellow, which meant I could keep driving on it, albeit in “safe mode”.

Once I got it back to work, I called Mini of Austin to set up an appointment. Now, they just opened, and I know they’ve been slammed, but seeing as this was a bit beyond your typical maintenance, I figured they’d be able to slot me in. Not so. The earliest appointment I could manage was the following Tuesday. And so for the next five days, I stewed. Every time I tried to urge my now-gutless Mini up a hill, I gnashed my teeth. And by the time Tuesday rolled around, the poor engine sounded like it was chewing on nails.

Thankfully, I managed to get the Mini up to the dealership, though it was touch and go, and there were moments where I feared the engine was going to stall out on me.

Mini of Austin's service bay is a sight to behold

When I dropped it off, I was informed – again – that they didn’t have any loaners. Considering that I needed to get to and from work, and that Jamie was 36 weeks pregnant, this didn’t sit well, but I hoped against hope that whatever was wrong would be relatively minor, and accepted a ride to the office.

Seriously?

I didn’t hear anything definitive until the end of the day, and when I did, it wasn’t good. The entire turbocharger unit was shot, and had to be replaced. And better still, they had to order one.

And of course, they still didn’t have any loaner cars.

I stewed on this overnight, and the more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off. I understand the dealership just opened, and that they were having trouble getting enough vehicles to sell, much less press into loaner service, but even so, they should have had some sort of plan in place for people in my position, since the message they were sending was basically that “by owning a Mini, you can be stranded without a car for days on end with absolutely no warning”.  That, combined with the fact that the Clubman’s turbocharger failed at just 26,000 miles, shook me up. I mean, I would find that unacceptable in a bargain brand, much less a pseudo-luxury brand like Mini.

And if that was the kind of service I could expect, why would I ever consider continuing my relationship with the brand?

Making Things Right

Thoroughly incensed, I contacted the dealership the next morning and aired my grievances.

To their credit, they responded quickly, and managed to secure a loaner from the BMW dealership next door – a 328i sedan. Looking back, I’m still not entirely happy that I had to say anything in the first place, but I will say this – once I made my dissatisfaction known, the folks at Mini of Austin moved quickly and decisively to make things right. Their responsiveness went a long way toward mollifying me and bringing me back from the “I’m never going to buy another Mini!” brink.

Nice ride. No soul.

And then there was the BMW. I mean, it was a nice car, and with room to run it could actually be pretty engaging, but next to my Clubman it had no character whatsoever, and isn’t the sort of thing I’d ever consider trading up to.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Ultimately, the Clubman got its new turbo, the BMW got returned, and I got my Mini back.

And on that drive back from the far north, smiling ear to ear as my Mini thrummed happily down 183, I got something else back, too – my love of Minis.

What began as an intensely negative experience ultimately turned out a positive one, and convinced me once and for all that my next car will be another Mini. Now the question remains – which kind of Mini? The more spacious, more family-friendly Countryman, another Clubman (if they survive once the Countryman lands), or maybe a balls-out John Cooper Works Coupe (kids be damned…if I need to take them anywhere, that’s what Jamie’s car is for!)…

A guy can dream...

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