The following article gives detailed instructions on replacing the front differential fluid in a BMW E60 5 series xDrive (all wheel drive) 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 xDrive vehicle with minor modifications.
A BMW E60 front differential service involves draining and replacing its fluid. The BMW Repair Guide recommends that this procedure is performed every 50,000 miles.
The front differential in a BMW xDrive (all wheel drive) vehicle is responsible for delivering the power generated by the engine to the front wheels. Servicing the BMW E60 front 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 is a misleading statement that has caused many front differentials to be neglected.
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 front 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 front differential should be serviced.
A BMW E60 front differential service is a fancy term for changing its fluid. It involves removing the drain plug and allowing the differential to completely empty out its old oil. Fresh fluid is then pumped back in through a fill hole at the top of the differential. It is a very simple, inexpensive procedure that can be performed in less than an hour.
Do to the high degree of stress the differential is subjected to, the BMW Repair Guide recommends performing a BMW E60 front differential service every 50,000 miles to avoid premature wear of its internal parts and failure of the component. Symptoms of a failing front differential range include excessive noise or whining sounds from the case while driving, grinding sounds, front end vibration and control issues while steering. Most of these issues can be averted with proper maintenance.
We can’t stress enough the imperative in using a high quality, BMW approved lubricant in the front differential of your E60 xDrive 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 front differential service. All of these are excellent choices for your 5 series xDrive 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 front differential service. Not changing out the plugs with new ones could cause future leaks and a loss of fluid.
Draining and refilling the front differential on a BMW E60 5 series xDrive is a very simple procedure. In fact the most time consuming part of the repair is removing the belly pans and skid plate from under the vehicle. It is very important that you always remove the fill plug first before draining the differential; you do not want to find out after you have drained the fluid that the fill plug is stuck and you can’t refill the differential.
- 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.
- Remove the engine (front) belly pan. The belly pan is held in place on the BMW E60 with phillips head screws.
- Using an 8mm nut driver, remove the underfloor (rear) belly pan from the bottom of the car.
- Use a 16mm socket wrench to remove the six bolts securing the skid plate to the frame of the car. Remove the final rear 8mm mounting bolt and lower the skid plate out of the vehicle.
- Identify the front xDrive differential. It is located under the engine directly between the two front wheels.
- Locate the drain and fill plugs. The fill plug is located on the left side near the top of the differential.
- Using a 14mm hex socket and a breaker bar or long ratchet, remove the fill plug. The fill plug is in a tight spot and is best removed through the splash guard using a socket extension. Always remove the fill plug first. You do not want to find out after you drain the differential that the fill plug is stuck and you can’t add fluid back in.
- Position a 5 gallon drain pan directly under the drain plug on the bottom of the front differential.
- Using a 14mm hex socket, remove the drain plug. Let the differential thoroughly drain.
- When the differential is completely drained, replace the drain plug and torque to 60 Nm (44 ft-lb).
- Use a fluid transfer pump to fill the differential with a high grade approved lubricant (about one liter). Continue to fill the differential until oil starts to overflow out of the fill hole.
- Install a new fill plug and torque to 60 Nm (44 ft-lb).
- Reinstall the skid plate.
- Reinstall the belly pans and lower the vehicle.