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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
For those Step owner like myself on the forum that know lifetime fluid is a myth based upon all the anecdotal info on the web, just below is a valuable link/poll that really puts changing the fluid in perspective:

http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=494219&page=4

Many don't change the fluid due to fear that it may precipitate a failure and not prolong the life of our transmissions. This is not the case as evidence by this poll. The other major source of contention is whether to only use the so called lifetime fluid made by Esso.
The poll once again refutes that using Esso fluid is essential. I have done a fair measure of research on this and have learned the following by reading other forums like VW and others that use the ZF 5HP trans that so called require the use of Esso fluid:
Some of the things I have learned:

- Redline D4 ATF seems to be the overwhelming fluid of choice as a substitue. The track record of using this fluid in replacement of the pricey Esso fluid is excellent. The wildcard other then both being pure synthetic which gives each fluid longevity (but certainly not lifetime) is the friction modifiers added to each baseline syn. They are close which is critical to trans/clutch pack engagement, wear and performance.

- Mobi1 1 ATF is generally regarded as more slippery and hence not the best substitute. In fact when asked, Mobil agrees their fluid is not a suitable substitute.

The most interesting finding of the above poll is the percentage of failures when using either the Esso fluid or the Redline fluid. The result is only two trans failures in 64 fluid replacements when using "any" fluid other then Esso fluid. This result is both better then replacing the fluid of Esso fluid and/or not touching the trans. Replacing fluid with Esso did not have this good of track record which is interesting to say the least..perhaps due to the level of detergency in the Esso fluid but more likely just a statistical anomaly. Suffice to say, if you change your fluid, you have low risk of a trans failure in spite of all the horror stories out there. And for those transmissions that do fail, many are the result of changing fluid at high mileage where either transmissions were predisposed to failure by running such a long duration of poor quality fluid and mucked up filter or there was precipitous blockage in the filter/valve body due to deposits being liberated. I suggest in the cases of high mileage either don't change the fluid and let the trans fail or only incremental change of fluid, 1-2 quart drain and refill with filter changes along the way until the fluid is replaced over a six month period.

- Lastly, many believe the Redline fluid is better then the Esso fluid which is ridiculously priced. For those that have changed their original Esso fluid as low as 50K miles, invariably the color and consistency of the fluid is poor. Long term replacement of Redline D4 does not show the same level of degradation.

Finally, the above comments are only my observations and I accept no liability for whatever decision you make. I am a long time automotive engineer and understand there are tradoffs to whatever path you chose and trans failure can occur at any time with any make of trans. For me, I will simply start doing a drain and refil at 15K miles...my car only has 8500 miles on it. I will drop the pan likely at 30-50K. I will use the Redline D4 fluid and not the Esso fluid.

Hope this helps put this highly contested issue into perspective.
George
 

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George, thanks for the info. One more nail in the coffin for the "lifetime" fluid. Would you be willing to do an analysis on your used tranny fluid? I'm in the process of doing analysis on "virgin" samples of RedLine D4ATF, MTL, and the OEM Castrol MTF L2 (supercedes the L1 and is it's replacement) for the manual fluid. This should give some insight into the additive package in each one. Hopefully it gives some added support to the use of other quality fluids than the pricey, often unobtainable OEM stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
George, thanks for the info. One more nail in the coffin for the "lifetime" fluid. Would you be willing to do an analysis on your used tranny fluid? I'm in the process of doing analysis on "virgin" samples of RedLine D4ATF, MTL, and the OEM Castrol MTF L2 (supercedes the L1 and is it's replacement) for the manual fluid. This should give some insight into the additive package in each one. Hopefully it gives some added support to the use of other quality fluids than the pricey, often unobtainable OEM stuff.
You're welcome Shortyb. There are many myths associated with BMW's and other cars but few greater then fluid replacement on the Step trans. This has been partly if not mostly been due to BMW's fault or greed for instituting lifetime fluid to skirt long warranty fluid replacement costs. Older ZF auto tranny with 15-30K fluid replacement cycles at Service I & II would often result in ZF 4HP 22 EH's going 200K miles without need for replacement. There is nothing inherently weak about the latest generation of 5 speed ZF autobox other then a poor policy of lifetime fluid.

As to manual gearboxes, the priority you likely know is much different for the manual trans. Many lump the fluid requirements of each together but they are fundamentally different. Honestly, manual trans fluid should last much longer then so called lifetime fluid in Steptronics. This is due to the simple fact that over time, in a Step the clutch material is liberated into the fluid bath changing the friction properties of the fluid, and shear force within a torque converter and high temps will dramatically increase break down of fluid thereby plugging the filter and valve body of an auto trans with deposits over time. As I mentioned in another thread, the ONLY reason BMW changed their so called life time Steptronic fluid policy recently is due to consumer outcry. Their transmissions are/were failing prematurely...well before 100K miles due to contaminated fluid through abandonment of a fluid replacement/service policy used for years by BMW service facilities for BMW ZF autoboxes at inspection.

The thing I have learned about manual transmissions...I have been around Bimmers along time, is with manual cars, the lubricity of manual tranny fluid is key. Many think that a more slippery fluid like Mobil 1 ATF is better for syncronizer engagment and life. It is actually the converse. If manual tranny fluid is too slippery, you can beat the syncros much easier and thereby induce premature wear. This is one of the reasons that standard or dino based ATF can sometimes work better in a manual trans aside from not being quite as forgiving from a Newtonian i.e. temp versus viscosity standpoint.
Some actually perform an additive to manual transmissions to get the balance of friction in the trans just right. There is a lot of info out on the web or on other older BMW forums that I have been party to. I wouldn't sweat the longevity of Getrag BMW manual gearboxes nor would I be overly concerned about the fluid you run. Honestly, standard Dextron III works pretty good which is natively a semi-synethic in basic form.
HTH,
George
 

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Thanks for the resource :thumbsup:

Hopefully this will convince more people to change out their "lifetime" fluids. As for me, I currently have $105 of OEM ATF sitting in my garage. I'll be changing it out after the new year.
 

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George, all good. Definately a delicate balancing act with viscosity and synchro engagement. Shear forces in the manuals are quite brutal as well. One of the main reasons for me doing analysis is to get differences in base additives. Manuals use softer metals such as brass, bronze, and copper in some components. Certain AW/EP (anti-wear, extreme pressure) additives can be corrosive to these so I'm keeping an eye on their content. MTL is specifically designed to deal with these metals but I don't know to what extent the D4ATF has as far as more corrosive AW/EP adds such as sulphur. This is more to satisfy my own curiousity but may be beneficial to others out there making their decisions on fluid. Bottom line is to change the fluid. Otherwise, what is defined as "lifetime" will be realized when you car is in the shop to get a new tranny.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
George, all good. Definately a delicate balancing act with viscosity and synchro engagement. Shear forces in the manuals are quite brutal as well. One of the main reasons for me doing analysis is to get differences in base additives. Manuals use softer metals such as brass, bronze, and copper in some components. Certain AW/EP (anti-wear, extreme pressure) additives can be corrosive to these so I'm keeping an eye on their content. MTL is specifically designed to deal with these metals but I don't know to what extent the D4ATF has as far as more corrosive AW/EP adds such as sulphur. This is more to satisfy my own curiousity but may be beneficial to others out there making their decisions on fluid. Bottom line is to change the fluid. Otherwise, what is defined as "lifetime" will be realized when you car is in the shop to get a new tranny.
John, by your response, you clearly know a lot about the subject. As far as other fluid baths, what you write also applies...for the cooling system and the diff as well. If a diff has clutches, particularly important to get the fluid out of it periodically for the same reason as the autobox. You nailed the theme issue...more important to change the fluid then the fluid you use. This also applies to the hotly contested "BMW coolant issue" which like the Esso Step fluid debate has no end. :)
Best Regards in the New Year,
George
 

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George fantastic writeup! I'm at 80k, I'm going to make an appointment for this weekend to get my fluid changed.
 

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The Stearlership wouldn't even change mine!! urghh.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
The Stearlership wouldn't even change mine!! urghh.
If your Step is high mileage there is added risk. Your stealership would simply like to sell you a new trans when it fails :eeps:

What is particularly laughable is we as Bimmer guys tend to only think parochially about our needs. Keep in mind, the VW and Audi guys and there are many other manufacturers that use ZF autoboxes live in our parallel universes. They have the same anguish what to do because of the life time Esso fluid crap. Here is one very provactive thread that basically trashes the whole premise of Esso and Pentosin which comes on the scene in VW circles.
Have a read:

http://www.passatworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=138384&page=7

There is one recurrent theme, virtually all love fully synthetic Redline D4 ATF.
The principle reason is the friction modifiers added to the base syn Redline are very close to the friction pack added to the Esso fluid.

More fuel for the fire :)
George
 

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For Ti330ci:

I too believe in frequent changes of all fluids. The million dollar question I have for you is when it comes time for you to change your tranny fluid in your expensive vehicle, will you play it safe and use the Esso or save a few bucks and go with the Redline??
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
For Ti330ci:

I too believe in frequent changes of all fluids. The million dollar question I have for you is when it comes time for you to change your tranny fluid in your expensive vehicle, will you play it safe and use the Esso or save a few bucks and go with the Redline??
That is the 64K question. The answer is...the evidence is in for me at least.
Some will never delve from under the tree and will only use factory fluid in these cars. The question is really three sided...is the fluid as good?...worse?...or better? My research suggests that the Redline D4 ATF is actually better. Those that have dumped their Esso fluid at a modest 40-50K miles show MAJOR contamination at this relatively low mileage mark. This begs the question...why? One could make the leap of judgement that this level of clutch pack wear is due to the pronounced slippage built into the seamless shifting character of the Step. The flipside could be the Esso fluid breaks down faster then perhaps another fluid out there like D4 with superior synthetic base fluid. By contrast, those that replaced factory Esso fluid with Redline D4 after running for high miles show less fluid degradation. Sometimes there is actually a better mousetrap. Driveability which can be deduced almost right off the bat is virtually the same which suggests friction properties are very close which is critical. As mentioned, by contrast, Mobil 1 ATF in these boxes does slip as has been reported by many who have tried it. I am pretty conservative by nature and likely wouldn't have been the one to experiment. But others and for good reason refused to believe that there is any magic to the Esso fluid. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest that aside from cost, there is good reason to look for a BETTER fluid. I believe the Redline fluid is better. We can get into the chemical properties but if you take a deep enough dive, it is out there on the web. I believe the statistics of the poll and now all the ancedotal testimonials compiled. Make no mistake, I will be using Redline D4 ATF and will likely dump and refill my trans every 15-30K miles like BMW recommended in the old days before they embraced their ridiculous policy which they recently recinded because of all the precipitous Step failures.
Hope that clarifies my position at least,
George
 

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We mustn't forget part of the reason for the high cost of OE fluid in these cases.

1-Because of contractural specing of fluid, suppliers either have to develop an entirely new fluid or highly modify an existing fluid. This ain't cheap in either scenario.

2-Because of this contractural obligation, the supplier cannot relabel the fluid and sell it at a mass retail level as "OE" fluid. To make up for the loss of revenue by not making it available to the general public, they pass the cost onto the "customer" (BMW in this case).

There are really no magic bullets when it comes to fluids like this. There are only so many known additives within reasonable cost that a fluid manufacturer can use. It boils down to basic chemistry and how the ingredients are put together in additive packages. I'm sure that the folks at RedLine have done their homework and are able to mix up a fluid that is every bit as good as or better than the OE. And they can keep the price reasonable because they are not under obligation to any manufacturer.
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
We mustn't forget part of the reason for the high cost of OE fluid in these cases.

1-Because of contractural specing of fluid, suppliers either have to develop an entirely new fluid or highly modify an existing fluid. This ain't cheap in either scenario.

2-Because of this contractural obligation, the supplier cannot relabel the fluid and sell it at a mass retail level as "OE" fluid. To make up for the loss of revenue by not making it available to the general public, they pass the cost onto the "customer" (BMW in this case).

There are really no magic bullets when it comes to fluids like this. There are only so many known additives within reasonable cost that a fluid manufacturer can use. It boils down to basic chemistry and how the ingredients are put together in additive packages. I'm sure that the folks at RedLine have done their homework and are able to mix up a fluid that is every bit as good as or better than the OE. And they can keep the price reasonable because they are not under obligation to any manufacturer.
Yup...all good points John. No silver bullet however believe as a long time car guy you would agree there is a clear defining boundary condition when selecting the appropriate auto trans fluid other then contacting the manufacturer. With autobox's choosing a fluid with compatible friction modifiers to the virgin fluid is critical. Also key with a syncro manual box but even more crucial with an autobox because the computer crunchs clutch pack pressures and engagement timing relative to engine torque and speed based upon a baseline presence of friction. Clutch friction and shift quality and wear can be dramatically affected by choice of the wrong fluid. Many before us were willing to do the beta testing. We as a result reap the benefit of what they have learned. Many have contacted Redline asking if their fluid is compatible with Esso LT. Their response is invariably yes. Here is another excellent link from Pittsburg Harry...a thoughtful owner that performed a great service to the BMW community by furnishing his well constructed DIY:
http://bimmer.roadfly.com/bmw/forums/e46/5796036-1.html
Harry...like many refused to pay the inflated price of the exclusive Esso fluid...
at 4X's the price of fully synthetic Redline.
This is one of the best procedures for changing Step fluid out on the web.
Harry checked in a year later and reported his car runs fine on Redline 4D ATF.
George
 

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That is the 64K question. The answer is...the evidence is in for me at least.
Some will never delve from under the tree and will only use factory fluid in these cars. The question is really three sided...is the fluid as good?...worse?...or better? My research suggests that the Redline D4 ATF is actually better. Make no mistake, I will be using Redline D4 ATF and will likely dump and refill my trans every 15-30K miles like BMW recommended in the old days before they embraced their ridiculous policy which they recently recinded because of all the precipitous Step failures.
Hope that clarifies my position at least,
George
While not a $64K question, it IS about a $64 question per change. I am glad to see that your are a man who will act on his convictions. Me, I will make an inquiry directly with Redline and if they unequivocally state that their D4 ATF is fine for the BMW Step, then I am in also. Otherwise, I will spend the extra bucks.

Either way, I plan to change filter and fluid at
15K miles and then every 30K thereafter.

Thanks for the informative and thought provoking discussion.
 

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thanks for the post- i've been saying for YEARS people are idiots for not changing their fluids.



oil is oil is oil. it will break down.



and that 15k interval on your motor oil?? please... i want to know how many e46's are junked on the road in ten years from now due to lack of maintenance.


maybe that's the only way we can counter the fact that each 3 series generation sells WAY more than the previous. ...we'll let the 'tards on the street run their cars into the ground, and increase the rarity of e46's still running!
 

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Discussion Starter #18 (Edited)
While not a $64K question, it IS about a $64 question per change. I am glad to see that your are a man who will act on his convictions. Me, I will make an inquiry directly with Redline and if they unequivocally state that their D4 ATF is fine for the BMW Step, then I am in also. Otherwise, I will spend the extra bucks.

Either way, I plan to change filter and fluid at
15K miles and then every 30K thereafter.

Thanks for the informative and thought provoking discussion.
$64 if you change with Redline and 4X's that if you go with Esso fluid.:(
You can contact Redline for another data point but many have before you.
If you read all the links I have provided in their entirety which is quite an undertaking :eek: you will find actual e-mails sent to Redline confiming same.
The important thing is to share your personal experience after you make your decision...why I started this thread...so others can confide their thoughts.
Please share Redline's response with this thread when you hear back.
Thanks,
George
 

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Discussion Starter #19
thanks for the post- i've been saying for YEARS people are idiots for not changing their fluids.



oil is oil is oil. it will break down.



and that 15k interval on your motor oil?? please... i want to know how many e46's are junked on the road in ten years from now due to lack of maintenance.


maybe that's the only way we can counter the fact that each 3 series generation sells WAY more than the previous. ...we'll let the 'tards on the street run their cars into the ground, and increase the rarity of e46's still running!
Indeed...oil is oil and it will break down. Evidence of Esso fluid breaking down within Steps and arguably prematurely at that is all the Step failures noted before 100K miles without fluid change and for those that have dumped the factory fluid even well before 50k miles, the level of degradation is pronounced...black highly contaminated fluid. I have not seen nearly this level of fluid break down in Dextron III cars at anywhere near the same mileage.
George
 

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I'm at 84k and got the car earlier this year. I can only assume the fluid has never been changed. Would you recommend it? Or should I do the gradual 6mo change? What say you? (I've been doing my own gradual maintenance this past week. Did spark plugs, oil, and oil filter so far, will be doing fuel filter shortly and looking for more to do, lol)
 
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