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ATF & Filter Replacement

Volkswagen and Audi consider the transmission to be filled for life - considering how many folks sell/total a car before 100k miles, this may well be true. But for the rest of us who enjoy keeping a multikilo buck expenditure around for a while, keeping the transmission happy should be a top priority - diluting fluid which has broken down due to heat, removing wear-in metal particles from the pan magnets, etc. For the most part, just changing the fluid every 30k miles should ensure a long life, with a proper filter change and fluid flush every now and then. Of course, at this point the issue of the "sealed" transmission pops up and ruins everyone's day. We should be worried about overfilling the tranny, right?

As per the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Don't Panic.

While VW makes a fuss about checking the fluid level between 95-113° F, there's a reasonable bit of allowance in this specification for a properly operating transmission. During my fluid drain, I started by checking the existing fluid level with the transmission at ambient temperature (around 60°F at the time), theoretically resulting in zero fluid flowing from the level cutout. In reality, about a quart of highly darkened fluid poured out of the transmission. In total, I drained 3.7 quarts of ATF and completely filled the transmission after the specified 2.7 quarts. The main cause of this points to a factory mistake - the factory overfilled the transmission by a full quart, and the car's been operating like this for the past 4 years/60,000 miles. The other possibility is that fluid from the torque converter drained back into the transmission pan - however, a fluid level check some weeks later showed the transmission to be properly filled.

Considering the state of the fluid that was drained, a complete flush, filter change, and installation of a transmission fluid cooler is slated for the near future...stay tuned.


July 13, 2003 Unfortunately, the car was in an accident at 63k, ~6 months after the ATF service, at a total loss. In the duration, however, the transmission operated perfectly, with the smooth shifts I'd appreciated when the car was first purchased. Over the period, some further research into the transmission turned up some of the following.

The VW/Audi Tiptronic transmission is manufactured by ZF, model 5HP19FL (A4 '96-'02, A6 '98-'01 A8 '97-'99, Passat '98 -> '05). Incidentally, this transmission and some of its variants are also used in late model BMWs, which may help expand the research base if you have a particular question regarding this system. Considering the cost of the ATF through normal VW parts sources, I'd hoped that a suitable aftermarket replacement could be found - however, ZF seems to VERY STRONGLY recommend that only a particular fluid be used, that is, Esso LT 71141. I spent some time speaking to ZF distributors in the US hoping to find an inexpensive source for the fluid - unfortunately, the fluid is normally stocked as drums, and most would sell by the quart at relatively high prices ($15-$19 USD). While a few of the distributors were curious as well about the compatibility of various other fluids, ZF would not honor warranty issues without the Esso fluid, precluding the ability to test out alternate fluids.

You can find some more information on the transmission and fluid through the following documents:

ZF 5HP19FL Spare Parts Catalog - includes ZF's fluid filling procedures for the transmission and differential.
ZF 5HP19FL Data Sheet (Deutsch)
ZF 5HP19FL Exploded View
Esso LT 71141 Specifications - note that this is a rough translation from a Russian language page. Also note that the fluid is usually referred to as "long-life", not unlimited life. A service interval of ~75k miles is given.
BMW Model Range Transmission Overview - look for blue.

The online retailers seem to now be stocking a Pentosin ATF for VW/Audi applications. If this fluid is an appropriate substitute, chances are increasing that other good quality makes of synthetic ATF would be perfectly acceptable. Prime candidates are Mobil1 Synthetic ATF and Redline High-Temp ATF.

August 3, 2003 Many thanks to Geri, who took a few pics while changing ATF, including dropping the pan and replacing the filter. Also note his comments at the end of this page.

Also, the fluid filling procedure has been slightly changed, to reduce the time needed to fully refill the transmission.

August 12, 2004 Added ZF's spare parts catalog for the 5HP19FL.

February 2, 2005 Quaker State Multi-Vehicle ATF is confirmed as a suitable replacement for LT 71141 - it's also a synthetic ATF (update - this should read synthetic-blend ATF. 08/05/2005), and specifically discusses Esso compatibility: Quaker State Multi-Vehicle ATF Datasheet (Deutsch). Note that the application chart only lists VW/Audi models up to 2000 - if you have a later year model and know that it's tranny uses LT 71141, the Quaker State is still a fine replacement. The nice thing is that it's available pretty much everywhere, and inexpensive (~$3/quart). At that price, a filter and fluid change should run around $50. At that price, it's also reasonable to pick up a few extra quarts and just flush the system - check the additional resources below for some pointers on ATF flushes (simple procedure).

April 24, 2005 Minor update to note that Quaker State Multi-Vehicle ATF is also sold as Pennzoil Multi-Vehicle ATF. Added a link to an ATF & filter change on the 5HP30 tranny under "Additional Resources" below.

August 5, 2005 Update to note that Valvoline MERCON V is also a confirmed suitable ATF for ZF trannies. (manufacturer statement)

Note that the ATF types listed here are brands that have very specifically stated full compatibility with ZF transmissions. The advantage of this is peace of mind - any fluid-related transmission problems can be directly taken up with the ATF manufacturer (though after several years of use there have been no reports of problems using approved non-Esso fluids). Currently, that is not possible with Mobil1 or Redline, two providers of fully synthetic ATF (there has also been at least one report of Mobil1 actually degrading shift quality in the 5HP19). The transmission is perfectly happy with synthetic-blend ATFs such as Pennzoil & Valvoline - that's exactly what it was shipped with from the factory.

Any performance differences between the various fluids are *VASTLY* exceeded by the performance benefit of replacing broken-down fluid with a fresh fill.


Part Information & Sources:

Note - always confirm part numbers by looking at the actual part mounted in the car! Mistakes will happen sometime, somewhere.

Part numbers:

Transmission fluidG 052 162 A2
Check/fill plug seal01V 321 379
Drain plug & seal01V 321 377
Note - unfortunately, the seal and drain plug are available together only, around $10 or so.
Pan gasket01V 321 371
Filter01V 325 429
Filter seal01V 325 443

OEM Pricing: ~$15/liter
Quaker State/Pennzoil Multi-Vehicle ATF: $3/quart
Valvoline MERCON V ATF: $3/quart

You'll need 6 quarts, or 4 quarts if you're not dropping the pan and changing the filter.

Tools:

  • 8mm socketed hex (Allen) driver
  • 17mm socketed hex (Allen) driver
  • Torque wrench, low range up to 20 ft-lbs or so. Only needed if dropping the pan and replacing the ATF filter.
  • Torque wrench, capable up to 60 ft-lbs

The 17mm driver can be found at your local AutoZone in a nice multipack, less than $10. It also includes a 14mm driver that can be used to remove the driveshaft to wheel hub bolts if you need to do work on the halfshaft (CV boots/joints).

ATF Drain:

  1. Start by raising the car on jackstands (no one is considering working under the car with just a tire jack, right?). Use four jackstands, as the transmission must be level during the fluid check. (illustration)
  2. Keeping a pan nearby, open the check/fill plug with the 17mm hex driver. Some fluid should pour out - with the engine off, the fluid level in the pan will be higher than it is during operation. However, far more fluid came out of my transmission than should have. (illustration)
  3. Move the pan under the drain plug and open it with the 8mm hex driver. There should be a nice flow of black fluid. (illustration)
  4. Allow the fluid to drain for a while.
  5. Install a new drain plug and tighten to 30 ft-lbs / 40 Nm.
  6. Compare new fluid to old fluid - yes...definitely in need of a flush. (illustration)
  7. If you're not changing out the ATF filter and cleaning the magnets (recommended), skip down to ATF refill.

ATF Filter Change:

  1. Remove the ATF pan - there are many bolts securing the pan. Note that there will still be some fluid in the pan, so take care.
  2. With the pan off, you'll see the valve body and ATF filter. Remove the two bolts securing the filter, and gently pull off the filter.
  3. Lubricate the new filter's seal with some ATF, and install. Tighten the two bolts to 54 inch-lbs / 6 N-m.
  4. Clean off the pan with a lint-free cloth - especially the magnets. If the transmission is in good condition, there should only be some fuzz on the magnets. If you see bits of metal and large particles, start digging deep into your savings. :)
  5. Replace the pan. The bolts should be tightened in a star pattern, making several passes until all bolts are installed and ready for final tightening (don't install and fully tighten a bolt in one step). This ensures that the pan doesn't warp, preventing a good seal. Tighten to 84 in-lbs / 10 Nm.

ATF Refill:

  1. Add fresh fluid through the check/fill tube until it begins to overflow. A plastic cap covers the fill tube, with a square cutout to the side - this allows fluid to be added and excess fluid to overflow. To get fluid into the hole, I used a length of vinyl tubing - one end inserted through the cap's cutout, the other attached to a funnel several feet from the ground. Pour fluid in the funnel, transmission gets filled. By the way, VAG's special tool does the same gravity feed, by hanging from a raised hood. A fluid pump should also work well. (illustration)
  2. After the fluid slows to a dropwise overflow, leave the filling apparatus in place and start the engine. With the engine idling, the transmission oil pump will run, dropping the fluid level.
  3. Add fluid until it overflows again.
  4. With the engine still idling, press on the brakes and move the gear selector through all gears, pausing at each gear for a few seconds. This will circulate fluid through the valve body and may drop the level a bit.
  5. Add fluid until overflow.
  6. By now, the fluid should be warm, and at the correct level. Reinstall the check/fill plug with the new seal and tighten to 59 ft-lbs / 80 Nm. After the seal is in place, shut down the engine.
  7. You should check the fluid level again after a few days - reusing the check/fill plug seal won't pose a problem, but the seal is inexpensive if you feel like replacing it for every check. Before doing this final check, start with the engine cold and drive around for a mile or two - this should get the transmission up to the specified temperature range (95-113° F) - Haynes' seat of the pants method is to feel the transmission pan. If it feels warm but not hot to the touch, the fluid should be in the correct range. Considering the amount of factory overfill in my transmission, this methodology is more than accurate enough.

    Update:

    July 13, 2003 - It's also easy enough to use the shareware version of VAG-COM to monitor the ATF temperature, if you're not interested in VAG-COM's other abilities - an interface cable can be built from commonly available electronic components for around $10 or so. More information on this to be added.

That's pretty much all there is to it. Enjoy!

Additional note from Geri:

OK, I will try to explain but beware of my bad English:

My Tranny was shifting very rough, when shifting from "D" to "R" I had a ugly noise and a rumble in the car. I was told from our local VW Dealer that I do not have to change the Fluid, its "Lifetime" filled. I can`t believe that. So I asked a lot of People, only one Person told me I must change caused by my heavy Tuning with NOS

Then we had this Threads in the German and the US Forums, in both Forums People were asking if it would make sense to change.

OK, I bought the Material (6 Liters ATF needed) and after one Hour the Filter and the Oil was changed.

Driving home felt so smooth, quick shifting without a rough noise. But when parking the Car I was impressed: Shifting from "D" to "R" did not make any noise.

Last thing I have to say: I had much dirt in the old Fluid, the magnetics were full with metall++++ I can really advice you to do that Oilchange.

Bye, Geri

Additional resources: