Home Life on the Road Chapters A Mini Addition

A Mini Addition

Yesterday I posted about our 6 carless months, and how I convinced Chris to agree to a toad.

We’ve been pondering for a while what might make an ideal toad for us.  We knew we wanted something that could be flat towed with all four wheels down, as we didn’t want to deal with a trailer too.

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When flat towing, the transmission of the vehicle has to be compatible, as expensive damage can be done.  Some vehicles are certified by their manafucter to be flat towed. Others are not officially supported. And others you simply can not tow ‘four down’ no matter what you do.  Obviously, if a Prius could be flat towed – there would be absolutely no question. But, sadly they can not be.

Further resources on towing considerations:

Some of the vehicles we had considered were:

Jeep Wrangler – we loved driving our little island car around St. John when we lived there this past winter. As fun as they are for off road driving, their gas mileage isn’t much better than our bus.

Smart Car – These little cars seemed ideal to tow behind a RV and give very efficient mileage around town. However, we drove a friend’s and weren’t too impressed. The drive was rough, and gave no option for passengers.

Miata – Before owning a Prius, I briefly owned a Miata. It was a super fun car to drive, and flat towable. However, it too had no option for passengers and hardly any carry capacity for groceries.

Mini Cooper – A super cute small vehicle with great mileage that seemed a little more practical. But as our great friend’s Ben & Karen tow one, and they too are working on a vintage bus – it just seemed too weird. So we initially dismissed this idea.

We like Weird – a Mini it is!

The past fews months we’ve spent a lot of time rendezvousing with Ben & Karen.  And we’ve been incredibly impressed with how comfortable their Mini was for transporting the four of us around.

St. George, UT Rendezvous

And then we noticed – their 2009 Mini Cooper matches our bus!

Almost two years ago, Karen moved aboard Ben’s bus. But she had one condition – she either got to bring along her beloved dog .. or her Mini.  She let Ben pick.  He opted for the Mini, and ditched his Jeep Liberty. (Her dog now lives with her parents.)

[wp_campaign_2]It turns out her Mini was soon coming to the end of its lease, and Ben & Karen had already decided they would be ordering a new one in red to match their someday-to-be-completed vintage bus – the Creative Cruiser.  Ben also wanted one of the new larger models, as they’re frequently taking their vehicle out on photography expeditions and needed more room for their gear.

While BMW doesn’t officially support the Mini being flat towed (doing so actually voids the warranty), the manual transmission edition falls into the middle grey area of being possible with modification. They had already done those modifications – and had been successfully towing it for nearly two years.

Karen was sad that she’d be turning in her Mini, as she had planned to buy it out of lease before meeting Ben and his vintage bus plans. She simply loves it.

Thus the idea came together.  We’d buy it out of her lease.

Not only would we copy them by having a vintage bus towing a Mini Cooper – we’d just go for full on out weird, and buy their Mini.  But hey, what are good friends for if you can’t be totally weird with them?  This also means Karen will get to see her Mini all across the country as we continue to rendezvous.

My Mini Adventure

The logistical challenge to this plan was that after we parted ways in Albuquerque, we were headed in opposite directions.  Us to the east coast and them to Las Vegas to catch a flight to South Africa for a photo safari they’re leading.

So after posting about having just completed a way too rapid cross country repositioning, what did I suggest?

My first cross country solo road trip!

Why yes..  of course.   I would fly out to Vegas and drive the Mini back.

Alone. 

Now, let me reveal a couple facts about myself.

  • I have not driven much at all in the past 4+ years.  Chris loves to drive, and I got spooked after our jack-knife spin out.  I maybe do 10-15% of the driving in our household.
  • Aside from a few hours in total driving a manual transmission about 10 years ago, I’m a total noob with a stick.

But in light of reminiscing recently about my planned cross country road trip in my Prius before I met Chris, it just seemed like a fitting challenge. And what cooler way to bond with the Mini and bring it home to complete our new household?

On Friday I flew out to Vegas and helped Ben & Karen with their last minute preparations for their Africa trip.  And as serendipity would have it, our nomadic friends Sam & Tracy also arrived in Vegas that night and we had a fabulous kick-off party for our adventures.

After they were off to the airport, I started a 1700 mile solo road trip back to the bus in St. Louis (after figuring out I had to put the clutch in to turn the engine on).

I took 4 days, driving between 400-460 miles a day.  It was a good pace, and allowed me to drive a lot of back roads while not stressing myself out too much.

I learned the difference between driving.. and motoring!

I drove parts of Route 66 in Arizona, most notably through the twisty windy roads of the Black Mountains.

I drove through the twisty roads in Sante Fe National Forest, just east of Taos, NM.

And I dodged tumbleweeds through rural Kansas, finding abandoned towns.

I had an incredible solo journey that was soul nourishing. And on Tuesday evening I pulled into St. Louis, and parked the Mini face to face with the bus.

What a cute pair they make!

 

A Word about Fuel Economy

[wp_campaign_1]Since selling our Oliver and getting our bus, we’ve gotten a bit of reaction about how we seemed to have abandoned our previously ‘green’ ways for a fuel-hogging bus, and now adding a toad.

So, we’ll publicly address that.

First of all, we’ve never really considered ourselves identified as eco-green folks, and nor have we made much of a point to present ourselves as such.  Sure, we love the environment, and try to make smart choices.  Being greener is an important consideration for us, but certainly not the only.   Our choices for things like solar and small living were more for flexibility in the places we can go, cool technology and just seeing if we could – than being necessarily eco. 

And our decisions now are based on living and working comfortably as we concentrate on our business and evolve our travel style.  

And generally we agree with Sean of Our Odyssey‘s assessment that anyone living in a RV is likely more green than most living in a stationary house and commuting to work, just simply by the nature of the lifestyles. 

Our bus has been getting about 7.5 mpg (there are far bigger fuel hogs out there, and better than the 5-6 mpg we were expecting) and we do expect slightly less fuel economy when we’re towing the 2500 lbs Mini.  Whereas our truck towing the trailer was getting 12 mpg.  So it is a fuel economy hit for our traveling miles.  No doubt. 

But this isn’t about traveling miles alone.  It’s about balance.

Our intentions with this switch had been to slow down the pace of travel and stay places longer.  This is a transition from having a comfortable living pod while traveling, to having a comfortable apartment that can move. In theory, we want to be traveling less miles per year than before. And we were already traveling less miles than Chris was when he was commuting to work daily in the Bay Area.

We anticipate that more of our miles will be local transit miles while the bus is parked for weeks to months at a time. The Mini is rated to get 32 mpg averaged out between city & highway.  On my cross country trip, I was averaging an amazing 42 mpg.   Whereas the Tundra only got 16-18 mpg when not towing.

We were always paying a fuel economy hit for local transportation because our vehicle had to be sized to pull our house.  

Overall, we’re aiming for a measurable improvement in the balanced fuel economy of the bus & Mini. 

Cherie has been been a location independent software developer since 1994. When she met Chris in 2006, she was at the exact right time in her life to hit the road and combine wanderlust with career. She strives to live a life of conscious intent while embracing serendipity.

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50 COMMENTS

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  1. Nice bus and great article on toads! I just wanted to point out that towing your Mini does not void the warranty. I have a 2009 R59 S and I verified this with Mini and my dealer who services it under the original warranty and extended maintenance plan. They told me it’s not an issue and would only deny warranty maintenance if it was proven that towing created a problem.

    I’ve towed the mini for 3 years now without an issue, originally behind a 27′ class A gasser and now behind a 34′ diesel pusher and have never had an issue. I haven’t used a brake buddy either and I’ve never had a problem, even behind the gasser, but I’m looking for one now since we’re taking a summer trip that will take us over several high passes and for safety I want the extra brake power.

  2. We are selling our Jeep Commander and are seriously considering a Mini for our next tow vehicle. We are absorbing all of your comments/combined history/expertise on the Mini option. It sounds promising. Thanks.

    • We installed the tow brackets on our Mini ourselves. It took about 4 hours after I drove it up on the ramps that I use for changing the oil with. It was really pretty simple. You do have to take a lot of it apart up front, but nothing that can’t easily be put back together. We opted to install extra bulbs in the tail light housing for the lights rather than running through the vehicle’s electrical system.
      Good luck and have fun, Will

    • We’ve been towing the Mini for a few months now and truly love it. I’m not sure which I enjoy more, towing it or just plain driving it!
      Will

  3. A lot of great advice continuing to be shared in the comments.. thanks for all your contributions! We love the discussion, and are enjoying seeing this post ranking high for folks seeking info on towing a MINI.

    Just wanted to put our own disclaimer out there – we went with what was already setup on our MINI when we bought it. So unlike our usual level of research when selecting options, we haven’t researched all the options on towing a toad. What we have has been working great for us for nearly a year (and great for our friends for a couple years prior to that) – but we don’t specifically recommend our setup.

    This post was originally intended to just announce that we added a toad and the fun story behind it … not to share advice :)

  4. The Blue Ox is probably a fine towing system, but I’ve been using the Roadmaster with the all terrain tow bar for years and really love it. The Roadmaster brackets are different depending on the year of your MINI. Here’s their link. Just put in your year and model of vehicle and it will bring up the correct assembly. You can also print off the installations instructions on that page and it will show if you have to trim anything, which seems to be the case with the S models. I’ve done a few sets of Roadmaster brackets so I feel comfortable doing this work myself. But if you don’t, average shop time is 2.5 hrs.

    http://www.roadmaster-tow-bars.com/?year=0&make=0&model=0&style=0

    You will have to cut and paste the link I’m afraid.
    Because the bus weighs in at a little over 40K lbs and the MINI is in the 3K weight class, I’m not going to use (here comes the flaming) a supplemental brake system. I use DOT approved chains to the engine cradle on the bus and I inspect my towbar and hitch assembly religiously for cracks or stress marks. If the toad comes loose, it’s going to be tethered to a 5000 pound Detroit gorilla spewing diesel fuel.
    I hope this helps,
    Will

  5. Will Decker,
    Can you share which model brackets you ordered? Was it from Blue Ox? Also will you be using an auxiliary brake device, like a Brake Buddy? And, what do you know about the need to leave the key in the ignition so the steering doesn’t lock? I’ve been baffled by that, as my 2011 Mini S manual transmission doesn’t seem to have a steering wheel lock! With the key out, I can turn the wheel all the way in either direction and it doesn’t lock! I am on an information quest as I want to flat tow my Mini behind a Winnibago Profile. Thanks in advance! Mark from Big Stone Gap VA.

    • Mark, BlueOx BX1307 is the baseplate for your MINI. That information can be found on the BlueOx website and MINI is listed under BMW. Installation instructions and other info can be found on the website. Shop for your baseplate. Prices vary with venders and be careful about what you are charged to install it. Three hours is the estimated professional install time. You do not have a steering wheel lock on your MINI and you would not need to leave a key/disk in the ignition unless you need auxiliary power for a braking device or MINI lights. You can rewire the auxiliary outlet so that it is always hot and that would eliminate the need for a key. Leaving the key/disk in the ignition creates a security risk. I’m not using an auxiliary brake because I have a heavy RV chassis. I I use magnetic LED lights powered from a wire run through the MINI to the motor-home so do not use/need the MINI lights. Frank

  6. Well, the Liberty will no longer be found behind the bus. We went out this weekend and traded her for a 2002 MINI S. I’ve already ordered the brackets and can’t wait to get them installed (along with all the other goodies the wife ordered for her). Soo excited! I can’t comment on using a dolly as it was never a consideration. Some sites we’ve been in (including now) there is barely room for anything more than the bus and the toad. Not sure where we would put a dolly. Yet, I hear and know of people that haul their toad and everything else they own on a trailer behind their Motorhome because they suffer from separation anxiety. Everyone is different and that’s what provides entertainment for the rest of us, Will

  7. We are just purchasing a 2009 Mini Cooper S today as a tow vehicle behind our 1998 Monaco Windsor (diesel). It is an automatic, so we were planning on using a tow dolly to tow it. We had talked with another couple on a recent RV trip who towed their automatic in that manner, do/have you heard of any issues with towing a automatic mini? How do you like your mini, any mechanical issues, etc.?
    Thanks,
    Michelle

    • We specifically wanted to tow all four down, so we went manual transmission. So we honestly haven’t researched much into tow dolly issues – but many of the RVing forums probably have addressed this.

      We’re still enjoying our Mini – no issues to report yet.

      Enjoy.. they’re fun little cars, and great for getting around town in once you’ve got your home parked.

    • Sorry Michelle, I can’t help either. My ’05 was manual and my ’13 to be delivered in October is also manual. I too have known people who trailer MINIs with automatic transmission and have no issues with traveling with a MINI. . . other than the obvious trailer hassles. Frank

    • Mark, I don’t either but that may change for added safety with the new MINI. I have a Brake Buddy for my Subaru and it’s not much added hassle to use it on the MINI. As Cherie says, it is added safety. I would use it with a smaller RV or one that does not have more rated towing capacity. In my case I don’t even use 50% capacity with a MINI. Frank

  8. I’ve been silent since 06/09. Mary, Winston and I have been traveling in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Got home last week. This past Sunday we sold our ’05 Cooper S and are awaiting our ’13 Cooper, The basic model makes more sense for us. After driving both the S and the basic we think the basic model is enough. We plan to put a Blue Ox base plate on it and start towing it next March on our annual trip to Pensacola after ski season.

  9. Thanks for the info. I’m retired and own a Class B+ and spend my time “weekending” with a lesst two major cross country trips per year. I’m looking for a toad for my Lexinton (with V10) and don’t wish to sacrifice mpg for it. I found you when I googled ‘towing a mini cooper’. I’m looking forward to getting more info.
    Thanks for the great info.
    Paul

  10. Great site, thanks for sharing. I came across it on a Google search looking for flat tow info for a manual 2012 Cooper S. I have been flat towing a manual 2005 Cooper S since it was two years old, 2007. I waited the two years to satisfy two years of my three year warranty. Other than adding a Blue Ox base plate, I use a plastic key in the ignition to keep the steering from locking, and that’s it. We are now thinking seriously about getting a manual 2012 Cooper S. I’m getting mixed answers concerning the latest manual transmission and I’m a tad bit apprehensive about the new ignition system as it relates to steering lock and battery drain. If you like I can post or email anything I find out for your information.

    • Hey Frank… thanks for stopping by. Our friends over at http://www.digitalmastery.com (who we bought our MINI from) have been towing a 2012 Clubman for several months now. They’ve not noted any issues as of yet. They might be worthwhile getting in touch with to see if they have any research on the matter to share.

      For now, we’re quite happy with our 2009, and don’t foresee changing things up for quite a while.

  11. Hey Guys, I’m really envious of your new toad. The wife and I are currently looking to change out our Liberty for a Mini. We have the 892 DD and with a 4600 pound toad don’t hardly feel it back there. I keep an eye on it with the backup camera LOL. We average just over 8MPG with the toad. I plan trips at 5MPG and put the difference toward maintenance. Take care, great site,
    Will

  12. Any info about towing a mini cooper behind a 2002 rialta,is gas mileage affected greatly? What is needed.to connect to motor home?

    • Sorry.. I don’t know a thing about towing behind a Rialta (or any other motorhome).

      We’ve not noticed much reduction in fuel economy when towing with our bus, but our bus has a 8v71 diesel two stroke engine. I would suspect that a smaller engine would notice it more.

  13. Between the new battery system, new bus and now a new toad… you two have made a lot of changes in a short amount of time. Sounds like you are very happy with everything though and that’s a wonderful thing. Thanks for some great reading and some great new ideas.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Wes and Kathy Waddell

  14. Great blog.
    Looking at mini for towing behind our rv.
    What mods did your mini get?
    Was it a lube pump for trans oiling?
    Enjoy the road..
    tim

    • Hi Tim.. thanks for stopping by. As we didn’t do the research or mods ourselves, we specifically didn’t cover these in the post.

      That said, I believe the only mod needed was installing a baseplate, and I know the previous owner contacted a professional respected within the MINI community to do the installation.

      Best wishes!

  15. Hey Cherie

    Great choice of car, looks like an awesome match for the bus. Question about the flat-towing modification on the Mini – You state that it voids the warranty, but Karen and Ben were able to do it while under a lease? Did Ben and Karen ever say why they favored the Mini over the Liberty for towing?

    • Yes, it can void the warranty, and they did the conversion knowing that may face penalties when they turned it in after lease. (Thus another benefit to them of us buying it).

      As for the reason they choose the Mini over the Liberty (as stated above), Karen owned the Mini before she joined Ben, and it was a condition of her moving aboard the bus with him. She loved it, and wanting something major in the household that was hers.

  16. Me thinks like poster John…
    You probably wont notice any change in MPG.
    You’re driving a bus for god sacks…. If the wheels fell off the Mini and your dragging it… would you know. Make sure the rear camera is working so you know it is still there.
    It’s all coming together for you guys.
    We are still fulltiming after 8 or so years. Just bought a 4 acre winter place high outside Benson, AZ… after boondocking for many winters in Quartzsite.
    To each their own… We will be back for the January season in Q. It’s in our blood.

  17. So cute!! What a perfect little toad for the bus! I resisted getting a toad for over a year, but now that I’ve had one the last 6 months, I can hardly think of a time I’d not want to bring it along.

    Not only will it great to have wheels for local travel and exploring, it will be great peace of mind to know you’ve got some backup trnasportation should the bus throw a fit in the middle of nowhere and need a repair.

    • I think that we too will soon not consider having a toad around. I already feel far more free just having it parked in front of us. We’ll see how we feel after our first trial tow :)

  18. Do I get a prize??

    Hehehehe. . .

    Congrats on a safe trip, especially the opportunity to wander enroute. Far more fun than the super-slab!

    Oh, and don’t forget to buy a new windshield washer/squeegee, since you’re towing behind a Detroit Diesel. Dawn brand dishwashing liquid seems to work best. BTDTHTS!!

    Cheers!

    RJ

  19. Oh the mini is simply GORGEOUS!! What a fabulous addition to the whole retro-cool-look you’ve got going with the bus. Love the combo! And cheers very much indeed for the link-up :)
    Nina

  20. Great choice of Toad. I agree with John. You probably will not notice any mileage hit pulling the Mini.

    Another benefit you may discover is the opportunity to park at a much better location, either cost better or scenic better, and drive a little more locally in the Mini.

    Good luck.

  21. I appreciate the balance in you philosophy, and the depth of your thinking as you evolve your lifestyle. You have developed and tested several styles of traveling life, and documented what you have done. Great work! Thanks for sharing!

  22. I love reading and living vicariously through your blog. I have enjoyed following your travels over the last year or so. My opinion is that 7.5 MPG is great, and that with the weight of the Mini, you probably won’t notice any change in mileage.

    Continued good fortune to you and Chris.

    John

  23. The bus and the mini look to be a match made in heaven! Mimicry is the highest form of flattery, right? I bet your friends are THRILLED to know the mini is in your TLC!

    I’m sure there are people that can afford the kind of travel that would make costs (financial and environmental)close to equal. but seriously, who would want to if you didn’t have to????

    Cyndi & Stumpy @ RVly Ever After

    • Yeah, Karen was thrilled that her beloved Mini stays in the technomad family.

      I think our first year on the road (2007) in the 16′ Tab towed by a biodiesel burning Jeep Liberty could be argued as being a pretty darn environmental way to travel. We were solar powered and highly optimized for energy usage.

      It was a great adventure to adapt to that level of simplicity and minimalism, and certainly has positively impacted every decision we’ve made since. We had no internal plumbing (no bathroom), no refrigeration and no air conditioning. We primarily lived off grid, and were getting close to 18 mpg towing (and 26 when not).

      But that level of minimalism was not sustainable for us beyond that first year. 45 sq ft of living & working space is not enough for two technomads with varying sleep schedules.

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