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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
THIS IS FOR N. AMERICAN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION X3s ONLY. This does not necessarily apply to X3s sold elsewhere in the world.

Basic E83 Transmission Facts

The 2003-2006 US E83 (X3) models came with a GM 5L40-E MX5 automatic transmission. The BMW name for this transmission is the A5S 390R. This transmission was made in Strasbourg, France. It is a 5 speed steptronic transmission. No US model used the ZF transmissions. (If you have a US X3 without a GM tag on the driver's side of the transmission, please post so I can correct this.)

The 2007-2010 US E83 (X3) models came with a GM GA6L45R automatic transmission. The BMW part number for this is simply GA6L45R. This transmission was also made in Strasbourg, France. It is a six speed steptronic transmission. No US model used the ZF transmission. (Again, if your X3 is from the US and it does not have a GM transmission, please post.)

Transmission Fluid

For 2003-2006 X3 models, BMW specified an ever changing list of automatic transmission fluids (ATF) as these fluids became obsolete over time. The current recommendation from BMW is DEXRON-VI ATF, which means the fluid conforms to the GM DEXRON-VI specification. (AKA DEX-VI, Dexron VI, Dexron 6, Dex 6, DEX 6, etc).

For 2007-2010 X3 models, the recommended fluid has always been DEXRON-VI.

DEXRON is a GM trademark. GM alone determines whether an ATF may use the DEXRON mark on the product label. GM suggests that ALL of their automatic transmissions (from 1968 on) should now use a DEX-VI ATF, and BMW now recommends DEX-VI for all 2003-2010 US BMW X3s. Here are the facts about DEXRON: Wikipedia DEXRON


Tips on Fluid / Filter Change

BMW claims the Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is lifetime, and should never be replaced. There is a sticker on the bottom of the transmission pan that says to never change the fluid. Some BMW dealers now refuse to change transmission fluid. In engineering school I learned that no oil lubricates forever. I have a friend who was an engineer that tested transmissions at Allison Transmission for 20 years, and he agrees.

So here is my advice, which you can follow at your own risk, or ignore completely.

1) Somewhere between 50K and 100K miles, change the filter, and drain and fill the fluid. I suggest the MEISTERSATZ filter. Here is a tutorial on this process for the same transmission in a BMW E46: ATF Filter Tutroial. Here's my handy PDF summary of this tutorial, with full size pics ready for printing: PDF of Tutorial with Pics

2a) For a 2007-2010 X3, use a trustworthy brand of DEX-VI. Any brand that is actually licensed by GM should work, even Wal*Mart brand. I wouldn't use that, but I'm paranoid.

2b) For a 2003-2006 X3, use a trustworthy brand of DEX-VI, or a fully synthetic ATF. I say this because Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF is NOT DEX-VI certified (I wrote to Mobil and asked), but it seems to have better viscosity ratings across the board than Mobil Dexron-VI. Also, Mobil Dexron-VI ATF is a blend and not purely synthetic, and I like synthetic.

Here are the specs for Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF and Mobil Dexron-VI ATF: Mobil Dexron-VI ATF vs Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF

3) Finally, "Power Flushing" is safe AFTER THE FILTER HAS BEEN CHANGED AND THE FLUID HAS BEEN REFILLED. I spoke with the owner of Pat's Automatic Transmission Service in Broomall, Pennsylvania last week. He said that while I could do a drain, fill, and then have him flush it, that this would cost a fortune. The problem is that the transmission and torque converter combined hold about 10 quarts of fluid. The transmission specialist told me that as soon as the clean fluid is pulled into the transmission, it mixes with the old fluid that is already in there. So for the flush, they just keep pumping in new fluid until the out-flowing fluid is clear. For a 10 quart transmission, he estimated it would take 20 quarts of new fluid to do the flush, and that's after you've used 6 or 7 quarts on the drain and fill. His recommendation was to change the filter, refill the transmission, drive 50 miles, and then drain from the drain plug and refill again. Otherwise, you're going to spend big bucks on fluid.

Comments Welcome
If you are an engineer at a transmission company, a chemist with a lubricant company,or an ASE Certified Master mechanic, I would love to hear your thoughts. If anything that I've stated as a fact above is false, and you have evidence, please post so that I can make corrections. At some point GM will supersede DEX-VI with a new specification, so if you're reading this years from my original posting date, please keep that in mind.

EDITs:
Originally misstated 5L40-E as 4L40-E, which does not exist
Added links to the Wikipedia site for both transmissions
Edit paragraph about power flushing to include expert advice
 

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Very nice write-up, I have a US 2004 X3 2.5i with 110xxx miles, I don't think that previously the transmission filter or fluid have been changed, as you advice to do the tranny maintenance at 50000 miles and 100000 miles, but I already miss those changes, should I do it now with 110xxx miles?, or i would be risking the transmission now?, thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Hi TLCx86. I would suggest going to your BMW dealership or trusted Indy BMW shop and asking them to flush the transmission fluid and and change the filter. GM, who makes the transmission, recommends flushing the fluid and changing the filter at 100K miles in GM cars with a similar transmission. BMW used to recommend changing at 100K as well, until they started the "lifetime" fluids campaign.

I suggest doing the change somewhere between 50K and 100K the first time, and then every 50K or so thereafter. These transmissions have a history of failure at 150K miles or so, and my wild speculation (with no data to back it up) is that these failures occur because the ATF fluid stops lubricating sometime after 100K miles, and eventually the gears touch and throw metallic bits into fluid, which clogs the valves.
 

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Hi Dewayne, thank you for your time to answer my concern, actually I was last week at the dealer to purchase the tranny filter and transmission fluid, and they bring me the person in charge of the service department to tell me to not do it, that if the transmission is running well, I shouldn't touch it, because when I flush the transmission I will remove all the clutch particles, that is keeping the tranny working well right now, etc, I am pretty handy and I do all the services in my car, just finish with transfer case and differentials, and next is the tranny, and your write up came just in time, they make me doubt, but after reading your write up it make more sense to me to do it, than to not do it.
Basically do you like to use better the fully synthetic Mobil 1 ATF right?
Do you know who sell this made of filter MEISTERSATZ?
Do you know how to exchange the transmission fluid that is left in the torque converter, I think aprox 3 quarters?, I would like to be able to remove 95% if not 100% of the old fluid.
Thank you again Damian
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Your story is common -- the BMW official recommendation is to not change the fluid unless the transmission is having problems. Then they'll be glad to replace it for a few thousand dollars. There is some truth to what they are saying, though. People have heart attacks when pieces of plaque break off from an artery wall and get lodged in a coronary artery. Exercise and eating large meals change how our blood flows, and increases the odds of "throwing a clot" and having a heart attack. Transmissions can be the same way. If you neglect them for too long, and crud starts to build up, then any shock to the system could dislodge the crud and clog a valve. There is some point where you're probably better off to just leave it alone, but at 110K you're only 10% past the MFG recommended change, so if it were me I would change it.

I like Mobil 1 ATF, but that is NOT the BMW or GM recommended fluid. They recommend DEX-VI. Mobil 1 has a Viscosity Index 176, while Mobil DEX-VI a Viscosity Index of 145 (higher is better), and Mobil 1 is fully synthetic. I use Mobil 1 in everything (2 cars and 3 motorcycles), in both the engines and the transmissions, so that's just my preference.

EAC Euro Parts has the MEISTERSATZ filter kit with the bolts. Some places sell the filter and gasket without bolts, and some places don't mention who makes the filter. There is a $29 filter kit from some other brand, and the MEISTERSATZ filter kit is $47.21. I read somewhere that the actual OEM supplier for the filter was Filtran, but I could not find one anywhere. You could probably get it from the dealership.

As far as getting the fluid out of the torque converter, there are few options.

1) Change the fluid and filter, drive the car 100 miles, then just drain the fluid at the drain plug and refill. I've heard of some people doing this twice, but that's wasting a lot of fluid.
2) In theory, you can disconnect the transmission cooling lines from the transmission fluid cooling unit (which is by the radiator), and put the "out" line into an empty bucket and the "in" into a bucket full of clean fluid. I've seen this done on other cars, but don't know if anyone has tried it on an X3.
3) Go to a trustworthy transmission shop and ask them to replace the filter, clean the pan, refill with clean fluid, and then flush with their machine. They may think your nuts, but better safe than sorry.
 

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You are right for me, and I will do it, thanks again, for the write up, and for answer my questions.
Do you have an opinion on the Redline D4 automatic transmission fluid?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Some of you may be asking yourself, "Why would BMW tell me not to change the ATF if they know that, eventually, the ATF will lose viscosity and ruin my transmission?"

Here's my theory. BMW marketing geniuses came up with the "lifetime transmission fluid" idea. There is no way on Earth that a German engineer had that idea. I know a lot of German engineers. These guys are meticulous. They'll argue for 5 hours about the thread pitch to use on a bolt. But German marketing departments are just like American marketing departments -- full of BS. When these "lifetime fluid" transmissions started failing at 150K miles, I suspect several people sued or threatened to sue BMW. I suspect that the BMW attorneys argued that 150K miles is the average lifetime of a car, and won those cases. The problem is that the attorneys cannot successfully use this argument in court if the dealerships are disregarding the "lifetime fluid - do not change" labels on the cars, and changing the fluid at 100K miles. So, my wild, unsupported speculation is that BMW's legal department pushed a "do not touch the transmission" policy through the Munich Headquarters and out to the dealerships to mitigate the risk of a massive class action suit. Of course I'll never now for sure unless BMW hires me as an in-house attorney, and if that happened then I couldn't talk about it :)
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I know nothing about the Redline fluid, but you can probably find 100 comments on the forums from people who have used it and reported back.
 

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Thanks for the useful info. I'm relatively new to the BMW world, so I like informative posts like this to help me learn more about my vehicle.
 

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THIS IS FOR N. AMERICAN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION X3s ONLY. This does not necessarily apply to X3s sold elsewhere in the world.

Basic E83 Transmission Facts

The 2003-2006 US E83 (X3) models came with a GM 5L40-E MX5 automatic transmission.
A couple of suggested corrections as shown underlined, because:

- everything equally applicable to Canadian-market E83s, and much of it probably applies to E83s in the rest of the world, or at least the gasoline models

- the first digit in the G.M. handle indicates no. of forward gears, so I am sure you meant to put 5L40E

Any thoughts on why BMW chose not to fill the 5L40E with the then standard Dexron III?
Surely, the Cadillac SRX came with Dexron III in its same transmission.
Not the bean counters or the legal team in this instance.
Could be the engineers, or maybe the marketing types thought it best that the transmission fluid wasn't a 100% GM thing.

Although the original Texaco fluid is no longer generally available, if BMW thought it to be a better choice than Dexron III then, I wonder if Dexron VI removed any reservation they had about Dexron III in this particular application?

Clearly, a number of owners have converted to Dexron VI over the past few years with no apparent issues.

Going from Dexron III to VI without a flush is obviously no problem as this must have happened millions of times.

Don't know what additives were in the Texaco fluid, or how it had different properties in general, but I would just be more comfortable with having a clean start with Dexron VI.
Which probably means a drain and fill, run for a few hundred miles, and repeat as you mentioned for refreshing the torque converter.
Fully agree that if you take the power flush option over a drain and fill you want to be sure it's a machine that cannot cause a problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
Thanks, Supercourse. I saw that I used the wrong GM P/N last night, and was changing it when you posted. I also added links to the Wikipedia articles for both trannies so people can read about them for themselves.

Regarding the Texaco oil, I did a lot of thinking about that, and I could only come up with two plausible reasons on why BMW chose the Texaco oil. One is branding. In order to use the DEX-III formula, they would have needed a GM license, and that probably would have required putting DEX-III on the label of the BMW bottles. That could have caused marketing issues. When I bought my X3, the dealership raved about the car being made in Austria, but they certainly never mentioned that the transmission was made by GM! (I was trading in a Chevy Blazer at the time.)

The other plausible explanation is that the Texaco oil had a longer life than DEX-III oil, and BMW wanted to push the "lifetime oil" strategy, so they did some testing to figure out which oil actually had the longest life, and it was the Texaco oil.

This is wild speculation on my part -- I have no data to support either hypothesis , and I doubt BMW is ever going to disclose why they chose the Texaco oil, or why they went to the "lifetime fluid" policy.
 

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I have German version of X3 3.0 SD (210kw, diesel) from 2007 and it has ZF 6HP26 (GA6HP26Z) transmission. Seems that this ZF transmission does not have such problems as described here, however, it is not a bullet proof either and needs oil changes to keep it going.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
In North America BMW still does not offer a diesel engine! Here, the automatic transmission is always included, as is air-conditioning, electric seats, and most of the other "optional extras" on the German models. I've rented BMWs from Sixt in Germany, and they are very different from the American versions of the same car.
 

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Very informative post, thanks for sharing it here. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that some of you are aware that the number of high-tech gadgets in vehicles today is exploding.
 

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Thanks Dewayne for the info. Any recommendations for places in Philly to take to get this done? It looks pretty easy to do, but a little fearful of messing with the trans. Thx.
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
Thanks Dewayne for the info. Any recommendations for places in Philly to take to get this done? It looks pretty easy to do, but a little fearful of messing with the trans. Thx.

If I weren't going to do this job myself, I'd definitely be taking my X3 to Pat's Automatic Transmission Service in Broomall (Route 3 and 320). Pat said that he had never done a flush on a BMW X3, but I didn't ask if he'd worked on any other BMWs. It's a GM transmission, and I'm sure he's worked on those. I came in asking if he'd do an flush procedure, and he advised against it and offered a cheaper alternative (see original post.) That's usually a sign of an honest mechanic.
 

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Seems like there's been a lot of Transmission Fluid threads lately so I'll add to this one (and I wanted to bump this thread).

I'm changing the ATF fluid and filter in my Wife's 2004 X3 with the GM 5 speed.
It's been done before, but at 143,000 miles it's time to do it again.

I've narrowed it down to using one of these 2 fluids - both are Dexron VI

http://www.mobiloil.com/USA-English/MotorOil/Other_Products/Mobil_Dexron_VI_ATF.aspx

http://www.liqui-moly.com/liquimoly/web.nsf/id/li_pszi8k7avf.html

Any thoughts on if one is better than the other? Should I be looking at any other brands?
 

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Seems like there's been a lot of Transmission Fluid threads lately so I'll add to this one (and I wanted to bump this thread).

I'm changing the ATF fluid and filter in my Wife's 2004 X3 with the GM 5 speed.
It's been done before, but at 143,000 miles it's time to do it again.

I've narrowed it down to using one of these 2 fluids - both are Dexron VI

http://www.mobiloil.com/USA-English/MotorOil/Other_Products/Mobil_Dexron_VI_ATF.aspx

http://www.liqui-moly.com/liquimoly/web.nsf/id/li_pszi8k7avf.html

Any thoughts on if one is better than the other? Should I be looking at any other brands?
I did it last week, and I use OEM filter and Mobil 1 fully synthetic ATF, all good for now, and this week I am planing to change the ATF again, without removing the filter or pan, just to have more of the new ATF on the Transmission. Now that I know the procedure is not that hard to do it. Good luck.
 

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I did it last week, and I use OEM filter and Mobil 1 fully synthetic ATF, ........
To avoid any confusion, you used the Mobil DEX-VI in your link (blue bottle) for the GM 6-spd. transmission.

Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF (silver bottle) is a different DEX III & multi-vehicle product, not DEX VI.
Maybe an option for the 5-spd. GM transmission, but not necessarily closest to what was the factory fill.
http://www.mobiloil.com/USA-English/MotorOil/Other_Products/Mobil_1_Synthetic_ATF.aspx#
 

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Perfect. Thanks guys. I did buy the Genuine BMW filter kit from Tischer BMW.
Just waiting for it to show up.
I'm pretty sure I'll use the Mobil Dexron VI in the blue bottle.

Also going to do the transfer case fluid again with the Genuine BMW transfer case oil and front and rear diffs with Mobil 1 75w-90 full synthetic.

I have about 50,000 on the fluids since the last change. Should be a good afternoon!
 
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