Technician’s Update : The Mini with attitude!

More mobile spannering tales in this popular new section.

Mike Humble shares a tale of how customers sometimes always come back, even if deep down you don’t want them to!

‘Boing’ went the Mini driver…

The classic Mini 1000 Love 'em or hate 'em - Everyone should try one

A tale of one City

For those readers who have never worked in the public sector or with the general public, you just don’t know how cushy you’ve had it. Over the years I have sold cars, repaired cars, repaired bus engines, driven buses and even done a stint shop keeping – albeit in High Street motor parts, you never cease to be amazed with your fellow man or woman.

Myself and fellow Rover man Steven Ward once stood in a field in Birmingham of all places, sharing stories about some of the buffoons, half wits and downright useless people we have dealt with over the years, while Keith Adams looked on silently in horror taking it all in. Most of your transactions go without incident, but a small percentage can be trying or just plain difficult and it’s these who remain ingrained on your memory.

I recall taking a phone call one evening from a lady with a Mini City who was looking for a price to service her little car and get it back on the road. With anything older I make a point of viewing the car in the metal to see what I am taking on, and to risk assess the situation as nobody wants to get saddled with a dog of a job which will be a nightmare to complete or erode your profit margins.

The following day, I rang the bell of a nice little property on the south side of town and was greeted at the door by a stern looking middle aged woman. After getting nowhere with a touch of Swiss charm and small talk, it was down to business and I was marched to the adjacent garage whereby she removed a stunning – and I do mean stunning G-plate Henley blue Mini City E with a staggering 9000 miles on the clock – in 2005!

Your typical modern day motor is a doddle to service, a 1.4 Rover 25 for example; requires nothing more than a strap wrench and a 15mm spanner to do a basic engine service. Older tackle like Metros or Minis require a plethora of items including feeler blades, grease guns and screwdrivers – more hassle maybe, but I so enjoy a good classic engine to work on. After asking what she required on the Mini, the lady barked at me that her husband had recently left her for a younger model (this explained her ice cold frostiness) left her this Mini and was looking to be independent. Now, to say she came over as bitter and twisted may be a touch harsh, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of her tongue had I accidentally split her drink in a pub – you get the idea?

The Mini was rarely used and her husband had made sure it was MoT’d etc but now it was her responsibility, she required it be fully serviced and fit for purpose. A phone call was made to price up some materials and a date was set for the work to be carried out, no tea and biscuits offered, I was simply ushered away. Fast forward a few days and I arrived at the property armed with a box full of bits on the dot of 9.30 and as I opened the gate, she was at the door waiting for me. Before I could utter a hearty good morning she quipped ‘I have decided not to bother” bloody great I thought, and she went on to say that she was going to do it herself. Obviously I was nonplussed at this, but at least I managed to lift a tenner from her by means of a handling charge for the parts I had bought.

Of course, I was on first name terms with the guys & gals at the local Unipart branch, and they gladly took the parts back but ten pounds hardly compensates for the loss of half a days work. About a week or so later there was a missed call on my mobile from you know who – Mrs Attitude. It takes a lot of guts to admit you are wrong and even more for her to ring me back and request my services once again, and regardless what I may have thought about her, work is money, so once again I hopped into my little black van and hurtled off to her middle class residence. The splendid Mini was sat on the drive which by now was spattered with oil drips; she greeted me this time with considerable civility and demonstrated the new party trick her gleaming car now performed. Have any readers watched the brilliant John Candy film Uncle Buck?

Never grazed your knuckles or hit your head on the bonnet catch on a Mini? - You just 'aint lived!

The poor little thing belched out more smoke than a Mississippi paddle cruiser, plumes of thick light blue coloured clouds of a nature even most breaker yard owners would not have seen engulfed most of the DL3 postcode, and straight away I had inkling what was wrong. Removing the dipstick and giving it a wipe confirmed the theory; the oil level was at the top, not at the top level but the top of the dipstick.

I whipped off the oil cap and the valve gear looked like it was under water, so I asked her just how much oil had she put into the car. Well, it transpired that she had successfully drained out the old oil into a bowl, changed the filter but subsequently added around 13 litres of oil – trust me I am not joking on this and she pointed to three bottles of Duckhams Hypergrade along with a Haynes manual beside them.

I asked her if she driven the car any distance, to which she said no, and I calmly asked her if she would like me to put things right. The lady said yes and spotting a tear welling up in her eye, I asked for a mug of tea – giving her chance to have a moment in solace to compose herself. After popping to a nearby hardware store for two buckets, all the oil was drained out again and a gallon was strained through an old tea towel and put back into the 998cc engine.

Obviously there was a chance every oil seal had blown, but upon burbling into life, the Mini seemed quite happy and after a few minutes running the blue haze faded away. I serviced the rest of the car the next Saturday, whereby she told me she kicked the backside of a work colleague for advising her that the oil level should be at the top of the dipstick!

Mike Humble


  1. Old mechanics joke;

    “Lady (it’s usually a lady), walks into a garage and buys a litre of oil to top up her car. A few minutes later she comes back in and buys a 5 litre bottle, then comes back a few minutes later and buys another 5 litres. At this point the storeman asks “what are you doing with it all?”. She replies “i’ve been topping my engine up, but the oil still isn’t up to the top” (of the filler neck)

  2. In 1965 I was working in reception in a garage in Old Brompton Road when a Lady (yes, another one) walked in complaining that the heater would not switch off.
    I booked the car in but the workshop could find no fault. I explained this when she picked the car up in the evening and she went off promising to ‘test’ it. She returned the following morning complaining that it was no better, so I booked the car in again, and tested the car myself and found no fault.
    I explained again in the evening, and she really did get angry and demanded that I drive the car with her in it and she would jolly well prove the heater was faulty. I climbed in and she slammed the door on me, only just missing my fingers on the roof.
    While we were out, I turned the heater off, by pulling the heater control out. She disputed this and pushed it back in, thus turning the heater on. I explained that the heater is off when it is pulled out, and the heater is on when the control is pushed in.
    She told me her old Mini did not suffer that problem, and she hadn’t got time to read the driver’s manual. Her old Mini had the circular heater with the knob in the centre, this was the then current heater with the lever in the centre.
    She has this terrible row with me while I managed to keep cool (how did I manage that?), and when we returned to the garage she thanked me profusely and wished me ‘God bless’.

  3. I remember in the early ’80’s when my dad had advised my mum to top up the radiator of her 1968 Wolseley Hornet as the bypass hose was leaking. She rang him at work in a bit of a fluster “I’ve put the whole of your big red watering can in and it’s still not at the top” Yep you guessed it she put it in the wrong hole and poor Wolseley had a sump full of water!

  4. Uncle Buck brings back more memories of my mates old blue Maestro at Uni. If we happened to have the window open in the house this guy would stroll in (with the Maestro running on merrily outside) and do the archetypal Uncle Buck conductor trick. The only slight letdown was that it wouldnt do the ‘naval salute’ backfire thing.
    Anyone have any ideas why it was allegic to stopping when the ignition was turned off?

  5. one of the main reasons for a petrol engine not to stop on removal of the key is that the engine is so hot it doesnt need the spark plug to ignite the fuel.

    I have a good friend in the trade who has had this oil thing happen twice in the last few years. The worst one was a woman who had emptied half of Halfords into her Ford Puma because the oil light had come on but it wouldnt go off, then it went bang. When my mate looked at it she had brimmed it to the filler cap! it had well and truely killed it

  6. Hehe! Love these stories. Yes, an engine ‘running on’ is caused by hot spots in the combustion chambers. Usually these are baked-on carbon deposits from over-rich running glowing red hot. Either the carburettor had be smacked waaaaay out of adjustment, or your friend didn’t know what the choke knob did, but thought it would be better pulled out anyway! The usual cure was to lean the carb out and take it on a motorway in second gear to blast the deposits away!

    I remember hearing stories about ‘very careful lady owners’ using choke knobs as handbag handles. Brilliant!

  7. Of course there was the story of the blonde who called in to a garage because her car was running rough. She left it with the mechanic and on her return asks , how much do I owe and what was wrong ??? The mechanic replies ‘No charge just crap in the carburettor’.The blonde looks a little bewildered and asks ‘ How often do I need to do this ??? ‘

  8. Even my Mum had heard of the choke knob story, & the effects of doing it, ie. sooting up the plugs.

    My brother had the opposite problem when driving my Mum’s Metro, he kept putting the choke in too early & it would stall very easily.

    This when he was having driving lessons in a diesel Fiesta, so it’s understandable.

  9. Need not repeat my anecdote about draining the gearbox and putting another 4.5l oil into a 406 hdi 🙂

  10. My 76 Camaro ate its radiator once when it fell back into the fan at speed – the temp rocketed and when I got it home and turned off, it just kept on running.

    Had to stall it very hard to cut it out – it managed to fire back to life on the first attempt.

    Clearly no spark needed at really high temperatures – it just keeps the suck-bang-blow going…

  11. I know a clueless idiot who once brimmed his Renner S**tnic diesel to the brim with oil, then tried to start it. He then wondered why when the AA man turned up, drained half a Kuwait oil field from the sump, and diagnosed a trashed engine. I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard. Talk about a dipstic! £1500 worth of repairs later, I still don’t think he learned. It blew up a second engine about 6 months later.

  12. A mate of mine a few years back had a 1985ish Ford Bronco which was blowing smoke from under the bonnet and had been for almost a year, it ran okay…ish but you really needed a canary onboard with you of you drove in traffic.

    So like a good mate I said I would have a look and fix it if I could… So the bonnet up I saw nothing but oil caked on the block, it was literally pouring from the valve covers when running. So off down the jetwasher with a can of degreaser to get the worst of the gunk off and, with the engine hot and running the job was done in a few minutes. Then she stalled.

    Ah well I thought a touch of WD40 and my oil rag and all will be well but no, she wouldn’t restart for love nor money.


    So sheeplishly I pushed the thing to the parking area behind and walked home.

    The next day fully prepared with tools etc I arrived early and as one does thought ‘I should try it’ just once to make sure it still didn’t start.

    As luck would have it one click and the V8 burbled to life, the quick drive home with a blue haze following my every turn I stripped the valve covers, put new gaskets on, changes the plugs, air filter, oil & filter etc and finally cleaned off the slight oil glazing the lump and took the car for a quick spin.

    I was a differnt beast, it ran wery nicely and you could run the aircon without chocking to death (first time in a year).

    A bucket of soapy and 10 minutes with a rag brought the car up lovley.

    My mate turned up and was amazed, I listed what I had done and he then asked about the antifreeze/coolant. He proceed to whip off the (now cool) radiator cap and top it off with maybe a half cup of water. Down came the bonnet and off he went.

    about an hour later I got the call.

    He said “Whats all the white smoke mate?”
    “eh?” I said
    “looks like a destroyer laying smoke… I drove it for about 10 minutes before it stopped” he added

    After I got him to pop the bonnet he found a missing rad cap… and two warped heads.

    He got $750 from the breakers.

  13. Oo err missus

    Wasn’t quite sure where you were heading with this one Mike in the second paragraph…….

  14. I had a very similat experience with a girl I worked with & briefly saw ‘out of hours’ as it were. She was a princess type who couldn’t be told anything. She was driving a Ford Capri (the Australian version with a 1600cc Mazsa engine) that was slowly dying from neglect. And more oil was something she was told it needed, but she wouldn’t listen to the person advising her.

    Yes, she filled the engine to the top of the oil filler cap, very proud of herself. But then the view out the back turned into a sea of black smoke…

    A complete engine rebuild later, she seemed to mellow & seemed much more willing for pepole to finish telling her how to complete a given task!

  15. i think even the dealers get it wrong- a friend of mine collected his Golf TDI after a injector recall,the technician pushed it outside awaiting a glow plug and put the rocker cover in the boot,next thing my mate gets a call to collect car,he gets home (just) and surprise surprise!anyway,the dealer footed the £4.5k bill!

  16. My first car was a 1967 Mini 850. I only kept it for 11 months but spent money doing the paintwork up, adding wheeltrims and new numberplates. In the end, I had to sell it as the brakes were about to need intensive attention. It was a tidy car though and I’ll always remember it (especially when it would conk out or not start in heavy rain!!)

  17. When I was selling Alfa Romeos from Charles Ivey in East Sheen a West Indian man strolled in and demanded a test drive in an Alfa Zagato SZ we had in the showroom which we’d ordered for Simon Le Bon(of Duran Duran fame. He was an absolute t— by the way, but that’s another story)Anyway, on telling the man this he started shouting at me and getting extremely excited, “I know itz coz I is black” and so forth, and thereupon began prodding me with his finger in my chest and saying if I didn’t let him drive it, he’ll be back wiv his crew to teach me respect, and “fire” me and the place. Fortuneatly, I am quite a big chap, and being a rugby fly-half up the road at Roslyn Park,not easily intimidated. So I lowered his hood, took his finger and whilst bending it backward,rather painfully,politely told him if he didn’t lower his voice and leave immediately, id “fire” him and all his crew together in his BMW. By now the DP, Charles Ivey, wondered out to see what all the fuss was about. Being a 6.2 Tasmanian motor sport heroe,was also not taking any of this, and gave the hoody a smack and told him to clear off. Luckily when he returned with his crew an hour later, they took a good look and drove on. Not a nice experience in the least. But not as bad as dealing with Simon Lebon!

  18. Ah running on, my Astra did that occasionally, I just used to stall it when parking up. The kids driving today don’t know they’re born – even a mid 90s “first car clunker” will have at least single point injection and will most likely start every day, and have no choke to mess about with.

    As for servicing mistakes, well I once did an oil change and forgot to change the filter – I went off and did something else while it ws draining and simply forgot I hadn’t done the filter. Not the end of the world though really.

  19. I’ve seen a 300TDi Discovery come in to the hire place my dad worked at. The American bloke (yes he was male) had picked it up from Heathrow and drove it to newcastle. He complained bitterly that the fuel consumption was catastrophic and it wouldn’t go over 45mph. My father asked if anything else was wrong with it. He nodded and said it jerks all over the place everytime he puts it in drive. You may have guessed what is going on by now. ”Drive? What do you mean, drive? its a manual. You have to change gear yourself”. After letting it cool down for a few hours we went to move it only it wouldn’t turn over. Pulling apart the engine revealed a few heat related faults and pistons welded to the cylinders!

  20. Your not the only one BobM

    As a 1st year apprentice, I was working alongside a qualified tech. We were servicing an Escort diesel and I drained the oil and refitted the bung (with a new washer of course) and I had to go back to the stores for something I cant remember – it was `88.

    Anyway, I came back to find the car lowered to the floor but with the ramp legs still under the car. After throwing in a gallon of Motorcraft, I started the engine and waited for the oil light to extinguish… and waited… and waited. So I gave the car some right foot – I then felt a nagging pain in my right ear and the fitter (Tony Barnett) turned the engine off.

    The oil filter was still in its box on the bench, and off I went for some sawdust and a broom – you only do that the once!

  21. That Discovery story, surely it would’ve stalled all over the place with the driver not using the clutch?

  22. I’ve heard at least one other story about someone used to automatics driving in 1st gear for miles.

    The opposite is almost as bad, driving an automatic & attempting to press a missing cluch pedal, touching the brake instead to do a emergency stop.

  23. “Had to stall it very hard to cut it out – it managed to fire back to life on the first attempt.”

    Couple of ways to stop a car that’s running on;

    *Yank the Servo hose off so it vents the inlet manifold.
    *Clamp the fuel hose with something.

  24. When I started bus driving my left hand was forever diving down to the floor for the handbreak lever. For those unfamiliar with the layout of a bus drivers cab, the parking break is a small lever usually located on your right…

  25. Try driving a Citroen/Peugeot/Fiat van, they have the handbrake lever on the right hand side of the seat.

  26. I remember servicing my mates 1.1 Fiesta and forgetting to clip the throttle cable back into the clip in the plastic air filter housing. The result was the throttle cable was resting on the exhaust manifold and subsquently the cable welded itself to the manifold when it got hot. I was only 18 when I did that – we all have to learn by making mistakes dont we?

  27. Mate of my brother bought a ‘wrecked’ BMW off an island lad. Was told it wouldn’t start. No wonder – oil up to the filler cap. Totally locked up. Drained oil to normal, and started first time – he turned a nice profit on that one 😉

  28. @19 Similar to the stories of people driving Land Rovers in low range and puzzling why there’s so much noise and it won’t go faster than 50…

    I came across a queue of traffic on Solihull site once caused by a ferry driver who didn’t realise that the 110 he was in wouldn’t move because the transfer box was in neutral.

    Running on has been banished to history by electronic fuel injection, as long as the injectors don’t leak too much.

  29. guide to home servicing using a Haynes Manual.

    1. Buy Haynes Manual
    2. Buy relevant service parts
    4. Follow instructions carefully and use common sense.


  30. I admit to being a crap mechanic, but on both occasions that I’ve tried to save money by performing an oil/filter change myself, and despite having two different filter wrenches and a ‘boa’ tool, I’ve always ended up having to hammer a screwdriver through it- then knocking the bucket of oil over when the damn thing suddenly gives!

    Any other job I’ve attempted has always cost me more than the garage would have charged because I’ve ended up needing to buy tools that I hadn’t expected- so even changing the glowplugs on a Fiesta diesel ends up being a nightmare.

    And Haynes rarely seem to do a manual for whatever variant of vehicle I’d be trying to work on…

  31. i once was working in a garage and a chap walked in and asked me to look at his car, whats wrong i asked, he replied the 710 is missing from the top of the engine, 710 i repeated, yes he said the 710 so i pop the bonnet and have a look and see the oil cap is missing obviously it was put on upside down i just told him i would get one for him and left him none the wiser

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