This post was conceived while searching around the Internet trying to find an easy to follow step-by-step guide on replacing rear side marker bulbs in a MINI Cooper. After at least an hour browsing various forum threads and YouTube videos I was left as confused as when I started. Who knew that figuring out how to replace a burnt out bulb* would be so challenging. While certainly of interest only to a relatively small group of MINI Cooper owners, I’m going to go ahead and write-up this quick but comprehensive guide. If this post saves time and money to a few people out there I’ll consider it a success.
First of all, we are talking about a simple car maintenance task so you’d think it’s something easily found in a glovebox manual. Turns out there are instructions on how to replace every bulb but for some reason MINI wants you to bring the car to a dealer if a side marker bulb goes dead. It will cost you around $20 (plus wasted time and gas) for a dealer-sourced fix vs. $2.50 to do it yourself. (Update: One reader reported a $68 quote to replace both side marker bulbs at an independent Mini mechanic – now that’s just nuts!)
Stated eloquently, we don’t piss away our time and money on things like that here at Insourcelife. Plus having to rely on a dealer to replace a bulb is seen as a blow to our independence and that’s never an option!
So what exactly is a “side marker”? On my 2009 MINI Cooper (known as R56) it’s a yellow and red lenses located next to the front and rear black plastic fender flares over the wheel arches. The bulb that went out on my car sits under a red lens cover behind the rear wheel.
As with everything on the Internet, there is bad advice out there. I found at least a couple of posts telling me to “pry out” the red lens cover to get to the bulb. Do NOT do that! You will break the cover and possibly damage the area around it turning your simple DIY into a nightmare. From my previous experience working with European cars it felt like a wrong method and after seeing how the light assembly fits together from the “other side”, I’m glad I didn’t try prying the cover off.
There are two ways (or is it 3?) to get to the rear side marker bulb – one requires you to jack up the car and remove the wheel and the other doesn’t. On my base Cooper with 15” rims and non-sport suspension I was able to change the bulb in 5 minutes with just a screwdriver. Of course, I didn’t know that in the beginning and took the wheel off anyway.
The Easy Way
If your car is a base model (AKA “justa” as in “just a Cooper”) you should have enough clearance between the tire and the wheel well to replace the light bulb in just a couple of minutes without having to take the wheel off the car. If your car sits lower due to sports suspension or bigger wheels/tires it might still be possible, so it’s worth a try.
Bulb – my Cooper uses 194 side marker bulb shown in the beginning of this post.
- Light – my favorite is the DEWALT Flexible Floodlight from the combo kit profiled in the linked Tools above (#23 on the list).
Shine a light inside the wheel well and you will see several plastic screws securing liner to the fender. You need to unscrew the one closest to the side marker – shown half-way out below. Use your screwdriver and then pull out the plastic screw and a rivet with your fingers.
With the screw out, pull the liner back. You can put a screwdriver between the fender and the liner to make it easier. On my car there was an indentation in the liner perfect for that.
With liner bent back, you’ll see a black bulb holder inside a red plastic piece. Use your other free hand to reach in there and twist the bulb holder to the left (away from you) and out of the red piece.
Following 2 pictures were taken with the wheel removed and 2 screws out instead of just one to show the detail.
There should be enough slack in the wire to pull the bulb holder out between the liner and the fender. You can now take the old bulb out.
Here is how it looks with the wheel on and just 1 screw removed instead of 2
Install a new bulb but try not to touch it. Oil from your hands can shorten a bulb’s life so I use a clean rag when installing.
Test that it works.
Put everything back together by reversing directions.
The Slightly More Complicated Way
If there is not enough clearance to use The Easy Way you will need to jack the car up and take a wheel off. It only adds another 10-15 minutes. If you’ve never taken a wheel off it’s a good practice run for when you are on a side of a road with a flat tire. I was so lucky, last time it happened there were 2 tire shops near me.
Jack – you can use the one that comes with your car, although I don’t trust those for anything other than a quick roadside emergency tire change. You might not even have a jack in your onboard toolkit courtesy of run flat tires installed on many MINIs. Even more of a reason to get yourself a proper jack. See the linked Tools above for the one I use (#2 on the list).
Lug wrench – you might already have one in your toolkit. I prefer to use a nice extendable version profiled in the Tools link above (#5 on the list). Most onboard toolkit wrenches are usually inadequate against lug nuts routinely over-torqued by repair shops.
Torque wrench – see the linked Tools above for the one I use (#6 on the list). Make sure to torque wheel lug nuts to the correct spec for your car – in my case it’s 100 lb/ft. As a side note, it’s also a must to re-torque all wheel bolts to proper specs if you had a shop working on your car since they tend to over-torque with their airguns. Installed new tires or did a tire rotation? Pay the bill, pick up the car and torque each lug nut to the correct spec at home.
Follow the instructions in the glovebox manual on how to lift your car. Below is a picture of how I prefer to get a wheel in the air.
Once the wheel is off, you will have plenty of room. Start with step 1 in the The Easy Way DIY and all other steps will be the same.
The Hybrid Way
I haven’t tried this but I think it should work for some MINIs that are too low to use The Easy Way. Instead of taking the wheel off you might want to try to lift the rear corner with a jack but leave the wheel on. Theoretically it should create a gap large enough to use The Easy Way. If you try it and it works, please leave a comment so we can confirm it!
I hope you found these step-by-step instructions on how to replace a side marker bulb in a MINI Cooper helpful.
*I was torn between using “burnt out bulb” or “burned out bulb” in this sentence. Since I’m using it as an adjective I settled on the former.