Retro at SEMA

SEMA Show 2016

retro-1It’s been about a month since the SEMA show in Las Vegas which started just after Halloween this year. With the US election and Thanksgiving holiday in the rearview mirror, this seemed like a good time to reflect on the state of the aftermarket industry. For those not familiar with it, SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Market Association, an industry trade association for the automotive aftermarket industry. In the US, this is nearly a $40b industry and over 165,000 participants descend on Las Vegas annually to attend the fourth largest trade show in the world. We go every couple of years to take the pulse of the industry and meet with almost all our suppliers in one place. And to see the cars.

State of the Market: SEMA estimates the US automotive aftermarket to be $39.2b in 2016. The market has shown steady growth for six years straight, different-1growing at a rate of 8% last year. This is the first year the total has exceeded pre-recession levels. The Racing segment is one of the smallest niche at about $1.57b, which is a little smaller than Off-Road ($1.82b) and about the same size as Restoration ($1.53) and Street Rod & Custom ($1.47b). The fundamental shift in the market has been in the Accessory and Appearance Product Segment which was about half of the market before the recession. It peaked at about $24b in 2007 and has just now returned to 2001 levels at just under $15b in 2016. The change is especially true in the Light Truck segment, but has had an effect across all segments including Compact Performance (including most of the MINI aftermarket.)

different-4In 2007, new car/truck buyers were spending $1500 to $2000 accessorizing their new purchase. Last year it was about a third of that. There are a couple of trends at play here. One is the higher degree of customization available during the purchase process and the second is a change in buyer behavior. Buyers in most segments are more focused on utility than style. In the MINI new car market, this is reflected in more buyers purchasing cars off the lot with fewer optional features and fewer customers ordering on line. That results in dealerships needing to carry more cars in inventory and taking less risks when ordering cars. (Some call this the Camry effect which ultimately results in a used car market flooded with beige colored cars that no one wants.)

The good news for us is that we’ve shifted more into the Racing niche interesting-4segment over the past year. That niche is perhaps less dynamic, but also less cyclical. It consists of three product segments: Performance (48%); Wheels, Tires & Suspension (34%); and Accessory & Appearance (18%). The first two have had steady growth for 15 years. The last has grown steadily since floundering between 2007 and 2011.

MINI at SEMA: We were hoping we’d catch the new Countryman at SEMA, but MINI USA waited until the LA Auto Show to unveil it. They brought instead a JCW Clubman, Cooper Convertible, and Cooper S Hatchback. The most interesting thing about MINI was where it wasn’t, namely, anywhere else in the show. Once a favorite of the tuning crowd, the new, larger MINIs have gone mainstream. No longer is it seen as a platform to advertise other products.

mini-9 mini-4 mini-3 mini-1

The current generation of cars are quite capable. They outperform the earlier models in almost every dimension except one: fun. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad in MINI land. I especially liked the Union Jack convertible roof. The interiors are very nice – approaching Audi nice – but they are not enthusiast cars, they’re just cars. The funny thing about MINI’s current design language is that it doesn’t seem to work on the smaller cars. The taillights across the models are oddly proportioned, as if making them bigger would make the cars seem smaller. Compare the Clubman to the standard hatchback. The proportions of the larger Clubman seem to work better with the larger platform. The longer nose, the higher waistline, they all seem to work on the Clubman.

mini-7 mini-6 mini-5 mini-2

More than a Trade Show: SEMA’s roots go back to the Southern California Hot Rod scene 50 years ago and there was much of that still on display. Most people think of the street racing scene when they think about the show today, but there’s much more to see. I’ve selected some of my favorite photos and shared them below.

 retro-2 interesting-1 different-3 interesting-24

There are always some interesting racecars and quality builds at the show each year. The public may be fascinated with reality TV builders, but I’m more interested in unique cars and personalities. It was interesting to compare the Singer Design Porsches to Magnus Walker’s builds. The new NSX racecar is beautiful and the Turner M6 is much larger in person.

interesting-10 Singer interesting-8 Singer interesting-9 Singer interesting-11 Singer interesting-14 interesting-15 interesting-17 interesting-16 interesting-3 interesting-2interesting-19 Michael Shank Racing Team interesting-18 interesting-23 interesting-13 interesting-12 interesting-5 interesting-6 interesting-22 interesting-20 interesting-25

There were also plenty of unbalanced wings; incorrectly mounted splitters; and slammed “racecars” with zero suspension travel. Rust and Steam-Punk were major themes. Not so much for product offerings as much as displays to draw you in. I appreciate the patina on a non-restored classic, but now you can’t tell what’s real and what’s affected. I do appreciate an inappropriately large motor applied to just about anything though. Some of the builds made no sense to me. I’m not sure what they’re intended to convey: The art of the possible or just to get your attention. This could be from the maker of a wrap, to top-heavy lifted vehicles just waiting to be pushed over.

retro-11 retro-10 retro-9 retro-8 retro-7 retro-6 retro-5 retro-4 retro-3  different-12 different-11 different-10 different-9 different-8 different-7 different-6 different-5 different-1

I also thought Continental Tire had an interesting way of demonstrating the grip and wear performance of their tires. By giving drifting demonstration rides. Although from where I was standing, it looked as if some of the backseat passengers were trying to get out….

Adding OEM Fog Lights to R53 MINI

We recently posted a couple of DIY articles about foglights. One was about using the stock MINI fog light openings as brake duct openings, and the other was about adding Hella fog lights using the Alta Rally Light bar. In this post, we’ll fit a pair of stock MINI fog lights to the bumper of a car that didn’t come with them from the factory.  Like all of the other advice on this website, use at your own risk.  The processes described worked for us, your mileage may vary. No wagering. [If you would like to see how to add the OEM MINI driving lights that mount to the upper grille, check out this write-up from Pelican Parts.]
 Difficulty: 2-wrenches-150x30
Time Required: 2 Hours
Parts & Materials Needed:
  • OE style fog lights (get the Hella OE version which are less expensive than MINI) and hardware (see drawing).
  • A two light wiring kit with relay and a round switch (like this one or similar).
  • Two sockets for fog lights (61132360041)
  • Some shrink tubing and zipties (always zipties.)
  • Soldering iron and electrical spade connectors
  • Add-a-circuit and fuse.

Special Tools Needed:

  • Torx T-25 Socket
  • Wire crimping/stripping tool
  • Drill bit sized to match your switch.
Installation Instructions:
  1. Like any other electrical project, copy any stereo codes and disconnect the battery.
  2. Loosen the front lug bolts and put the car on jack stands (the front end at least).
  3. Remove the road-wheels.
  4. Remove the front bumper cover by removing the two Torx bolts on either side of the radiator, the two 8mm bolts within each wheel well, the three 10 mm bolts under the spoiler and the two screws that attach the bumper cover to the wheel well liner on the bottom.
  5. Twist out the corner marker lights and running lights. Unplug the front turn signals. Unplug the temperature sensor from the grille.
  6. The bumper cover is now free.
  7. Remove each of the fog light blanks.
  8. Working within each of the wheel wells, release the four forward screw rivets so you can get to the backside of the fog light mounts.
  9. Attach the fog lights to the support frame using the required hardware (see drawing).
  10. Starting at the grounding point inboard of each wheel well, route a ground wire back to the fog light. Secure the wire along the path from the fog light to the grounding point, and attach the wire to the grounding point.
  11. Cut the ground wire with enough slack that you can maneuver the light bulb holder in and out of the fog light.
  12. Attach the ground wire to one end of the fog light socket.
  13. Attach the relay and inline fuse to the cowl panel near the engine fuse box.
  14. Open the fuse box next to the ECU. Notice where the power lead from the battery attaches with in the rear under the 10mm nut. Attach the main power lead from the relay to this nut.
  15. Route the relay ground to the grounding point where you attached the left side fog light ground and secure the wire with zip ties.
  16. Route the fog light power leads to each light. Avoid pinching the wire or running it near anything that will run hot. If you cross potentially sharp edges, use some shrink tubing to add some reinforcement to the wire in that location. Secure the wire with zip ties to reduce movement.
  17. Once you are satisfied, cut the wire to length (leaving some slack to remove the light socket) and connect the wire to your fog light connector.
  18. Drill a small hole in the cowl near the relay and run the lead to the switch into the cowl cavity.
  19. Locate the large rubber grommet on the firewall next to the brake master cylinder. Use an awl or sharp screwdriver to punch a hole in the rubber.
  20. Attach the switch lead wire to a straightened coat hanger and it into the opening a few inches.
  21. Switch to inside of the vehicle and pull down on the knee bolster on either side of the steering column.  Pull down sharply, the panel will pivot down and then pull out.
  22. Locate where the coat hanger is coming through the grommet and start pulling the wire through.
  23. Run the wire along the backside of the knee bolster support frame all the way to the fuse panel and secure it in place with zip ties. Give yourself an extra 12 inches of wire or so, and cut it off.
  24. Look on the back side of the knee bolster and note the spot marked in the photo below to drill the hole for the switch and carefully drill the hole.
  25. On the firewall locate a 10m nut to use as a ground point. Run a ground wire from that point to the switch.
  26. Open the fuse panel and locate a 10amp fuse used for X. Use the add-a-fuse and run the wire to the switch.
  27. Connect the spade connectors to all three wires and attach to the switch (labeled “eject” because “fog” is boring).
  28. Replace the knee bolster by pressing it up and into place firmly.
  29. Reconnect the battery and then test your connections.
  30. Reconnect the battery, turn on the headlights, and test your new fog light switch.
  31. If everything is working, put the bumper cover back on and reconnect the wheel well liners and roadwheels.
  32. To aim your new fog lights (assuming your headlights are aimed correctly), park your car about 25 feet from a wall on level ground and measure the distance from the center of your fog lights to the ground.
  33. Transfer that height to the wall with masking tape and aim your fog lights so the center of the beam is 1.5 inches below your mark.  (See this reference article.)
  34. With the hood raised, you can look down past the turn signals and see the white adjuster screw from above.  You’ll need a fairly long screwdriver to reach it.

frontstructure foglightbreakout wiringkit img_3655grommetpowerdrillhere img_9554

seat height spring

MINI Front Seats Deconstructed

We break down a set of 2004 MINI front seats so you don’t have to. Besides wearing out the covers, the five most common failures, in no particular order are: Seat heaters stop working; tilt-slide doesn’t slide; seat height adjustment spring (gas pressurized spring 52107069970) fails; seat-back adjustment spring fails; and the seat cushion spring (52107129253) or seat back spring (52107053175) fails. The seat we deconstructed had four of five of these failures and we’ll show you what it looks like so you can decide if you want to take on the repair.

seatback springA broken seat-back adjustment spring requires a new frame so you’re better off just replacing the seat. The tilt-slide mechanism is built into the seat rail and not available as a separate part. Both of those failures are annoying, but do not affect the safety of the seat. The height adjustment is also just annoying, but it’s an easy repair. Seat cushion springs are an easy repair; seat back springs are a little harder. Seat heaters are also not available as individual parts. They require purchase of the entire cushion and cover.  In 2002-2004 cars the heaters were glued to the cover.  In 2005-2006 cars it is a separate mat and can be salvaged from another seat. The good news is that the connectors are the same.

First a word of caution: MINI seats have side bolster airbags. Any time you are working an airbag you want to take precautions so you don’t set it off.

  1. Disconnect the battery and wait 15 minutes to let the system discharge completely.  As long as you do not turn the ignition key with a set removed, you will not get an airbag light when you put everything back together again.
  2. Slide the seat forward and remove the two rear Torx bolts.
  3. Slide the seat back and remove the two front Torx bolts.
  4. Tilt the seat to the inside so you can unplug the connectors (set belt chime; seat belt pre-tensioner; airbag; heaters (if equipped); and passenger occupancy sensor (2005-2006 passenger seats.) The connectors are uniquely shaped and/or color-coded so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of which is which.
  5. Carefully lift the seat to remove it from the car. (It’s heavier than you think.)
  6. Before disassembly, raise the seat to full height before disassembly and inspect the under side of the seat. Can you see breaks in the springs? Are the two springs connected? Is the wire out of the tension reel broken (tilt slide return cable)? Was your Side viewset height adjustment spring failing? If your problem was seat springs or the adjustment spring, then you can make those repairs without further disassembly. Inspect the seat bottom springs.  The wires should be continuous and there should be a small connector in the middle connecting the two springs.  If your seat bottom was saggy, the springs may have been broken or that small connector missing.
  7. The seat we’re deconstructing already had the set belt buckle removed since it was moved to the replacement seat.  If you are just repairing the cushions or springs, you do not need to remove it.
  8. Remove the seat height adjustment lever by removing the cover and screws.
  9. Remove the levers by removing the cover and screws.
  10. Pull from frontSide cover backsideRemove the side trim by first removing the round plastic fastener in the rear, then pull straight forward from the front and straight out from the side.  There are two main catches you need to release. With the seat back in the normal up position, the trim slides up and away from the hinge. Repeat on the other side.
  11. Now you can see how the seat covering attaches. cushion catchThere are a couple of places where it is just pulled over a catch in the frame.  One the sides, there is a small plastic catch at is very brittle. Carefully free the plastic plug and that catch on each side. No move to the rear and carefully release the long plastic catch that is also very brittle. Pull the cover through to the front and start to pull the cushion off of the frame. With the tension relieved, release the curved catch on the front and the cushion and cover will lift off.
  12. To remove the seat sliders start in the back and work forward. There is increasingly less room for your ratchet as you move forward (that’s why we raised the seats before beginning.) tilt to get to back boltsOnce you get to the last bolt you may have to twist the rail to get the bolt into a position to remove.
  13. Seat backs are a little harder to take a part.  seat back coverSpend some time studying where the connectors are for the rear cover before you start prying them off. A combination of careful prying and pulling will release the back without breaking any of the elements.
  14. If you’re replacing the springs, no need to go any further. Inspect the spring continuity and that it’s connected to the frame at all of the appropriate locations. normal seat back spring broken seat back springThe photo on the left shows a good spring and the one on the right is broken in several places. This would feel like a failed lumbar support.
  15. With the back off, carefully release the airbag tether.
  16. Release the catches on either side and release the metal loop holding the top of the cover.
  17. pull overPull the cushion and cover up over the top of the seat. Carefully pull the cushion and cover off of the headrest guides. Remove the headrest guides by relieving pressure on either side and pulling up. Inspect the rear spring and look for breaks.
  18. If you’ve salvaged seat heaters from a 2005-2006 seat and want to install them, separate the cover from the cushion.  For early seats the two are glued together. For later seats (especially leather seats) you may have to cut and replace hog rings (see this post.)
  19. slide up to releaseIf you need to replace the seat height adjustment spring, remove the old spring by prying up on the catch on both ends and pull straight off. These are the same type of connectors as the hatch or hood.
  20. If you need to repair the net on the back of your seat, you might be able to drill it out, fix the net, and then secure it with screws, but you’re probably better off just buying a new seat back.  We tried it to figure out if it was possible (it is), but decided not worth doing (you’re welcome). img_3113drilled net support


The remaining photos show the bare frame and extra detail that may help you better understand the construction of the seat.


Seat frameseat frame rearheadrest supportseat back spring 2airbag tetherseat back springseat airbagtilt slide cableconnect springsslidersseatbackseatbottom

cable fix

MINI Parking Brake Cable Replacement

One day you will pull up on the ebrake handle, and one of two things will happen: 1. Nothing. or 2. It goes almost to vertical before it grabs.  If #1 happens, you’ve broken both cables. If #2 happens, you’ve only broken one side. In this post, we’ll walk you through the steps to repair one or both of them.  This is not a difficult repair job, but it can be time consuming.  You will need to get your car on a lift or jackstands, and you will have to remove the heat-shielding along the back half of the exhaust tunnel. You will need a deep 10mm socket with extension, a 10mm wrench, PB Blaster (or WD40), and a new cable. The cable part numbers are 34406777399 (right side) and 34406777400 for the left side (not interchangeable.) New cables run $30-$50 each.

inspect-caliperFirst determine how much of a problem do you have: one or both sides? Take a look at where the ebrake cable attaches to the rear brake caliper. (You may have to put the car on jackstands and take the wheels off to see.) If you see that the end is still attached, but the housing has slipped out of the holder — that gap indicates that the cable is broken. Check the other side before you order parts. In our example, just the right side cable had snapped.remove-bolt-from-bracket

Follow the cable housing back to the subframe and remove the bolt to free the bracket. Continue up along the exhaust pipe as it runs along the tunnel.  You will need to remove two screws on the exhaust end of the tunnel, and two nuts in the middle of the tunnel to free the rear heat shielding. Patience is pull-down-on-old-cablerequired here.  The screws may be easy, but the nuts may be corroded.  That’s where the PB Blaster comes in handy.  Once you’ve removed the heat shield, note the routing of the cable housing and remove it from the clips. Notice how the cable passes through the chassis into the seat-new-cablepassenger compartment.

Now switch up into the passenger compartment.  Pinch the ebrake boot and pull up on the frame to remove it from the center console.  You just need to pull it free of the console, don’t remove it entirely.  This just makes the console easier to maneuver.  Gently pry the four corners of the console to pop it off, pulling straight up.  This will expose the frame. remove-trayUnplug the wire leading to the handbrake handle and remove the four 10mm nuts. The frame will pull up and out of the way, exposing the junction of the cables.

The photo shows how the end of the cable has sheered off.  inspect-broken-cableNow take a look at your replacement cable. See the clip on the end?  Note how it retains the cable in position once installed. You have to relieve this clip to free the cable.  BMW makes a special tool to do just this, but you can use another deep socket instead (7/16 inch inspect-connectorin this case, but yours may differ).  Just place it over the end and press it over the housing to free the cable.  Once pressure is released, it will push free. Now pull the broken cable free from the underside of the car.

seat-new-cableInstallation is the revers of removal (I love saying that.) Set the cable through the chassis first. Thread the ball into the junction carrier. (You may have to create slack on the handle.  There is a 13mm threaded rod under the handle.  Back out the nut until there is enough slack to slip the ball into the carrier.)  Go back under the car and press the housing back into the brackets and reinstall the heat shielding. Use the bolt to reattach the bracket into the subframe, being sure to line up the tab on the bracket. Now thread the cable end through the attach-end-and-seat-housinghole into the carrier. If there isn’t enough slack to attach the cable end, you may need to do two things: remove the carrier from the hub and/or go back to the handle and give it some more slack. Pull up on the handle a couple of times to seat everything and release. With the brake released check for slack between the nut under the handle and the lever. Pull up one notch.  Wheels should be free.  Pull up two notches, there should be drag.  Tighten nut if not. Reinstall the frame, reattach the ebrake wire, and replace the console and boot. Checking and adjusting:

  • Release the lever and check that there is no drag on rear wheels.
  • Pull up one notch, check that there is no drag (parking brake warning light may be on). Pull up boot and loosen nut if there is drag.
  • Pull up two notches, check for slight drag and brake warning light should be on. Pull up boot and tighten until there is drag.
  • Drive vehicle and pull up on brake handle. Check that the rear wheels lock up.
  • Handle should not pull up more than seven notches and hold the vehicle on a slight incline at with three notches.

Replacing MINI A-Pillar Trim

The black A-Pillar trim on the first Generation MINI is one of the car’s signature design elements. It’s also very fragile and can be challenging to repair if you don’t know how they are attached. So whether you need to remove them to replace the windshield or you want to repair the broken ones you already have, here’s what you need to know before you break another set.

The piece is attached by four screws under the weather seal; four clips on the front side and possibly several pieces of trim adhesive tape between the clips. To replace the trim, start by removing the weather seal to get to the four screws in the door jam. Start by pulling the seal loose on the far side, above the door latch, across the top and finally along the A-pillar trim. Using a wide pry tool, start at the bottom of the A-pillar trim and gently pry up on the windshield side. Pry in four locations and don’t try to free the piece in one go.  If the clips seem to be coming free, but the trim is still attached, then try prying between the clips to free the trim adhesive.

Once free, transfer the clips to your new trim piece.  Clean the A-pillar while exposed before installing the new trim. Remove the used trim adhesive and replace with new 3M adhesive tape. Line up the clips and press them in place from the bottom to the top. Reinstall the four screws and replace the window seal, by starting at the A-pillar and working back to the door latch.


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