The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

A Not So Mini Adventure

It felt strange opening the car door and seeing it exactly as I'd left it over 3 weeks ago.

"Would you like a box?" asked Sean, the head mechanic.

"That would be useful, thank you."

From a phone charger cable and sunglasses, to a puzzle book in the glove box and floor mats, I began removing everything that was still mine.

"Would you like to see the damage?" Sean lifted the bonnet. The cylinder head had been removed and there were streaks of rust starting to form in the remains. It looked dead. I felt like I was staring at a mechanical equivalent of road kill. "You can see the water got in, and once that happened... well, that was the end of it."

"I still find it hard to believe driving through a puddle has written off my car..."

OK, so it was a bit more than a puddle. A stretch of flooded road caused by heavy rain and melting snow was between us and the small town we were heading to for a fish supper.

It was the first evening in an extremely rare 4 nights away alone, without any kids, grandkids or business tasks. Maggie had found us a wonderful top floor flat in a converted mill a few miles from Bamburgh on the Northumbrian Coast.

On the way, we'd called in at a small local supermarket, thinking we might get a pizza for dinner, but they were mostly sold out, and the remaining frozen things looked so pathetic we decided we'd find a chip shop instead, once we'd unpacked and had a cup of tea.

It was starting to get dark and I'd already taken a couple of wrong turns along the twisting winding back roads. Eventually I swallowed my pride and used Google Maps sat-nav on my phone to find our way to Seahouses.

Pools of water across the road were common and then we reached a stretch that was the longest we'd seen so far.

The saying is, "Experience is something you gain immediately after, you needed it the most."

I genuinely thought it would be OK. Just take it slow and easy and it would be fine. But about 4 feet before we reached the other side, the car stalled and wouldn't restart.

At this point I was cursing the fact Maggie and I had to get out of the car into the cold, mid-shin deep water and push the car the rest of the way out. Soggy, cold feet, but it didn't occur to me it would be any worse than that.

Out of the floodwater and I tried to start the car again. It wasn't interested.

Maybe if I left it a few minutes and tried again.

It didn't want to know. I wasn't sure if I could smell something burning or melting, and suddenly up on the dashboard appeared "Call Mini Care!"

I bought the Mini One 16 months ago, brand new. My Mazda 3 had served us well for 12 years and 150,000 miles, but the rust was so bad and replacement bits were needed so frequently that it was time for a change. I knew it wasn't worth hanging on to when I'd asked a mechanic how much he thought the car might be worth and he started laughing.

Back when I'd bought the Mazda, I'd been eyeing up the new Minis. They'd only been out about 2 years, and although they were larger and not that similar to the original iconic car from the '60s & '70s, they did look really cool and funky.

I wanted one.

I really wanted one.

But the fact it only had 2 seats in the back, virtually no boot space, and we still had a young family meant it could not be justified.

This time round, we only had one teenager left living with us and the amount of time we would ever need anything bigger would be negligible.

They were more expensive than other small cars in the same class, and the sensible choice would probably have been something like a Ford Fiesta Eco-Boost. But I really wanted the Mini and eventually talked Maggie into it.

Maggie is not a driver and doesn't really see cars as anything other than a utility vehicle for getting from A to B. Getting excited about different looks, engines and handling is, for her, in the same category as train spotting, or getting excited by the colour of the bus you're catching into town.

In the end she agreed to my bargaining, pleading and grovelling, not out of any real understanding, but to please me, or perhaps just to stop having to put up with me moping around the house...

It was the most basic, entry-level version I could get. A 1.2L engine, no alloy wheels, no built-in sat-nav, and no fancy coloured LED lights on the dashboard. But these things were unimportant.

I had a Mini.

The only photo I can find of my Mini

For the next 16 months, I loved driving my Mini. Every time I went out in it, it felt good. This was the first ever car I'd ever bought that didn't feel like a compromise.

And now it was sitting on the side of a cold, wet, back road in the middle of nowhere, while I was making phone calls with only 1 bar of signal, to Mini Care, the breakdown truck and the car hire firm they were organising.

Within an hour and a half, the breakdown truck driver was waiting for us outside a small local supermarket while we popped in to buy a couple of pathetic looking frozen pizzas, before he dropped us back at our holiday flat and took the Mini to the nearest Approved Mini Garage, 40 miles south.

The next few days were dominated by phone calls. The hire car didn't arrive until the following evening and we were only to have it for 2 days. When the garage eventually got round to looking at the car, they said they suspected the engine had water in it, but would need to take the engine apart to check it properly, so I would now need to contact my insurance company. Our "holiday" was coming to an end and we didn't have our car to drive home, but the insurance company sorted a new hire car for us.

Unfortunately, it took over a week before the insurance engineer got out to see the car and agree the engine would have to be taken apart. A few days later the garage said the whole engine would need to be replaced, but it then took another 2 weeks before the engineer went back out to the garage to agree the engine was screwed, but instead of authorising a replacement, he decided to write the car off and give me a cheque for "market value", which is about £3,000 less than I paid for it.

And this is the rotten bit about buying a car from new – it loses the lion's share of its value in the first year. Now, if I was keeping the car for 10 years, this wouldn't particularly matter, as buying new means it will last longer before it reaches the stage where bits are constantly wearing out, falling off and needing replacement – and that had been my now scuppered plan.

However, the insurance company do have an option for finding a like-for-like replacement vehicle, which they farm out to the car dealers, Arnold Clark. Instead of paying me, they pay the car dealer once they have found a car the same age and mileage as my original one.

This is proving to be far more difficult than I'd ever imagined.

As well as Arnold Clark, who have a nationwide business with hundreds of thousands of used cars on their books, I'm also in touch with Mini and their nationwide network of tens of thousands of approved used cars, but neither seem to be able to find an equivalent of my one.

The problems appear to be:
a) Most Minis are Mini Coopers, not Mine Ones
b) Most Mini Ones have 1.5L engines not 1.2L
c) Most Mini One 1.2L cars have a whole bunch of extras on them, like alloy wheels, sat-nav and fancy coloured LED lights on the dashboard, making them more expensive
d) Nearly everyone who has bought a Mini One 1.2L, without any fancy extras, in the last 18 months, still has hold of it. Most cars tend to be 2 or 3 years old by the time owners start thinking about trading them in.

So even if my car was officially worth that amount, there don't appear to be any equivalents on the market for me to replace it with.

And in less than a week, the car hire from the insurance company runs out.



savannah said...

YIKES! I totally understand the frustration about your car. We're temporarily without a car as ours needs a new transmission! The debate here is fix it or trade it. The transmission needs fixing whatever we choose. I hope you get it all sorted soon! Good Luck! xoxo

Pat said...

Such rotten luck Kim - and on holiday too. I think the makers should be ashamed that the Mini one can't survive getting its feet wet. In our climate?
I hope it didn't totally spoil your break.xox

Ponita in Real Life said...

Wow. What a string of bad luck! I hope you can find something soon.

My sister had a Mini Cooper and really didn't drive it a lot other than to work. She had no end of engine issues with it and the dealer ended up telling her she didn't drive it enough! She made them end the lease. I hope the Mini One doesn't have issues like that.

Kim Ayres said...

Savannah - you have my sympathies. Over the last 2 years of my Mazda, every time something had to be replaced, I kept thinking it was probably costing more than the cash value of the car. However, it felt worth more to me as a car, than the amount it was financially worth. I wasn't sure I could buy another car for that money that would give me something as good. At least I knew it had had only one careful owner :)

Pat - unfortunately it completely spoiled our break as I was unable to relax and was constantly fretting about what was going to happen next. When we got home I felt even more desperate for a break. Still do.

Ponita - other than not being able to swim, the car had been a dream to drive and I'd had no mechanical issues with it at all. I'm looking for another Mini to replace it. I haven't been put off the make of car

daisyfae said...

Ouch! i suppose that will teach you to take holidays!

Seriously, this is a rotten bit of luck. i have dealt with many crashed cars through the years, and even when married, i was the primary person dealing with the buying/selling/insurance processing of our vehicles. It is disruptive and despite being good citizens, paying our premiums for good insurance coverage, it seemed we never came out quite even when something went wrong - which is WHY we had insurance.

might you have a go at talking the insurance company into replacing that engine?

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

In between all the car tragedy, I was thinking, "Look at men, they do the same things no matter where they are."

You, wearing Maggie down so you can buy the Mini haha...then this: "Eventually I swallowed my pride and used Google Maps."


Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - I did appeal the decision and it was put through to another engineer, but they came to the same conclusion about writing the car off, and the amount they were prepared to pay. Eventually I managed to find a replacement of a similar age and mileage, but it took a 750 mile round trip to collect it.

Neena - and yet, if I hadn't used Google Maps, I probably wouldn't have ended up going down that road and drowning my Mini. So what was the right decision? :)

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