Sister Betty's Search and Site Map Page
Go to Sister Betty's Home PageSpecial Features from Sister BettySister Betty's EventsShop Sister Betty's StoreSister Betty's JournalSister Betty's Photo GalleriesTesla
Buy this Photograph
Publication Permissions
Sister Betty's Photo Galleries
Sister Betty's Videos and Short Films


What a difference a dealer makes.

In a single day, I confirmed nearly all the difficulties I’ve experienced with my MINI Cooper had less to do with my car and more to do with the dealer.  After attempting for a year to get MINI of San Francisco to fix my car, and following the advice of MINI’s corporate headquarters, I went across the bay to East Bay MINI.  They fixed what ailed my tiny car, changed the oil, replaced the air filter, washed the car and returned it to me for a total charge of $20.  I love my little car.  I loathe MINI of San Francisco.  They are a shoddy, arrogant and incapable dealership which might better be shuttered and used for homeless housing. 

The information below was written before I went to East Bay MINI.  Some of the issues remain true, especially those with the tires.  Most of the engine and trim related issues were fixed by changing dealerships:

Having owned a MINI Cooper for six months, here is my opinion:  This car is nothing but a giant pain in the ass.  It's cute, yes.  It's fun to drive, yes.  But, it is plagued with problems and spends a significant amount of time in the shop.  MINI failed to adequately train dealers in the United States, resulting in exceptionally poor customer service, parts shortages and inept repairs.  Rent a MINI Cooper.  Test drive a MINI Cooper.  Do not buy a MINI Cooper. 

Update:  Seven (7) certified letters to MINI and MINI of San Francisco finally achieved some movement.  MINI USA (in New Jersey) sent someone to San Francisco in an attempt to straighten out the dealership.  It didn't work.  MINI USA then made arrangements for another dealer to handle the car and a loaner for me.  I'm not completely satisfied, but at least someone is working on the car.  MINI USA advised me to avoid MINI of San Francisco.  I'd recommend you do the same.

By the way, I've received quite a bit of email from people who have the same problem I do with the run-flat tires.  Despite what MINI says, run flat tires can be repaired!  If your MINI dealer refuses the repair, you can likely have the fix done at a local tire repair shop.  HOWEVER...the run flat tire issue is being used by MINI to increase profits.  Write to MINI and complain.  MINI dealers can fix these tires (they did so once at my insistence) and there is no reason for them not to do so. 

The Good Stuff about MINI Coopers
(Nothing on this list can begin to compensate for the myriad of problems summarized on the list to the right.)
  • Damn, this car is fun to drive (when it runs*)
  • Stereo automatically increases volume to compensate for road noise
  • Lots and lots of head and leg room in the front seats.  At 6'7", I fit perfectly.
  • Everybody loves the dashboard
  • Just about the coolest looking car on the road
  • Gas mileage
  • Park it anywhere
  • Starts conversations with British and Aussie ex-pats, some of the most interesting people in the world.
  • Allows one to feel superior while passing gas-guzzling, boring and poorly designed SUVs. With a car this small and efficient, you'd think we'd be allowed in the car pool lane with just one person.
  • Six air bags. 
The Bad Stuff about MINI Coopers
  • Percentage of time in the first nine months of ownership the MINI has not been operable:  29.6%
  • Using a non-MINI approved cell phone (MINI provides no lists of such approved phones) or electronic device in the car voids the warranty.
  • Run-flat tires are not repairable.  Damaged tires must be replaced at ~$400 each.*
  • Just how many rattles and vibrations can a $20,000+ automobile have?  Let's see - the one on the driver's side, the two in the back, the one on the passenger side, the one in the passenger seat, and the one we can't quite put our finger on - that makes six.
  • Extremely loud electro-hydraulic steering pump whine.  Pedestrians run away in fear.
  • Car stalls at lights when electrical devices are operating.  Stalls at speed on freeway when operating the air conditioning or multiple electrical devices (lights/radio/fan)
  • In-dash CD player won't accept CD-R discs
  • Parts are still hard to come by in the United States
  • Excessive braking distance
  • Cup holders are too small and too close to controls to be useful
  • Service?  Did someone say service?  MINI Dealers are poorly trained, have no parts available and generally give information which contradicts the information you get from the MINI corporate offices.
  • Need to contact the MINI corporate office to resolve an issue with the local dealer?  Better start with a certified letter - it will be the only thing that gets their attention.
  • If the ignition key were any larger, you'd need a briefcase to carry it.
  • Everyone thinks it's a BMW.  No, it's a MINI.


    *After MINI told me the run-flat tires were not repairable and had to be replaced, at a cost of $400 each, I called Goodyear.  I discovered these tires can indeed be repaired at a cost of around $50 for a simple puncture - however MINI continues to "recommend" that they only be replaced.

29 April 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

The something exciting happened today.  I finally bought my Mini.
Click for larger image.
I fell in love with Mini Coopers years ago.  Produced in Britain in the late 1950s as a remedy to a fuel shortage, Coopers were tiny and inexpensive.  They were available for a short time in the United States, but in 1968 highway safety standards limited them to foreign shores.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a Mini, in any case it was love at first site.  I wanted one.  As they haven’t been imported in nearly thirty years, so the originals are collectors items and expensive.

BMW bought Mini, and just last month started importing them to the United States.  I thought they would be too expensive for me to afford.  I was (pleasingly) wrong.

Very few people have seen a Mini, and a great many people have never heard of the car.  Today was fun – people slowed down to take a look, they crowded around it when I left it parked, someone saw me getting out of it and came up and introduced himself.  (“You’re cute,” he said.  I wasn’t certain if he was talking to the car or me.)  I don’t have a garage, so it’s parked on the street.  As I walked to my apartment, I could see people stop and peer through the windows.  I have to admit, I love being the first person to have a new gadget.

I was having so much fun today I was laughing as I drove.  I never understood people who are car enthusiasts until today.  I’ve had cars I like.  This is the first time I’ve bought a car and considered calling in sick for a week while I took a drive down the coast. 

Oh, and the motor home is out of the picture and the website will soon reflect the change. Road Trip 2003 is now being conducted in a Mini.  Goodbye onboard bathroom, hello Motel 6.

For Becky and Wendy, here is a picture of the Mini with the office dogs...
Click for larger image.
Yes, I have taken leave of my senses.  I may not return.

15 May 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I just finished updating the most recent road trip, this one to the Sierra Railroad in the Central Valley.  You can see the entire piece here.

3 June 2002 (Link to this entry) (Comment)

Email program dies tonight without explanation.  Two and one half hours later, nearly recovered minus recent messages.  New DL Projector dies on Friday after just 12 hours of use.  MINI is getting a new driver's side door after dealer's detailing department damages it.  Inadvertently disconnect power to answering machine, causing messages to be erased before writing down potentially important telephone number.  Not so attractive cold sore.  Four hour power outage.  Unwisely schedule laser surgery for the same day as Bingo.

Nicely recovered after a half pound hamburger, fries, cola and ice cream with a neighbor.

05 July 2002 - (Link to this entry) (Comment)

I was privileged to spend yesterday with Monty, Daryl and John sailing on San Francisco Bay.  Monty grew up on Cape Cod and sails his 40-foot boat with a deft and daring hand.  Daryl, a landlubber by trade, does an admirable job as first mate.  In the evening, we grilled steaks off the stern and watched the fireworks from both Sausalito and San Francisco.  It’s been a long time since I was out on the ocean and the day made me long to go back to sea.  Maybe my next home should be a boat...
Click for larger image
[Note:  rant approaching]

Today I spent fighting with MINI of San Francisco, which is winning no points for customer service.  Two weeks after I bought the MINI, I took it in for some minor adjustments.  While in the care of MINI, they slammed the driver’s side door into a concrete post, denting and damaging the door.  They agreed to replace the door, a task scheduled to take five days.  Three weeks later I still don’t have my MINI back, now it has a flat tire, too.  MINI tires have to be shipped from very far away; making it unlikely I’ll have the car anytime soon.   I’ve been able to drive this expensive toy four out of the eight weeks I’ve owned it. 

Despite the incredibly poor service and chronic lack of parts, I love this little car.  I however, would not cry if a meteor smashed the dealership to bits.  MINI of San Francisco (also known as BMW of San Francisco) has the worst customer service of any dealership I have ever worked with.  I’d say they are even worse than Chevrolet, which is a distinction not easily made.

[Rant complete]

From time to time, events happen in my life that would make for great fiction.  I’m always slightly dubious about using real life events to create fictional stories.  Somehow it seems sleazy.  What do you think?  Let me know.

18 July 2002 - (Link to this entry) (Comment)

You may have guessed that there is another reason I haven’t written in several days.

He finds things like this statuette as ridiculous and as funny as I do.  We laughed about this for hours.
Click for larger image
I told him he had to go home tonight so I could write.  We ended up having sushi and ice cream.  Now it’s really late and I haven’t the time to write anything worth reading. 

If you are vaguely interested, some minor updates/rants:

The MINI Cooper is back.  Four and one half weeks after it went into the shop it returned.  I noticed an annoying rattle somewhere on the passenger side, but I’m afraid to take it to the dealer lest I lose my car for another month.  Three things I learned about MINIs:  First, new MINI tires cost $400 each and cannot be repaired.  You have to buy a new tire if you get a flat and it takes up to six weeks to get said tire.  Second, if you use a non-MINI approved mobile phone or electronic accessory in the car, it voids your warranty (as documented by a little sticker on the windshield).   Third, neither the local dealer, nor MINI’s U.S. headquarters really know anything about the cars.  To resolve a problem or find out what really needs to be done to fix your car, plan on calling to the United Kingdom.  I love this car, but unless you have a sizeable amount of disposable income, I’d recommend you wait until MINI works out the considerable kinks in its customer service and parts system. 

On the new technology front, I have a mobile telephone now (which I can’t use in the MINI Cooper – see above) with an integrated Palm Pilot.  Too many client meetings juggling the Palm Pilot, the mobile telephone and the MINI keys (which are too big to fit in one’s pockets) pushed me to make the switch.  I used the wireless Palm browser to surf the web today and make car reservations.  It works pretty well; I’m impressed.  Maybe Samsung can loan some designers to MINI.

I head north to Seattle for business on Saturday.  I hope to see some old Navy friends I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, look at ships and railroads, and finish the existential psychology textbook I’m reading.  And perhaps I’ll finish the photo essay I’ve been promising for two months. 

12 September 2002 - (Link to this entry) (Comment)

The MINI has a flat tire.  If I owned any other car, this wouldn’t be such a problem.  But I own a MINI, which makes it an expensive problem which is not easily solved. 
Click for larger image
The MINI Cooper has turned out to be an expensive piece of re-engineered nostalgia.  I loved this car when I first purchased it and I still enjoy driving it on days when it is operational.  Given the opportunity, I’d consider trading it for a new Honda or Toyota if they had sufficient headroom.

I thought about taking a MINI on the road trip next year.  I’ve let go of that idea.  If obtaining parts and service represents a serious obstacle when the dealer is just two miles away, what will it be like when I’m stranded in North Dakota?  Anyway, The likelihood that the MINI Cooper would be operational for 30 consecutive days is so low that getting to North Dakota is probably not something I have consider.

On the upside, since I was stranded at home today, I got to work while sitting in my comfortable recliner with the cats lounging about the room.  I rarely mention them, but I love these little beasts. 

My last note for the day:  Enough already with the World Trade Center videos.  Replaying these videos ad nauseam does nothing for the survivors or the rubber necking public who get a thrill from seeing them.  As an Australian acquaintance of mine says:  “The problem with the American media is that it fails to know the difference between what is in the public interest and what the public is interested in.”

12 September 2002 - Continued from earlier

I thought the MINI Cooper would simply need a tire repaired.  While writing up the service ticket, I learned it is subject to a recall.  The linkage between the gear shift and the transmission can fail, leaving the car stuck in gear or neutral.  Had I not had a flat tire which required me to go to the dealer, I wouldn’t have known of the recall.

I mentioned to the dealer that I had another small problem with the car that might require some attention.  The MINI stalls when idling at a light with the air conditioner running.  Apparently this is a slightly larger problem that requires the onboard computer be removed, sent to New Jersey, and reprogrammed.  Bottom line:  for this repair the MINI will be in the shop for several weeks.

Percentage of time I’ve owned the MINI Cooper during which it has been inoperable:  29.6%

Percentage of time during the five years I owned a Chevrolet Metro in which it was inoperable:  0.3%

BMW and MINI, I must say, I am not impressed.

21 May 2003 - (Link to this entry) (Comment)

What a difference a dealer makes.
Click for larger image
In a single day, I confirmed nearly all the difficulties I’ve experienced with my MINI Cooper had less to do with my car and more to do with the dealer.  After attempting for a year to get MINI of San Francisco to fix my car, and following the advice of MINI’s corporate headquarters, I went across the bay to East Bay MINI.  They fixed what ailed my tiny car, changed the oil, replaced the air filter, washed the car and returned it to me for a total charge of $20.  I love my little car.  I loathe MINI of San Francisco.  They are a shoddy, arrogant and incapable dealership which might better be shuttered and used for homeless housing. 

I shall rant no longer about MINI of San Francisco.  Take my advice – buy and maintain your car elsewhere.  (This same advice was offered by MINI’s corporate headquarters…)

On the upside, the MINI is now ready for Road Trip 2003.  Aside from a few last minute supplies, I am too.  Have you signed up for the daily Road Trip 2003 updates?  Have you pledged to the Change for Change Campaign?  Do you want a Road Trip 2003 t-shirt?

I did something completely different today:  I walked up to someone on MUNI I thought was cute and had his name and telephone number by the time I reached my stop.  I even had a pretty firm commitment for a dinner date this weekend. 
24 September 2003 - (Link to this entry) (Comment)
Click for larger image
Bill (creator of sent me this photograph of the not yet available MINI Cooper four wheel drive prototype in front of my new garage.  Who needs a riding mower when you can add a snow plow and mowing attachment to your British motorcar?


Sister Betty Navigation
Copyright - All Rights Reserved Road Tripping with Sister Betty Railroad Graffiti Trains with Sister Betty Stairways of San Francisco Radiationworks Site Map for Other Nifty Websites RSS/XML Feed