Increasing Reliability and Safety of your MINI Cooper

If you are thinking seriously about extensive touring, perhaps on less-than-smooth backroads, or you’re going to be doing much track time, sooner or later you will probably find yourself hitting a bump in a road, or taking an unintended off-track excursion. To insure that you don’t do any serious damage, you may want to think about protecting mechanical components under the car that are vulnerable to damage from uneven road surfaces. This protection will be even more important if you have lowered the car by installing high-performance springs and shocks.

You’ll also want to think about protecting the single most valuable component in the car on the course or road. That’s your head, of course. In this chapter we’ll give you some tips on buying a good helmet to protect your noggin.

Protecting the Soft Underbelly of your MINI

In the days when Paddy Hopkirk was racing the original Minis on long-distance European road rallies, one of the first modifications that was made by the factory was the addition of a sump guard—sometimes called a skid plate—under the car. The sump guard, as you might expect from its name, was primarily intended to protect the oil sump, the lowest portion of the engine, from being damaged. Such protection was critical, since the original Minis had their transmission under the engine, in the sump, with lubrication coming from the engine oil.

Even though new MINIs don’t have their transmissions under the engine, if you were to run over a large rock in the road, or some other obstruction when sliding off the road, it is just as important to protect the underside of the engine, including the oil pan, wiring, and fluid pipes. Stock MINIs do have a plastic sump guard, but those are largely designed to deflect stones thrown up by the wheels, rather than providing heavy-duty protection against large obstructions.

At least one supplier makes a solid steel sump protector that replaces the stock plastic guard. The design is also improved, extending further under the engine than the stock plastic piece. This piece essentially acts like the skid plate on a rally car, protecting the underside of the engine and transmission from damage, if you run over a rock or debris in the road, or a high-center section on a bad backroad.
In particular, the steel sump protector the power steering cooling fan which, on pre-2004 cars, is exposed under the car. On these early models, any kind of obstruction that gets into the fan can stop it, which will blow a fuse that protects the fan’s circuitry from overheating. However, when the fuse blows, it effectively shuts down the power steering, leaving the driver to wrestle the car back under control with only manual control.

We should note that the 2004 models and later have been modified so that the cooling fan circuit is separate from the power steering circuit, so you won’t lose the steering assist should the fan be damaged. In addition, a plastic guard was added to protect the power steering fan, which is certainly better than nothing.
The steel skid plate sump protector sells for approximately $120 and is straightforward to install, though it does require that the car be jacked up or placed on a lift to provide access to the underside of the engine.
Should you decide not to install the sump guard, it is still a good idea to protect the fan on any of these models. To do this, a drilled stainless steel guard has been developed by aftermarket suppliers that can be attached on earlier models to protect the fan, or used to replace the plastic guard on later models. The power steering fan shield sells for less then $50 and is very easy to install.