Transmission Fluid Change, 1997 528i (E39)
This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.
I own a 1997 528i BMW with 110,000 miles. When the odometer was at 60,000 miles, I asked my local BMW dealer to change the automatic transmission fluid. Their response was, “it doesn’t need to be changed… it is in a sealed cylinder.” I questioned this but they were positive that it was not necessary. I asked again at 95,000 miles because my friend suggested it really should be changed. Once again, BMW said not necessary. Well, this past November, the CHECK ENGINE light came on so I took my car into BMW. They said there were tiny metal shavings in the transmission fluid, and this was the first sign that the transmission was starting to go! They tried selling me a new transmission or a new car. I was fed up, so my friend said to contact BavAuto. I ordered Red Line D4ATF transmission fluid and the filter kit. What is the best way to go about changing the fluid since it is so old, and also, who should I have change it? I’m desperately seeking help!
As you have learned, “lifetime” to BMW means that the fluid will last for the lifetime of the transmission: if the transmission fails at 100,000 miles, it has completed its lifetime. We like to see much longer service life from transmissions. To achieve this, you need to change the fluid periodically. There is nothing “sealed” about the fluid or transmission. It’s just like any other automatic transmission, except there’s no dipstick. The fluid is checked and filled via a plug on the driver’s side of the pan. I would recommend two fluid changes. This is because the pan only holds about 1/3 of the total fluid in the transmission. Performing a second fluid change ensures a higher concentration of fresh fluid. The first change requires dropping the pan and changing the filter. After reassembly, run the car for a few minutes, then perform a second change without dropping the pan. Who should change the fluid? If you are at all handy, you can do it yourself and save some serious money. We published a step-by-step, do-it-yourself article in the Spring 2006 issue of Fast Times. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, almost any shop can perform the filter and fluid change, there is nothing especially technical about it.
As for the Check Engine light, there is no fault code a BMW can generate that will tell whether the transmission fluid has metal shavings in it. If you want to be sure your service advisor isn’t, um, exaggerating, I would suggest that you obtain our fault code reader tool and check the engine codes yourself. This tool will also reset the Service Interval and Oil Change reminders, saving you even more money over what a dealer charges for this service.