The following article gives detailed instructions on replacing the rear differential fluid in a BMW E60 5 series car. Even though we have used a 2006 BMW 530xi to perform this installation, this article can be applied to any E60/E61 5 series vehicle with minor modifications.
A BMW E60 differential service involves draining and replacing its fluid. It is a very simple repair for the home mechanic and should be performed every 50,000 miles to keep your car running smoothly.
Servicing the BMW E60 differential is commonly overlooked because many home mechanics, repair shops, and service manuals have been led to believe that the fluid is a “lifetime” fill and never needs replacing. This information is inaccurate, and has caused many differentials to go without servicing for far beyond an acceptable period.
In BMW manufacturing terms, “lifetime” does not mean the life of the vehicle. It means how long (in miles) the part was tested and certified by the manufacturer before it needs to be serviced. In simple terms, the phrase “lifetime” is synonymous with “service life”. In the case of a BMW E60 rear differential, the recommended service life is 100,000 miles. This is simply a recommendation…it is ultimately the car owner’s responsibility to make the decision on how often the rear differential should be serviced.
The rear differential has a heavy work load of delivering the power generated by the engine to the rear wheels. This power from the engine (delivered to the differential by the vehicle’s transmission and driveshaft) is proportionally sent to the rear wheels depending on whether the vehicle is turning or driving in a straight line. The differential allows the rear wheels to spin at different speeds, adjusting the power to them and maximizing stability to the vehicle. If there wasn’t a differential on the rear of your BMW, you would loose control of the car every time you sharply turned the steering wheel.
All of this power conversion puts an enormous amount of stress on the differential’s internal gears. If the internal gears are not continually lubricated in a fresh, high quality synthetic oil, they can fail. Signs of a failing BMW E60 differential are handling difficulties, grinding or “whining” noises and rear end vibration. Unfortunately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be beyond the maintenance stage and require a differential rebuild or replacement. Servicing your BMW E60 differential on a regular basis will help avoid driveline failure and a costly repair. The BMW Repair Guide recommends performing a BMW E60 differential service every 50,000 miles to avoid premature wear of its internal parts and failure of the component.
The two versions of differentials – “drain plug versus no drain plug”.
The BMW E60 sedan and E61 touring wagon were manufactured with two versions of differentials. The most important difference between the two is that one has a drain plug…and one doesn’t. This has a minor effect on how the differential needs to be serviced.
The BMW E60 differential manufactured with a drain plug is very easy to identify; it will have large cooling fins on the rear of it. The drain plug on this differential will be located on the lower right side of the case (see images below). Servicing this version is very simple…the old fluid is emptied out of the drain plug and new fluid is added through the fill plug on the back of the differential.
Many BMW E60/E61 5 series vehicles were manufactured with a differential without a drain plug; draining and filling is done through one hole on the back of the case. Servicing the differential is performed by pumping the old fluid out of the fill hole with a vacuum pump then adding new fluid back in through the same hole. It is a simple procedure that just requires one extra step (and the purchase of a hand vacuum pump). Click here to purchase the hand vacuum pump we use here at the Repair Guide – it is a valuable tool with many uses and should be part of every home mechanic’s garage.
We can’t stress enough the importance in using a high quality, BMW approved lubricant in the rear differential of your E60 5 series car. Non certified lubricants do not offer the same protection and longevity as approved ones. Always plan ahead and order a high grade approved synthetic lubricating oil before starting this repair. We give you several excellent choices in the Parts section below.
1. Differential fluid (required) – Always use a high quality synthetic lubricant when performing a BMW E60 differential service. All of these are excellent choices for your 5 series sedan or touring wagon.
2. Fill and drain plug (required) – It is always good practice to replace the drain and fill plugs when performing a BMW E60 differential service. Not changing out the plugs with new ones could cause future leaks and a loss of fluid.
As discussed earlier in this article, if you have a rear differential in your BMW E60 5eries that does not have a drain hole then you will have to use a vacuum pump to remove the old fluid. Differentials without drain holes are easily identified by the absence of the cooling fins on the rear of the cover.
- Jack and support your car at all four wheels using wheel ramps or stands. The BMW Repair Guide does not recommend using jack stands to support your vehicle unless the wheels need to be removed for the repair. For more information on jacking and supporting your vehicle, please see our article BMW Jacking and Supporting for Repairs and Maintenance.
- Locate the differential in the rear of the car and identify the fill/drain hole on the rear cover.
- Using a 14mm hex socket, remove the fill plug from the differential.
- Insert the hose on a fluid vacuum pump into the differential. If you cannot get the suction hose into the bottom of the case where the fluid is, try putting a bend in it like shown below.
- Use the vacuum pump to thoroughly remove all of the old fluid in the differential.
- Using a fluid transfer pump, refill the differential with a high quality BMW approved lubricant until it starts to flow out of the fill hole.
- Install a new fill plug and torque to 60 Nm (44 ft-lb).
If your BMW E60 5 series differential has large cooling fins on its rear cover, then it should have a drain hole on the lower right side. Always remove the fill plug first before draining the differential. You do not want to find out after you removed all of the fluid that the fill plug is stuck and you cannot add lubricant back in.
- Locate the differential in the rear of the car. Identify the fill hole on the upper right side of the rear cover, and the drain hole on the lower right side of the case.
- Using a 14mm hex socket and a small socket extension, remove the fill plug from the differential. Always remove the fill plug on the differential before draining its fluid.
- Position a 5 gallon drain pan under the drain plug on the right side of the differential.
- Remove the drain plug with a 14mm hex socket and let the differential thoroughly drain into the pan.
- Install a new drain plug and torque to 60 Nm (44 ft-lb).
- Refill the differential with a high quality BMW approved lubricant until it starts to flow out of the fill hole.
- Replace the fill plug and torque to 60 Nm (44 ft-lb).