MINI R56 Engine Timing Calibration – 2006-2013 Cooper – All Models

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MINI R56 Engine Timing Calibration – Varies

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The BMW Repair Guide used this 2007 MINI Cooper for the following article. To see other repairs on our site using this actual car, please click on the image below!

 

A MINI R56 engine timing calibration is a simple procedure that may be necessary if the timing chain or camshaft sprockets (VANOS) have been damaged on your vehicle.

As we have discussed in other articles, the MINI R56 four cylinder Prince engine has timing chain issues. More specifically, it has a timing chain tensioner issue that if left unchecked can cause catastrophic damage to your engine (please read our repair article MINI R56 Timing Chain Replacement for a more in depth discussion on this topic).

As early as 2010, many Generation 2 MINI owners were complaining of a metallic noise emanating from the right side of the engine compartment. As the vehicles were brought in to dealerships and repair shops for diagnosis, reports started to filter out of premature timing chain tensioner failure. This failure caused the MINI R56 timing chain to “slap” against the side of the engine block creating what was to become the notorious “death rattle”. If not repaired immediately, the timing chain becomes elongated causing it to skip off of the camshaft sprockets and potentially evoking catastrophic damage to the engine. Elongated timing chains can also bind up in the gears, causing the camshaft sprocket bolts to shear off sending a volcanic plume of metal particles into the engine head and oil pan.

A sheared off mounting bolt from the front exhaust camshaft sprocket.
A sheared off mounting bolt from the front exhaust camshaft sprocket. We fished this out of the oil pan in a 2007 MINI R56 Cooper.

The good news is this issue has been well documented and (assuming your engine has not been irreversibly damaged) can be fixed. There is a plethora of affordable OEM and aftermarket kits available to the home mechanic to rebuild the timing chain system on their MINI R56s.

One topic related to a timing chain replacement that causes a lot of confusion among home mechanics is the issue of re-calibrating the engine timing. A MINI R56 timing calibration is a very simple operation to perform…the dilemma that arises is why it must be done and under what circumstances. Once these two concepts are understood, the actual calibration only takes a few minutes.

The over simplified “how and why” of a MINI R56 timing calibration
The Prince engine in your MINI R56 is a four cylinder marvel that is dependent on two precisely engineered camshafts that control the movement of the intake and exhaust valves inside the cylinders. The camshafts have “lobes” that open and close the valves in perfect unison with the engine’s pistons.

In order to keep this harmonious relationship between the valves and the pistons, the camshafts must be intimately linked to the engine’s crankshaft (this is starting to sound like an online dating advertisement). This interconnection between the camshafts and the crankshaft is supplied by the timing chain; as the crankshaft turns the timing chain, the timing chain turns the camshafts…all of this in perfect factory set unity. If this factory set unity between camshafts and crankshaft is broken, then the engine will be out of time with potentially catastrophic consequences.

So how do we keep the factory set unity if we have to service the engine…more specifically if we have to remove the timing chain? How do we keep this harmonious relationship of parts if even a minuscule amount of movement in either the camshafts or crankshaft will throw the engine out of perfect rhythm? We use a locking tool to immobilize the camshafts and crankshaft before starting our work. The sole purpose of the timing chain locking tool kit is to immobilize the camshaft and crankshaft so they stay in the correct position when the timing chain is removed. It’s that simple folks.

But what happens if the timing chain is removed without locking the camshafts and crankshaft? What happens if the chain is damaged causing it to skip off of the camshaft sprockets while the engine is running? Now the engine is no longer in time; the camshafts and crankshaft are no longer in unity. Attempting to reinstall the chain and starting the engine could cause catastrophic damage. The engine timing needs to be calibrated.

This MINI R56 will require an engine timing recalibration
Note how the front exhaust camshaft sprocket (VANOS) is crooked. It sheared off its mounting bolt in this 2007 MINI R56 N12 engine. This is an excellent example of a MINI engine that will need its timing re-calibrated.

Lucky for us, BMW has made a MINI R56 timing calibration a very simple procedure. All MINI R56 camshafts are embossed with a label on the top of the part; all you have to do is turn each camshaft until the label is pointing up…then lock it in place with your tool. Wow…that was tough.

Embossed label on a 2007 MINI R56 exhaust camshaft
The embossed label on a 2007 MINI R56 exhaust camshaft.

As for the crankshaft, it is calibrated in the correct position by simply inserting the tool and locking the flywheel. There is only one hole in the flywheel so it’s pretty tough to mess that one up. Once your engine timing is calibrated, you can proceed with timing chain repairs as normal. The installation of your camshaft sprockets (VANOS) have nothing to do with your engine timing…they can be bolted on in any orientation after you lock the cams and crank in the correct calibrated position.

Parts, Tools and Supplies

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Parts
No parts are required for this repair.

Tools and Supplies

1. Camshaft/flywheel locking tool kit (required). You must use the proper timing chain/flywheel locking tool to perform a MINI R56 engine timing calibration. There are several options available depending on how much you want to spend and whether you want to take a few minutes to modify the tool. Inexpensive generic locking kits are readily available on sites like Ebay and Amazon…the only drawback is that they will require a five minute modification to work on a MINI R56 Cooper. The more expensive kit does not have to be modified. In our opinion, the 5 minute modification is worth saving the money (generic kits are up to 75% cheaper). We used the generic kit in this repair article…it worked great and we show you how to modify it in the article below.

ToolQuantityPart #Description
Timing chain tool kit – Schwaben MINI Gen 21023734SCH01ASchwaben, includes camshaft and flywheel locking tools
Timing chain tool kit – Generic MINI Gen 21naGeneric, includes camshaft and flywheel locking tools

 

2. Other tools and supplies
28mm crows foot socket or 28mm open end wrench

Procedure

Section 1 – Locking the flywheel
The first step in calibrating the engine timing on your MINI R56 is to lock the flywheel. If you are in the middle of a timing chain repair, you may have already done this (if so just skip to section 2 below). Locking the flywheel is an extremely easy procedure that has received a lot of “bad press” in online forums and repair articles. There is absolutely no need to visually calibrate your pistons when locking your flywheel…just turn the crankshaft until the tool slips into the hole.

  1. The first step to performing a MINI R56 engine timing calibration is to lock the flywheel. Locking the flywheel sets the pistons in their correct position so they can be synchronized with the camshafts. First, you will need to test your flywheel locking tool to see if it will fit into the hole in the flywheel cover. As discussed at the beginning of this article, the more expensive OEM locking tools should easily slide in. Unfortunately the inexpensive generic locking tools usually won’t fit into the hole because the metal arm is welded in the wrong spot (see images below) causing it to press against the oil pan. When the metal arm presses against the oil pan, the locking tool will become cocked at an angle not allowing it to be pressed into the flywheel cover hole.MINI R56 engine timing calibration - flywheel locking toolMINI R56 engine timing calibration - flywheel locking tool won't fit because of oil pan
  2. If your locking tool cannot be inserted into the flywheel cover, you will need to cut a portion of the metal arm off. Put the locking tool in a vise and cut the metal arm off using a Dremel tool. MAKE SURE to leave a small amount of the metal arm attached to the tool! You will need a small piece left on the tool so you can remove it from the flywheel cover with a pair of pliers. You should now be able to easily insert it into the flywheel cover.MINI R56 engine timing calibration - modify flywheel locking tool
  3. Coat the flywheel tool with a thin layer of multipurpose grease and insert the flywheel tool into the cover as far as it will go.Coat the flywheel locking tool with grease so it can be easily removedMINI R56 engine timing calibration - install the flywheel locking tool
  4. You will now need to to lock the tool into the hole in the flywheel. All you have to do is push on the flywheel locking tool with your finger while rotating the engine at the crankshaft pulley nut with an 18mm socket wrench. When the hole in the flywheel lines up with the locking tool, it will slip right in…it’s that simple. If you have a long enough socket wrench (we use a 24”) you can easily do this procedure yourself while lying on your back under the car. If not, enlist the help of a friend to turn the crankshaft.MINI R56 engine timing calibration - turn crankshaft with an 18mm socketMINI R56 engine timing calibration - locking tool will slip into hole when it lines up with hole in flywheel

 

Section 2 – Calibrating and locking the camshafts
“Calibrating” the camshafts is a fancy term that simply means to spin them until their embossed labels are facing up. Once the labels are facing up, then you can lock them in place.

  1. Locate and verify the embossed part labels on both camshafts. The embossed labels are located in the center of each camshaft, and contain part numbers and other important information. These labels must be facing directly up before installing your camshaft tool. If they are not, then you will need to spin the camshafts until they are.MINI R56 engine timing calibration - camshaft embossed label.
  2. Use a 28mm crow’s foot socket or open end wrench to spin the camshafts as shown in the following images until the labels are facing directly up. MINI R56 engine timing calibration - spin the camshafts until the labels are facing up. MINI R56 engine timing calibration - spin the camshafts until the labels are facing up.
  3. When the labels are facing up, install the camshaft locking tool as shown below (note – different brand tools may differ slightly in installation).MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 1MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 2
  4. Install the three bolts anchoring the tool to the engine head. Make sure bolts are snug BUT DO NOT over tighten. You can strip the threads in the engine head.MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 3MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 4MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 5MINI R56 engine timing calibration - install camshaft locking tool step 6

 

The timing on your engine is now correctly calibrated  and you can continue with your timing chain repair. 

MINI R56 Engine Timing Calibration Finished
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. And congratulations for Doing It Yourself!

The Repair Difficulty Level displays graphically how challenging the repair is, from easy to advanced. Easy repairs usually require very few tools, have short repair times and do not require jacking and supporting the vehicle. As the difficulty level rises, expect the repair to demand more time, specialized tools, and better understanding of mechanics to complete the job.
MakeModelSubmodelEngineYearChasis
MINIAllBaseAllAllR56
MINIAllBaseAllAllR57