Bimmerfest - BMW Forums - View Single Post - What transmission fluid do you use (and how often do you replace it)?
View Single Post
Old 06-12-2010, 08:33 AM
bluebee's Avatar
bluebee bluebee is offline
Seek to understand,^Value
Location: San Jose, California
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 25,236
Mein Auto: 02 BMW 525i M54 auto 130K
What transmission fluid do you use (and how often do you replace it)?

This is the last of the dozen "fluids" to flesh out for the glove-compartment summary.
Many hours of research predated this post, e.g., I read all I could on transmission fluids for the E39 and summarized as shown below.

What else would you add for everyone's glovebox?
- What transmission do you have (e.g., I have the A5S 325Z automatic)?
- What color sticker is on your transmission (black, green, orange, or yellow)?
- What fluid did you put in your transmission (name, brand, type)?

Here's my summary after combing every single page of the Bentleys to combine the information into a single spot:
Note: This summary was constantly updated based on the information in this thread (so that the user saves time when reading this thread):
- Manual transmission (yellow sticker): BMW PN: or MTF-LT-1 (manual transmission fluid, lifetime, I'm not sure what the "1" means) Bentley page 020-10 & 020-30. [Volume: See chart below.] Replacement Interval: Lifetime oil (Bentley 230-6). A user-recommended fluid is "Royal Purple Synchromax 1512 manual transmission fluid" & Redline MT-90; the user-recommended replacement interval is roughly 5 years or about 60K miles.
- Manual transmission (orange sticker): The Bentleys, on page 200-4, simply say "ATF" (aka ATF-Oil). Nothing more. Note: This orange sticker is not mentioned in the Bentleys page 020-10 & 020-30 but is noted on page 200-4. Replacement Interval: Lifetime oil (Bentley 230-6); but the user-recommended replacement interval is roughly 5 years or about 60K miles.
- Automatic transmission (green sticker): BMW PN: or Texaco ETL 8072B or Shell LA2634 (this is extremely confusing, not only because these are cryptic "types" but also because the Bentleys list different fluids and volumes on page 020-10, 240-6, & 240-8). [Volume w/o torque converter/with torque converter, see chart below]. Replacement Interval: Lifetime oil (Bentley 240-6); but the user-recommended replacement interval for the fluid and filter is roughly 5 years or about 60K miles. Apparently Pentosin is the OEM oil but FEBI also works (ATF Auto Transmission Fluid equivalent to ESSO LT 71141). Note: Mixing ATF types will cause transmission failure (Bentley 240-6). My 2002 525i with the ZF 5HP19 (aka A5S 325Z) transmission (6.2 liters/8.9 liters or 6.6 quarts/9.4 quarts) has this green sticker.
- Automatic transmission (black sticker): Dexron III ATF (realistically Dexron VI ATF) BMW PN: or Exxon LT-71141 which seems to also be called Esso LT-71141) (all this is extremely confusing, not only because these are cryptic "types", but also because the Bentleys list different fluids on page 020-10 than on page 240-6). [Volume w/o torque converter/with torque converter, see chart below]. Replacement Interval: Lifetime oil (Bentley 240-6); but the user-recommended replacement interval for the fluid and filter is roughly 5 years or about 60K miles. Note: Mixing ATF types will cause transmission failure (Bentley 240-6). Some users suggest Mobil1 Synthetic ATF.

See this thread for complete details on fluids, torques, volumes, locations, etc and to find which transmission is in your model E39:
Manual transmissions:
BMW 525i 2001-2002 M52TU, M54: Getrag S5D 250G, 1.2 quarts (1.1 liters)
BMW 540i 1997-2002 M62: ZF/Getrag S6S 420G, 2.0 quarts (1.9 liters)
BMW 528i 1997-2002 M52: ZF S5D 320Z, 1.4 quarts (1.3 liters)
BMW 530i 2001-2002 M54: ZF S5D 320Z, 1.4 quarts (1.3 liters)

Automatic transmissions:
GM THM-R1 (A4S 270R), 9.3 quarts/8.2 quarts (8.8 liters/7.8 liters)
BMW 528i to 9/1999 M52: GM THM-R1 (A4S 310R), 9.3 quarts/8.2 quarts (8.8 liters/7.8 liters)
BMW 528i from 9/1999: GM 5L40-E/GM5 (A5S 360R), 9.5 quarts/8.5 quarts (9.0 liters/8.0 liters)
BMW 525i to 3/2001 M54: GM 5L40-E/GM5 (A5S 390R), 9.5 quarts/8.5 quarts (9.0 liters/8.0 liters)
BMW X5 GM 5L40-E/GM5 (A5S 390R), 10.1 quarts/9.1 quarts (9.6 liters/8.6 liters)
BMW 530i to 3/2001 M54: GM 5L40-E/GM5 (A5S 390R), ? quarts/? quarts (? liters/?liters)
ZF 4HP22, 7.9 quarts/3.2 quarts (7.5 liters/3.0 liters)
ZF 4HP24, 8.6 quarts/3.3 quarts (8.1 liters/3.1 liters)
ZF 5HP18 (A5S 310Z), 8.2 quarts/3.4 quarts (7.8 liters/3.2 liters)
BMW 525i from 3/2001 (2.5L M54): ZF 5HP19 (A5S 325Z), 9.4 quarts/6.6 quarts (8.9 liters/6.2 liters)
BMW 530i from 3/2001 (3.0L M54): ZF 5HP19 (A5S 325Z), 9.2 quarts/6.5 quarts (8.7 liters/6.1 liters)
ZF 5HP24 (A5S 440Z) for 4.4 L, 9.5 quarts/5.7 quarts (9.0 liters/5.35 liters)
BMW 540i from 1/1997 M62 TU: ZF 5HP24 (A5S 440Z) for 4.6 L, 10.5 quarts/5.7 quarts (9.9 liters/5.35 liters)
BMW 540i to 1/1997 M62: ZF 5HP30 (A5S 560Z) 13.8 quarts/5.8 quarts (13.1 liters/5.5 liters)

All BMW fluids
ZF 5HP19 transmission facts
Ever change the ATF?
Lifetime fill? - I don't think so
Lifetime fill, part II
BMW Transmission Fluids
Transmission ZF or GM

BTW, here's an interesting excerpt from this web page:
Prior to the advent of BMW Free Scheduled Maintenance, approximate BMW maintenance recommendations were: automatic transmission fluid (ATF) and filter changes every 15,000 miles, manual gearbox and differential oil changes every 30,000 miles, annual brake fluid changes, and coolant changes every two years. Spark plugs, air filter, and fuel filters were typically replaced every 30,000 miles on most BMWs (this is a tune-up) except M cars up to 1995, which got new spark plugs and a valve adjustment every 15,000. Later advances in computer engine management and spark plug technology legitimately allow 60,000-mile spark plug life if not more.
But once BMW began paying for scheduled maintenance, lo and behold the "schedule" was revised. Now the cars hardly need any maintenance at all. The 1,200-mile break-in service was done away with except for M cars. Engine oil suddenly lasts 15,000 miles (dealers are supposed to use BMW synthetic oil). Manual gearbox and differential oil? No worries there – now BMW says they NEVER need to be changed; it's "lifetime fill." Brake fluid and coolant service intervals were doubled with no change in the original BMW brake fluid and anti-freeze dealers are supposed to use.
Manual Gearbox Oil
Only synthetic oil should be used in BMW manual gearboxes, drain interval 30,000 miles

BMW-specified factory synthetic gearbox oil changes often, but it is all good. I just wouldn't leave it in service forever, or for a "lifetime" – whatever that means.

Red Line products are also highly recommended ( Questions or problems, e-mail me or

All the BMW gearbox rebuilders I know use Red Line MTL exclusively, regardless of model year or gearbox. The general consensus is, MTL is the better lubricant. However, the D4ATF product will require less shifter babying during cold operation. I use Red Line MTL in manual gearboxes except where I can't trust the driver to shift properly when the gearbox is cold, in which case I use Red Line D4 ATF.

Red Line MT-90 as slightly higher viscosity than their MTL product, which can be useful in reducing gearbox rattle, which can occur in neutral with the clutch pedal out in vehicles that do not have dual mass flywheels. The rattle does not affect gearbox function.
Automatic Transmission Fluid
For older automatics using Red Line or other synthetic ATF, drain interval 30,000 miles. Old fashioned petroleum ATF, drain interval 15,000 miles

At various production dates in the mid-1990s, which vary according to model, BMW switched to their so-called "lifetime fill" ATF in automatic transmissions, as well as manual gearbox lubricant and differential oil. The reason for this, as far as anyone can tell, is marketing and not engineering – the idea being to foster the notion of the low-maintenance BMW.

There was no explanation of what "lifetime" meant, i.e., lifetime of the car, the component, or for that matter the driver. If it was the component, then obviously anything could be "lifetime fill". The factory's initial position is that these lubricants never need to be changed. Then, some time later, it came out that "lifetime" means 100,000 miles. Many dealerships are now recommending manual gearbox and differential oil changes be done at customer expense every 60,000 miles. Every independent BMW technician I know recommends a 30,000-mile interval, and many recommend Red Line synthetic oils (, but not for automatics with "lifetime fill."

Older automatic transmission models, which do not have "lifetime fill" should have ATF and filter services every 15,000 miles if using petroleum ATF; every 30,000 miles with synthetic.

However, the modern automatic transmissions are different. No one knows exactly what BMW's proprietary ATF is, so no one knows if there are viable alternatives. We do know that BMW dealerships charge about $500 for an ATF and filter service, due to the price of the ATF. And that's assuming you can get them to do the job, which is not often the case.

Bavarian Autosport ( is now importing the proprietary "lifetime fill" ATF at reasonable prices, which they sell along with filter kits, for independent BMW shops and do-it-yourselfers.

It is risky to drain a previously un-maintained automatic transmission with high mileage, even though if it were my car I would probably chance it. Still, I have seen it happen too many times, where a well-meaning owner or technician performs an ATF and filter service on a neglected but well-shifting automatic, and then all of the sudden it starts slipping. I can't explain it, but my feeling is the fresh ATF flushes a bit of sludge from a place where it was doing no harm to a place where it does do harm. Overfilling, underfilling, and cleanliness are also issues in ATF and filter servicing, but these should not be problematic for a professional BMW technician, dealer or independent.

BMW has backed off their lifetime fill mantra for automatic transmissions, currently recommending an ATF and filter change every 100,000 miles.

My inclination is to tell people to change "lifetime" ATF and filter every 30,000 miles. However the fact is, I've seen BMW automatic transmissions that were maintained break anyway. In that event, say it happens at 90,000 miles, you would like to have that $1,500 you spent on ATF and filter changes to put toward your new automatic transmission. And if I told you to spend it on maintenance you're probably not going to be very happy with me. On the other hand, I have seen maintained automatics last 200,000 miles. I have also seen unmaintained automatics last 200,000 miles, although both are very rare. There's just no predicting with these transmissions. When you choose to buy an automatic transmission, you also buy into the vagaries of the darn things, which is one reason technicians hate them.

Whether to maintain a modern BMW automatic is up to you. I am washing my hands of automatic transmissions – I don't like them, I don't buy them, and I don't mess around with them under the car. At the end of the day, for long-term durability, order the car with a manual gearbox.

At automatic transmission replacement time, we are confronted with the reality that the local transmission shop cannot rebuild BMW automatic transmissions, even those built by GM (BMW's GM transmissions bear no resemblance to GM transmission in domestic cars). There are some domestic specialists who concentrate in BMW automatic transmission rebuilding, and you'll see their ads in Roundel and Bimmer. However, I have no experience with any of the current domestic rebuilders. My experience in the past is….well, the owner wound up buying a BMW factory rebuilt automatic transmission every time, and this is the course I recommend to readers – "back to the dealer."

Some of you, having seen the light, may be interested in converting to a manual gearbox. This is always possible, but for most of us it won't be less expensive than a replacement automatic transmission. This is because of all the other parts and additional labor required. And the newer the car the harder the job will be. It is certainly a doable swap, but there's no cost savings even if you do the work yourself. The exception would be if you have access to a manual gearbox donor car for little or no expense.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf BMW_E39_Transmission_Fluid_Information.pdf (292.0 KB, 4018 views)

Last edited by bluebee; 08-05-2010 at 04:00 PM. Reason: Updated as the thread provided more information ...
Reply With Quote