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BMW DIY Video – Automatic Transmission Fluid and Filter Change – How To Replace – Auto Trans

March 30, 2012

For some reason (actually, a lower Cost to Own index), BMW has been historically reluctant to prescribe what would be considered a standard fluid and filter change interval on their automatic transmissions. To make matters more extreme, fluid and filter changes aren’t even prescribed for many later BMW models (mid-90s to current). BMW even went so far as to label their fluids and filters “lifetime.” We have never agreed with this, believing it was simply another cost-of-ownership measure. The fluid in an automatic transmission is the life-blood of the transmission, functioning as a lubricant, a coolant, a detergent, a clutch and the functional controller of the transmission’s operation. Clean fluid is absolutely critical to the life of the transmission. Historically, the reliability of BMW automatic transmissions has been sketchy above 100,000 miles. When we come across non-functional automatic transmissions, we usually find that the fluid and filter were not changed at regular intervals.

Update info: BMW recently dropped the “lifetime” moniker from their fluids and filters and replaced it with “extended service.”  Additionally, ZF, manufacturer of many of the BMW automatic transmissions, has officially updated their recommendations on automatic transmission servicing to reflect a minimum regular fluid change interval of  62,000 miles or more often if desired, using the approved ZF Lifeguard5, Lifeguard6 and Lifeguard8 fluids, as applicable.  See the ZF Automatic Transmission oil Service Letter in the link below:

Click HERE for ZF Automatic Transmission Oil Service Letter

At a minimum, we recommend changing automatic transmission fluid and filters every other year or at 50,000 miles. (An annual fluid change would certainly do no harm.) This is the best and most cost-effective way to assure a long, trouble-free life for your BMW’s automatic transmission. Earlier BMWs with automatic transmissions use Dexron III fluid; later BMWs use one of the various “lifetime” fluids. You must use the proper fluid for your application. Bavarian Autosport carries all of the proper fluids and the filters.

In this two-part DIY video series we’ll change the fluid and filter on a 2000 BMW 528it (with 225,000 miles).

NOTES FOR THIS DIY:

*  The vehicle must be basically level when filling and adjusting the fluid level.  Therefore, we cannot just raise the front or the rear to do this job.

*  Always loosen the fill plug before removing the drain plug.  This can prevent a situation where the fluid has been drained and the fill plug may not be readily removed due to corrosion or seizing.  We did do this, but did not show it on the video.

*  When adjusting the final fluid level, the fluid must be at operating temperature (generally, about 140-F).  This can be approximated touching the bottom of the fluid pan with your open hand.  You should be able to touch the pan, but not hold your hand there.  Of course, an infra-red temp gun can also be used (see below).

*  The general procedures shown here apply to most BMW automatic transmissions.  However, other models may have different shaped fluid pans and filters and different fill and drain plug locations.

*  Other models may use different fluids … we have them all.

*  The applicable Bentley repair manuals will detail the specific BMW or MINI model procedures as well as fill and drain plug locations.

Click below for digital infrared pyrometer:



TOOLS USED:

  • Bentley repair manual
  • Ramps or floor jack & jack stands
  • 3/8” drive ratchet, extensions and 10mm through 16mm sockets
  • 3/8” drive Torx male bits for use with the 3/8” ratchet (not all models require the Torx bits)
  • 3/8” drive Allen male bits for use with the 3/8” ratchet (not all models require the Allen bits)
  • Metric Combination wrench set (one end box, one end open) 10mm through 18mm
  • Bavarian Autosport fluid transfer pump
  • Bavarian Autosport fluid drain pan
  • Bavarian Autosport Form-A-Funnel
  • Bavarian Autosport oil absorbent floor and clean-up mats

PARTS USED:

  • Automatic transmission filter kit
  • Automatic transmission fluid
  • Bavarian Autosport Magnetic Drain Plug

Click below for Bentley repair manuals:

Click below for automatic transmission filters and kits:

Click below for BMW and MINI automatic transmission fluid:

Click below for magnetic drain plugs:

Click below for fluid drain pan:

Click below for fluid transfer pump:

Click below for Form-A-Funnels:

Click below for Garage Guard floor mat:

Click below for Pig Mat oil absorbent mats:

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78 Comments
  1. Very good and informative. Thanks for putting it up.

  2. Prezy L. Matthews permalink

    Great video, I did know that transmission fluid needed to be changed that often. Now I can do this myself. Thank very much.

  3. Transmission fluid change …. Excellent presentation, it is obvious to me that I can certainly do this job myself and will order parts in the near future.

    Thank you for this and other BMW maintenance videos.

    R Cantu

  4. Stanley Shepherd permalink

    The video was very informative, I like it. Thanks

  5. Kent permalink

    Shouldn’t you loosen the fill plug first thing, just to make sure that you can put your fresh fluid back?

    • Otto permalink

      Yes, we have replied to this on other comments as well. We actually always do this, but forgot to mention it during the video.

  6. Ken permalink

    Great video. I have a 2004 330 xi, is the procdure the same for replacing the trans fluid in my car?

    Ken

    • Otto permalink

      Ken,

      Your 2004 330xi does actually have a version of the transmission shown on this 2000 528i (A5S-390R). Therefore, the fill and drain plugs, filter and pan would be the same as shown.

  7. Connie Baggett permalink

    Very nice! Very instructive! Toping of the fluid was very important to me with all of the sealed transmissions on the market.

    Excellent job.

  8. don permalink

    very helpful video. how much is cost for the transmisson fluid & pump. I need fluid for both of my 2001 330ci convertible and 2004 530i.

    • Otto permalink

      Just type your BMW model into our website ( http://www.bavauto.com ) and search on “automatic filter” and “Automatic fluid”. We will show you the correct filter kit and the correct fluid (and quantity needed).

  9. Ben Robertson permalink

    Thank you for the videos. They are so clear and nice, that’s why I keep buying parts from you and doing my own repairs. Thank you.

  10. jerry lukas permalink

    Standard transmission fluid and filter life-span?

    • Otto permalink

      While BMW recommends no filter and fluid changes, in most cases, we do recommend filter and fluid changes at intervals from 30,000 to 50,000 miles for most models.

    • Otto permalink

      A standard (or manual) transmission does not have a filter. We just drain and refill the fluid. We like to service most manual transmissions at around 30,000 miles.

  11. Larry Schrader permalink

    Very helpful. I’m trying to do all I can to save, these videos help since thhis is my first BMW. Keep up the great work.

  12. Skip, slippage permalink

    Most service tech’s I spoke with strongly disagree with your suggestion on changing transmission fluid on a E38 series. Historically (per forums) it has caused more harm than good. It should only be changed if your or your indy feel there is an issue with shifting, slippage, etc.

    Are you willing to take the responsibility of a transmission failure if your procedure is followed to the letter?

    • Otto permalink

      There is a lot of old and incorrect information on changing older automatic transmission fluid. It is always better to get fresh fluid into the transmission. In the cases where it seems that a high mileage transmission has failed shortly after a fluid change, this is likely a scenario where the transmission was on it’s last legs with very high clutch pack wear (due to the fluid never being changed, as well as mileage and/or heavy use). In these cases, the dirty, gritty, heavy fluid may indeed have been helping the worn-out clutch packs keep just enough friction to operate …….. for a short period.

  13. Philip Schwerin permalink

    I’m not a mechanic, but I did thoroughly enjoy the transmission change video. You cover all the necessary details and make it look so easy. Keep up the good work!

  14. r broussard permalink

    thanks..simple, clear presentation.I’ll do it myself next change interval.

  15. Well presented with full details. Excellent job. I would recommend anyone to simply sit, relax, and watch it. Even if you have done it before, it makes the work look so clean!

  16. Alex permalink

    Thank you so much for this video! I have an E36 and just crossed the 150,000 mile mark, and suspect that the ATF has never been changed. I read the procedure in the Haynes repair manual, but it’s so much better seeing it in video. I’m going to do this while my car is on jack stands when I’m replacing the control arms within the next month or two.

    • Otto permalink

      Remember, the car must be basically level when adjusting the fluid fill level.

  17. Paul E Dodge permalink

    Hi,i just watched your trans fluid vids. I have a 2000 740i with 133.000 on the clock. The car had 116,500 when i bought it in Dec of 2011. I’ve had trouble “buying” the lifetime fluid hype from BMW myself. I’m curious as to why you didn’t do a complete fluid change (torque converter)? I realize it can complicate the project,but i have a problem with what is basically 1/2 of a fluid change. I’ve noticed a large “plug” on the bottom of my flywheel housing which begs the possibility of a drain on the torque converter? Your thoughts please. Also would you advise putting an additional remote filter assembly in the system between the trans & trans cooler. Thanks Paul

    • Otto permalink

      The torque converter (and the rest of the fluid held in the body of the transmission) cannot be drained. The only way to get a higher concentration of fresh fluid is to perform subsequent fluid drain and fill operations …. allowing the fluids to fully mix between drain/fills.

  18. Colin permalink

    Thanks..Grate job

  19. Scott McDuffie permalink

    I though it sure is great to see a business that will show their customers how to repair their cars. I run a Colision Shop and i always try to help my customers out. When we can save people money they will come back to you the next time they need help. Thanks , Scott

  20. Richard permalink

    BavAuto is really helpful!

  21. Wayne M, Arcuri permalink

    Great Job Otto…..Video was excellent and moved along at a good pace. Thank you for another Great job for us BMW owners. Sincerely Wayne

  22. 540i_Owner permalink

    Can you please explain “running the transmission through the gears”? This is a very informative video. Thank you for taking the time to continue making videos on older model BMW’s.

    • Otto permalink

      With your foot on the brake, and the park brake firmly applied, move the shifter through each gear position, pausing for a couple seconds in each position. Return to PARK (engine still running) for final fluid filling and level checking.

  23. Aaron Coalwell permalink

    Your DIY videos and articles are always very helpful. The Bavarian Auto staff is a great information resource.

  24. mike engell permalink

    Was quite a good explanation of the transmission fluid change. The only thing missing was the final torque of the drain plug. Really enjoyed watching!

  25. Don Aston permalink

    These videos are great, nice and slowly done.
    Would like to have heard a comment on how much fluid other models use.
    My Bentley Manual had 4.2 quarts, and you advised 6 quarts. Sure enough, the guy I took the car to said it took about 5.5 quarts.
    Also, the Bentley had the wrong fluid according to you. Thanks for being a good source for the correct info.

  26. excellent-clear-complete

  27. Dan Kurczewski permalink

    is the e60 5 series 530i the same also doesn’t trans fluid expand wont filling to the bottom of the fill plug be to much or is that already expected and the fill plug placed in the right spot thank you love your videos

    • Otto permalink

      The location of the fill plug takes all variables into account. just be sure the fluid is at or near operating temp (about 140 f, which is hot to your hand but not so much that you can not touch the bottom of the pan) and the vehicle is basically level.

  28. Jesus Lulo permalink

    I think these videos are great, They are very helpful and instructional. In these days and times its good to be able to save a buck or two doning your own maintnence a your own car. Thanks for the help the videos are great keep up the good work.

  29. dennis permalink

    excellent video

  30. doug owyang permalink

    like

  31. Professionally done, informative video.
    Each step was important so as to be understand from start to finish.
    Liked the part of filling while running, I was not aware of that.
    Cheers,
    Richard

  32. Rey Cleto permalink

    how do you determine where the oil leaks from under the engine? do you have any type of equipment or something to trace were the leak is coming from.

    • Otto permalink

      In determining the source of a fluid leak, if the area is too messy to be able to see where the source point is, we first recommend cleaning the area then watching for fresh leakage. This can be done with spray brake parts cleaner (or other methods). If this is not viable, or does not help, we offer a nice leak detection kit. The kit includes dye fluids that are ultra-violet sensitive, which are added to the suspected leaking fluid (different leak detectors for different fluids). The system is then operated and as the leakage continues, the freshly leaked fluid will contain the leak detection dye. We then use the included ultra-violet light to view the dye ….. and trace it back to the point or origin for the leak.

      Click HERE for leak detection kits

  33. Nolan Smith permalink

    Very good how to video

  34. don edwards permalink

    very good. thank you

  35. Peter Churchill-Smith permalink

    Fabulous videos.
    Only suggestion is to remember that many owners/hobbyists dont have all of your equipment and facilities. For example, we are usually only able to put the car on jacks as opposed to raising the car on a hoist.
    All in all, these videos are very helpful and instructive. Good reminder that there is still alot of maintenance that we can do ourselves.

    PeterCS

  36. I like the video and wish to see more espeshally for my 2000 BMW 323 Ci

  37. Excellent video! He made sure that everything was clear at every step all the way without assuming the viewer was already familiar with the basics.

  38. glenroy thomas permalink

    i love watching your service performance

  39. Dave Penfield permalink

    From what I could see, the pan and surrounding parts appeared pretty clean.

    Dirt and grim are the enemies. One comment would be to take some brake clean fluid and clean around the pan lip prior to removal and especially around the fill plug.

    Too easy to push contaminants in during the fill process.

    The other comment and also a question: does the car have to be level? Ramps would have the vehicle at an angle, and would definitely affect the fill process.

    Thanks for the video, have done it on other vehicles I’ve owned but was interested to see what you had to say.

    • Otto permalink

      See other notes on having the car level for final fill (yes, it does need to be level). We actually cleaned this one up prior to shooting the video. Your comments on pre-cleaning are good to note.

  40. David Hu permalink

    Very clear instructions, excellent work! Like it.

  41. Alex permalink

    Thanks so much for this video — very very helpful. I badly need to do this on my E36. Could you tell me what the proper fluid is on the A4S 270R? I’ve seen many people talk about it, but I wasn’t sure if there was an “official factory fill” that you can buy. If not I’d assume something like Redline D4 would be sufficient.

    Thanks again!
    - Alex

  42. Ron Danyluk permalink

    I find all the Bavarian videos extremely helpful…I own a 2003 540i and as everyone knows, even regular maintenance such as oil changes are very expensive when done by a dealer. These videos make it very easy to do this routine maintenance yourself. Thanks to Bavarian Autosport

    • Otto permalink

      Thanks for the encouraging words!

  43. David permalink

    Is it necessary to have the car running for the last part of the fluid fill?

    I think most of us will only have the car up on ramps, maybe jack stands, and I am not so sure how safe that might be. With that said if we are using ramps and the car is at an angle and not level, how can we make sure we get the proper amount of fluid into the transmission? Is it possible to top off through the dipstick tube?

    Great video by the way!

    • Otto permalink

      The vehicle MUST be basically level in order to adjust the final fluid level. Therefore, just having the front or rear op on stands or ramps will not be adequate. Additionally, the engine MUST be running (for ALL automatic transmissions) to adjust the final fluid level, as well.

      If the transmission does have a dip-stick tube (older BMWs), this can be used for filling as well as fluid level checking.

  44. Jim Hanlon permalink

    Great informative video, keep up the good work.

  45. Michael Hall permalink

    This video is well done! Detailed and helpful, makes me want to change the transmission fluid on my ’01 530i…and get one of those magnetic bolt trays.

  46. Great instructions I have been wanting to do the auto trans on one of two BMWs I own but was a tad nervious but no problem after your video.

  47. Brian permalink

    Great two part video! The only addition I would like to add is that on my 02 325ci with automatic transmission I needed to fill and drain it many times (about 5) before the transmission fluid stayed red or new looking. From what I have read it’s because there is a front section of the transmission where the transmission fluid also resides (hides). This section holds several liters/quarts of fluid and it will not drain out during a normal fluid & filter change. There may be a secret way of flushing all the fluid out the first time but I am not aware of it. If anyone knows the secret please post a comment!
    Any who, if you follow this video and then drain out the fluid one more time you will see that the fluid isn’t new/red looking as it should be. I found this out because I actually had a shop do my change the first time and when I took it back in to have them check the fluid level they noticed that the fluid was still dark looking. As you can image this was not a BMW shop, so I learned my lesson.
    Lastly, from some reading that I have done there are many people that have report transmission failure after just draining the fluid once (like I did my first time). I think this might be because you have now mixed old and new fluid together – like mixing water and oil together? Regardless, I ended up doing another fluid change myself. I bought a 5 gallon bucket transmission fluid. I know this seems excessive but I ended up using most of it before it drained red. Now, I do have over 100,000 miles on my BMW so maybe it was worse than most but do you really want to take a chance?

    • Otto permalink

      When you drain the fluid pan (on any automatic transmission) you are only getting about 1/3 to 1/2 of the total fluid that is in the trans. If the fluid is very dirty (as was the fluid in our video), subsequent fluid drain and fill procedures (without dropping the pan) will bring you to a higher concentration of fresh fluid. We actually did two more fluid changes on this car, later on. Having the new and the old fluid in the trans is not an issue as far as causing any problems. We just would rather get the fluid as clean as possible.

  48. Mike permalink

    Thanks for the video. I am somewhat surprised that no mention is made of measurement of fluid temperature at the fill point. Both ZF and BMW fill procedure documentation is very clear on this, specifying a specific temperature range.

    Mike

    • Otto permalink

      Yes, we did forget to mention that the fluid should be at operating temp (about 140 degrees-F). This is very warm to hot when you touch the bottom of the fluid pan with your open hand …. hot enough that you can’t hold your hand there, but not so hot that you can not even touch it. If the fluid has cooled down during your work, just run the engine for a bit to warm things back up before doing the final fluid level check.

  49. David Clark permalink

    VERY good video on changing auto trans oil and filter. I will be doing this job soon and this cleared some of the mystery and a lot of my apprehension.

    Thanks for putting it ‘out there’

  50. Jerry Campos permalink

    Excellent, very good information in D I Y. learn a lot from this video.
    Thank you

  51. I really enjoy these videos because it allows us BMW owners to preform our own
    maintenance and prolong the life of vehicles. Could we have some videos on M3 and
    M5 vehicles, I am a owner of a beautiful well kept 2000 BMW M5. i would like to learn
    more about this vehicle and its maintenance.

    Thank you !

    PS. keep those videos coming……..

    • Otto permalink

      Thanks for your input. We do try to be as “all encompassing” as possible with the DIYs that we do. Specific M model DIYs may be a bit lacking.

  52. Juan permalink

    Nice video.

    Thanks.

  53. Charlie Shimkus permalink

    I did both versions of trans, one for me and my buddy.

    Very nice video of the GM trans A5S360R (GM – 5L40E)

    The twin pan ZF is the A4S 310R transmission

    It would be nice to point out the difference on your website.

    Your sales personnel got it wrong and sent us two of the GM kits when I told them we both had 99 528 IT wagons. Seems one car was built 11/99 and is considered by the dealership to be a 2000. Simply calling the dealership and giving them the VIN I was able to get the exact transmission model numbers. They have the software available that can tell you exactly what the car has. You guys should think about getting it. It would have saved us a week in time and hassle to know this upfront. A little egg on your face?

    The GM trans torx drain and fill bolts were extremely difficult to remove and I did have a stripping situation with both bolts. The torx bolts are very difficult to get any kind of leverage. I had to remove them with a snap-on easy out with a 1/2 inch socket connection. The ZF trans bolts were a breeze in comparison. The ZF gaskets are a major pain given they bake themselves on and need about an hour of scraping to get all of the residue removed. The GM trans uses a metal gasket that is relatively easy to remove. Tell your customers the replacement magnetic bolt for the GM trans is a good choice if further flushes are expected down the line. The torx bolts are a terrible design flaw. I

    t is a good idea to test removing the drain and fill bolts to see if they come out easily. In the video, removing the drain plug before testing whether the fill plug can be removed is a major error. You should re-shoot it with a warning to check this before draining anything.

    All in all a good effort. It’s difficult to get it 100% right, but you guys did a commendable job of showing what’s involved which should increase the sales of these items.

    • Otto permalink

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Charlie,

      We’re certainly sorry for your inconvenience with the trans filter kits. The 11/99 car is indeed a 2000 model and should always be presented as such (as should be registered as a 2000 as well). The BMW model year begins on the 9th month of the prior year (in most cases). Therefore, for example, a 2000 model would have a production date of 9/99 through 8/00. And, of course, as you found, the 2000 model does indeed have a different transmission (the A5S-360R, as shown in the video). If the VIN or the production date is provided, we are able to check and verify the vehicle just as the dealer does. By the way, both of these transmissions are manufactured by GM (4L30E and 5L40E in GM-speak).

      Yes, we did neglect to mention loosening the fill plug prior to removing the drain plug …. although, during the set-up we did just this, as we always do. As detailed as we try to be, you sometimes miss a detail or two when you are already intimate with the subject matter (be it writing or doing photo or video DIYs). We appreciate your reminder.

  54. Good tech, good video. These provided video helps a million. Thanks!

  55. Ben permalink

    Great video. I am getting ready to do this on my 2007 X3 with green label fluid requirement. On your website, the magnetic drain plug is listed for the engine–does it still apply for the trans in that car?

    Also, I really like that pump. Is it possible to clean it? I’d like to use that on all my cars, but don’t want to mix the fluids in the pump.

  56. Paul R permalink

    If during installation, a drip of fluid gets onto the gasket or onto the saeling surface where the gasket mates up to, will that cause it to leak? How clean does sealing surface have to be?

    Use lint free towels?

    • Otto permalink

      Lint free towels are a good choice.

      The best you can do with the gasket installation is to get the gasket seating area as clean as possible. We like to use brake cleaner spray applied to a clean cloth.. In most cases, a drip of fluid will not harm anything.

      • Paul R permalink

        Thanks. That’s surprising. I would have thought if the gasket was installed wet with transission fluid on it (i.e. a drip that breaches across the entire gasket width), that the fluid would continue to be able to seep through long term; i.e. no good seal ever obtained. But it sounds like the gasket is able to seal to the metal even if wet with fluid.

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