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Torquewrench 09-18-2006 06:44 PM

E46 ZF Automatic Transmission ATF Fluid & Filter Change DIY
Another weekend, another maintenance adventure. Had this Friday off and I decided to tackle some projects on the E46 2001 BMW 330i. Did an engine oil and engine oil filter change, engine air filter change, cabin air filter change, and fuel filter change, but the main event of the day was automatic transmission maintenance. I did a lot of homework before I felt comfortable tackling this service, but Iíll save you the trouble and just give you the good stuff.

To give an overview of the transmission service, youíre doing three things:
  1. Changing out as much of the automatic transmission fluid as possible
  2. Replacing the automatic transmission filter located inside the transmission
  3. Cleaning the transmission pan and magnets of metal and sludge
Thatís it!

A little background:
Prior to 1994-1995, BMW recommended transmission maintenance on both automatic and manual transmissions every 60,000 miles. This involved changing the MTF or ATF; and on the automatic: dropping the pan, changing the internal filter and cleaning the magnets inside the transmission that collect metal debris. In 1994-1995, BMW started offering free maintenance to keep up with the Benzís (and Luxusí, Infinitiís and Acuraís), and at the same time stopped recommending the 60,000 mile transmission service on all but the M cars. Coincidence? I think not. BMW began to refer to the transmission fluid as ďlifetime fillĒ. Recently, BMW re-introduced optional transmission maintenance at 100,000 miles, which I take as them backing off from their position on lifetime fluids.

I understand two causes of slippage and failure in automatic transmissions. The first is accelerated wear of clutch mating surfaces caused by metal particles suspended in the fluid. The second is the fluid itself wearing out and transmitting hydraulic forces less effectively. Over time, shear forces on the fluidís long-chain hydrocarbons break into shorter molecules that transmit shear forces less effectively. As a result of this cracking, worn out ATF contributes to slippage. Put together a murky, silted mix of metal particles and worn out ATF and itís only a matter of time until you end up with a slipping or non-functional transmission.

Manuals are a little simpler, but suffer the same fate. Metal in the fluid will grind away at the gears, introducing slop. The synchros use fluid viscosity just like an automatic transmission to spin up the gears to matching speeds. Broken down fluids wonít work as effectively at spinning up gears and as a result, you wonít able to shift as quickly or smoothly.

Bottom line, if you plan on keeping your car longer than 100,000 miles, then it makes sense to maintain the transmission. Most people recommend doing the service at 60,000 miles, I was at 55,000 and decided to go for it.

Letís do it!
Let me say before I even start that you will be under the car and on your back a LOT for this job. A creeper will make this job much, much easier. I picked up a 36-in. Torin Big Red creeper at Advance Auto for $20 on sale. Definitely the best purchase I ever made.

Drove the car onto the four 2x10ís that allow my jack to fit under the car. Emergency brake and chocks for the rear wheels. Jacked the front of the car at the central jacking point, placed jack stands under front jack pads and lowered carefully. Jacked the rear under the differential, jack stands under the rear jack pads.
Remember, whenever youíre working under the car, have someone nearby, and try your best to rock the car off the jack stands BEFORE you get under it to make sure itís stable. Life is precious should be long, and nothing of this sort is worth injuring yourself over.
I had driven about a half-hour before I started, but before I got to the transmission I changed the oil and the fuel filter, so the transmission pan was warm to the touch, not hot. This is important because to fill the transmission accurately the transmission must be between 30-50C, or 85-120F. Skin temperature is around 85F and 120F is too hot to maintain steady contact without pain, so as long as the fluid and pan are warm, youíre in the correct range.

Opened the FILL plug of the transmission pan. It is a horizontal, large diameter plug towards the rear of the car that takes an 8mm Allen wrench. I couldnít get my breaker bar into the confined space. Maybe I could have if Iíd had a Ĺ-in. drive 8mm hex driver, but I didnít, so I was using a Ĺ-in. to 3/8-in. drive adapter, which made the whole thing longer, causing it not to fit. Next, I tried beating on the Allen wrench with a rubber mallet. Maybe a deadblow hammer would have worked, but the rubber mallet didnít. Next I fit a 6-inch long 3/8-in. drive socket extension on the end of the 8mm Allen wrench (well it sorta fit!) and beat on that with the mallet, and the bolt moved. Before it came off I put a 5 qt. painters measuring container under the plug, and out came about 3 qts. of nasty dark grey fluid, filled with metal particles.
Next, I opened the drain plug, which is on the bottom of the pan towards the front of the car. It takes a 6mm Allen driver and in this case I used the 18-in. breaker bar which made it much easier. Another 1-1.5 qts came out.

Finally, I cracked all 22 pan bolts using a T-25 Torx driver on the end of the breaker bar. Theyíre only torqued to 6 N-m so the bar was probably overkill, but it didnít hurt anything. I left four in place, one at each corner, and remove the rest. There is still another 1.5 qts of fluid left in the pan, so I recommend removing two from the front corners first. This will allow you to pour the remaining fluid into a waiting container. ZF says the transmission holds 9.2 qts including the torque converter and 6.5 qts not including the TC. Since youíre not removing the TC (nor should you bother), 6.5 qts is all youíre going to get. I wish Iíd had a larger diameter catch container than the paint container. I spilled a good bit of fluid on the ground and even some in my hair (My wife smelled the stuff on me later, saw it in my hair, and asked me if Iíd seen the episode of In Living Color chronicleing the invention of the Jerry Curl).

Some folks have disconnected the lines that run from the transmission to the transmission fluid cooler at the front of the car, put the output into a bucket and connected the input to a gravity feed container of fresh fluid. In this way you can exchange all of the fluid, but the lines looked mighty inaccessible to me, so I opted to just drain as much as I could. This might be one of those things thatís much easier with a lift (what isnít?).

With the pan off, I set it aside and removed the AT filter. Two flathead Allen bolts secure it, but you only need to remove the one towards the front of the car to remove it. Make sure the pink sealing ring comes with it. Have a container ready because it contains holds a good bit of fluid. Get the new filter and install it, making sure to seat the sealing ring properly. If the filter is horizontal, good chance itís seated properly.

Now itís time to clean the pan. There are 8 rare earth magnets in the pan that collect metal bits. Mine were covered in fine grey sludge, which is a very good thing. Every bit of sludge on these magnets was not grinding away at the rest of the transmission. You should use lint free cloth to clean all of these parts so as not to introduce foreign particles into the transmission. I used paper towels and brake cleaner and I expect to be smitten by the transmission gods with a lightning bolt any minute now. With the magnets clean of sludge, the pan nice and shiny, and the gasket surface free of any residue, I coated the whole thing with a thin layer of fresh ATF and brought it back to the car.

Back under the car I had three or four bolts facing the wrong way in the pan to keep the new gasket in place. Getting the first couple bolts in while holding the pan above my head was probably the hardest part of this job. A couple of times I touched the gasket with grimy hands and had to undo the whole thing, clean the gasket, and start all over again. I finally got it, and tightened up all 22 bolts in a rough star pattern to 6 N-m. Maybe you can do a perfect star pattern, but not being able to see all of the bolts at once and the fact that the pan is somewhat squarish meant close enough was good for me. Next, torque the drain plug to 35 N-m.

Once the pan was on it was time to pump in some fresh fluid. To do this you need some sort of fluid pump. Mine looks like a giant liquid soap pump. I attached it to empty windshield washer liquid container and filled it with 3 qts of Valvoline Mercon V ATF. The original fluid in this transmission is Esso ATF LT71141, a synthetic blend that BMW sells in 20L barrels for $28/L (yes, you read right, $560 bucks a barrel). If you bring your own container, some dealerships will sell you smaller quantities. 7 L at $28/L is still $192, so if you insist on sticking with the OEM fluid, VW, Audi, and Porsche use the same ZF transmissions that use the same fluid and you can get it for $16/L from their dealerships and a couple of web sources (see p/n and links at the end). VW also sells a Pentosin substitute that can be had for $8-9/L. Valvoline has certified Mercon V as compatible with Esso LT 71141, as has Castrol with their Multi-Vehicle Synthetic ATF. Plenty of folks have also used the Redline D4 ATF product, and some have also tried Amsoilís synthetic ATF with success. If youíre still under warranty Iíd stick with the OEM fluid (VW stuff is fine, itís the same thing). If anything were to happen I think youíre position would be better if they couldnít blame it all on different fluid. Being out of warranty, I felt comfortable using the Mercon V. It doesnít hurt that it goes for $4/qt, 1/7 the price of the BMW juice and ľ the price from VW. I purchased 7 qts. and used about 6-1/2, together with the filter ($23.25) and the gasket ($13.75), both from Pelican Parts, the total cost of materials for the service came to $66.26.

At this point I was able to pump in about 3 qts. I inserted the fill plug finger tight and started the car, shifting through the gears slowly ten times to get the new fluid in all the nooks and crannies. Placed the gear selector in neutral, shut off the car, and pumped additional fluid through the fill plug until overflow. Have your catch container ready! Reinserted the fill plug finger tight.

Now the tricky part! Started the car in neutral and left it running. You have to crawl under the car and top off the fluid with it running, then screw in the fill plug and torque it to spec. I stayed clear of the exhaust, no burns, but I will admit I was a little tense and wanted to be out from under the car ASAP. Getting the fill plug in was a b*tch. My fingers were covered in oil, I was sweating, nervous, and you canít see where the allen wrench has to go. Just as there was no way to get the breaker bar in to loosen the fill plug, there was no way to get a torque wrench in there either. Once I finally got it in there I just whacked the 8mm allen wrench solidly with the mallet a couple of times and called it a day. If youíre able to get a torque wrench in there, the spec is 30 N-m.

I wish I had cleaned the exhaust and pan with a degreaser. The fluid on my arms got on there and I can smell it every time the car has been running for a while. Iíll clean it next time I have the car up, but do yourself a favor and clean everything up while you have access to the underside of the car.

Well, thatís it! I was doing everything for the first time and the transmission took me 4 hours start to finish. Itís been three days and I think it feels smoother, but it felt pretty darn smooth beforehand, so that might just be wishful thinking. I will say confidently that the shifts do happen faster, but again, they werenít slow before either. Changing 6.5 qts. out of 9.2 gives a 71% change, 6.5/9.2 = 71% . Changing another 6.5 qts. puts the new to old fluid ratio at 91%, [(9.2-6.5)*71%+6.5]/9.2 = 91%. I might do a drain and fill again in 30,000 miles without dropping the pan just to get some fresh fluid in there.

My Car: 2001 330i ZSP
Transmission: ZF 5HP19 (BMW A5S 325Z), green plaque on transmission

Lessons Learned:
I wouldnít do this without a creeper.
Jack the car as high as possible.
Use a larger catch-pan than I did to avoid spills
Have kitty litter ready in case you spill some ATF (I sure did)
For the fluid pump, if you can find a squat bottle with the proper threads this will make the job easier since room under the car is limited.
A Ĺ-in. drive 8mm hex driver would have helped with the fill plug
Degrease the exhaust, cat, and AT pan while you have the car on stands

What Youíll Need

Tools I used:
Safety glasses
Monkey suit
4 24-in. long 2x10ís
2 wheel chocks
Floor jack, Craftsman bargain basement model
4 jack stands
3/8-in. and ľ-in. drive metric socket set
T-25 3/8-in. drive Torx socket driver
8mm 3/8-in. drive hex socket driver (1/2-in. drive recommended)
6mm 3/8-in. drive hex socket driver (1/2-in. drive recommended)
18-in. Ĺ-in. drive breaker bar
In-Lb torque wrench
Ft-Lb torque wrench
5 qt. painters measuring container
Manual fluid pump
Empty washer fluid container
5 gallon bucket with lid (for used fluid)

Paper towels (lint-free cloth is better)
Solvent (I used brake cleaner)
Scotch-brite pad (for cleaning gasket surface)

7 qts Valvoline Mercon V ATF $3.98 each
AT Pan Gasket (BMW p/n: 24-10-1-423-380) $13.75
AT Filter (BMW p/n: 24-34-1-423-376) $23.25

Useful Links

ZF Transmission Guide

Transmission Fundamentals: Explanation of How the ZF and GM ATs Function

Alternate ATFs (in order of my preference):

1. Valvoline Mercon V (Valvoline Compatibility Letter, what I used)

2. Redline D4 ATF
3. Amsoil ATF
4. Castrol Multi-Vehicle ATF (Castrol Compatibility Letter)
5. Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF (some Subaru users reported slipping, but these werenít ZF ATs so who knows)

Sources for Esso LT 71141 ATF (BMW p/n: 83-22-9-407-807)
Peter Schmid
World Impex
Any VW, Audi, or Porsche dealer (VW p/n: G-052-162-A2)

Other DIYs:
VW ATF Drain & Fill (same AT)
Pelican Parts BMW E36 AT drain & fill
Another 2001 330i ownerís drain & fill experience:
BMW owners weigh in on Redline D4 ATF vs. OEM
Amsoil ATF Replacement Guide

Misc. BMW AT Links
Unofficial statistics on BMW automatic transmissions and Lifetime ATF
E38 ZF 5HP24 ATF Service DIY (good pictures)
TechDrive Vol. 3 No. 2, Independent BMW Service Mag, recommends using only BMW OEM fluids (blah!)
Mixing Esso and Castrol?
Diagnosing Transmission Whine (usually low fluid level)

Seattle 09-19-2006 04:14 PM

Great write up. I goingto do the same thing.have all the parts already,just need to find time.
costco sells a aluminum jack that just fits under the car in the center. this is the only jack i have used that does,even the one with the big roller end can't.

I'm going to do a brake fluis flush also while I have it up on stands.

keep us updated if any problems arise

Torquewrench 11-06-2006 08:18 PM

Cleaning ATF
A little followup and a question.

Apparently I got some ATF on the cat and exhaust pipes. I assumed it would burn off but it hasn't Now anytime I've been driving a while and come to a stop I smell ATF.

I tried GUNK Engine Degreaser and it smelled like that for a while, but the ATF smell was still there. My next thought is brake cleaner with steel wool.

Can anyone recommend a product and/or method to remove the ATF completely from the exhaust?

z0lt3c 11-06-2006 10:23 PM

A steel brush on the end of a drill or dremel and some brake cleaner should work well.

How has the transmission been performing since you switched to the Valvoline Mercon V?

Torquewrench 11-07-2006 05:44 AM

With the wire brush, should I be concerned about removing the rust-proofing (galvanization or whatever is used)?

As for the Mercon V, I haven't noticed any ill effects, and perhaps slightly faster shifts, but it could easily be wishful thinking. I'm thinking of dropping the pan and changing it out again, just to make sure I don't have a weeping leak from the gasket that might be depositing a tiny amount on the CAT periodically. I'd never think of doing that with the Esso because of the cost, but with the Mercon V, it's just $28 at $4 quart and $14 for the gasket. If I do I'll take some pictures this time and add them to the DIY.

Lbert 11-29-2006 10:10 AM

torquewrench, thank you for the excellent write up. I decided to go with Valvoline MerconV as well, especially now that it is written on the bottle that it is compatible with the LT71141.

I do have a question for you or anyone else.

I have a 2001 E46 325i sedan manufactured in 12/2000. The transmission label is color green with "5HP-19" printed on the same label. According to the Bentley manual, use Texaco ETL 8072 B if the tag is green. Bentley manual also indicates that 5HP-19 is a ZF transmission that use Esso LT71141. Most likely I'm reading things incorrectly. I'm leaning on the Esso but confused because the label is colored definitely green. Should I go with the Esso LT71141 designation?


Torquewrench 11-29-2006 11:00 AM

It's the Esso
My tranny is the 5HP19 as well. When I looked at mine I thought it looked green too, but when I cleaned it off and looked more closely it was a shade of blue and had Esso LT71141 written on it.

Also, the ZF transmission manual clearly states that 5HP19's are filled with Esso, see page 4 at the following link:

ZF Transmission Guide

Lbert 12-15-2006 04:30 PM

I finally found the label at the bottom, it was covered with mud. It did specify the use of Esso LT71141 equivalent. Ah yes, it too is a green label.

I did the trans oil changed over the weekend. Although the oil drain stopped, there was still quite a bit of oil in the pan and filter. It was hard to hold the pan and remove the bolts at the same time. A big catch pan is a must for this job. I had a hard time looking for a stubby 8mm hex bit to take out the fill plug due to not much clearance. Settled on Lisle 12560 8mm 3/8" socket to do the job.

I used Valvoline Mercon V. Hopefully it is compatible as Valvoline claimned; time will tell.

My favorite degreaser is Simple Green. I have it handy on a squeeze bottle. I used it extensively on this job. Best of all, it does not have harsh chemicals and it's biodegredable. I also use it on plastic and rubber parts doing an engine clean. Gunk is great on metal and heavy thick oil accumulation but leaves a strong after smell for awhile.

Torquewrench, thanks again for the write up.

bimmerZ5 12-29-2006 06:39 AM

this is an awesome thread and write-up!! i started what you call the "unofficial statistics" thread at bimmerforums. I hope you don't mind, but i'm going to post a link to your thread here over there. all this information is going to help clear up all the misinformation that has been going around about maintaining these transmissions.

thank you for taking the time to do this write up and i hope perhaps you'll be able to post some pictures too.

Torquewrench 12-29-2006 08:50 AM

I found your thread very, very useful and it was part of what made me comfortable going ahead with this.

Thanks again,


chiefpo 01-11-2007 11:08 AM

Transmission fluid
What are y'all thoughts on Royal Purple ATF?

Seattle 01-18-2007 06:07 PM

Its been 4k since I did mine. when i first did it I must have installed the gasket wrong as I got a leak. I remove the pan again and I had missed the holes in the gasket. But instead of getting a new gasket I just used gasket maker. no problems so far. the car shifts well and smoothly. I used valvoline merc v.

This is a advanced DIY job. needs some tools not usually found in the adverage kit.

Aslo did the brake flush and diff change at the same time.

yodamel 01-27-2007 07:52 AM

how to check AT fluid
I have a 540i with Automatic Transmission with 64,000 miles.

should I check this when it's hot or cold?

most cars want the fluid checked hot and the transmission in Park.

right now with it Cold, the is no fluid in the reservior, and it smells burnt inside the chamber.

Maybe it's my imagination, the car runs and shift fine.


bwik 01-28-2007 11:58 AM

My local dealer says it will cost over $800 to change my ATF -- 2003 330ixA, delivered 11/2002. He said the ATF costs over $100/quart.

Is this right? How can I be sure which fluid I need, and can another shop handle it? I am not quite ready to undertake the job.

The car has about 108k on its original fluid. It is not shifting that well IMO. The buttery, quick shifts are now kind of soggy. And when very cold, the unit misses shifts / delays.

So I am definitely in the mood to change fluid, but what is the best approach, other than $800 to Motorwerks BMW?

livfstdrivhrd 02-07-2007 06:29 PM

i am considering doing this also i have a 2000 323ci with 59k on it. Any suggestions besides the great write up already? Also i have heard great things about ROYAL PURPLE has anyone tried it? Or is it not something i should use?/

livfstdrivhrd 02-13-2007 02:51 PM

I did the atf change today and have some pictures if you want to post them...just a few pics of the magnets and what not. I took a pic of how i dropped the pan slowly with only the four corner bolts in and let the fluid drain out the top...let me know if your interested in pics

bimmerZ5 02-13-2007 02:54 PM

post the pics

livfstdrivhrd 02-13-2007 08:05 PM

8 Attachment(s)
Ok guys here are some of the pictures.
First picture is of the label to identify the trans you have.

Second picture is of the pan with only the four corner bolts left in it, they are broken lose and the two on the back of the pan are unscrewed more then the other to to give the pan a bit of a lean back to allos remaining fluid to drain out.

third we have a picture of the magnets after dropping the pan..
fourth how dirty my magnets were..nasty!

A clean pan...

then a coupld pictures of the bolts holding on the filter...only the one has to be removed to take it off.

And last is the way i filled my trans without having to sit under the car the whole time while it was running...second filling to top it off

livfstdrivhrd 02-13-2007 08:09 PM

Hope those pictures can help i would have takin more but i had some dirty hands!!! I snapped shots between me washing my hands to get the phone or something to drink or whatever else... Great write up though it helped out a lot. Only this i messed up on following the write up is where the fill plug was...there is another horizonel bolt on the back side of the trans..this bolt is incorrect the proper plug is on the drivers side near the rear of the trans...and it is tough to get at with a ratchet...mine got stuck in there and i had to tighten the bolt back up and figure out a different way to get it which is much like the one described...

Alpinerunner 02-28-2007 01:15 PM

Great write up Torquewrench!! I have a question though. I want to change the auto tranny fluid on a 2001 330xi and I called TMS to buy the fluid and to make sure Redline D4 ATF was compatible and they said it cannot be done without a special machine that feeds the fluid at a specific temperature and pressure! I would expect the dealer to feed me this BS but not TMS, unless it were true. Any insight? Thanks!

Torquewrench 02-28-2007 01:28 PM

330xi vs 330i matters
According to the ZF Transmission Guide (linked in my original post) the 2001 330xi uses a GM5 (A5S 390R) transmission. This is a different transmission than the ZF transmission in the 2001 330i, and it uses different fluid (Texaco ETL8072 B). My DIY was written specifically for the ZF tranny in the 2001 330i, so you need to figure out what's different about your transmission's fluid change.

Do you have a Bentley service manual for the car? Mine is at home, but that would be the first thing I would check. It's possible the procedure is different, but the ZF also requires the fluid to be at a specific temperature while you measure/add fluid.

As to specific pressure, I can't say. They may have a machine they use that does a great job, and it's possible this is the only way, but it may be that since they never did it without the machine they don't know how.

I would recommend doing a search for people changing the Texaco fluid in the GM5 transmission on this site, Roadfly,, and other BMW messageboards to see if/how people have done it.

Post what you find out!

bimmerZ5 02-28-2007 03:34 PM


Originally Posted by Alpinerunner (Post 2205670)
Great write up Torquewrench!! I have a question though. I want to change the auto tranny fluid on a 2001 330xi and I called TMS to buy the fluid and to make sure Redline D4 ATF was compatible and they said it cannot be done without a special machine that feeds the fluid at a specific temperature and pressure! I would expect the dealer to feed me this BS but not TMS, unless it were true. Any insight? Thanks!

I call it BS. And GM transmissions can use any high quality Dexron III(h). Just don't expect to use Dexron III(h) for more than 50,000 miles.

Torquewrench 02-28-2007 06:59 PM

Bentley says...
Bentley doesn't say anything special about the GM transmissions in the xi models other than the different fluid and different bolt torques.

Alpinerunner 02-28-2007 08:07 PM

Thanks for the info! Does the Bently manual give a good writeup on the procedure? Is it similar to what you found in your research and experience? My thinking is that if the Bently manual follows what you have found for the 330i, then they probably have good info and I will trust that they are correct in not specifying a different procedure for the 330xi. I know I need to finally bite the bullet and get the manual.

mitchell172 04-28-2007 04:31 PM

I must be an idiot
Great write-up but I think I did something wrong. I did everything correctly up to filling the auto trans to the proper fluid level. I was on the final step of being under the car while it is running and for some reason, before I got under the car, I glanced at my Bentley service manual and it said to put it in park before doing that step, not neutral. So, I did. When I took out the fill plug (slowly) fluid starting going everywhere and I must have spilled 2-3 quarts on the floor before I could get the car shut off and the plug back in since the fluid was sooooo hot. I've now put back in the fill plug and turned the car off letting it cool down and I figure I'll try it again when it is not so hot.

Any ideas or advice? I think I only had about 5 1/2 quarts in it and I kept checking it trying to add more until that last move. I took out a bit over 6 quarts. Now I only have about a quart and a half of the special fluid I ordered from Bavarian Autosport left not including what managed to stay in the pan and I'm not afraid I won't be able to get this right. Part of me just wants to tell the dealer to finish it up. Motivation anyone?


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