Troubleshooting BMW Transmission Problems

In this article, our mechanics explain some of the most common BMW transmission issues that cause problems such as transmission getting stuck in failsafe mode, slipping, or no gear change at all.

 

DIY Cost: $50-$2000
Est. Time: 30 min - 2 hr
Difficulty: Difficult

Once a BMW transmission starts to malfunction, you are very likely to get one of the warning messages on iDrive or get stuck in gear due to:

  • low transmission fluid level,
  • bad battery, 
  • a faulty alternator regulator,
  • faulty MAF sensor,
  • bad idle control valve.

The proper way to diagnose the problem is to use a BMW scan tool and read the codes from the transmission control unit. 

Transmission problem gear with P bmwWhen the engine control unit (ECU) detects a problem that can lead to transmission damage, the vehicle forces the transmission to go into limp mode to minimize the damage to the transmission. 

In safe home or fail-safe mode, otherwise known as a limp mode, the transmission stays in second gear and no longer shifts. 

Symptoms

BMW Transmission Fault

Symptoms of BMW transmission problems:

  • Transmission Failsafe Prog. Warning
  • Transmission stuck in gear.
  • BMW Transmission slipping
  • Transmission malfunction message
  • Transmission shifts hard, not smoothly.
  • Transmission malfunction drive moderate
  • Erratic shifting or bumping in one or more gears
  • The engine revs up and refuses to shift.
  • The lag between gears such as 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd
  • Gear ratio fault codes
  • Erratic shifting when changing gear

 

What to do if BMW transmission won't shift?

Let's start with the most simple and basic steps.

Restart Engine

Restarting engine can sometime fix your transmission problem

If your BMW displays a transmission error message or is stuck in gear, the first thing you should do is find a safe location, turn off the engine and restart it.

Wait at least one minute before you start the car. This may reset the engine control unit, and the transmission malfunction message may turn off. It doesn't always work, but it is worth a try. 

If your BMW is back to shifting normally, don't assume there is nothing to worry about. There is a high chance that you will experience the same transmission problem again.

Get your BMW diagnosed by a mechanic or, at the minimum, read the codes yourself using a BMW Scanner and check the transmission fluid level.  

How to Reset BMW Automatic Transmission

reset bmw transmission

If you have noticed that your BMW has erratic shifts or does not respond properly to the gas pedal, the problem may be incorrect shift points. 

Try resetting the adaptive settings. This procedure is straightforward, requires no tools, and only requires a couple of minutes.

It does not damage the transmission; it simply resets shift points to factory settings. 

  1. Turn on the ignition. If BMW has the Start/Stop button, press the Start button but NOT press the brake pedal.
  2. All the dash lights will turn on. THE ENGINE SHOULD BE OFF.
  3. Now, press the gas pedal to the floor and keep it pressed. (Ensure the kick-down switch is pressed )
  4. Keep the gas pedal pressed for 30 seconds. (During this procedure, the engine should be off, ignition still on.)
  5. Release the gas pedal.
  6. Start BMW and drive normally.

This will reset your transmission, shifting to original factory settings.

In other words, the BMW will erase the adaptive transmission shift points. Your BMW will monitor your driving patterns for the next few driving cycles; do not drive aggressively.

How to Read BMW Transmission Fault Codes

The next step is to read the fault codes from the transmission module, also known as the electronic gearbox (EGS).

You will need a BMW scanner that can retrieve fault codes from BMW modules. With a BMW scanner, you can perform a full system scan.

Don't use a generic OBD-II scanner. If you use a generic OBD2 scanner, you will get generic fault codes such as P0720 or P0732, which don't provide enough details on the cause of the problem.

Sometimes you may find there is DSC or ABS fault code that throws the transmission in limp mode. It is possible that a fault code can put your BMW automatic transmission in Fail-Safe mode even if there is nothing wrong with the transmission.

Check Transmission Fluid Level

bmw transmission fluid

If transmission malfunctions, drive moderately error message pops up on your BMW. One thing that you should always check is the automatic transmission fluid level.

If the transmission level is low, even slightly, your BMW can go in limp mode to protect the transmission.

Typical signs that the transmission fluid level is low is that your BMW displays the Transmission Failsafe Prog. Warning under hard acceleration or when accelerating as you make a turn.

This happens because more transmission fluid is required during acceleration, or the fluids get pushed to one side of the trans oil pan when making a turn. As the level is low, there is no transmission fluid for the oil pump, which causes the transmission to go in FailSafe or Limp mode.

Procedure

  1. Drive your BMW for 15 minutes to warm up the automatic transmission fluid. Make sure to allow the transmission to shift through all the gears. Transition fluid temperature should reach around 100 degrees F. during this driving cycle.
  2. Park your BMW on a level surface or lift it on a lift.
  3. Let the car in park and at idle.
  4. Raise the vehicle. 
  5. Remove the fill plug from the transmission. In some models, the drain plug can be used to check the level. You will need to find out which transmission you have. 
  6. A minimal amount of transmission fluid should drain from the oil pan if the level is full. If the level is low, there will be no oil coming out.

Do not overfill the transmission above the recommended level, as this can cause shifting problems as well.

How to Change BMW Automatic Transmission Fluid

 

A dirty transmission filter or fluid can cause shifting issues, especially on high mileage vehicles. 

If you are experiencing random shifting issues, consider changing the automatic transmission fluid and filter. It is important to point out that there are many discussions and often disagreements about whether you should or should not change the automatic fluid, especially on a sealed transmission for life.

In our experience, fresh fluid and a new transmission filter will only extend the transmission's life. 

Only use the recommended transmission fluid for your BMW.

  1. BMW Transmission Filter and Gasket Kit
  2. ZF Lifeguard fluid - Or as recommended in the owner's manual
    • 4.5 qt if only draining oil pan
    • 9.5 qt for full system flush
  3. Fluid Transfer Pump
  4. Torx Socket
  5. Drain Pan

A BMW automatic transmission holds about 9.5 qt of ATF fluid. Full system capacity includes all the oil in the transmission, oil pan, and torque converter. If you will not flush the whole system but only drain the oil pan, you need about 4.5 qt of oil.

iDrive Transmission Messages

This is a list of common BMW transmission messages. These messages vary between models, but they all point to problems with BMW transmission.

  • Transmission Malfunction - Functionality or display of the gear selector position may malfunction. Gearbox position P may not be available. Set parking brake when completely stopped. Engine start may be possible with a delay.
  • Trans. Malfunction - Drive moderately. Continued driving is possible. Reduced acceleration. Have the system checked by the nearest BMW center
  • Transmission Malfunction. Limited gear selections are possible. COntinued driving is possible./ Drive moderately. Have the system checked by your nearest BMW center.
  • Transmission Faulty - Transmission position P possibly not available. Operate parking brake when car stationery. Please contact the BMW service department.
  • Trans. Failsafe Programming

Common BMW Transmission Problems

Transmission Mechatronic Sleeve

bmw mechatronic sleeve

BMW mechatronic sleeve is located on the passenger's side of the transmission near the automatic transmission.

This is where the wire harness from the Transmission Control Unit (TCU) connects the transmission.

Unplug the wire harness and inspect for oil contamination. If there is any oil, the communication between the transmission control unit and the mechatronic valve body is interrupted.

To replace or check for leaks, you will need to get your BMW up on ramps. Remove the splash shield from under the transmission and unplug the wire harness.

Mechatronic Bridge Seal adapter

BMW Mechatronic bridge seal adapter

A BMW may display a Transmission Fault warning message on the iDrive screen due to a cracked adapter BMW Mechatronic adapter (Part #: 0501 215 783 01), known as trans seal grommet, for the mechatronic valve body.

Under normal conditions, the grommet allows the fluid to flow from the transmission to the mechatronic valve body without any fluid loss.

This allows transmission fluid to make it to the mechatronic without any pressure loss, allowing normal gear shifting.

The grommet or the plastic adapter can crack over time, which allows the fluid to leak at this port. When this happens, the fluid pressure at the mechatronic valve body is reduced.

Because the fluid pressure is reduced, the valve body's solenoids cannot open and close properly, triggering the transmission fault or erratic shifting.

This part is easy to replace and comes in plastic or aluminum.

The OEM part sold at BMW is usually plastic, but upgraded aluminum adapters can be purchased online and last longer than the plastic version.

This problem is common on these BMW transmissions: 6HP26, 6HP28, and 6HP32. Aluminum Part Number SFC-MA-001 is available.

Another indicator that this part is broken is that you will typically get the Transmission Fault popup to move the shifter from drive to reverse. 

Most affected by this problem:

  • 2001 2008 BMW E65/E66 7 Series
  • 2004 2006 BMW E53 X5 V8
  • 2003 2010 BMW E60 5 Series
  • 2005 2011 BMW E90 3 Series
  • 2003 2010 BMW E63/E64 6 Series
  • 2007 2013 BMW E70 X5 Except 4.0d
  • 2008 2012 BMW F01/02 7 Series (except 760i/Li and Hybrid 7)

Mechatronic - Valve Body

BMW Mechatronic

You may get fault codes related to the valve body, also known as the BMW mechatronic if you read the codes.

BMW ZF mechatronics is notorious for 2nd to 1st gear downshifts or shift flares during the upshift. These harsh upshifts and downshifts are often due to a TTC clutch failure, overheating, damaged solenoid, worn selenoid springs, and other problems with the mechatronic unit.

If you checked everything above but are still having problems with your BMW transmission, the cause most likely is the mechatronic unit. If you want to save money, you can consider replacing only the solenoids in the mechatronics unit/valve body.

If you decide to replace the solenoids yourself, remember to change the foam strip between the solenoid terminals and connectors.

If you want a unit that has already been remanufactured and tested, you can buy a remanufactured BMW Mechatronic unit online. If you have some basic DIY skills, you can replace the mechatronic unit on a BMW.

Keep in mind that the unit may need to be codded to match your VIN. Before you purchase a replacement mechatronic unit, check with the seller or BMW dealer if programming or coding is required for your model.

As seen in the following video, it is possible to replace BMW mechatronic yourself.

If you would rather let a mechanic do the work, this repair can cost anywhere from $1500 to $3500.

If you decide to have the dealer replace the mechatronic on your BMW, it will usually cost anywhere between $2100 and $3500.

It is recommended to reset the transmission module after the Mechatronic replacement. Drive the vehicle around for about 15-20 minutes, making sure transmission cycles through the gears several times to recalibrate the shift points.

EGS Transmission Software 

BMW often comes up with software updates for the automatic transmission. These updates change the shift points, which improves the shifting.

In some cases, it has been reported to fix erratic shifting problems or SAFE MODE issues.

You will need to call your BMW dealer and ask them if a software update for your particular car's transmission. 

Transmission Stuck FailSafe Mode due to Weak Battery

We have seen cases where the BMW transmission will get stuck in second or third gear and will not come out of failsafe mode even if you restart the car.

In one case, this problem was caused by a dead battery that stored hard codes.

Even though the BMW battery was replaced, the car remained in Failsafe mode. Typically a BMW will go into failsafe mode if the voltage is under 11 volt.

If a hard code is stored in the EGS module, you will need a BMW Specific Scanner to clear the fault codes from the EGS module.

Low battery voltage can also cause the transmission to not go into Drive or Reverse.

1st Gear Issue

Often the transmission issue may be due to a problem with the first gear only. To verify that the problem is with the first gear, set your BMW transmission in Winter mode, which forces the transmission to start in the second gear.

If your BMW shifts normally when in winter mode, that means there is an issue with the first gear. Keep the transmission in winter mode until you get your BMW transmission repaired.

Stuck In Park

If your BMW is stuck in the park and the shifter won't come out, the problem could also be the brake light switch or park solenoid.

Transmission Shudders

BMW that are equipped with twin-turbo may experience shuddering symptoms, especially during a long trip. To verify that this is the issue, it is recommended that you stop your car and let it cool down.

If transmission shuddering symptoms go away when the engine cools down, the problem may be caused by the twin turbos. A check engine light may also come on. Symptoms often happened between 50-70 mph.

Another reason why you may experience transmission shudder is due to issues with the torque converter. This is often because the torque converter locks up, is wearing out, and not locking the torque converters.

BMW transmission shudder may also be caused due to spark plug or fuel injector problems. If the check engine light is on, make sure to scan the ECU codes so that you can get a better idea of why the transmission shuddering is happening.

BMW Transmission Fault Codes

This is a list of common BMW transmission fault codes.

 Show the 
  • 578E - EGS Gearbox oil wear
  • CF17 No message from JBBF. Vehicle mode receiver DKG/EGS transmitter DSC/DME
  • 5140 is No CAN message from DME
  • 4F8F - EGS: Ratio monitoring, gearshift 3-2
  • 5149 is No CAN message from the power module
  • 27EB No message (EGS 2) from the electronic transfer mission control (EGS) unit
  • 27EC No message (EGS 1) from the electronic transmission control (EGS) unit
  • 299A CAN fault management, electronic transmission control (EGS)
  • 4f81 - Gear ratio monitoring, Clutch A
  • cf17 - Calibration between ISTA/D and ISTA/P missing
  • 507B or 507C - Parking gear sensor implausible signal
  • 507D - Parking gear incorrectly disengaged
  • 4f89 - ratio monitoring gearshift incorrect
  • 4f92 - EGS ratio monitoring, clutch A-C
  • 4f8d - Ratio monitoring, gearshift 5-4 plausibility
  • 37 - Voltage Low
  • 4f85 - 4F85 RATIO MONITORING CLUTCH E
  • 4f8a - RATIO MONITORING.GEAR SHIFT 4-5 GEAR
  • 5088 - Sensors, transmission switch L1-L4
  • 507C - Parking gear sensors implausible
  • 507B PARKING GEAR SENSOR IMPLAUSIBLE
  • 4F84 RATIO MONITORING CLUTCH D
  • 4F97 RATIO MONITORING CLUTCH "B"-D
  • 4F83 RATIO MONITORING CLUTCH C

This list does not include all BMW EGS fault codes. A BMW scanner is required to read and clear these BMW codes.

Visitor, May 21, 2018
Conceptually should be very similar, just confirm parts and keep looking for the gold nugget posts.. also when you find a good search phrase.. i.e. BMW mechatronic valve sleeve replacement (or whatever) .. then use that same phrase in different Search Engines as well as adding " .pdf " to the end - etc,. etc. ' I am not an expert, only trying to help ' JT
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Hi Have a 2010 f02 7 series(zf 6 speed auto) that is giving an intermittant trans malfunction. Sometimes a hard shift, sometimes a delay drag(both changing up) took to local bmw indi couldnt find any trans codes/errors, only showed torque mismatch between engine & gearbox. Any ideas(poss software reload to fix?). Thanks Joe
Visitor, May 21, 2018
I've encountered the following problem. Got an F25 N47 automatic transmission Sdrive. After replacing the engine control, the automatic transmission shifts to safe operation mode and reads the following error message (420321) does not shift in or out of 2 gears. Cables are OK.The measured voltage was 11.3 in the positive cables.I've already done the adjustment and calibration and nothing has improved.
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Hello, I was hoping that someone out there could help me I was just given my first BMW it's a 2003 530i... " love it " but for some reason it went into the safe/limp mode. It was fine when I parked it the next morning my battery was dead I got a jump and boom it was in this mode..i did just read it is possible my battery stored some bad codes. My battery light does come on every time I hit the Has But then goes a way when i let up....Has this happened to anyone else? Maybe you could point me in the right direction to find a special BMW code reader/reseter. I hate to put my business out there but I don't have any money since my ex emptied my account 2 weeks ago.. Won't be cheapest would be great... Thank you
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Hi Cindy I have the same problem reconditioned box now failsafe won't go passed 3rd can you help or anyone help please. Thanks Andy
Visitor, May 21, 2018
So i just bought a 2005 645ci bmw, the second night of owning it i had tried to see what it can do in sport mode. I was doing around 140mph and the trans went into limp mode. When i check to see if my battery was good it reads 14 volts running with no accesories. With all my acceseries running such as radio, fan, headlights and heated seats on it only read around 12 volts. Could my alternator cause this problem?
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Hi Rob, did you solve this problem, I have exactly the same problem like you, please let know on my email if you have any solution adrian88sparco@gmail.com Thanks a lot and best of luck
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Did you ever get to the heart of the problem? My 2005 BMW X5 is doing the same thing and I have not been able to get any answers. Thanks so much!
Visitor, May 21, 2018
@Travis barrette. I have the same vehicle. Had issues with alternator, charging etc. I put in a new battery. Also monitored voltage each day. I found it only started charging after a few miles. I got a replacement control module for the alternator. Also stopped all the oil leaks that were dripping onto the alternator. Now okay. My theory : Oil was leaking into the alternator. Overnight this would accumulate. So in the morning the oil, being an insulator, was stopping the alternator from charging properly until I had driven a few miles. By this time, centrifugal force had thrown off the oil and the alternator resumed charging.
Visitor, May 21, 2018
My 2013 328i had an error code B7F668 and the transmission made a big bang. I turned it off and it cleared and has been fine for 5,000km then I had a transmission fault again today but no error code recorded on the DTC list.
Visitor, May 21, 2018
I replace the transmission of my 2005 325i with a good used unit. Does the transmission need to be programmed or recoded. I have 5hp19 trans
Visitor, May 21, 2018
I have a proble with my BMW 525i 2008 model just change the gearbox and and filter but the it still does not change gears and still has the transmission fault mesaage on the screen
Visitor, May 21, 2018
will a bmw 328i 2000 auto transmission fit a bmw 330i 2003 please
Hi i am new to the bmw world and recently purchased an 06 automatic 330xi. It runs and drives great under normal conditions. I have noticed that If I really step on it causing it to hold in gear longer it will hesitate on shifts above 4k or so rpm and jerk a little. It seems to have an issue a higher rpm shifting to the next gear. I have not checked the fluid level yet nor do I know when the lats trans service was done. The car has just over 150k on it and was a well maintained 1 owner car.. I did not notice this on the test drive since you really have to get on it to make this happen. It typically does not register as any sort of fault but did yesterday for the first time. I tried getting it up to around 5k in 4th gear (using the manual shift feature) and it seemed to not want to go into 5th, even though it said it had on the dash. I tried shifting again and it really didn't like that and immediately gave me an error message. I am assuming it tried to go into 6th gear from 4th and this is why I received the message. I reset it and the message went away. I plan on doing a filter and fluid replacement in the near future and was wondering if I could get any advice on what may cause this issue. Other than this the car up shifts and down shifts smoothly without issue under normal driving conditions. Thanks
Visitor, May 21, 2018
2007 530xi trans just gears down on the highway n resets after I shut it off but then happens again ? 128,000 on it
Visitor, May 21, 2018
I got 2003 bmw 330xi i lost reverse and neutral it remains in drive i can play with the shifter and it will not move at all in reverse any idea what could be causing this? I've done transmission filter and fluid change it hasn't changed it.
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Can anyone help. I have a 2003 3.0 diesle x5. When i start this car from cold it will drive fine. However after a few minutes it worms up and losses all drive. Let it cool down and it will drive again ?
Visitor, May 21, 2018
Hi My cay is 335I right iput on R car slowly response then yellow light come on i check the code it show gear ratio monitor clutch
Visitor, May 21, 2018
1998 328i hard shift (Bang) got better after fluid and filter Change. It went away completely when I replaced the two forward shift solenoids and did the band adjustment (4L30E GM transmission). Now there is a pause when I shift from reverse to Drive first thing in the morning then an occasional odd shift in D, but not in 3rd. Next I'll try resetting the Transmission and check fluid levels again just for good measure. I'll post an update if the reset helps.
Visitor, May 21, 2018
05 BMW 325ix AWD 5 speed automatic transmission with Steptronic, 156,000 miles on car. VIN#- WBAEU33495PR15614, DoP- 08/04 Electronic Transmission Control Module indicator warning lamp 1.) came on under normal driving 2.) holding gears longer before shifts 3.) very hard up & down shifts 4.) speratic as to what rpm/Rd. speed downshifts will accure 5.) higher rpm long it holds the gear 6.) have all gears as normal (not it limp mode) 7.) if foot on brake pedal accelerator pedal is inactive Things I've tried to fix this: 1.) put it in P, shut car off, set E-brake, removed key waited couple mins and restart. no difference! 2.)turn key on to pos#2 but didn't start engine, pushed & held accelerator pedal to floor for 30sec. restart car. no difference! 3.) scanned engine codes- 1st time got code for MAS voltage drop. miss fire bank 2. fixed by removing and cleaning MAS and replacing wire clip on electrical plug. rescanned no codes! 4.) scanned trans codes. no codes! ( note: when I clear codes from engine or trans turns light off on dash untill restart and runs for 30-45 sec. can here trans/engine change tones when running and light turns back on) (note code scanning done with cheap Walmart and a cheap Bosch pocket scanners) 5.) just put car on ramps. So to look for leaks, loose wires and check trans fluid level. will do these in the morning. Great job on Wright up just as others have said! Your thoughts would be highly appreciated!!! *****Could the center clock spring in steering wheel cause these issues? ******