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Pelican Technical Article:

Changing Manual Transmission Fluid on the BMW
Jared Fenton

Difficulty Level: 3
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     Changing the manual transmission fluid is a normal part of maintenance that commonly gets overlooked when working on your car. Why change the fluid? Just like engine oil, transmission fluid wears out over time due to heat and wear. In this tech article, I will go over the steps necessary to drain out the old fluid and fill the tranny with new fluid. Keep in mind that this article is written with the BMW E36 3 Series in mind, however this article applies to nearly every car with a manual transmission.

     The first step is to get in the car and drive it around a few miles. What this will do is heat up the fluid. Transmission fluid is a lot thicker than engine oil, and will drain much easier when warm.

     Now, the first step in changing the fluid is to jack up all four wheels. This is necessary to provide you with the clearance to get under the car, and access the fill and drain plugs on the transmission. For those of you who are not familiar with jacking up a car, I highly recommend Wayneís article on jacking up the E36 (insert link here please) Iíd like to take this time to stress the importance of safety. It is well worth the money to invest in a set of quality jack stands. You never want to rely on a jack to keep a vehicle supported. while working on your vehicle

     With the vehicle firmly supported, the next step is to crawl under the car and locate the transmission. It may be a good idea to wear a pair of goggles while doing this, as dirt, oil and grime can easily fall in your eyes. Crud like this seems to have a preternatural ability to fall directly in my eyes. Use goggles and be safe.

     Now look at the transmission, you will see a bolt on the bottom of the transmission housing, directly behind the bellhousing. This is the transmission fluid drain plug. Place a suitable drain tray directly under this bolt. Now, fully loosen and remove the bolt. Be careful not to drop the plug in the drain tray. Transmission fluid is one of the WORST smelling substances on earth, mainly due to the high sulphur content. If you get transmission fluid on your clothes, you will never get the smell off. So use caution. Let the transmission drain for about an hour. This should be plenty of time to drain out all the old fluid.

     Once all the old fluid is drained, use a rag to clean up any fluid that may have splashed or spilled around the transmission. Once clean, re-install the drain plug and torque it to 37 ft/lbs.

     The next step is to fill the transmission with the new fluid. Look up at the passenger side of the transmission. You will see the fill port for the new fluid. Remove this bolt. This is where you fill the tranny with fresh fluid.

     Itís a good idea to use a siphon or pump in order to get the fluid in the tranny due to the location of the fill port. Just stick one end of the fill hose into the tranny and start pumping. When transmission fluid starts to overflow out of the fill port, stop pumping. Overflow indicates that the tranny is full. Use a rag to clean the outside of the transmission and get all the old fluid off the gearbox. If you donít, believe me, youíll start smelling it as the car heats up. For me, this smell is particularly nauseating. Now clean and re-install the fill plug and torque it to 37 ft/lbs.

Now is a good time to clean the surrounding area around the transmission. Now, carefully lower the car.  

     Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all.  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.

Comments and Suggestions:
steve Comments: Wayne, Thanks for the autographed "101 project" book for my 1992 318is E36. Ichanged the diferential fluid today and I will follow your advice and take it to a shop with a lift for the 5 speed trans. I'm too old to get crushed. Thanks, Steve
November 20, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed it..
- Nick at Pelican Parts
E36er Comments: I don't trust jackstands or jacks to lift up my e36, plus my backyard is sort of at a 20-30 degree angle so I can't get it level. What do you reccommend?
August 16, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I recommend then that you take it to a shop with a lift that can perform the fluid replacement. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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