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Is Buying a Used Mini Cooper a Good Idea?

The Mini Cooper is a fun and quirky car that drives like an oversized go-kart. They’re easily customizable and can be pretty quick with some modifications. Best of all, you can currently find a used Cooper or Cooper S for relatively cheap almost anywhere nationwide. The only problem is that they are known for having reliability issues, so is it really a good idea to buy a used Mini Cooper?

Three generations of the Mini Cooper

In case you’re considering buying a used Mini Cooper, you should know that there have been three generations since its initial U.S. debut in 2002. Fortunately, the little two-door Mini Cooper has gotten better, and a little bigger, over the past 18 years. Here is a breakdown of each generation:

  • First-generation (2002-2006): If you opt for one of the earliest productions years, then you’ll be able to find either a regular Cooper model with a 115-hp, 1.6-liter engine under the hood or, if you want more power, then there is also a Cooper S model that made 168 hp with the aid of a supercharger. If you’re lucky, then you might find one with a John Cooper Works package that increases the power output to 200.
  • Second generation (2007-2013): The Mini Cooper received some aesthetic updates for its second-generation along with some revisions under the hood. The base Cooper now makes 118 hp and the Cooper S pumps out 172 thanks to the aid of a turbocharger. There is also a John Cooper Works model that pushes out 189 hp.
  • Third generation (2014-up): The third generation is the most current one for the Mini Cooper and it’s the largest iteration of the model. The base Cooper is now powered by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that puts out 134 hp while the Cooper S is powered by a larger turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 189 hp. For more power, opt for a John Cooper Works model that puts out 228 hp.
A red 2019 Mini Cooper S waits at an intersection
2019 Mini Cooper S | Mini

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What about those reliability issues?

Reliability issues can pop up for just about any car, however, there are some common issues that Mini Coopers tend to have. For example, Carcomplaints.com lists the 2005 Mini Cooper as the worst year to buy and lists “transmission issues” as being the main culprit. Looking deeper into the complaints reveals that owners have had issues with their car’s automatic transmissions on both the regular Cooper and Cooper S models of that vintage.

The folks over at Axle Addict echoed the transmission issues saying that the “first-generation vehicles were notorious for having an automatic transmission that would routinely fail,” and went on to state that BMW offered an extended 8-year/150,000-mile warranty specifically for the transmission. They also listed a few other common Mini Cooper issues:

  • Clutch failure: Even the manual transmission had its own issues via a failing clutch on the first and second-gen models.
  • Water pump and thermostat housing leak: This is a common issue on the first and second-gen models as well because the housing is made of plastic and can break down easily.
  • Radiator support issues: Just like the thermostat housing, the radiator support is made of plastic and can break easily from hitting a low curb or parking block.
  • Power steering issues: The electric power steering system used in the Mini Cooper is known for failing due to low power steering fluid or a malfunctioning cooling fan, so much so that BMW even had a recall for it.
Two team members in team uniform push a blue Mini Cooper through a parking lot.
Jamaica Bobsleigh team members Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott push a Mini Cooper | REUTERS/Paul Childs

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Is it worth it to buy a used Mini Cooper?

Now that you’re familiar with the different Mini Cooper generations and the most common issues they have, buying one really depends on the particular price point that you’re trying to achieve. Sure, you can find a first or second-generation Cooper, or even a Cooper S, for around $5,000 to $6,000, but you’ll need to keep in mind that the parts and labor can be expensive for anything that can go wrong. It’s basically a BMW, after all.

However, if you want to opt for one of the newer models, then you’ll likely have some extra luck since it will be in better condition and still be under warranty. However, you’ll pay more initially. Either way, the Mini Cooper is a great car, just choose wisely and, as always, get a pre-purchase inspection done.