A sudden cutout of power steering has been an issue for Mini owners, eventually prompting a recall. However, that doesn’t include everyone who is having problems.
Driving a car without power steering is possible, it’s just not safe.
Turning the steering wheel without power steering assist requires you to muster enough muscle to move the tires under the full weight of your car. Sure, the Cooper is one of the smaller cars on the road but with a curb weight just over 2,800lbs1 I’m guessing you probably don’t mind a little assistance.
Power steering failure is really dangerous when it cuts out without warning. That’s what is happening to Mini owners as they’re driving and that sudden loss of power steering assist has led to numerous crashes.
Mini’s Electro-Hydraulic Power Steering Problems
Hydraulic power steering systems are widespread but somewhat inefficient. Electronic power steering systems are picking up steam, but are criticized for making owners feel “numb” to the road.
So Mini went a different direction with their electro-hydraulic power steering.
The design uses a classic hydraulic power steering system that is propelled by an electric motor instead of the more conventional engine-driven belt. By eliminating the belt, Mini hoped to free up engine efficiency and horsepower.
Like most first-generation products, however, this one had some kinks to work out and BMW admitted it.
BMW claims they added a modification in January 2005 that virtually eliminated the problem2
Placement of the pump might be its fatal flaw
The pump is located below one of the hottest parts of your car, the exhaust manifold. And heat buildup is widely believed to be the reason these pumps are failing early and often.
Mini engineers did place an auxiliary fan underneath the pump to try and bring in cooler air, but its location leaves it prone to being damaged.
The pump itself can get hot, and combine that with the exhaust manifold heat and a fan that may or may not still be working, and the heat buildup can be intense.
And like all electric systems, this thing doesn’t like heat. As the pump overheats, it burns out, seizes up, and says goodbye, cruel (hot) world.
Your steering will not lockup when the pump fails, but you’ll suddenly find it very difficult to steer your car particularly at lower speeds.
A Four Year Battle Results in a Recall
In May of 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into growing concerns about power steering problems in Mini vehicles.
With the investigation pending, BMW tried to elbow in some goodwill by extending the power steering warranty on certain vehicle to 13 years / 150,000 miles.
Warranty extension review
A year after the warranty extension was offered, BMW and NHTSA jointly reviewed warranty claims and customer complaints related to their power steering. Something must have felt off to NHTSA who officially suggested that BMW should order a recall instead of simply offering an extended warranty.
Recall ordered in October of 2015
While maintaining their stance that the problem wasn’t safety-related, BMW reluctantly announced a electro-hydraulic power steering recall for 86,000 Coopers in October 2015.
The recalled cars include the 2002-2005 MINI Cooper and Cooper S and the 2005 MINI Cooper and Cooper S Convertible. MINI says the cars can have problems with a temporary or permanent loss of the electro-hydraulic power steering assistance.
Cost of Repairs
While the recall was helpful, it doesn’t cover everyone who has experienced problems with the power steering pump. Power steering failure is a common complaint for Mini vehicles between 2002 and 2011.
And that can be financially devastating since the average price for a pump replacement can cost $800.