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1,131 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a step-by-step guide for draining and refilling your Automatic Transmission Fluid in your BMW. The procedure is based off of a 93,000 mile BMW 323i Steptronic with the GM A5S360R (same as A5S390R) transmission. Your vehicle may vary. I assume no responsibility for users following this DIY.

  • BMW ATF Fluid (7 Liters, Texaco ETL 7045E, PN: 83220026922)
  • BMW AT Filter Kit (Includes filter, gasket, and bolts; PN: 24117557070)
  • T40 Socket (For drain plug)
  • T45 Socket (For fill plug, must be L-shape)
  • 10mm Socket
  • Socket Wrench
  • Socket Extension (Short)
  • Screw Driver
  • Automotive Jack
  • 4 Jack Stands
  • Fluid Pump
  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Container with Liter Measurement (Up to 6 Liters)
  • Lint Free Rags/Towels
  • Ramps/Wood (My vehicle is too low to fit the jack under)
  • Torque Wrench (For use with drain plug)
  • Scan Tool (For accurately measuring AT temperature)
  • Catch Pan/Kitty Liter (ATF stains driveways)
  • Creeper (Makes being on your back a lot easier)
  • Fill Plug (PN: ?, contains a gasket which prevents leaks but, is rarely changed)
  • Drain Plug (PN: 24117533937, contains a gasket which prevents leaks but, is rarely changed)
Difficulty - 4/10
This is not a 1st DIY for sure but it is feasible. The DIY can be accomplished in about 2-3 hours for the first time. Most of the job occurs below the vehicle. It can be accomplished by one person but, an assitant is helpful. Be aware however, this tune-up requires the vehicle to be running at times while working underneath.​
  1. Begin by gathering all the materials needed to complete the project. Be sure you have an open work space, as the vehicle will be running at certain points. The vehicle will be out of commision for roughly 2-3 hours.
  2. We will start by jacking the vehicle as high into the air as possible. Drive your vehicle up onto a set of ramps or wood, to clear the jack. Put the car in park, engage the emergency brake, and chock the rear wheels. Then jack up the front end using the center jack pad. (See "Jack/Lift Points for E46") Place jack stands underneath the two front jack pads and lower it carefully. Repeat on the rear, jacking up on the U-brace in the rear, placing jack stands, and lowering slowly. Now try your best to knock the vehicle loose before you get underneath it.
  3. Now we are ready to begin the ATF change. The ATF should be drained when the vehicle is cold. Place the catch pan underneath the AT area and have your catch container (with liter measurement) ready. We will begin by unbolting the fill plug (don't wanna empty the fluid without knowing we can fill it, right?). It takes a T45 torx L-shape to fit into the small area that the fill plug is located. You might need to use a pipe or other various tool to provide you with enough leverage to loosen the plug. Unscrew the plug but be prepared to have fluid come out.
  4. Once all the fluid has come out, place the fill plug in a safe location (throw it away if you are replacing it). Now using the T40 Torx socket unscrew the drain plug. Be sure you have the catch container directly below the drain plug, otherwise it could get messy. Also, be careful not to drop the drain plug into the catch container or you will have to fish it out of nasty ATF. Once all of the fluid has dripped out, screw the new or old drain plug back in (discard the old plug if you are replacing it). Torque the drain plug to 14 ft-lb if available.
  5. Move your catch container off to the side, in a location where it won't spill. We are now going to remove the AT pan to replace the filter. Begin by unbolting the 22 10mm bolts holding the pan up, using a socket extension. You can discard the screws. If the pan is stuck to the bottom of the AT pry at the rear driver's side corner with a screwdriver. Once the pan is off place it off to the side. Discard the old pan gasket.
  6. We are now ready to remove the old filter. Put both hands on either side of the filter and pull down firmly. It should come down fairly easy. Discard the old filter. Check to see if the sealing ring remained in the transmission. (see picture below) If so, using the screwdriver push up on one side of the ring so it moves vertically and pull it out with the screwdriver. Discard the ring.
  7. Find the new filter kit. Open and remove the filter. Install the filter by grasping both sides and pushing up until the sealing ring is out of site. The white cap should be at the base of the transmission.
  8. Now it is time to clean out the AT pan. Pour the excess fluid into your catch container. Now wipe out all of the old fluid and gunk around the magnet using lint free cloths (can't introduce debris into the AT). Be sure to also wipe down where the gasket will make contact on the pan as well as the AT.
  9. Once the pan is clean it is time to re-install it on the vehicle. Remove the gasket from the filter kit, as well as the screws. Coat the gasket with some ATF. Now get ready for the hardest part of the job. You must hold the AT pan over your head, while being sure that the gasket is seated properly, and screwing in the bolts. Once you get a few bolts in it is all downhill. The bolts are only torque to 7 ft-lb, so it isn't necessary to break out the torque wrench.
  10. Once the pan is re-attached we are ready to start the fill process! Calculate the total amount of fluid drained from the transmission from your catch container. I got roughly 5L. Using the fluid pump, fill the car with the same amount of fluid you drained from it. Once you finish insert the new or old fill plug finger tight.
  11. Now we must start the vehicle to get up to temperature. If you have the scan tool go ahead and plug it in, after you turn on the car. The goal here is to get all the fluid in the nooks and crannies of the AT and allow the AT to reach normal operating temperature. From here on out the engine must be on. Turn on the car and put the A/C on (increase idle speed). Shift between gears several times (P->R->N->D, 5 times back and forth) and pause briefly between each gear (5 secs).
  12. With the vehicle in park, check the temperature. It should be between 85 and 120 degrees F. If you don't have the scan tool, touch the bottom of the AT pan. If it is warm and you can maintain steady contact, it is roughly the right temperature.
  13. Be sure you are wearing gloves. The ATF coming out of the fill plug will be HOT. Have your catch container ready. Unscrew the fill plug. If fluid is coming out, the AT is at the correct fluid level. If not, use the fluid pump to fill until it overflows. Screw the fill plug back in as tight as possible, it is too small an area for a torque wrench.
  14. Turn the vehicle off. Congratulations! You have done the impossible and changed the ATF on your BMW. Double check to make sure everything is screwed in tightly and not leaking. If you got any ATF on the exhaust, wait till the vehicle cools and use some degreaser, otherwise you will smell it every time you run the car.
  15. Take the vehicle off of the jack stands and be sure to place kitty liter over any spilled ATF. Take your vehicle for a test drive and enjoy your "new" AT. Be sure to safely dispose of your used ATF and ATF covered supplies.
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The car shifts A LOT better. Shifts between gears happen faster and smoother than before. Reverse engages faster as well (Immediately as opposed to several second delay, if at all). In the morning when the vehicle is cold, there is no issues whatsoever.​
The fluid coming out of the AT was completely black. I strongly suggest anyone planning on keeping the car past 100K miles to change out the fluid. If you are considering on waiting until the AT gives you problems before changing, it will be too late. This talk of changing your ATF causing transmission failure is only in certain situations (AT was already failing, not replacing filter, incorrect fluid).​
I will keep this thread updated with my experience every so often and will notify immediately if the AT fails. I am probably going to change the fluid and filter again every 30,000 miles (might eventually switch to non-BMW fluid). If you plan on going through with this service I strongly suggest researching as much as possible.​

Good luck if you choose to change your ATF. You are welcome to post your experience (positive or negative) or other BMW ATF related links.

1,131 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
awesome DIY man!!

too bad it cost so much:shhh:
Haha mine was a special case :shhh:

The OEM fluid and filter can be had for under $150.

WOW, thats the best DIY !!!:bow:

Maybe I will consider doing it too:)
Thanks, it took a long time to write up! If it helps someone overcome that Lifetime BS my job is done!

Maybe a sticky? :shhh:

376 Posts
Sweet dude, One of the most complete DIY's I've read in a long time. :thumbup:
I'm gonna let the dealer take care of this one for me, since I lack a garage ..lol.

Premium Member
596 Posts
Best DIY I have read on this forum hands down.

Everything i read on this page in 5 min., took me hours of searching and reading through earlier.

Anyway, thanks for your work! :bow:

4,225 Posts
Maybe I should come up to Johns Creek and have you do mine. :)

9 Posts
i have 93K on my 325ci and i have been looking to change the ATF fluid as well.....your write up is fantastic and has been an amazing help to me, i think i am going to gather the materials this week and plan to change the fluid this coming weekend!!

1,131 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Just be sure if you have the ZF transmission you gather the correct tools. They are slightly different than the GM transmission. Use different fluid and filter as well.

1,131 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)

This is a Frequently Asked Questions guide for draining and refilling your Automatic Transmission Fluid in your BMW.

Why should I change my ATF?

What would make you want to deal with the hassle of changing your ATF? Well, to begin with, if you plan on keeping your car past 100,000 miles it is an excellent idea. Changing the fluid extends the life of AT just like it would any other component. Not maintained, these ATs have a high rate of failure.

Changing the ATF also results in much smoother and quicker shifts. It will bring your car to feeling like new! Reverse will engage quicker and you will prevent those embaresing moments when reverse doesn't work.

It will also save you money if you don't have to change out the transmission every 100,000 miles.

When should I change my ATF?

Before the "lifetime" fluid, BMW recommended 60,000 mile ATF and MTF changes. I suggest following this recomendation. If you are a little more strict on maintainence and aren't using the OEM fluid (this stuff is expensive to do often and was designed to last a long time) then you can go on 30,000 mile intervals.

If your car has never been changed and you are past 60,000 miles, then now is the perfect time to change out the fluid.

If your vehicle has already started having symptoms of a dead AT it might be too late. Do not expect a miracle to happen if your reverse goes out. It might be worth a shot, but keep in mind that the money spent on a ATF change could have gone towards a new transmission (Use cheap fluid if your transmission is doomed). Please do not blame it on the fluid change if your AT ends up dieing.

I heard changing my ATF can cause "non-warrantable transmission failure", is this true?

This is pure bogus. Since when does preventative maintainence hurt anything? If it can cause failure then why do certain dealers change it?

There are some examples where people have decided to do an incomplete fluid change, their transmissions fail, and they blame it on the change. If you follow all the steps carefully, replace the filter, and use the correct fluid you will be fine.

I heard it is a bad idea to change the ATF on a high-mileage vehicle, is this true?

Better late than never. If your transmission has started descending downhill you might want to pass, but plenty of people have changed there high mileage ATs with superb results. The highest mileage change currently recorded is a 160,000 miles.

Be aware there is a greater risk with changing at higher mileage as the AT has been running on poor quality fluid and has more gunk inside.

If it should be changed, then why does BMW call it "lifetime" fluid?


If BMW can have customers believe that the transmission never needs to be maintained for the life of it, people will be more inclined to purchase the car (BMWs have a reputation of being expensive to maintain).

*BMW has recently revised this lifetime policy to be 100,000 miles.*

What is the difference between the ATs?

Different ATs were used through out the production of the E46 design. They were produced by either ZF or GM. To find out your specific AT, look at the bottom of your ATF pan. There will be a color-coded label. Use the link "Transmission Guide" to match up which AT is in your vehicle. You can also use the link to figure out which model you have by build date (However, this is less accurate).

Since different ATs were used in the E46 chassis, different fluids and filters were as well. Once you figure out your AT model you can find out the supplies. The tools used in this DIY also differ among ATs.

Where should I get my ATF changed?

You can do it yourself right in your driveway! If you have read over the DIY and the task intimidates you too much or you would prefer not to have a runnning vehicle over your head, then take it to your independent BMW mechanic. If you do not have one, now is the perfect time to find a reputable one in your area. This is a service that dealerships will generally charge ~$500 for, if they are willing to do it at all (most dealerships believe strongly in the "lifetime" fluid). AVOID QUICK CHANGE PLACES AT ALL COSTS. This is not a jiffy-lube service, your transmission will almost certainly die.

Which ATF should I choose?

Many different ATFs are available on the market. BMW warns against using non-OEM fluid in the transmission, as it can apparently cause transmission failure. The problem lies in that the BMW OEM Fluid is $$$. There are alternatives to the fluids but I will not go into depth here. Research yourself and choose what risks (if any exist at all) you are willing to take. Decide on a fluid that is right for your vehicle.

I personally chose to stick with the BMW OEM fluid, as it is impossible to get all of the fluid out in a drain-and-refill service. The torque converter will always contain some. Ways to get around this include a flush (possibly loosen gunk), back flowing with new fluid, or multiple drain and refills. There is as much controversy surrounding the fluid choice as there is the change itself.

I would also not recommend going against the BMW OEM fluid if you are doing the service under warranty, as BMW states "Use of any other oil will cause a non-warrantable transmission failure!" If you are out of warranty, do whatever the hell pleases you!

Excellent Fluid Discussions:
"Lifetime Fluid"
Redline D4 ATF vs. OEM

How do I change my ATF?

Follow my DIY! If you do not have a GM Tranny there are links to multiple other DIYs.

Help! My AT died, what should I do?

It has finally happened to you. Your choices remain between:

1) AT path again
2) Manual Retrofit

If you choose to go the AT path again, you can pick up rebuilt units for around $2000. It is not advised that you service the transmission.

If you choose than manual retrofit path, be aware you are taking on a massive project. There is more than just the transmission that needs to be changed. It is a general $4000 estimate for the switch.

There is alot of information on this subject so search around.

6 Posts
okay...followed diy almost exactly and drained about 5 liters. started filling and fluid started spilling out of the fill hole after about 3 liters...wtf???? tilted the driver side up and filled about another liter so ultimately filled 4 liters after draining 5...we'll see...i'm driving it regardless...the car shifts so much better especially this morning on a cold start...it usually downshifted very hard but i didn't notice anything this morning...unfortunately still got the clunk noise when shifting to reverse from park...can't win them all huh?...thanks james and chris...oh i'm running at about 120,000 miles now! will report back again
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