Tech Talk – Mini Cooper Timing Chains 101

This is one of our AMC “Tech Talks”, which are designed to share technical information about common service problems with our customers. They are by nature long, and somewhat technical in nature (that’s why we call them tech talks) and unless you’re one of those folks who reads the owners manual from start to finish before pressing the START button, chances are you may find this boring. If so, skip ahead to the next post, we try to be entertaining here. If you want to find how your auto really works, then pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s talk autos!

Start Here
You likely saw the post down the page on the latest Mini Cooper we’ve diagnosed with a timing chain failure. So let’s talk about why this happens, and perhaps as important at the repair, what can be done to prevent this from reoccurring.

We Really Do Love Minis
First, let me start off by sharing that we really LOVE Minis, ask any of our customers, we are very passionate about these cars, they are fun to drive, quite safe, and generally very reliable. Every car has it’s “Achilles Heel” and the later Coopers have a big one in the form of timing chain failures.

Good News
The good news is that, with proper care and service, even if your Mini has suffered a timing chain failure, it can live again…but you need to get it into the hands of someone who knows this problem inside and out, a us. Then, once the repair is done, you need to follow a slightly different maintenance schedule to prevent it from occurring again.

The Problem
First, Mini doesn’t really acknowledge this is a problem, they’ll hem and haw about the matter, but not acknowledge it as a pattern failure, not cool. Suffice to say if you are driving at R56 Cooper, with the N12 or N14 engine, its a matter of time, rather than if, you’ll have a timing chain problem…if you follow the standard Mini oil change interval. See most of these cars are on the Mini service plan, and only having the oil changed every 15,000 miles.

Why This Happens
We don’t think that 15,000 mile intervals are a good idea for any car, much less a smaller and higher stressed engine like a Mini Cooper. The N12 and N14 engine consume oil, any engine does this, and since they hold just over 4 quarts of oil, it is highly unlikely that the car will make it to the 15,000 change interval with all the oil intact.

Go Check Your Mini
Chances are you’re going to be low on oil in the 7,000-7,500 mile range…we know, almost every Mini that comes in for service is checked and found to be low on oil, go check yours now, and see how much oil is left. Low oil, and dirty oil…yes, oil gets dirty after 5,000-7,500 miles, accelerates timing chain wear, which leads to a very expensive repair, or at times, even engine replacement.

Death Rattle
We’ve seen a surprising number of Coopers, come in with a knocking noise in the engine, this has been dubbed the “Death Rattle”. Should you hear this noise on your car, DO NOT IGNORE it, we have a car in the workshop today in which the timing chain has failed, damaging the engine. Mini has released a service kit addressing this problem, the key thing to correct it BEFORE failure.

Sounds – Cold and Warm
This noise is especially pronounced when the engine is cold, sounding almost like a diesel engine with a rapping or knocking noise between 1500 and 2000 PRM. When the car warms up, the noise will abate to a degree, but in advanced cases still be present even with a warm engine. We’ve had this occur on cars with as little as 12K on the odometer, so this is not a high mileage problem.

Prevention Is Easy
The best thing you can do to PREVENT this problem in the first place is to change your engine oil and filter every 7,500 miles, not the Mini norm of 15,000 miles, always use a high quality synthetic engine oil and factory filter.

For cars which are in warranty, we can work with Mini to confirm coverage for this fault, for cars outside of new car warranty, we have the ability to correct this for once and all. Mini has released a service kit addressing this problem, the key thing to correct it BEFORE failure. If you have this problem, call us right away, before failure. Rest assured that we have the tools and experience to put the fun back in your Mini!

We’re Here To Help
This is not a problem to left to a general repair shop, there is a very special…and expensive…set of tools required, and one needs the knowledge, experience, and training to do it right, the first time. That’s what we do here, we’ve done countless Mini timing chain tensioner, and timing chain updates, and we know exactly how to do it right, the first time, every time. Questions, just call us (207) 882-9969, peace of mind, that’s what we do!