2 December 2002 - 1 February 2003

This is my story of taking delivery of my new car and doing a 600-mile road trip to bring it home. Some personal background may be necessary because I am sure that it has affected my judgment regarding my Cooper. I have not owned a car since June 1996 and have only driven a car 3 times since then (that was to get my license renewed after letting it expire). I began researching cars in July 2001, signed up on a MINI dealers (Niello) waiting list in November 2001, the dealer dishonored the list in March 2002 and I then finally ordered from MINI of Murray at the end of September 2002 and took delivery, January 3, 2003.

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This is Cousin MINI on the showroom floor when I arrived to pick her up. Two pictures just outside the showroom.

I subscribe to a modified "break it in like you drive it" method of car break in. That is to say I like to drive it where I normally will drive and drive it as I would normally drive but not to exceed the break in limits. I therefore selected to drive it home, Reno, from Salt Lake City via "The Loneliest Highway in America", this is US 50 stretching east-west across Nevada and included a mountain pass about every 50 miles or less. To get there I took UT 68 South to US 6 then West until 6 & 50 become one road in Delta, UT. I practiced starting with the manual transmission for a few minutes in the residential area behind the dealership (last used a manual about 20 years ago) before starting out of town. I had to drive through about 10 miles of suburbs with a little stop and go before getting into the countryside and some rolling/twisting road. I made it a practice about once an hour to stop the car, restart and go through all the gears in a normal (for me) starting sequence; this again my concession to the break in process.

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leftpic One of my stops was at the Shoe Tree near Middlegate, NV on "The Loneliest Highway in America". I had to get a picture of arriving at 'home' with my new car and pictures of the driver and passenger compartments.

I had never test driven a MINI prior to getting in my own and driving it off the lot but it felt very comfortable and "normal". The only crowding/cramping that I felt was in the foot well and this was not a problem only a feeling since all my other cars have had much more room. The steering is responsive and is not as forgiving as most cars that I have owned; you must pay attention to what the car is doing and drive it, the steering wheel doesn't just move around - when it moves the car moves! It was after about an hour that I finally discovered something else that was different to me; I couldn't see any of the car in front of the windshield. I realized that all other cars that I have owned I would use the front fenders as aiming/sighting devices when going into road curves. It took a little time for me to discover what I was missing but I then also realized what the car and I were doing without my normal sighting device. The car and I the driver were operating more like my bicycle and me the rider; the car went where I looked in the same way that my bicycle does. A very interesting observation (for me) and a new driving experience.

I usually obey speed limits and did so on this road trip. However, when I reached the first short mountain pass in Utah on US 50 the speed limit was 65 with 8 miles of curvy road indicated ahead and a car coming up fast behind me. As we entered the curvy section the other driver was anticipating a pass and I decided to press the curve speed limit a little bit; if it indicated 45 or more I stayed at 65 if it was less that 45 I stayed 20 mph over. By the 1/2 way point the car behind me had disappeared and I am now hooked. The car tracks through a curve like it is on rails! I drove this route once before in a 1990 Toyota Celica and can remember trying such "curve speed limit enhancement" driving and remember that it felt skittish as hell at even lesser speeds.

Cousin MINI (I had her named before taking delivery; she is named Cousin MINI after Minnie Pearl who started everyone of her acts with the audience greeting "HOWDEEEEE, I'm just so proud to be here". That is the way I now feel with Cousin MINI where ever I happen to be!) cruised easily at 3000RPM and 65MPH in 5th. I even did two of the summits west of Ely in 4th to press her RPMs up a bit and she maintained 60-65MPH at just under or over 4000RPM; another concession to break in. I have the OBC and was trying to understand how it works on the drive back also so I don't have a total trip picture of average speed or mpg but some of the mpg numbers that I was seeing were not far off from the first fill ups manually computed 39.2mpg. I don't know how full "full" was when I got it but I called it full at the auto shut off plus about 1/10 gal. For a tight engine and my driving style on this break in trip I was amazed! With her cruise control, the "right" roads and a loosened up engine I'm convinced that I can get 50mpg out of Cousin MINI if I just treat her nice.

The bad news. Well it's not even news, it has been discussed, discussed and discussed on MINI Forums but I still had no IDEA. The amount of break dust on Cousin MINI's wheels is disgusting after 600 miles!

I continued to break in Cousin MINI's engine the following Sunday, January 12th, by doing a 250 mile loop from Reno to Quincy, CA then to Susanville, CA and back to Reno. The California Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) web site indicated that snow chains were required for part of the section between Quincy to Lake Amador however there had not been any new snow in the Sierra for over 48 hours and I thought it would be open. My guess proved to be correct but I did get into rain at Lake Amador and it continued until about 10 miles south of Susanville. It was a good test of the car for leaks; passed with no problems! However, I had discovered before this drive that the front windscreen washers do not work although the rear one does. It turned out that the rear washer is needed most! The rear of the car gets very dirty very quickly because of the shape of the car and the extreme corner placement of the rear wheels. I kept the RPMs below the 4500 limit but that was not really a restriction. I was able to drive the mountain roads at the speed limit and stay below that limit. Per the On Board Computer I also got about 36mpg for the drive; which considering the roads I thought to be very good.

I then finished the break in with a city/highway drive from Reno to Genoa, NV then Minden, NV and return on the 18th. When I got back to Reno I filled up with gas for the 3rd time and did a manual computation of mpg. I got 36.9mpg for the break in period, about 85% highway and 15% city driving. I am VERY pleased with that but the short city trips do take their toll on mpg. The OBC (On Board Computer) will be registering only around 16 for trips back and forth to work and short errand driving.

I am also starting to customize Cousin MINI with some after market items. As soon as I got her home from Utah I ordered some seat covers, floor mats and a "stubby" antenna. I had the rear 3rd break light, which is a red LED and red lens as stock, changed to a clear lens at the dealer before I took delivery. I have received and installed the "stubby" (4' in length) antenna, replacing the stock one that was about 18" long. The long one made the car look like a "big" radio control toy car. Received the seat covers about 3 weeks after ordering them but had trouble getting them installed. Contacted the dealer and their e-mail explanation left my as confused as before; which I told them in an e-mail reply. They then called me to say that because of my e-mail describing my problems they were putting up a "How To" with pictures on their web site.

The car also came with a large Air Bag Warning sticker affixed to the dash and two small ones on the sun visors. The Sales Manager, my salesperson, removed the large one while we were going over the features/operation of the car at the dealership. I wanted to remove the ones on the visors and was reading various peoples comment on web site Forums. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that they couldn't be removed and it was best to just get them covered. I thought I would give denatured alcohol a try and found that I could "wash" them off with a moistened paper towel. My Forum postings about how to do this have been viewed about 1,000 times but only 4-5 have posted that they have tried the denatured alcohol and it has worked for them also. So it seems that only a few of us have Clean Visors!

leftpic rightpic A shot showing the clear lens on the 3rd break light (it looks much better with the white roof), the 'stubby' antenna and my personalized plates. A look at my 'clean' visors and the dash as seen from the rear hatch.

I also want to buy some different wheels and use them for "summer" wheels and put snow tires on the stock white wheels for the 5 winter months, November through April. The car came with 175/65-15 Continental tires; which is a very uncommon size here in the USA. I thought that I would go with that same size snow tire since Continental showed them available on their web site. They also listed Tires Plus and Sears as dealers here in Reno. After 3 trips to Tires Plus, one to Sears and three e-mails to Continental I finally got an e-mail back that said the 175/65-15 has been discontinued. So now I'm looking at other brands in a 185/65-15 size. I won't buy them until October but the way things are going it will take me that long to find where I can get them. Wider sizes are very common but to stay narrow is a problem. All the experts recommend a narrow snow tire but the public mindset is "wider is better" so the manufactures provide wide snow tires.

Loving the freedom of a car once again! In addition, Cousin MINI is not just transportation, but is also a whole lot of fun! I'll have more stories soon I'm sure.

The work situation has not changed. I'm still at Baldini's as a temp however my boss has said that they want to hire me as a regular employee and that may happen in February. The company has been in turmoil since the beginning of the year and I'm the last thing on his mind at the moment. One of the partners (the one that served as the CEO) quit right after the first of the year. This was also the partner that was the nephew of my contact at Accountemps. That is part of the reason that I'm here; Baldini's wouldn't use Accountemps for temp employees until my contact convinced her nephew it was a good idea to use them. Then the last week of January the Slot Director was fired/replaced by the former Slot Director that had been here since Baldini's started. The former owner has sold out to the four, now three, partners but he still has a lot of influence because his daughters are 2 of the partners and he is doing all the capital financing of the property. An interesting arrangement to say the least! My co-worker said that he wanted the former Slot Director back and that is what is happening.