New Exhaust Header and Wrap for R53 MINI

Toward the end of my last track session for 2018 I noticed a significant change in exhaust tone. I thought the larger second position OEM cat had finally failed, but it turns out it was the first smaller cat ahead of it. If you see a break like this, you should also check your motor mounts. Chances are one or more of your mounts is broken or weak, causing excessive movement of the engine. This additional rocking of the engine finds the weakest point in the exhaust and causes either the flex joint or this joint to fail.

This turns out to also be the most common cause of emissions test failures for this car. The joint fails causing a leak and then the second O2 sensor throws a code. If you’re looking at a used car to buy, check out the area circled in red below:

It can be repaired, but if you’re going to go to the trouble to pull off the manifold to weld it, you might want to consider buying a new one so you don’t have to repair it again in a couple of years when something else breaks. The stock part number is 18407566102 and it costs about $1100 to replace with OEM parts. Alternatively, you could go with an aftermarket OE style manifold which costs about half.

A third possibility is to go with a performance header and supply your own cat if you want to keep it road legal. That’s the route we’re trying. We got a Megan Racing Header along with a MagnaFlow 49-state catalytic converter and had it fabricated to match the cat-delete pipe.


MINI placed the electric power steering pump and steering rack very close to the header. If the pump ever over-heats it turns itself off. If this happens on the track (which it has to me) it can be very unsettling as the steering instantly becomes VERY heavy. So before installing the header, I decided to wrap it with DEI header wrap. This video shows how to do it.

Learning vinyl wrap

One thing I really don’t like on the E90 3 Series cars is the “soft touch” plastic coating used on the interior plastic bits. It should have been called “don’t touch” for how easily it is damaged.

I wanted to fix the steering wheel trim which looked like this:

So I ordered some 3M vinyl wrap and went to the junk yard to get something for practice. I found a good candidate from a 2006 325i.

It was in much worse shape than ours. Perfect. I took off the thumb switches and ran it under hot water to remove the rest of the coating. After much rubbing, it looked like this:

Once dry, I placed it on a piece of vinyl and started to stretch and shape it before wrapping the edges and heating it with the heat gun.

The vinyl film is fairly forgiving and as long as you don’t catch a sharp corner, you can really stretch and manipulate it for a good fit. This type of film is applied dry and the adhesive isn’t activated until pressure is applied.

I was really happy with the results so I went ahead and pulled the piece on our car. Start by carefully removing the airbag. I used a Torx 20 screw driver to release the springs on both sides. And set the airbag out of the way. (Don’t unplug it unless you’ve disconnected the battery for at least 15 minutes.)

The panel can now be removed by first removing the three T-20 screws from the back of the steering wheel, and then the two T-20 screws holding the thumb switches in place.

If you have the sport steering wheel, you also need to remove the silver trim by removing four more T-20 screws and carefully undoing the catches. I then used the water method to remove the coating.

Vinyl was applied the same way, only this one was much quicker having done it before. Then the trim was reattached. Installation is the reverse of removal.

It looks great and there’s no more peeling paint by the thumb switches. (And yes, it was raining when I took the picture so the spots you see are rain drops….)

The vinyl wrap was $16 on Amazon for a 1×5 foot roll. The test trim piece was $4 at Crazy Rays. I had wrap left over so i covered an old trim piece that goes around the shift selector too.

So what did I learn? If the soft touch paint is peeling, it will probabably wash off—you don’t need to sand or use solvents to get it off. If you plan ahead and keep things clean, vinyl is pretty easy to work with. I can see how an extra set of hands would help with larger pieces. Heat can be your friend, but don’t over stretch.

Scratch Removal

Taking advantage of the unusually warm weather over the holidays to take on some of the paint defects on the X5. This post shows how to tackle a deep scratch and bad touch-up paint job.

When we got the 2013 X5 in 2017, the dealer had attempted to hide a deep scratch with a thick coat of touch-up paint. We used Blob Eliminator to safely remove the touch-up paint first, then compounded and polished the hood to see what we had to work with. A good tip when trying to figure out whether a scratch is just through the clear-coat or goes into the paint layer, is to spray some water and see if the scratch disappears. If it does, then it’s in the clear-coat. These scratches appear to just be in the clear-coat.


Since we’re using this hood for our long-term Bead Maker test, I wanted to see if I could completely eliminate the scratch before sealing the paint. This video shows that process.

MINI R53 Lower Engine Mount Replacement DIY

Your MINI motor mounts will fail. It’s a matter of “when” not “if.” The stock rubber bushings age and harden over time especially if you track your car. The stock bushings were designed to reduce vibration not for performance.

We already replaced the top motor mount on this car, but ended up sticking with the stock mount since we were still daily driving the car at the time and the racing mount was just too harsh for the daily commute. Now that this is a dedicated track car, we’re going to replace the bushings with racing mounts as they wear out.  The first one to go is the lower mount.

When it comes to replacing the stock mount you have a couple of options. You could just go with OEM which runs about $140 for the mount. Go aftermarket for $40-$60. And then just add a polyurethane insert for about $33. We decided to try the semi-solid mount from Torque Solution. Made of billet aluminum and 70 Durometer polyurethane. It should significantly reduce engine movement without transmitting too much engine vibration to the chassis. Installation is very simple and should take less than 30 minutes.

Safely jack the front of your car high enough that you can get a wrench on the mounting bolts. You don’t necessarily have to jack the engine, but we wanted to make sure there wasn’t any pressure on the mount when we unbolted the bracket from the engine.

First remove the center bolt of the large bushing with a 16mm socket, and then remove the other 16 mm bolt that runs through the bracket on the small end. Remove the four 13 mm bolts that hold the bracket to the oil pan.

Installation is the reverse of removal. Tighten the four 13 mm bolts to the oil pan and torque to 28 lb-ft. Hand tighten the two 16 mm bolts and lower the engine if you jacked it for removal before torquing to 78 lb-ft. 

(not so) paintless dent repair

A few years ago, a strong wind blew the telephone line off of our house and into the MINI. Parked six inches to the right it would have missed.  Six inches to the left and it would have broken the rear window. I suppose I should have been happy it just dented the fender. The dent was in a place that made it a poor candidate for pointless dent repair, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Ultimately I fell back on the wiz – scratch wizard that is. Here’s the journey:

The dent wasn’t huge, but I noticed it each time I opened the hatch. The hook didn’t crack the paint, but it did crack the clear-coat, which will become an issue shortly.

I started by buying a cheap set of PDR tools on Amazon.  First tool to try is the external dent puller. This tool pulls the dent from the surface using small glue tips that pull and release.  

After several pulls, you can start to see the dent getting smaller. That is, until it just pulls off the clear-coat that was damaged by the falling hook. I was getting the dent to move, but crossed the line  into “not-so-paintless” dent repair. I chipped away additional failing clear-coat and pulled a few more times.

I was making progress, but since I was now pulling on the base coat, I thought it best to shift to the inside and try pushing with other PDR tools in the bag.

I made pretty good progress pushing from the inside and hammering from the outside. I probably would have kept up with this approach if the clear-coat wasn’t missing.  Another hour and it would be almost undetectable, but since I was going to have to use some filler to try to level the clear, I just switched over to the Scratch Wizard body filler. 

After a little bit of filler…

and a little bit of primer…

It was ready for paint.

And clear-coat.  All together, there were 5 coats of primer; 4 coats of paint; and 3 coats  of clear-coat that I tried to feather into the rear quarter panel.  I need to level the paint after it hardens a bit and then seal. Total repair cost: $125. I’m pretty happy with it. Now on to the hatch lid where the clear-coat is failing in large chunks.

I’ve been thinking about covering the hatch lid in vinyl then removing it. If it works like the test area above, it will come off in sheets.