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Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing Manual Transmission Fluid on Your BMW

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Applicable Models:

 
BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)
101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series

This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.

Check out some other projects from the book:

One of the easiest tasks to perform on your BMW is to change the transmission and differential fluid. The differential and transmission both use the same lubricating fluid. It's very important that the fluid in your transmission is at the proper level, or your transmission will experience significant wear. The synchro rings and sliders depend on a slick surface to match speeds when shifting. If your transmission is low on oil, the wear on these components will accelerate significantly and shifting the car will be more difficult. If your BMW is having problems shifting, check the level of the transmission oil. In addition, keeping the differential and its associated gears well lubricated should help increase your fuel mileage.

The transmission oil also keeps temperatures down inside the transmission. The engine is a primary source of heat for the transmission, as the heat conducts and radiates through and around the points where the engine and transmission are mounted. The transmission creates heat itself as the gears and synchros turn within its case. Keeping the transmission fluid at its proper level helps to mitigate heat problems. Note that on some higher-performance BMW transmissions, there is an external transmission cooler that operates similarly to the engine cooler.

Change the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles or about once every two years. Check your owner's manual for more details on the scheduled requirements for your BMW. This number is a rough estimate, and may vary depending upon the use of your 3 Series (track vs. street). There are many moving parts in the transmission, and they tend to drop microscopic metal particles into the tranny oil. Specifically, the synchro rings wear down each time you shift. While transmission bearings are not as sensitive as engine bearings, they can exhibit wear from these particles in the oil.

The 3 Series manual transmission has two plugs for filling and emptying the transmission oil, located on the side and bottom of the transmission case. To check the level of the transmission oil, remove the top filler plug on the side of the transmission (where you usually add fluid). When you have the plug removed, stick your finger inside the hole, angle it toward the ground, and see if you can feel any fluid. Do this when the car is cold and parked on level ground. If you can feel the fluid level with your finger, your fluid level is about right, or perhaps will need only a little topping off.

If you cannot feel the fluid level, add transmission oil to the case. If you plan to change the oil, remove the small plug on the bottom of the transmission case. Empty the transmission oil when the car is still warm, as it will drain easier. For this task, have a drain pan capable of handling at least 5 quarts of transmission oil. As you go, check the fluid in the pan for any unusual metal pieces or grit in the oil.

While the fluid is emptying, clean out the drain plugs. Using a cotton swab or a paper towel, carefully clean out any black debris and particles present.

Replace the bottom plug on the transmission, but don't tighten it too much (50 N-m or 37 ft-lbs maximum). Fortunately, this plug does not tend to leak (transmission oil is thicker than engine oil). If the plug does leak later on, however, you can always tighten it a little more. Now, add transmission oil to the case with a hand-operated oil pump. These pumps are available from most auto parts stores, and attach to the top of the plastic transmission-oil bottle. They work similarly to liquid soap dispensers. Pump the transmission case full of fluid until it just starts to run out the filler hole. It should take a little more than 1 quart to fill. Replace the filler plug and clean up the few drips that might have come out of the hole. Tighten the filler plug in a similar manner to the drain plug.

Replacement of the differential fluid is nearly identical, except you will need a 14-millimeter Allen wrench for the plugs. If you have one of those semi-rare, four-wheel-drive 3 Series cars (like the 325ix), don't forget to change the fluid in the forward differential and center transfer case as well.

In many cases, generic transmission gear oil will suffice. However, for those BMW 3 Series owners wishing to have the best of everything for their cars, there is Swepco 201 multipurpose gear lube. This gear oil is excellent for transmissions, and many of our loyal Pelican Parts BMW and Porsche customers swear by it. Rumor has it that adding Swepco 201 will prolong transmission life and help to postpone a costly rebuild. While this can hardly be proven, a lot of our customers agree that Swepco 201 creates a difference they can feel while shifting.

If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Figure
Figure 1

Shown here are the filler (green arrow) and drain plug (yellow arrow) for a typical 3-Series E36 manual transmission. The drain plugs on the other transmission models are similar.

Figure
Figure 2

Shown here are the filler (green arrow) and drain plug (yellow arrow) for the average 3 Series E36 differential. You will need a 14-millimeter Allen wrench to remove these nuts. The drain plugs on the other differential models are similar.

Figure
Figure 3

Swepco 201 is the gold standard for transmission oil and is used by racers and BMW owners worldwide, many of whom swear it gives new life to old worn-out transmissions. Customers' stories from the parts supply world seem to indicate that using Swepco on a transmission with worn synchro rings can prolong its life and fend off that costly transmission rebuild.

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Comments and Suggestions:
Santosh Comments: Swepco 201 feedback 1994 325IS, Manual transmission - I had posted one back in Jan 30'th 2014. For about 9 months now I have had Swepco 201 in my car and observation is that this lube works well when the temperature is 55F plus or the car has to be at normal operating temperature. When the temperature is below 55F/40F/30F I have found the gears to be hard to shift/VERY hard to shift/VERY VERY hard to shift. I will be replacing Swpeco 201 this Fall as this is a not a cold weather lube.
June 12, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up and helpful information. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Gary Comments: My 1996 BMW 318ti Owner's Manual says to use ATF Dexron II in both automatic and manual transmissions. Is that a mis-print? Thanks!
April 6, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Your car likely takes BMW MTF. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right fluid. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Pklym Comments: Hi,
I am wondering if you could provide me the proper copper/crush washer sizes for the various fill and drain plugs on a 1976 BMW 2002 4-spd?

I can't seem to find this answer anywhere.

Thanks
March 25, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
jeannot Comments: need help i change the engine on my 325i 89 bmw engine running great but as for the trany shift into gear but nothing happen,what do you think
February 5, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: check the fluid level and confirm it is correct. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Santos Comments: I replaced manual transmission fluid in my 94 325IS with Swepco 201 about 3 months ago. I am in Missouri and my experience with this gear oil has not been great in cold weather. The gears were very hard to shift in cold weather and have to wait until the engine gets to operating temperature. Whatever fluid was on my car before Swepco 201 was better in cold weather. I will provide more feedback in Spring.
January 30, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
JAS Comments: As a third owner to a 2002 325i E46, about four months ago, I experienced the transmission coming out of gear about 4-5 times. Along with a complete cooling system overhaul, I purchased Swepco 203 and installed in both the manual transmission as well as in the differential. Now in the mid of a very mild Bay Area Winter, I am NO longer experiencing the transmission coming out of gear but on the other hand, I am noticing stiffer shifting early in the morning. Should I replace the Swepco 203 with 201, without the Molly-Disulfate or go back to the BMW recomended transmission/differential fluids?
Thank you in advance for your time and recommendation.
January 16, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would go back to the BMW fluid. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Dannyboy Comments: Are these instructions also applicable to the E46?
December 18, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: This article applies to BMW E46 models:

http://www.pelicanparts.com/BMW/techarticles/BMW-3-Series-E46/35-TRANS-Rear_Differential_Fluid_Replacement/35-TRANS-Rear_Differential_Fluid_Replacement.htm - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Joelius Comments: Swepco 201 is manual transmission / differential fluid. You can use it in your rear differential, but if you put it in your automatic transmission, it will be ruined. Automatic transmissions use hydraulic fluid. Swepco 201 is a lubricant for gears - these are two different things, very much so!

Thank you!

But is there a good fluid to use in a ATF sticker transmission that is starting to get stiff? I don't wanr a dead transmission in the next couple years... Thanks
November 27, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Automatic transmission fluid for your vehicle is located here: Dexron III should be the stuff/

https://www.pelicanparts.com/BMW/catalog/shopcart/BE36/POR_BE36_TRANSM_pg8.htm#item51 - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Joelius Comments: Is it okay to put Swepco 201 in a 1993 318is with an ATF Fluid Only sticker?
I can't find if that's okay, it's a US car and uses Dexteron III.
November 24, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: NO! Swepco 201 is manual transmission / differential fluid. You can use it in your rear differential, but if you put it in your automatic transmission, it will be ruined. Automatic transmissions use hydraulic fluid. Swepco 201 is a lubricant for gears - these are two different things, very much so! - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
swhite Comments: I have a 2001 bmw 325 i i need to buy atf what kind please help asap
November 6, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There will be a part number on the trans pan, this will be the fluid that you need to order.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Christy Comments: I have a 2003 325 ci and my manual says that there is a lifetime lubricant, no oil change is required. I did notice that my transmission oil is low. What do I add to it?
November 4, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There will be a part number on the trans pan, that will be the fluid that you use.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
angiemin Comments: I have a 1974 BMW 2002, and I am replacing the differential on it. I was wondering if you could please tell me the amount of diff oil I need to put into the new one. I think I have the right type of oil, but if you could suggest a kind that would help my car run better. I would appreciate that as well
October 13, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It should take about 2L, Synthetic fluid will always last longer and reduce wear.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Plz help Comments: I have a 2001 325 i bmw i changed my transmission fluid at 197,564 and did not help i took it to bmw and they said i need a new transmission but i dnt believe that due to the fact that it runs it will pick up speed just the gears wont shift
October 8, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If the trans will not shift there is going to be a problem inside it. If the fluid is correct type and is full I would follow the advice of the pros.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
alicia Comments: Hi, I have a 2005 BMW 530i and the ABS brake light keeps coming on . I have taken it to the Mechanic and after countless money spent and repairs, I was told I need a new transmission. I am wondering should I fix the transmission problem, or buy another car, with money that I don't have to spend right now. If I fix the problem, can I hold on to the car for a little while longer??? Please help.
October 5, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would look for another opinion on the trans to make sure. Then you need to ask your self if you really want to pay 450 a month for another 530, or a couple of grand to fix the trans. What kind of shape is the rest of the car in?
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
cabriomoe Comments: I have the same question as Jozkid asked on 12/20/11. I read the above technical article and proceeded to change the fluid on my manual transmission 91' 318ic only to discover a lable on the transmission which states "ATF OIL!" The lable recommends #81229407558. Researched the number but I've had no luck. A local import repair shop recommended I use Dexron III, so I did. All is operating good, but I still wonder if I have the correct fluid. Can you help?
August 31, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part. They should be able to cross reference the part number you have.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Nathaniel Comments: I have a 93 325i and I recently have had a problem with my automatic tranny. If i am at a stop and i let go of the break, it doesn't go forward on its own as it should. and when i go to gas it, it revs high as if i am driving manual and playing with the clutch to gas ratio. I just got this car not too long ago, but would changing the tranny oil help me at this point?
August 25, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sounds like the converter or the trans are worn out, I would check the fluid level to make sure it is not just low, but it does sound like you are going to need some trans work.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
hjsna Comments: I had to get a reman trans at 211,000 due to a damaged synchro for my 98 M3. The new trans came prefilled w/ BMW MTF-LT-2. But I decided to change it at 1200 miles.
It's cloudy and had some metal specs in it.
August 12, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
why me Comments: I have a 2004 325ci. I replaced my transmission fluid with OEM fluid a couple weeks ago. I was under the car the other day and noticed the drain plug was moist. I thought it was just a freak thing. Decided to check it again and it was moist. I was told 44 Lbs of torque when tightening down but you guys say 37 which I believe u more. Any suggestions to stop the leak? Maybe new drain plug? 100,000 miles 3rd owner
December 3, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: A new drain plug and sealing ring should do the trick.Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
sgmnyc Comments: Hello, i have a 2001 996 carrera with 13k on it with original tranny oil in it, should i bother doing a transmission fluid change? porsche says 90k i think.and if yes which fluid is used from dealer?
November 26, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: - Nick at Pelican Parts  
\abdulai Comments: Hi, i have a bmw 318i, i want to know how many quarts of ATF does the transmission takes.
November 5, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If you drain and fill the trans for service it will hold about 4 -5L.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Eligallardo Comments: Hi I have a 1995 318 ti an I was going
To change my manual tranission oil but I didn't
Know what to go with so I'm debating on 75/90 royal purple gear oil, what do u suggest ??
September 24, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There is usually a tag on the trans that tells you what kind of fluid to use. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Walker31 Comments: Hi, i have a 98 323 Convertible, and all the transmission fluid went to the radiator, when this occured the tranny stopped shifting. Can anybody tell me from where is the tranny fluid comming to the Radiator? And where is the Re-fill plug to add fluid? Thanks
August 24, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sounds like the trans cooler in the radiator is leaking, the fill plug for the trans is on the side of the back of the trans.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
veteran011 Comments: Wayne, great info. I really appreciate it! Quick question though. the DIY calls out that you need a drain pan that can hold at least 5qts but then you go on to say that it should only take a little more and 1qt to refill. I find this a little suspect. Can you clarify how many quarts would be needed for the trans and how many for the diff? I have a 97 328is with a 5-speed. Thanks!
January 30, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Should be about 3 to 4 for the trans and about 2 for the dif. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Jozkid Comments: Hi Wayne, I'll change the transmission oil my e36 '92 318i manual, but the gearbox there is a sticker that said ATF OIL ..., and this makes me confused what should be oil filled? What do you think?
December 20, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If BMW says the trans should get ATF then I would put ATF in it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Paul Comments: That was supposed to say in neutral with clutch out or disengaged and it is a manual transmission
December 4, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the Info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Paul Comments: I have a 98 M3 that had been a track car for the last 4 years. Just bought a new transmission from you guys last year and had it professionally installed. Noticed dripping of fluid. At the track last weekend, When hot and in nuetral Manual with clutch, I heard chatter. Less when cold. Could this be fluid level? Throwout bearing? Tracked well until end of day. Ran car harder and longer than most of the time with son that was not synroing the throttle when letting out clutch
December 4, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would check the fluid level and maybe even change it and see what happens. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
punchesdfw Comments: I'm installing a new clutch in my Son's '96 328is and thought I'd replace the tranny fluid while I had the box out. But, it has a large yellow sticker that claims it contains "Lifetime" fluid and that it should not be changed. Any input?
April 15, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I'm not a huge fan of lifetime fluid, I think that it's a marketing slogan, and it can cause problems for older cars. I guess BMW only thought the cars would make it to 100,000 miles and not beyond? See my thoughts here: http://www.pelicanparts.com/bmw/techarticles/E36-Tranny_Fluid_Auto/E36-Tranny_Fluid_Auto.htm - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
Taylor Comments: So I'm going to swap the trans fluid this weekend. It's the same fluid to do the read dif, correct? Also... I was just wondering if you could help me out. My gears don't shift the smoothest and I would really like more out of it. Anything I can do to make it shift like the car is a little bit newer? It's mainly 1, 2, and 3rd. I understand that my car is 13 years old with 200k but is there any advice at all? THANKS!
March 31, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: For manual transmissions, the fluid is the same as in the differential. A lot of people recommend the Swepco 201 for older transmissions on older cars - seems to work magic for many. We sell it here on the site. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
dave328i Comments: Would the above Swepco 201 be the same for transmissions marked with MF and yellow stickered lifetime oil?

February 11, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I'm not sure - maybe ask the folks at Swpeco for more information? I'm not super familiar with the MF / lifetime oil you're referring to. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
Jeanie Comments: Our 1992 325i will shift into reverse when the car is cold but will not after it has been driven a few miles. Would this be because of being low on transmission fluid?
January 23, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It could be, but not likely. It's more likely that your transmission is beginning to wear out and will need replacing in the near future. Most of the time these issues end up resulting in some significant transmission repairs (unfortunately). - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
topaz_330 Comments: Do you recommend the Swepco for yellow label manuals?
Thanks!
July 6, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The Swepco fluid should be good for all manuals, although different people report different results from using a wide variety of fluids. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
325ci Comments: Hi, I own a 2001 BMW 325ci, with a manual transmission. It has got around 95,000 miles on it, and the shifting is real good. I am the third owner, and don't believe that it has had a transmission fluid change. I have been quoted ~$200 for the change @$110 per hour labor plus fluid

What are your thoughts on this? I was thinking of purchasing the transmission fluid from your site to avoid the mark ups. Cost is not an issue, which brand one would you recommend, and what quantity? I notice that "Pentosin" is what is suggested on your site, and is OE, but on this post you have suggested "Swepco". Could you please advise. Also what brand and quantity of differential fluid would you recommend.

I have heard from people that their transmissions got buggered up after they had their fluid changed, and this is scary. I would get this job done at the dealer, but still I'm kind of apprehensive. Please advise. Thanks!
May 11, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If you were talking about an automatic transmission, then maybe I would suggest taking it to a professional. But the manuals are really easy - I wouldn't be scared of them. $200 sounds a bit high to me, they must be charging you the book value, not actual time to do the job. I like Swepco 201 for these transmissions personally. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
richbarn2 Comments: Im getting ready to change the manual trans fluid in my 95 318IS. I just changed the LSD fluid to Swepco 201 and noticed you recommend it for manual gearboxes that use a much thinner fluid. A couple forums I frequent claim that the excess viscosity will cause problems, even some senior members that are usually spot on with their advice. Most recommend RP synchromesh. What are your thoughts on this, Thanks in advance, Rich
January 18, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would use the correct fluid that is recommended by BMW. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
stock328is Comments: I need to do this to my '98 328is, but I can't find the amounts needed? Any ideas in quarts? I am also looking to change the differential fluids and will also need the same info? Of course, I will be buying all of my fluids, parts and toys from Pelican Parts. Thanks for the help and your book has paid for itself several times over....thank you is not enough.
January 13, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: 2 Quarts should do it, Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
kourosh Comments: what do u think about Redline D4ATF transmission fluid to use on 1999 m3 manual transmission with 120k???
January 12, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: As long as it meets all of the BMW standards it should be fine, Give our parts specialists a call: 1-888-280-7799 They will help you find what you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Piloti Pete Comments: I changed the fluid correctly on level ground, but now it does not want to shift into 2nd gear. What could be the problem? 2001 325XI with 62,000 miles. Had the 30K and 45K performed by the dealer. No problems shifting before change.
November 29, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Did you use the correct fluid as recommended by BMW? I'm not sure what that is for your 4WD car, but it should be listed in your owner's manual too. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
SleeperM3 Comments: Is there an overflow valvue within the manual transmission? I filled the transmission with fluid, but my car was at an angle Jack Stands in the front. Now Im getting transmission fluid coming out of my bellhousing. Did I do something wrong?
July 31, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The overflow valve *is* the fill valve. You fill it until it comes out. But, as you pointed out the car needs to be on level ground in order for this to be accurate. So, the solution is to get your car on level ground, get a catch bucket, and then open up the fill hole and let the excess oil drain out. Hope this helps... - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Tue 9/30/2014 02:36:12 AM