Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting to Know Your New Best Friend

Right off the mark, two things are good about MINIs. First, they’re already among the best sports cars on the road in terms of their ability to go fast, corner fast, and stop fast. Second, like other cars that are just plain fun to drive, MINIs have the uncanny ability to gather people together into clubs and organizations that have the sole intent of helping their members enjoy driving their cars.

Combine these two factors, and you have a recipe for easy weekend fun: a good car to drive and a like-minded group of friends to drive it with. Our first recommendation is to get to know the car well so you’ll know how much fun it can be. Our second recommendation is to join a Mini club so you’ll have excuses to have fun with it as soon as possible.

We’re even going to recommend that you not make any changes in the car immediately. Why spend money improving the car until you’ve got a benchmark to which you can compare it? With a clear memory of what your car was like before the improvement, when you do make changes in the car you’ll be the first to notice and appreciate the difference.

The MINI has been designed by enthusiasts with enthusiasts in mind. What we want to do is show you the difference between simply operating an automobile as a means of transportation, and driving a performance car for the sheer pleasure of it. But where should you start?

We’re Serious: Read the Manual

We’re going to assume that when you first considered buying a MINI and visited the dealer, the sales rep spent a few minutes showing you the good features before you went out on a test driver, and told you more about how and why things are designed the way they are.

We’re going to hope that you allowed a little time and curbed your enthusiasm when you first picked your car up to listen again as the rep talked you through the main controls and features. However, we’re going to bet you weren’t paying much attention. Sitting in your very own brand-new car is just too overwhelming an experience.

So now that you’ve been driving your new MINI for at least a few days, what should you do? Start with the owner’s manual. We’ll bet that you’ve never read the owner’s manual from beginning to end for any car you’ve ever owned. Too bad. There’s a lot of information in those manuals so that from the beginning you’ll feel confident that you understand your car.

The best way to do that is to take an afternoon in your driveway and sit in the car. As you read each section, look at the diagrams and compare them with the way things actually look in your car. Move, adjust, push, pull, try each of the levers and buttons. Don’t just look at the top of the oil dipstick, for example. Take it out and see what real oil looks like. Take the radiator fill cap off and look inside to see where the level should be.

In other words, get to know the car thoroughly. Learn about it as if your life depended on knowing the car. Some dark night, it very well might.

If you don’t have time to read the owner’s manual all the way through right now, then put it in the bathroom. Owner’s manuals are great reading material for those few minutes when you really don’t have anything else to do. Every time you have a chance, read a section, and then when you go out to your car the next time, try to remember what you just read and check out how it looks in real life.

Another tip: when you’re driving your car, try to be as aware as possible about what it does and how it does it. Try to feel how the car moves and sounds when you accelerate, when you take your foot off the gas pedal, and when you put on the brakes. Try to feel what the car is doing when you turn a corner. Turn off your Ipod once in awhile and listen for the sounds of the engine as you accelerate and shift gears. Those feelings will be important as you start to plan how you want to improve your MINI and when you work on improving your driving.

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