BMW E46 Transmission Service – Automatic 1998-2005 3 Series

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BMW e46 transmission service

BMW E46 Transmission Service – 3 Hours

repair models difficulty bar

The BMW Repair Guide used this 2003 325ci for the following article. To see other repairs on our site using this actual car, please click on the image below!

A BMW E46 transmission service is inexpensive insurance against early failure of your vehicle’s drivetrain.

So…did you hear that rumor floating around that all 3 series cars built between 1998 and 2006 (E46) have “lifetime” fluid fills in their automatic transmissions and they never need to be serviced?

Hmmmm. Well it’s not a rumor. In fact BMW was kind enough to scare the bejesus out of us by plastering a green WARNING sticker on the bottom of every E46 tranny verifying this. But what exactly is their definition of “lifetime”? Is it the lifetime of the owner (yikes)? The lifetime of the car (not sure what defines that)? Or is it the lifetime of the transmission before it burns up and leaves you stranded from not being serviced?

bmw lifetime transmission oi sticker E46
There is no such thing as a “lifetime” fluid fill in your BMW transmission, and any suggestion that there is should be completely disregarded. 

Ok, we are not here to bash the BMW engineers that came up with this idea…I’m sure their intentions were respectable. But the bottom line is this: like every other mechanical part on your vehicle, the transmission needs to be regularly serviced to keep it operating correctly. Period…end of story.

The BMW Repair Guide recommends at a minimum an E46 transmission service fluid change every 60,000 miles, and a fluid and filter change every 120,000 miles. This recommendation is for “normal” driving conditions. If you track/race your vehicle or are a more aggressive driver, we suggest a BMW E46 transmission service even more frequently.


Table A – E46 Automatic Transmission Guide

Model Year Transmission
323i/Ci/iT 1999-2000 A5S360R (GM) (up to 03/00) A5S325Z (ZF) (from 03/00)
325i (M54 engine) 2001-2005 A5S325Z (ZF) (up to 03/02) A5S390R (GM) (from 03/02)
325i (M56 engine) 2003-2005 A5S325Z (ZF)
325Ci 2001-2005 A5S325Z (ZF) (up to 03/03) A5S390R (GM) (from 03/03)
328i/Ci 1999-2000 A5S360R (GM) (up to 05/00)
330i/Ci/Cic 2001-2005 A5S325Z (ZF) (up to 03/03) A5S390R (GM) (from 03/03)
325xi/xiT 330xi/xiT 2001-2005 A5S390R (GM)
325iT 2001-2005 A5S390R (GM) (up to 03/03) A5S325Z (ZF) (from 03/03)

 

Parts, Tools and Supplies

Parts

Use Table A above (or a diagnostic scanner) to determine which transmission your vehicle has BEFORE ordering parts below.

Purchase your transmission parts as follows:

Step 1 – purchase your transmission filter and gasket:

Part Quantity BMW Part # Description
Transmission filter/gasket kit 57070 1 24117557070 A5S360R and A5S390R (GM 5 speed transmission)
Transmission filter/gasket kit 58837 1 ES#258837 A5S325Z (ZF 5HP-19 5 speed transmission)

Step 2 – purchase your new transmission drain plug:

Part Quantity BMW Part # Description
Transmission drain plug 33937 1 24117533937 A5S360R and A5S390R (GM 5 speed transmission)
Transmission drain plug 71242 1 24117571242 A5S325Z (ZF 5HP-19 5 speed transmission)
Step 3 – purchase your new transmission fill plug:
Part Quantity BMW Part # Description
Transmission fill plug 07787 1 24117507787 A5S360R and A5S390R (GM 5 speed transmission)
Transmission fill plug 07555 1 24117507555 A5S325Z (ZF 5HP-19 5 speed transmission)

 

Step 4 – purchase your new oil pan bolts:

Part Quantity BMW Part # Description
Transmission oil pan bolt 33655 20 24117533655 A5S360R and A5S390R (GM 5 speed transmission)
Transmission oil pan bolt 23273 22 24101423273 A5S325Z (ZF 5HP-19 5 speed transmission)
Step 5 – purchase your transmission fluid:
Part Quantity Part # Description
Transmission fluid 30504 6-7 quarts 8352230504 Redline D4 – 7 quarts recommended

 

Tools and Supplies
Diagnostic scanner
T40 torx bit
T27 torx bit
8mm hex socket
Torque Wrench
Torque wrench- low range
Breaker Bar
Fluid Transfer Pump
Drain pan – 5 gallon
CRC Brākleen
RTV Silicone Gasket Maker
Blaster PB Lubricant
Pig Mats

Procedure

This is a messy repair! We highly recommend wearing something that you are not afraid to get dirty. This is a messy job, with the chance of oil and/or other automotive fluids getting on both you and the floor beneath your vehicle. Being prepared before starting the repair helps make things go easier!
  1. Jack and support both ends of your vehicle using the “jack stand” methodPlease click here to learn how to properly jack and support your vehicle for this repair.
  2. Locate the transmission oil pan. It is located behind the engine underneath the vehicle.BMW e46 transmission service
  3. BMW used three different transmissions in the E46 3 series (see Table A above to identify yours). It is very important to verify your part numbers and the bolt count and pattern on your transmission gasket before beginning this repair. We can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be sent the wrong gasket, only to find out after we have drained and removed the transmission oil pan. Save time and stress and double check before you start the repair.BMW e46 gasket transmission oil pan
  4. You will now need to drain the transmission. Position a 5 gallon drain pan under the transmission drain plug, located at front of transmission oil pan. We also suggest laying some Pig Mats down under the transmission. Whether you like it or not…be prepared to spill some oil on the floor.BMW e46 transmission service
  5. Use a T40 torx bit to remove the transmission drain plug. Let oil thoroughly drain from pan. The transmission drain plug is notorious for stripping when attempting to remove. Some model transmissions (most notably the A5S325Z) have a high torque value on their drain plugs, making them nearly impossible to remove without stripping the torx head. If your transmission drain plug strips while trying to remove, go to the next step 6. If not, proceed to step 7.BMW e46 transmission service
  6. If you strip the torx drain plug while trying to remove, you will unfortunately have to drill and extract it out. Don’t feel bad, we stripped ours too while making this article. Use a 5/16” titanium drill bit to drill through the center of the plug into the pan. Make sure to have your drain pan ready…as soon as you drill through the plug the pan will start draining.BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  7. Spray the transmission oil pan bolts down with PB Blaster and allow to soak for about 10 minutes.
  8. Use a T27 torx bit to remove the oil pan bolts. BE CAREFUL…the pan is not empty! We suggest starting on one side of pan so you can drain the rest of the oil out (see image below).The oil pan bolts should come out easy since they have a low torque value. But don’t be surprised if an overzealous mechanic before you over torqued them. If you strip one, don’t get frustrated…just move on. If you strip any bolts, go to step 9. If not, then continue to step 10.BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  9. If you strip a torx bolt, you will need to use a Dremel tool with a cutting wheel to cut the heads off. Once you cut the heads off of the stripped pan bolts, you can remove the threaded stud with your fingertips. BE CAREFUL not to cut the oil pan when cutting the heads off of stripped bolts. Use patience…if you get upset or tired take a break.
  10. Remove the oil pan from the bottom of the transmission. Remove the old gasket.BMW e46 transmission service
  11. Use a T40 torx bit to remove the two bolts (front and back) anchoring the transmission oil filter. Remove the filter from the transmission.BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  12. Thoroughly clean the oil pan inside and out. Using CRC Brākleen, liberally soak the inside and outside of the pan and scrub with a rag. Remove the magnets and clean them thoroughly as well. The pan should look “new” inside when you are finished. The goal is to remove every bit of metal shavings and residue left inside the pan so it does not recirculate with the fresh fluid we will be adding.BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  13. If you had to drill out the torx drain plug in step 6, you will now need to extract the old one out of the pan (if you didn’t proceed to next step). Soak the plug inside and out with PB Blaster and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Next, hammer a bolt extractor into the hole that was drilled into the plug and turn with an open ended wrench to extract. BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  14. Install the new transmission oil filter following the reverse steps above. Make sure your filter has a rubber gasket ring on it as shown below.BMW e46 transmission service
  15. Using a high quality RTV silicone gasket sealant, squeeze out six small spots around the perimeter of the oil pan as shown below. These are to help hold the new gasket in place during installation. Lay the new gasket on top of the spots of sealant and let dry for about 10-15 minutes. Put the magnets back in the pan.BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  16. Reinstall the oil pan on the bottom of the transmission using new oil pan bolts. Don’t forget to put the magnets back in the pan. Torque the pan bolts in sequential order (you do not need to use a cross pattern). Use one of the following tightening torques on the pan bolts, depending on your transmission model number (check your model number in table A at beginning of this article):
    A5S360R / A5S390R (GM Transmission) – 10Nm (7 ft-lb)
    A5S325Z (ZF Transmission) – 6 Nm (4 ft-lb)
  17. Install a new drain plug in the pan and torque to one of the following values:
    A5S360R / A5S390R (GM Transmission) – 20Nm (15 ft-lb)

    A5S325Z (ZF Transmission) – 35 Nm (26 ft-lb)

 

Refilling the Transmission with Fluid

Step 1 – Initial Fill

  1. Locate the transmission fill plug on left side of transmission.
  2. You will notice that there is very little clearance between the plug and the frame of the vehicle. Depending on which transmission you have, you will most likely not be able to get a hex socket (ZF Transmission) or regular socket (GM transmission) (see Table A) on the plug to remove it. You will certainly not have enough clearance to get a torque wrench and socket on the plug during reassembly. You have one of two options at this point; 1) use a Dremel tool with steel cutting wheel to cut a hex socket/regular socket down so it fits or 2) just use a hex key/open end wrench to remove the plug and forget about torquing it to specification. It’s your car…and your call. Since we have a ZF transmission, we decided to cut down an 8mm hex socket as shown below to complete the repair.BMW e46 transmission service BMW e46 transmission service BMW e46 transmission service
  3. Remove the fill plug with whichever method you decide on. You will most likely need a breaker bar or piece of pipe to break the plug loose.BMW e46 transmission service BMW e46 transmission service
  4. Fill your fluid transfer pump with 6 quarts of approved transmission fluid. Fill the oil pan completely full of transmission fluid until it begins to pour back out through the fill hole (have a drain pan ready).BMW e46 transmission serviceBMW e46 transmission service
  5. Install the new fill plug hand tight. You will now need to go through the final filling stage.

 

Step 2 – Final Fill
The goal here is to two fold:
a) Circulate the fluid we added in Stage 1 throughout the transmission, and
b) Get the transmission fluid up to a temperature of 85-120 degrees Fahrenheit so we can get a proper level reading. The transmission fluid must be at 85-120 degrees F in order to get a proper level reading. The BMW Repair Guide recommends being on the higher end of this scale (around 120F)

        1. Start the car and turn the air conditioning on to warm up the transmission. If it’s already hot in your garage, this won’t take long. If you are going to use a diagnostic scanner, go ahead and hook it up now and get to the correct screen to monitor the temperature. If your not using a scanner, let the car run about five minutes to get to the proper temperature. With your foot on the brake, shift through the gears several times, pausing briefly between gear changes. Put the car back into park and remove your foot from the brake. Remember, the engine should be running during this entire procedure.BMW e46 air conditioning bmw e46 gear selector transmission oil temperature
        2. When the transmission fluid has reached the high end of the required temperature (120 degrees or about 5 minutes), remove the filler plug. Remember…leave the engine running during this procedure.
        3. If fluid runs out of plug, then transmission is full. If it doesn’t, add more fluid until it overflows. Your transmission is now properly filled.
        4. Turn the engine of the car off.
        5. Replace the new fill plug and torque to one of the following values:

               A5S360R / A5S390R – 20Nm (15 ft-lb)
               A5S325Z – 30 Nm (22 ft-lb)

BMW E46 Transmission Service Finished
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. And congratulations for Doing It Yourself!

 

The Repair Difficulty Level displays graphically how challenging the repair is, from easy to advanced. Easy repairs usually require very few tools, have short repair times and do not require jacking and supporting the vehicle. As the difficulty level rises, expect the repair to demand more time, specialized tools, and better understanding of mechanics to complete the job.

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