From time to time I’d browse the local Craigslist ads to see if I can find a cheap pickup truck for sale. Not the Tundra-RAM-1500-F150-king-cab monstrosities clogging the American roads but those smaller Tacoma-Ranger-Frontier varieties from the early 2000’s. Something with a 4-cylinder engine and as simple and as economical as pickups get. I was thinking that I should be able to find a small pickup truck with under 100K miles in good condition for around $5,000. Turns out that’s not really possible based on all the ads I’ve seen.
Just like 99.5% of all people currently driving them, I don’t need a pickup truck. I’ve managed to survive without one through my entire 20-year driving career. When I need a truck I rent, ask a friend or pay for delivery. I have no doubt that financially this works out much better than owning a pickup truck or owning a beater truck in addition to a frugal commuter like my MINI Cooper. Yet it’s hard to argue the convenience that a pickup truck ownership can bring.
I fantasize about how easy it’d be to drive my own truck to a local landfill to pick up free mulch that I need for my nicely xeriscaped yard. I could do it twice a year or even more to keep the landscaping looking fresh. Without a truck I’m stuck with ordering mulch delivery which is expensive and so I do it only once every couple of years.
I postpone or don’t do house projects because I don’t have a way to easily bring the materials back. Sure, I can rent a truck from Lowe’s but it adds that one extra hassle layer that puts me into a “maybe later” mode.
And then there are plenty of times when stuff just doesn’t fit in my MINI Cooper. Even though it’s a hatchback that never ceases to amaze me with its versatility, the MINI is definitely limited in what it can carry. For instance, no matter how you try you won’t be able to get a full-size clothes dryer in there. I picked one up for $60 at a yard sale but then had to ask someone to bring it home for me. I really hate asking people for silly stuff like this.
I could’ve used a pickup to bring the Honda Ruckus home instead of paying someone for delivery. I could’ve used a pickup to transport several other bikes – motorcycles I bought to flip for profit. See – there is a money-making opportunity there!
But, since I failed to find a way to justify owning a pickup financially, the whole idea was dead in the water. I commute 40 miles each day which consumes exactly 1 gallon of gas in my MINI Cooper. It’s newer (2009) and has half the miles of any pickup I could buy with the MINI Cooper sale money. Plus I really like driving a small, sporty car. You just can’t compare it to driving a pickup truck!
So then I started thinking – what if there was a way to keep my beloved MINI and add the desired utility at a small cost? What if I added a hitch and a small trailer to the MINI? A pickup truck on demand with all the fun and the savings of a MINI Cooper. An idea of a MAXI Cooper was born.
Most modern cars can easily tow a small trailer. Some do it better than others – for example I wouldn’t want to tow anything with a Toyota Prius. Toyota’s manual specifically prohibits such abuse (even though there are plenty of aftermarket Toyota Prius’ hitches for sale).
My R56 MINI Cooper has a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine with a manual transmission. There is nothing in the manual that would indicate that towing is prohibited. If you Google “Mini Cooper towing” you will see many examples of people towing small trailers and even small campers. While I still can’t find anything official from the MINI brand specifying a towing capacity for a MINI Cooper, I did find several references to 1,500 pounds being a reasonable towing limit.
I think 1,500 lbs is plenty for anything I would ever want to tow with the MINI Cooper. A yard of mulch is anywhere between 400 to 800 lbs, depending on moisture content. An average motorcycle is under 600 lbs. The building materials I’d need would never come close to the limit. Usually it’s not the weight but the dimensions that’s a limiting factor. Plus, you can always make several trips!
I researched all hitches available for a MINI Cooper (Curt, MNI Do More, Mini Fini) and settled on the one made by Curt Manufacturing. The one I ordered is made in the USA and comes with everything needed to install it on a MINI Cooper. It’s a Class I hitch rated at 2,000 lbs and 200 lbs tongue weight, which exceeds my intended use by a safe margin. I liked that this kit included a slick-looking Euro ball mount at a very reasonable package cost, especially compared to the competition.
A big box showed up a few days after placing the online order. Here is everything that was inside:
Printed instructions were included but I found it much easier to follow this excellent DIY trailer hitch installation video below:
Since I don’t have that nice car lift you see in the video, I had to improvise by alternating a car jack on each side to get to the screws… My MINI-me was helpful as usual:
Aside from a car jack you’ll need a good wrench set and a couple of screwdrivers. Although I did end up using my Dremel tool to remove a stubborn plastic screw from the wheel fender lining. I used a Dremel to cut a notch in the stripped screw head which allowed me to twist it out using a flat head screwdriver. I can’t tell you how many times this Dremel saved me from being completely stuck while working on cars or around the house. Also, while not required, I was glad to have my anger management tool AKA auto trim removal kit. Modern cars are made from a bunch of brittle plastic and any tool that saves some aggravation is a win in my book.
Here is a MINI Cooper with its pants down:
Next step was to remove that black metal bumper brace:
At this point your garage should look like a legitimate body shop with your car’s rear reminding you of all those collision repair service commercials. That’s good as it means you are in the home stretch.
Follow the instructions in the video and secure the hitch behind the bumper brace reusing stock bolts while adding spacers that came with the Curt hitch. I strongly suggest that you use a good torque wrench to torque the bolts to 23 ft-lb as specified in the printed instructions. I’d hate to tighten them with a regular socket wrench and then worry about the hitch falling off mid-tow.
It took me less than 2 hours to add a hitch to my MINI Cooper. Here is the result:
I think this is THE cleanest hitch design I have ever seen – including factory installed ones. So many hitches are plain ugly and ruin the rear of a vehicle.
For example, WTF is this thing on a $60-thousand Lexus? Note the brand name – Hidden Hitch… The irony is strong with this one.
The Curt Manufacturing hitch is invisible, and I mean it literally. When installed and ready to tow, all you see is the ball mount sticking out from the bumper. When not in use, you can easily remove the ball mount and snap in a black plastic cover for a clean bumper look that you see in a picture below. I really can’t get over how easy it is to add a hitch without ruining the clean lines of a MINI Cooper!
Now this is a Hidden Hitch!
I should’ve installed a hitch a long time ago. Even if you don’t plan on getting a trailer, a hitch adds a whole other level of utility to a MINI – or any other car for that matter. It would be much easier and safer to carry bicycles with a hitch mounted rack instead of a universal trunk mounted rack I use now. It works OK but a hitch mounted rack just works better.
You could also easily expand MINI Cooper’s storage space by adding one of these hitch mounted cargo carriers. I think it’s a much cheaper and elegant solution than adding one of those roof mounted cargo carriers. And don’t forget better fuel economy due to less drag.
The first step in transforming my MINI Cooper into a MAXI Cooper is complete. Next up, I will add a wiring kit for trailer lights and build out a lightweight 4’x8’ folding trailer. Stay tuned!