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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 12-29-2012, 02:54 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Replacing ATF: Do you level the car or level the tranny pan?

This is a very good question someone raised to me in a PM. ECS Tuning has a You Tube video that specificaly says to level the tranny pan prior to an ATF replacement. I reviewed several ATF replacement DIY procedures prior to replacing my ATF and noone explicitly says whether to level the car (keeping the car at the same attitude as when it is sitting on all four tires) or to level the ATF pan. I assumed everyone did the former since most used either jack stands or a four point car lift.

When replacing my ATF, I leveled the car. I never even checked the pan level. I raised my car and placed each tire on 3 stacked (nailed together) 24" long 2" x 12" boards. I then set the parking brake. This gave me the clearance to work underneath. I initially overfilled my tranny by jamming the drain plug back in immediately after pulling the pump, while ATF was draining. This caused a slight change in shift points. After I did the drain and refill (this time I waited a bit before plugging the inlet), it ran just like before.

The only surefire way to replace the exact amount of ATF that is drained out is to save and measure the amount of ATF that drains out. You must then replicate the temperature (ATF expands and contracts with temp) in your fresh ATF and then promptly refill. That's a bit of work but you can't go wrong.

This question does not address the issues of ATF temperature or which gear (park or drive) to be in when replacing the ATF (mine was 95F and I was in Drive). It is strictly about what should be level when replacing the ATF. Any experiences, thoughts, opinions are welcome. Please provide a "why" to your response. Thanx.
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  #2  
Old 12-29-2012, 03:12 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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The TIS states that the vehicle must be horizontal.

Hope this helps:

00 11 500 Checking/topping up fluid level in automatic
transmission (A5S 325Z)
Caution!
Automatic transmission fluid!
It is absolutely essential to use the approved automatic
transmission fluid in this automatic transmission,
refer to BMW Operating Fluids MG24.
Failure to comply with this requirement will result in serious
damage to the automatic transmission!

1. Add ATF after repairs:
Selector lever to setting "P".
The vehicle must be horizontal and should be secured to prevent
it from rolling away.
Connect BMW Diagnosis and Information System (DIS) or BMW
MoDiC to car.
Note:
Before releasing filler plug (1), make sure temperature of
automatic transmission fluid is 30 C.
Release filler plug (1).
Top up automatic transmission fluid until it flows over.
Screw in filler plug (1) by hand.
Start engine and run at idle speed.
Operate brake and shift through all gears at idle speed several
times (hold gears for 3 sec. in each case).
Note:
Before releasing filler plug (1), make sure temperature of
automatic transmission fluid is 30 C.
Release filler plug (1) again.
Top up automatic transmission fluid until it flows over.
Increase temperature of automatic transmission fluid to
40 ... 50 C.
Check temperature of automatic transmission fluid with MoDiC or
DIS.
Screw in filler plug (1).
Installation:
Replace filler plug (1).
Tightening Torque,
refer to Technical Data 24 11 7AZ.
RA Checking/topping up fluid level in automatic transmission (A5S 325Z) BMW AG - TIS 29.12.2012 15:15
Issue status (07/2006) Valid only until next DVD is issued Copyright Page - 1 -

2. Check fluid level:
Connect BMW Diagnosis and Information System (DIS) and/or
BMW MoDiC to vehicle and perform fluid level check in
accordance with instructions.
RA Checking/topping up fluid level in automatic transmission (A5S 325Z) BMW AG - TIS 29.12.2012 15:15
Issue status (07/2006) Valid only until next DVD is issued Copyright Page - 2 -
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Last edited by edjack; 12-29-2012 at 03:19 PM.
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  #3  
Old 12-29-2012, 03:44 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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So: What does one measure to ensure that "the vehicle is horizontal"? Is this the same as raising all four tires the same height?

I should note that the individual that PM'd me said that leveling the tranny pan had the rear of the vehicle noticeably higher than the front. The refill plug on the tranny pan is facing forward (if I remember correctly). Hence, leveling the pan would result in more ATF in the pan than leveling the car.

And I just put a level on the door sill and it is vitrually level when sitting on all four tires.

Last edited by Fudman; 12-29-2012 at 05:04 PM.
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  #4  
Old 12-29-2012, 04:46 PM
BadBrad BadBrad is offline
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On my transmission, the refill plug is on the passenger side rear just above the pan. If you level the car it will take more fluid vs. if you level the pan.

I just checked the BMW Service Information Bulletin for Transmission Fluid Level Checking dated Sept 2001. It is applicable to all ZF & GM transmissions and it states that "the vehicle must be level".....

This is the order for vehicles without a dipstick:
1. Trans must be between 30-50 deg C.
2. Vehicle must be level. Switch on AC to increase engine speed ensuring that all passages in the trans are filled.
3. Apply brakes firmly and move gear selector through each gear, pausing briefly at each gear.
4. With engine running and gear selector in park, remove fill plug. If small amount of fluid flows out, level is correct.
5. If no fluid runs out, fluid is too low. Add fluid until it starts to overflow.
6. With engine running, re-install fill plug and tighten to proper torque.

It also has diagrams of all the transmission fill and drain plugs. It looks as though they are located all over the place dependent upon the model.

It also says that when doing repairs that you should collect all lifetime fluids in a clean container and then reuse. This is one thing I wouldn't and did not do. Only new ESSO LT71141 for me!!

Hope this helps more than confuses......
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Last edited by BadBrad; 12-29-2012 at 04:49 PM.
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  #5  
Old 12-29-2012, 06:53 PM
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gibo58 gibo58 is offline
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leveling

"On my transmission, the refill plug is on the passenger side rear just above the pan. If you level the car it will take more fluid vs. if you level the pan. "


My refill is on the left rear side of the tranny, (5HP19), I would think leveling the tranny lip by raising the rear of the vehicle you would end up putting more fluid in than by leveling the "vehicle"

If a BMW dealership was doing the job they would be doing it on a hoist, I cannot see them raising the rear higher on a hoist, it would be unsafe. The ECS video shows the vehicle going up even, but makes special mention of leveling the tranny lip

I think I will go with the "vehicle" being level, as Fudman has stated, if you put back in what you take out it should be ok.

Cheers

Last edited by gibo58; 12-29-2012 at 06:54 PM.
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  #6  
Old 12-29-2012, 08:57 PM
BadBrad BadBrad is offline
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You're correct gibo58, I was thinking bass ackwords. Car level is more fluid in trans, but is the correct amount.
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  #7  
Old 12-30-2012, 08:56 AM
crazy4trains crazy4trains is online now
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So, how does one level the car? Best place I can foresee is to check level of the door sill. Any great insight on this?
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  #8  
Old 12-30-2012, 09:26 AM
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champaign777 champaign777 is offline
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any leveling tool can do it

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Last edited by champaign777; 12-30-2012 at 09:28 AM.
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  #9  
Old 12-30-2012, 10:28 AM
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Flybot Flybot is offline
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This thread gets the award for "Most Over Analyzed Non-Issue Thread".
Sorry, but I think if you just jack the car up level using the Mk I Eyeball it will all be ok.
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Old 12-30-2012, 12:18 PM
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gibo58 gibo58 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flybot View Post
This thread gets the award for "Most Over Analyzed Non-Issue Thread".
Sorry, but I think if you just jack the car up level using the Mk I Eyeball it will all be ok.
Maybe so...

I only enquired in the first place after watching the ECS Tuning DIY video. If you watch it you'll see them level the transmission which on the ZF's at least is a lot different than leveling the vehicle.

I'm happy to go with the norm, even the good old MK1 eyeball is also acceptable in some instances

Maybe someone from ECS get shed some light on their method in the video.

Cheers

Last edited by gibo58; 12-30-2012 at 12:22 PM.
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  #11  
Old 12-30-2012, 05:05 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flybot View Post
This thread gets the award for "Most Over Analyzed Non-Issue Thread".
Sorry, but I think if you just jack the car up level using the Mk I Eyeball it will all be ok.
I guess it's a non-issue if you don't care about doing the job properly and are willing to assume you are doing it correctly. To each, their own.
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  #12  
Old 12-30-2012, 07:56 PM
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diggyd357 diggyd357 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flybot View Post
This thread gets the award for "Most Over Analyzed Non-Issue Thread".
Sorry, but I think if you just jack the car up level using the Mk I Eyeball it will all be ok.
I would respectfully, yet strongly disagree.... I for one will be checking back in on this thread. Im about to do a tranny service and without a doubt want to know the absolute right way to do it . Im just not willing to cut corners when it comes to my car...especially the transmission. Again, that's just me personally. Obviously its been done both ways successfully. Im just not takin'any chances...Great thread...keep the info comin' !!!
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  #13  
Old 12-30-2012, 10:49 PM
crazy4trains crazy4trains is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by champaign777 View Post
any leveling tool can do it

So I guess I can put that level across the top of the strut towers and make sure it is level from side to side?

Sorry for the sarcasm here but I was hoping for an answer that would benefit all, not just your funny bone.
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  #14  
Old 12-31-2012, 05:11 AM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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The question does not regard what tool to use to measure "level". The question is what or where do you measure to determine a "level vehicle", as BMW recommends.

Is it the pan, like ECSTuning recommends, which tilts the car forward and allows more ATF to be put in before it dribbles out?

Or is it some other part of the car? Such as the door sill or rocker panel.

This question is posed because there is a significant difference between these two DIY procedures which will significantly alter the amount of ATF that can be put into the pan. The ZF tranny is definitely sensitive to ATF amount as my experience is that as little as 1/2 qt difference will alter your shift points. If the ECS info is incorrect, I would hate to see someone damage their tranny using misinformation. This is not an inexpensive part to replace...
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  #15  
Old 12-31-2012, 07:44 AM
cn90 cn90 is offline
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If I have to vote, then I vote for the oil pan.

Engineers checked their AT in the shop with the pan on level surface.
The problem with tranny in the car is that: it is not parallel with the car.

In the FWD car, it is tilted a bit (not much but it is).
In the RWD car, the trans is titled down at the rear a bit b/c the driveshaft points downward to the rear.

Just place a leveler on the oil pan.

But I have to confess, for my 98 Volvo and 2007 Honda Odyssey van, I simply do it with the car on flat driveway surface.

Last edited by cn90; 12-31-2012 at 07:46 AM.
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  #16  
Old 12-31-2012, 08:11 AM
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TIS:

1. Adding fuel to the transmission after repair:
Gear lever in position "P".

The car must be on a level surface to ensure its immobility for possible aftershocks.

...

Bentley:

ATF Level, Checking
...
NOTE: Vehicle must be level throughout tests...

I still dont get why this is so hard.
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  #17  
Old 12-31-2012, 09:37 AM
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doru doru is offline
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The difference between the car "level" and the ATF pan "level" is minimal (I believe around or below 1), which will not affect the ATF volume much. If you observe the Bentley for the correct temp, there is still some +/- tolerance. It's not pharmacy.

When i did my ATF change, I was also paranoid about this. Once I had my car on stands, i had a level between the front & rear stands (the leveling benchmark was a string at same height between the said jackstands, and then placed the level on the string - all was OK). Then, I placed one of those magnetic levels on the pan. It was very close to the big level.

That's probably why the TIS mention to "get the car level".

0.02
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  #18  
Old 01-02-2013, 12:48 PM
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The E39 5 series with a ZF transmission does require the transmission to be level. The lip of the transmission is the ideal spot to measure how level it is. The pan or the body are not good reference points for measuring the level of the transmission. As long as proper and safe procedures for jacking up the vehicle are used the body of the vehicle being "un level" should not be an issue.
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  #19  
Old 01-02-2013, 01:36 PM
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champaign777 champaign777 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crazy4trains View Post
So I guess I can put that level across the top of the strut towers and make sure it is level from side to side?

Sorry for the sarcasm here but I was hoping for an answer that would benefit all, not just your funny bone.
just put level on car rocker panel to be sure car is in horizontal position which is a must to be if you use same stands for front/rear

what the heck with you people ... which oil pan sado mazo overengineering haha

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Last edited by champaign777; 01-02-2013 at 01:50 PM.
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  #20  
Old 02-02-2013, 04:55 PM
wspider666 wspider666 is offline
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im glad to see there are other diy'ers that dont have a lift either. we just want our car level
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  #21  
Old 02-02-2013, 05:19 PM
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BigCo540i BigCo540i is offline
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I would think you want the shaft to be level if anything, how would you know if that was level or not?
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Old 02-02-2013, 05:25 PM
wspider666 wspider666 is offline
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how do you 'level vehicle' if your driveway isnt level and it up on jackstands? just need to know which 2 points to touch the level to. the rocker sounds good front to back, but is it level there when its sitting on the tires?

Last edited by wspider666; 02-02-2013 at 05:27 PM.
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  #23  
Old 02-03-2013, 05:56 AM
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Yes, the rocker (lower door frame edge) is level when the car is sitting on level ground. At least mine is.
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  #24  
Old 02-03-2013, 10:44 AM
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Here is another suggestion for determining "level" based on ride height.

Ride height is measured from the lower edge of the fender arch to the bottom of the wheel lip. The key is to take the difference. A level car will have the fender arch front and rear differ from each other by the difference in ride height spec. For the purpose of checking transmission fluid level the absolute height is irrelevant; the higher the better for convenient access to the transmission. For instance, with my car the specs are 592 mm front and 560 mm rear; a difference of 32 mm. When the car is sitting with the front fender arch 32 mm higher than the rear arch, the car is "level." Side to side at each end should be identical of course.

In spite of what you eye may tell you, your garage floor is probably neither flat nor level. For instance, most garage floors have a drainage slope of ~ 1/4" per foot toward the door. Over an E39 wheelbase this works out to 2.3 inches or 59 mm difference in height. Similarly, side to side level isn't necessarily so level either, or flat. You can easily check. Pour a pail of water on your garage floor and watch it run/drain toward the door and likely puddle in some spots. Draining => out of level. Puddling => not flat.

An easy and accurate method to check relative heights both end to end and side to side is a water level. All it takes is a ruler, a length of clear tubing, a few cups of water and perhaps a funnel.

FWIW, I wouldn't worry about being "out of level" by +/- 10mm or so. It's within TIS specs for ride height differences and works out to 0.20 deg front to rear, 0.38 deg side to side. One likely has more difference from "level" due to relative settling in the engine and transmission mounts. It just won't make any practical difference in the fill amount.
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  #25  
Old 02-03-2013, 12:05 PM
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For the record, I'm going to cross reference these ride-height hints to the general alignment threads, so that we can all find this information when we need it later:
- Which of the dozen alignment specs are adjustable on the BMW E39 (1)

Note: Cn90 and others stated why they wouldn't trust this method of leveling and then working on the vehicle - but here it is nonetheless.
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See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 02-03-2013 at 12:09 PM.
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