The following article gives detailed instructions on servicing the transmission on a BMW E60 5 series car. Even though we have used a 2006 BMW 530xi to perform this service, this article can be applied to any E60/E61 5 series vehicle with minor modifications.
A BMW E60 transmission service should be performed every 100,000 miles…or preferably sooner.
One of the biggest misconceptions among many BMW E60 owners is that the transmission in their vehicle has a “lifetime” fluid fill and never needs to be serviced. And that misconception is well founded. Thanks to some very erroneous manufacturer messaging added to the bottom of BMW E60 transmissions, owners (and repair shops) have been led to believe that the transmission fluid never needs to be changed. This has created an alarming situation for many 5 series owners since in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
In BMW transmission manufacturing terms, “lifetime” does not mean the life of the vehicle. It means how long (in miles) the transmission 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 BMW E60 six speed automatic transmissions, the service life is 100,000 miles. This requirement is clearly stated on page seven of the Service and Warranty Information book for all BMW E60 5 series cars produced from 2004-2010 (you can download a copy of the book from us by clicking here).
We have always disagreed with the manufacturer’s transmission service requirement for the BMW E60 5 series. The BMW Repair Guide recommends servicing the transmission in the BMW E60 5 series every 50,000 miles to avoid premature wear of its internal parts.
A BMW E60 transmission service involves draining and replacing the fluid, changing the oil pan gasket and installing a new fluid filter and magnets. Note that the transmission filter and magnets in the BMW E60 are integrated into the oil pan and cannot be purchased separately. The oil pan must be removed from the bottom of the gearbox in order to properly perform a BMW E60 transmission service.
1. Transmission oil pan/filter (required) – The transmission filter is integrated into the oil pan in the BMW E60 and cannot be purchased separately. Choose your pan depending on whether your E60 has a six cylinder (528i,530i,535i) or eight cylinder (545i,550i) engine. We give you several fine choices below based on your budget.
2. Transmission fluid (required) – Always use a high quality transmission fluid in your BMW. All of these choices below are approved for use in the ZF six speed automatic transmission found in all BMW E60 5 series sedans and touring wagons. You will need seven liters to refill your transmission after servicing it.
3. Transmission fill plug (required) – It is good practice to always replace your transmission’s fill plug to avoid future leaks.
There is a slight variation in the instructions when servicing the transmission in an xDrive (all wheel drive) BMW E60/E61 versus a rear wheel drive model. The difference is accessing the transmission fluid fill plug. Unfortunately in xDrive model vehicles, the front drive shaft blocks access to the fill plug, requiring the shaft to be unbolted from the transfer case and swiveled out of the way (see images below). Since there is no front drive shaft in rear wheel drive models, there is clear access to the fill plug and no extra steps are needed. We give instructions below on how to remove the fill plug in both models.
- 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.
- Locate the transmission oil pan cover, approximately in the middle of the vehicle.
- Before draining the transmission, always loosen the fill plug first. Never attempt to drain the transmission until you have successfully loosened the fill plug. You do not want to find out after you drained the transmission that the fill plug is stuck and you cannot refill the pan.
- The fill plug on BMW E60 transmissions is located on the left upper rear of the gear box…above the oil pan. As discussed at the beginning of this section, xDrive cars require the removal of the front drive shaft to access the plug.
- XDrive “all wheel drive” models – Locate the front drive shaft where it is mounted to the transfer case. Using an E12 external torx socket, remove the four bolts anchoring the front drive shaft to the transfer case. If the wheels of the vehicle are off of the ground (the car is on a lift or you are using jack stands), you will need to find a helper like our handsome fellow below to depress the brake pedal while you remove the bolts – otherwise the shaft will just spin freely. Grasp the drive shaft and gently lower it from the transfer case. You can now easily access the fill plug at the rear of the transmission.
- Rear wheel drive models – Locate the fill plug at the left upper rear of the transmission as shown in the step 6 image above.
- Using a T50 torx bit and a breaker bar, loosen the plug but do not remove it. DO NOT REMOVE THE PLUG. Removing the plug will cause fluid to pour out. You simply want to break it free and confirm that it can be removed during the filling process below.
- Position a 5 gallon drain pan under the transmission. Locate the drain plug on the bottom of the oil pan. Using a T50 torx bit, remove the drain plug and allow the pan to thoroughly drain.
- When the oil pan has completely drained replace the plug. There is still a little bit of oil left in the pan…replacing the plug will keep it from draining on the floor (and on you) when the pan is removed.
- Using a T40 torx bit, remove the 24 oil pan bolts. The oil pan bolts are at a very low torque, so they should come out easily. It is perfectly acceptable to reuse the oil pan bolts if they are in good condition. If for some reason you have to replace one (which rarely happens), you can reorder replacement bolts by clicking here.
- Grasp the oil pan and carefully remove from the car. Remember the pan still has quite a bit of oil left in it. Dump the remainder of the oil in a drain pan.
- Unpack the new oil pan and verify the part number. The oil pan should come with the gasket, magnets, and the drain plug already installed…verify that they are. Also verify the drain plug has been torqued correctly to 8 Nm (6 ft-lb).
- Remove the plastic shipping cap off of the pan’s oil filter. This can be discarded.
- Using a rag and some CRC Brakleen, thoroughly clean the transmission surface that the oil pan attaches to. Make sure to remove any dirt, grime and oil…all of these can affect the gasket’s seal and cause leaks.
- Lift the new oil pan into position. Make sure the oil filter fits snugly into its opening in the bottom of the transmission.
- Use the T40 torx bit and hand tighten the mounting bolts back into the pan.
- Torque the transmission oil pan mounting bolts to 10 Nm (7 ft-lb).
Refilling the BMW six speed transmission is a two step process. First the transmission oil pan must be initially filled. After the initial fill, the transmission must be warmed up to its final fill temperature (100F) before topping off with fluid. Per the manufacturer (ZF) specifications, the vehicle must be running and the transmission in park while topping off the transmission – topping of the transmission with the engine off could cause an under filled transmission.
- Remove the transmission fill plug.
- Using a fluid transfer pump, fill the oil pan with approved fluid until it starts to run out of the fill hole.
- Replace the plug and snug up with a T50 torx socket. DO NOT torque the plug yet…it will be removed again to check the final level of the transmission fluid.
- Next, the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) level needs to be checked. In order to get a correct ATF level reading, the fluid must be at a temperature between 86-122 degrees Farenheit (we recommend 100F). The correct way to determine the temperature of the ATF is to use a diagnostic scanner. If you are a home mechanic and do not currently own a diagnostic scanner for your BMW, we encourage you to purchase one as soon as possible. A diagnostic scanner is as important to your tool chest as a set of socket wrenches. You can purchase a very affordable BMW diagnostic scanner by clicking here.
- First, connect your diagnostic scanner to the OBD-II port located in the driver’s side footwell. Do not start the vehicle yet.
- With the vehicle off, scroll through the diagnostic scanner menu until you find the screen that monitors the transmission fluid temperature in live data. You want to keep the vehicle off because it may take you some time to find the correct screen. You don’t want to start warming up the fluid until you are all ready to go. The following image shows the correct screen on the Schwaben (Foxwell) diagnostic scanner. This screen will differ among scanner manufacturers.
- Start the vehicle. Depress the brake pedal and hold. With the brakes applied, SLOWLY shift the transmission into reverse, then neutral, and then into drive. Pause in each gear about three second. Repeat this process six times, then put the vehicle back into park. This will circulate the fluid through the transmission. Closely monitor the diagnostic scanner.
- When the diagnostic scanner shows the transmission fluid at 100 degrees Fahrenheit leave the engine running with the transmission in park and proceed to the transmission for the final fill.
- Remove the fill plug on the transmission. Add transmission fluid until it flows out of the drain hole. It will take another 3 to 4 liters to completely fill it. The transmission is now properly filled.
- Replace the fill plug and torque to 32 Nm (24 ft-lb).
- With the vehicle still running check for any leaks in the oil pan gasket. If you see any visible leaks, use you T40 torx socket to snug up the mounting bolts (no more than 1/8 of a turn).
- xDrive models – Turn the engine off. Reinstall the front driveshaft to the transfer case. Torque the mounting bolts to 20 Nm (15 ft-lb).
- Replace the front and rear belly pans and lower the vehicle.
It is very important that at the end of any service work or repair to the ZF six speed transmission, the gearbox’s adaptations are reset. The adaptations are a “learned” code stored in your transmission’s computer module that changes the performance of your transmission based on past driving habits and driving conditions. They also make changes based on the wear and tear of internal parts. Not resetting the adaptations after this repair may cause reduced performance in your transmission and potential long term damage to its internal components. Resetting the adaptations is extremely easy and only takes a couple minutes. You must have a BMW diagnostic scanner to reset them. Don’t have a BMW scanner? You can purchase the same inexpensive scanner we use by clicking here.
- Plug your BMW diagnostic scanner into the OBD-II port and start the vehicle.
- Depending on which scanner you have, you will need to get to the screen that allows you to reset the transmission’s adaptations. Every scanner is different…the following images show how to do it on the Autophix ES910 scanner.
- After the adaptations are reset, turn off the car and remove the key. You are now finished and can drive the vehicle.