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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 10-19-2012, 07:56 AM
YinD YinD is offline
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03 540 ia transmission quit working

Help. Driving to work this morning, got about 3 miles from the house and the TRANSFailSafe message popped up on the cluster.

I decided to turn around at the next stop sign (which was about 2 blocks away) to go back home. I did not make it home. The car would not move, I did not get a limp home gear. The deputy helped me push the car into a nearby parking lot in our neighborhood.

Car is 2003 E39 540ia. Has about 134,800 miles on it. Original tranny was replaced by BMW at 81,4668 at Desert BMW Nevada per Carfax. PO never changed the tranny fluid, neither have I. In the last week, I have noticed a sutle high pitched noise when I put the car into park. Somewhere between a belt squeal or a vacuum leak. I was going to look into it this weekend. Well...hell.

Unlike all of the posts I have read about transfailsafe, I did not get any warning lights on the dash, the dash gauges all work accordingly. Turned the car off and back on with no change. When I shift into RN or D, there is no change in the idle or vibration to let me know that the transmission has shifted into a gear. When I shift back into park, I get this sound like a electric drill makes when it over torques a screw. (or a plastic gear not engaging). When I opened the door, I smelled some burnt fluid, I assume it was tranny fluid.

I tried reving up the engine (to 3k) thinking that maybe I have a 3rd gear, but that did not do anything.

Checked the battery 30 mins later, battery read 12.5 V. Pulled codes with an OBDII reader, no codes. Car starts and runs fine.

And, now when I turn on the car, the transfailsafe message does not appear.

At this point, I will check to see if any electrical connections got disconnected, check the ATF level and color, disconnect the battery negative terminal and re-attempt (hopefully get it home), and make sure I don't have a rear axle/driveshaft issue (which I don't think I do because I did not get an rpm spike.) I want to read a bit more about this A-drum...

I am a little stumped. The transmission hasn't been slipping or jerking. It does kick a little under hard acceleration but not enough to signal any issues. Does this sound common? Any advice will be appreciated.
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  #2  
Old 10-20-2012, 07:37 AM
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So yesterday I got off of work and started up the car. I shifted into reverse and it felt like it did something. Heard some grumbling, slight, from the cabin. I could not hear this from outside the car. Stepping on the gas did not do anything other than revving up the engine.

I put it into drive and tried to push it backwards. I was able to push the car about 3 inches (uphill) definitely more than drivetrain slop.

I am going to pull the car home and try to raise the car to get more visual determination.

I really hope it is not the tranny.
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  #3  
Old 10-20-2012, 08:51 AM
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Hi

Good luck, and hope it turns out to be something simple and easy to fix/resolve. However, it does 'sound' as though it's given up for some 'part' that is small or relatively inexpensive in itself, but is somewhere inside the gearbox which does mean it all has to come out and be overhauled. That of course costs substantial money.

Some gearboxes last for 200K plus miles and other's fail at low miles, there's just no way of knowing or telling if something will give. Fluid change, or no fluid change doesn't seem to be a factor either as some of those ultra high miled boxes have had no change and some of the low miler's have had the change.

Cheers, Dennis!
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Old 10-20-2012, 03:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DennisCooper! View Post
Hi

Good luck, and hope it turns out to be something simple and easy to fix/resolve. However, it does 'sound' as though it's given up for some 'part' that is small or relatively inexpensive in itself, but is somewhere inside the gearbox which does mean it all has to come out and be overhauled. That of course costs substantial money.

Some gearboxes last for 200K plus miles and other's fail at low miles, there's just no way of knowing or telling if something will give. Fluid change, or no fluid change doesn't seem to be a factor either as some of those ultra high miled boxes have had no change and some of the low miler's have had the change.

Cheers, Dennis!
Thanks Dennis, appreciate the reply!
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  #5  
Old 10-20-2012, 03:17 PM
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Update:
I got the car pulled home. Pushed it up the driveway.

Transfailsafe kept lighting up when the car was idling and being towed.

Checked for codes and no codes were registered.

Once on the driveway, I shifted the car into park and realized that Park will not keep the car on the slope of my driveway. So I set my park brake and chocked the wheels.

I started the car and jacked up the left rear tire. When it got almost off the ground, I started hearing this gear ratcheting sound.

I put the car down and shifted it back to neutral (car is still idling). I then jacked up the car so the tire was clear and shifted it into drive. No noise and the wheel started turning.

I put the car back into neutral and lowered the car. And now it drives! No messages on the cluster.

I got out of my driveway and then back into the garage.

Any ideas on what happened to my rear diff?
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Last edited by YinD; 10-20-2012 at 07:42 PM. Reason: Now that I am home, I am editing my iphone typing...
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  #6  
Old 10-20-2012, 06:49 PM
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i wanted to say check both output shafts but Transfailsafe sound like transmission issue
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Last edited by champaign777; 10-20-2012 at 06:51 PM.
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Old 10-20-2012, 07:52 PM
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Originally Posted by champaign777 View Post
i wanted to say check both output shafts but Transfailsafe sound like transmission issue
I would believe a transmission issue if the car at least gave me a limp home mode. I did not get a limp home. But then, I suppose the rear diff doesn't have any reason to stop engaging and then suddenly engage.

Why would the transmission start working normal after allowing one wheel to turn in drive?

At this point I am at a loss for the next thing to test. Should I take it to an indie who can look at the trans ecu? I am too afraid to drive the car should it leave me stranded again.
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  #8  
Old 10-25-2012, 06:04 AM
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Update:
I have driven the car around the block with no issue. Drove it for a 30 mile trip and no issue. Inspected the car from underneath and could not find any immediate visual sign of an issue with the shift cable or any electrical connection to the transmission ecu.

Battery is holding at 12.5V. Battery is less than 1 year old. Nappa Gold. I checked all battery connections, all tight.

I kept the VB (voltage) readout on during my drive to work. The alternator is holding 13.8 V (a/c is on but it is cool outside, headlights are on, but no other electrical draw) and it dips down to 12.8 when I come to a stop (autotrans downshifting). I also notice that when I shift from drive to park the voltage readout dips down to 12.8V. Is this normal?

Signs of the ignition switch going out haven't cropped up, such as the passenger sun visor, but I am not marking that off.

My only thought now is a bad connection at the TCM or the gear selector switch.
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  #9  
Old 10-25-2012, 06:28 AM
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I did perform an alternator load test. I did not think to turn on the wipers, high beams, or full fan
I turned on:
a/c to auto (the fan went to about 1/2 speed)
rear window defroster
front driver seat heater max heat
headlights and fog lights
The readout started at 13.8 V and with each system it went down to 13.4 V

Reading some other threads on alternators, it sounds like maybe the brushes in the alternator are getting old. Records show that the alternator was changed at 78,681 at a BMW dealership. Car is at 135,000 now.

Am I in the right direction?
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Old 10-25-2012, 07:25 AM
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doru doru is offline
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Sounds like an electrical glitch of some sort / intermittent connection. Was it wet the day you experienced loss of transmission?
I don't think the alternator is bad. It should last more than 45k miles. At least 100 - 150 k (at least if it's new).
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Old 10-25-2012, 09:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YinD View Post
I did perform an alternator load test. I did not think to turn on the wipers, high beams, or full fan
I turned on:
a/c to auto (the fan went to about 1/2 speed)
rear window defroster
front driver seat heater max heat
headlights and fog lights
The readout started at 13.8 V and with each system it went down to 13.4 V

Reading some other threads on alternators, it sounds like maybe the brushes in the alternator are getting old. Records show that the alternator was changed at 78,681 at a BMW dealership. Car is at 135,000 now.

Am I in the right direction?
BMW warrantees the replacement alternator for 'life", if they install it. Two years if you install it yourself. I am unsure if that is a transferable warranty, but worth checking with your local BMW dealer. Sounds like you have the reciept, but even if you did not, it should be in their national database.

I am unsure if you have a problem with the alternator or not...but the only time I have had a "trans failsafe" warning that I can recall, was when my alternator failed at around 80k miles.
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Old 10-25-2012, 09:52 AM
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I would agree that this sounds like electrical or sensor related. Not getting the default mode indicates it may not be tranny related. Having your problem vanish also indicates it is a spurious problem, which is typically electrical. Your code reader is not seeing any codes because the tranny codes can only be read or reset by a GT-1 or equivalent reader. Find an indy or worse case, go to the dealer to have your tranny codes read. When I tripped a TPF, I got the default mode (3d gear) and the dealer said I needed a new tranny. I told them they needed a new customer, had them reset it and it never recurred.
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  #13  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doru View Post
Sounds like an electrical glitch of some sort / intermittent connection. Was it wet the day you experienced loss of transmission?
I don't think the alternator is bad. It should last more than 45k miles. At least 100 - 150 k (at least if it's new).
No, it was not a wet day. However, I did wash the car the night before.

I was reading a thread for alternator and came across one that talked about the electrical stuff in the box on the passenger side of the car near the a pillar. I wonder if I have a water intrusion up there.

Otherwise I am going to start checking for loose connections.
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  #14  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
BMW warrantees the replacement alternator for 'life", if they install it. Two years if you install it yourself. I am unsure if that is a transferable warranty, but worth checking with your local BMW dealer. Sounds like you have the reciept, but even if you did not, it should be in their national database.

I am unsure if you have a problem with the alternator or not...but the only time I have had a "trans failsafe" warning that I can recall, was when my alternator failed at around 80k miles.
Thanks for the info. Good to know. All I have is the carfax report. No receipts from that 'era'.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YinD View Post
No, it was not a wet day. However, I did wash the car the night before.

I was reading a thread for alternator and came across one that talked about the electrical stuff in the box on the passenger side of the car near the a pillar. I wonder if I have a water intrusion up there.

Otherwise I am going to start checking for loose connections.
Yes, check for loose connections. Some slush boxes have the speed sensor readily accessible from the outside, some others have them inside the pan - this would be a bear.
But check and see if the pass side vapour barrier is shot. Any moisture getting in there has the potential to mess with electronics.
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Old 10-25-2012, 05:29 PM
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champaign777 champaign777 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YinD View Post
No, it was not a wet day. However, I did wash the car the night before.

I was reading a thread for alternator and came across one that talked about the electrical stuff in the box on the passenger side of the car near the a pillar. I wonder if I have a water intrusion up there.

Otherwise I am going to start checking for loose connections.
I reread your post and i think it has something to do with car wash
Was water sprayed directly underneath the car ??

here is my story :
I replaced cooling system with radiator and did bleeding
get a geyser 1-2 feet high and it failed on alternator
Started car and alternator was dead
Tried after 2H and alternator was dead
Ordered new alternator
Tried morning and alternator was OK !!
Canceled order
GL !
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Old 10-25-2012, 07:05 PM
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Did not spray from the underside. But the advice about the vapor barrier is one I hadn't thought of.

I will have to see about the speed sensor.

Thanks for the advice! I feel like I have options now.
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Old 10-25-2012, 07:20 PM
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Looking through the Bentley manual and I haven't found where this speed sensor is located.

What is it called in the Bentley manual?
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Old 10-25-2012, 10:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YinD View Post
Looking through the Bentley manual and I haven't found where this speed sensor is located.

What is it called in the Bentley manual?

there are different transmissions. You need to know exactly which one you have. Anyways, check the connection that goes here to #9. There's another one inside the tranny as well, but hopefully it's OK.
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Old 10-26-2012, 04:05 PM
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Please let us know what you find. I have a 2002 540iA with 87xxx miles and I had this exact problem today. Driving from one job to the next, I got the transmission fail safe cruising down the interstate at about 70mph. I got stuck on an exit ramp (to another interstate) and the car would not move in reverse or drive, including sport mode when I tried to put it in each of the 5 different gears. I get the same clicking noise as the OP when I put it back in park while the car is running. I did not know if this is damaging something so now I start and turn the car off in neutral. My car also will roll while in park if I do not engage the e-brake. I've had no prior symptoms/warning. The car hasn't been wet in some time, so I don't THINK that would be an issue in my case. The last two nights were the first two cold nights (30-32 degrees overnight). However, I drove the car 20+ miles to work this morning with no issue. I haven't tested alternator or anything yet. I've only pulled battery terminals at this point.

Also, I only saw the fail safe message in the beginning. Since the car was first turned off, I have not seen the message again. I did see a check engine light once before I was towed home, but it quickly went away and I have not seen it again. Perhaps I'll go put my car up on the jack and see if I get lucky too..? o_O
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Old 10-26-2012, 04:27 PM
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Well I'll be damned.... I just went out and jacked up the left rear of my car with it running and e-brake on. I didn't hear any ratcheting sound. I got in the car, put my foot on the brake, put it in reverse, let the e-brake down and eased off the brake just a tiny bit. When I did this, I could feel the car move just a bit. I let it back down off the jack, put it in drive and lo and behold, she moved. She does idle a bit rough now and the interior lights flicker, if you will, just a little with the rough idle. I'm not sure why jacking the rear of the car up worked, but I'm one step better than I was before.

I'm still nervous about driving it anywhere right now. I'll start working on it tomorrow and post which route I decide to go and what results I get.
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Old 10-27-2012, 08:40 AM
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Before I started the car this morning, I tested the battery and it registered about 12.18V. Started her up and the alternator registered 13.9 with no accessories on. Turned on radio, both heated seats, rear defrost, max ac, all interior lights, HID lights and fog lights and it dropped to 12.45V. Turned all accessories off and it went back to 13.8V. Of note, once the car idles down from initial start up, I still get a slightly rough idle.

Next I disconnected the battery terminals while the car was running and put the multimeter directly on the terminals. Readings were all over the place from 11.5V to 13.8V. I have some serious flickering of both inside and outside lights when disconnected from the battery. The battery by itself now tests at 12.8V.

I'm guessing it has to be the alternator. I haven't heard any squealing to suspect a bad belt, but I'm going to start by inspecting the belt and checking the tension. I'll also check the power and ground wires from the alternator and make sure there's no loose connections. If everything checks out and I still have the issue, I guess i'll be replacing the alternator. It really sounds like either the voltage regulator or one of the brushes has gone bad inside the alternator. I'm leaning more towards a brush since I'd think a bad regulator would lead to abnormal spikes above 14V. With my voltage being at 13.8V, dropping down and bouncing back up, it sounds like one of the brushes is not maintaining contact.
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Old 10-27-2012, 03:47 PM
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All this talk about the alternator. If you jacked the car up, the fluid may have sloshed in some new places. Where is the talk about jacking car up, checking trans fluid level (with car dead level) and topping off as necessary? Better yet, drain your tranny, drop the pan, change the filter, and re-fill with new fluid....till it runs out. I don't buy all this alternator stuff. Hell, if that's it, put it on a trickle charger over-nite and drive off! I think you are fixing the tranny through the cabin filter!~
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Old 10-27-2012, 04:03 PM
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in 2012 you don't need to guess about your voltage problem
car voltage can be monitored by 100 devices today , even my Escort 9500i shows car voltage in a real time
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Last edited by champaign777; 10-27-2012 at 04:07 PM.
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Old 10-27-2012, 11:44 PM
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All this talk about the alternator. If you jacked the car up, the fluid may have sloshed in some new places. Where is the talk about jacking car up, checking trans fluid level (with car dead level) and topping off as necessary? Better yet, drain your tranny, drop the pan, change the filter, and re-fill with new fluid....till it runs out. I don't buy all this alternator stuff. Hell, if that's it, put it on a trickle charger over-nite and drive off! I think you are fixing the tranny through the cabin filter!~
I hear what you are saying, as it is still unexplained why jacking the car up reengaged the drivetrain. One would THINK that if fluid was the problem, we would have seen signs of leakage under the car/in the driveway or garage, but I have seen none. I probably will go ahead and do this just for good measure anyway. However, that still wouldnt explain my alternator voltage fluctuating between 11.5 to 13.8. As I understand it, the voltage should remain fairly constant around the 13.8 to 14.0 range, maybe a bit lower with accessories running. When my battery is disconnected and the car is running, my idle is very rough and the lights flicker like something out of a poltergeist movie.
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