Pictured here is not a Mini, but an SUV on its roof on the freeway. What does that have to do with Minis? Well, prior to becoming the MiniGuy, I worked as an automotive journalist. One piece I wrote was when SUVs were just starting to become popular. Folks buying them said that they were buying them for “extra safety”, but U.S. government transportation experts and other transportation researchers determined that statistically, you are more likely to be killed in an accident in an SUV, than if you were in an accident in a passenger car.
How can that be, you ask?
Well, SUVs are truck-based, and they have a much higher center of gravity. Get into any kind of trouble, and a blown tire, a swift swerve, or a moment of distraction can put you right over on your roof!
As a former journalist and former photographer, I go everywhere with my trusty digital camera strapped to my hip. Since it uses “recycled” electrons (ie: recharged using electricity), it’s basically free for me to snap at whatever catches my eye. (And I take lots and lots of detailed Mini pics too, of course.)
In my travels, I’ve acquired quite an extensive collection of SUVs using their roofs in entirely inappropriate ways, shall we say.
Back to the original question, how safe are these Minis?
Firstly, I tell everyone considering a Mini that there are some basic laws of physics that just can’t be overcome – meaning if you tangle with a Suburban, the Suburban will win.
The key to safety in a Mini lies with the driver of the Mini. I say you need to drive in what I call “Full Paranoid Mode,” meaning that you need to pretend that nobody can see you, that everyone is out to get you, or that you are on a motorcycle (with basically no protection around you.)
You NEVER go through an intersection blind, meaning you make SURE it is safe to enter the intersection no matter what the traffic signal says. The worst position to be in in a Mini is to be hit from the side. Make sure it’s safe before you go through the intersection, and be wary of driveways, folks that could turn left in front of you, or any other situation like that.
I tell people that if you live in a congested, downtown area – that this may not be the car for you. Minis need wide open roads, preferably curvy ones, where you can get away from other drivers, and other potential threats to your safety.
If someone tells me they are considering a Mini for their 16-year-old’s first car, I say PLEASE DON’T! I say, buy a car with a whole lot more metal around it, until they develop the driving maturity and experience they should have before getting behind the wheel of any small car. I was 16 once, I know what I’m talking about.
I also tell folks: If you are the type of driver who talks on their cell phone while fiddling with the radio, then a classic Mini is NOT for you.
Sure, you can retrofit an airbag to a Mini, but it’s VERY costly, and may give you a false sense of security. Better to just drive very careful, I say.
Proper maintenance is critical on a Mini. One advantage to buying a Mini from a licensed dealer, is that in California, a licensed dealer cannot even offer for sale a Mini (or any car or truck) that has not been fully safety checked, and all safety-related repairs completed. You don’t have that same protection buying from an unlicensed dealer, or someone trying to unload their Mini who isn’t disclosing – or isn’t aware of – a potential safety problem. The first Mini I bought – from a private party – blew out a rear wheel cylinder on the second day I drove it, causing me to lose my brakes just as I neared my home. The scary part is I had earlier driven rapidly through a steep mountain canyon! Ironically, in the boxes of spare parts that came with the Mini when I bought it, there sat a brand-new wheel cylinder. However, the former owner apparently neglected to tell me that it needed to be installed VERY soon!
I once heard something that went a bit like this: “The most important safety-related part on a car is the ‘nut’ behind the wheel.” (ie: And we’re not talking about the big hexagon-shaped nut that screws onto the steering shaft and holds on the steering wheel in place!)
P.S. – My wife hates it when I sell Minis, she always says it sounds like I’m trying to talk folks OUT of buying a Mini…
On the plus side, a Mini is a MUCH smaller target, and harder to hit! Anyone could tag a big ‘ol Suburban if they wanted to…
I’ve driven and commuted in tiny cars for years, and there are some situations where I believe a Mini is actually safer!
First, by its very nature, it forces the driver to be MUCH more aware of their surroundings, and potential threats to their safety.
Another situation is when commuting in stop-and-go traffic. You sometimes look in your rear-view mirror, and you see a car sliding up behind you. In a regular size car, you can do nothing but sit there and take the hit – but in a Mini that’s only four-and-a-half feet wide, you can actually cut between two lanes of traffic to save your skin. Heck, drive up onto the sidewalk or wherever you need to, just to avoid being a sitting duck.
Another reason I believe Minis to be safer is that they are so UNUSUAL. If you were driving an old gray Honda, someone behind you could be just zoning out, putting on makeup, eating, talking on their cell phone, reading the newspaper in snatches, or fiddling with the radio dials, or whatever.
However, a Mini is so unusual that folks sit up and take notice. They are more likely to notice you – because the car is so different! And they point you out to everyone else in their car – and grin and wave at you.
Of course, all that looking at you in the Mini isn’t always good. In the five-or-so years I’ve been using a classic Mini as pretty much my daily driver, I know of at least two accidents that were caused by drivers that were looking at me on the road! Sorry about that… But that’s stories for another day…
Let’s be careful out there, okay?