BMW X5 Hard Shifting Problem – Causes and Solutions


The BMW X5 was one of the more prolific vehicles to come out of BMW in the last few decades, proving to the world that the small/truck SUV thing was going mainstream in the European luxury sector.  Previously dominated by Range Rover, and with waters tested by the Mercedes ML a few years previously, the E53 BMW X5 offered a comfortable interior, all wheel drive, and a high ground clearance.  A lot of these new SUV’s made it to America (about 252,000), and because they are getting on in years we are finding some issues that seem to be common in the BMW X5, specifically with the transmission.  Some questionable designs were implemented, leaving weak points in mission critical areas. These issues can lead to your BMW X5 hard shifting, banging, and having problems with limp mode and the transmission holding gears.

Deferred Oil Changes

X5 Transmission Oil Change KitThese complicated transmissions require maintenance, regardless of what BMW says (think it’s a coincidence that these cars are having problems after BMW’s recommended “lifetime oil fill”?)  Remember, a free maintenance plan is much cheaper for the dealer if they decide to delete a few items off the list.  One of these items is the transmission fluid, which many of the BMW gear heads are recommending closer to a 30,000 mile interval.  You should replace the filter at the same time while you’re in there.  We have oil change kits for both the 3.0 engines (A5S360R/A5S390R (GM 5L40-E) transmission, and both 4.4 and 4.6l V8 with the A5S440Z transmission.  Remember when changing any transmission fluid, remove the FILL plug first.  If for some reason it won’t budge, you don’t want it to be when you just finished emptying out your trans!

Overheating

The X5 auto trans generates a lot of heat, especially if you are towing.  The cooling system for the V8 X5 utilizes an oil-to-water style transmission oil cooler hooked onto a bracket, which is then connected onto the radiator.  The bracket is strange, almost like a cooling system circuit board, which replaces a few hoses that would connect the oil cooler with the control valve/thermostat.  The bracket itself isn’t prone to failure, but the thermostat is, and should be considered a prime culprit if you have a BMW X5 hard shifting problem.  The oil cooler and lines also tend to develop leaks, and can collect constricting blockages if the transmission hasn’t been serviced.

Control Valve

The control valve or thermostat is responsible for routing coolant out of the main cooling system and into the oil cooler.  Made of plastic, it is a common failure point that will keep coolant from circulating into the oil cooler when it goes bad.  Of course, the subsequent effect is an overheating transmission that will have trouble shifting smoothly, or at all.  A lot of people have had this problem pop up on the highway, where the drivetrain is under more continuous load than in the neighborhood.  The E53 X5 isn’t the most aerodynamic vehicle, afterall.

BMW X5 Transmission Oil Cooler Thermostats

There are two valves/thermostats, and which one you need is dependent on the engine you have.  The 3.0’s have a thermostat 17111437362 that lives between the oil cooler mounting bracket and the expansion tank.  The 4.4 and 4.8l V8’s have a more complicated style valve that still plugs into the mounting bracket (which looks quite a bit different between 6 and 8cyl engines).  That valve number is 17107559966 and is supplied to BMW by Behr.

Oil Cooler and Lines

Behr transmission oil cooler

The Behr transmission oil cooler is the same part that you would get at a BMW dealer for a substantial savings.

After 15 years (and probable questionable transmission maintenance habits by previous owners), the oil cooler can accumulate a lot of crud and gunk that can affect efficiency, and will likely start leaking.  The job isn’t too bad, all you need to do is pop it out of the mounting bracket and remove the oil lines from the transmission (I made that sound easy right?).  The oil lines feature quick connects and it is recommended to use the special tool 3466 to remove them.  The oil cooler for the early V8’s and all 6cyls is 17207500754 and the later V8 engines (04-06) is 17227537601.

eEuroparts.com carries transmission service kits for these models that replaces the thermostat, oil cooler, lines and related seals for a complete transmission cooler service.

Valve Body Wiring Harness W/Temperature Sensor

On early V8 4.4 and 4.6l V8 models (2000-2003), erratic shifting and incorrect temperature readings can be the result of a wiring harness 24341423719 that controls the valve body on the transmission.  The valve body is a series of hydraulic valves that divert fluid around the transmission to actuate gears, and those valves are actuated by electronic solenoids.  Because of the location of this harness (underneath the transmission oil pan) it is exposed to a lifetime of serious heat and chemicals.  Eventually you will encounter jerky and unpredictable shifting, and the transmission holding gears.  The harness contains a vital temperature sensor as well that relays important information back to the transmission ECU.  If the readings are off, the actions of the ECU will take into account faulty temperatures, something a transmission is very sensitive to.

The X5 shares this harness with several other V8 BMW’s as well, the E39 540, E38 740i and iL, and the E31 840’s.  eEuroparts carries this harness in both Genuine BMW as well as ZF, the OE Supplier.

Rear Subframe (Carrier) Bushings

For some reason, the bushings that attach the rear subframe to the unibody of the car is a particular trouble area.  Perhaps due to the immense amount of load, and maybe a substandard OE design, these bushings will crush and disintegrate causing banging when applying throttle or brake.  This is because the rear sub frame mounts all the suspension and drive train to the rear of the car.  When applying torque with bad bushings, the entire undercarriage has freedom to flex and bang around.

Powerflex subframe bushings

The rear subframe take a lot of abuse, using lifetime warranty Powerflex bushings can be a great way to increase the life of your BMW X5

We recently added updated Powerflex brand bushings PFR5908X4 that carries a lifetime warranty, and can be installed in two halves without requiring a press.  It is a common DIY to cut (sawzall) or burn out what’s left of the stock bushings, and install the Powerflex versions while still on the car.  This will tighten up shifting and ease sloshing and banging, even if your transmission is in good shape.

So, I hope that helps you track down X5 hard shifting problems and find a solution that gets you back on the road.  Keep in mind that when your transmission is overheating, it can cause a lot of error codes that might not actually be the problem.  Take a look at the relatively inexpensive solutions mentioned in this post before replacing larger, more expensive components.  If you are interested in what else you may come across in your period of X5 ownership, check out the blog post here, laying out some other common issues that plague the E53 models.

Posted in BMW, Product Spotlight
50 thoughts on “BMW X5 Hard Shifting Problem – Causes and Solutions
  1. Fred Mitchell

    I have an overheating problem with my transmission on my 2002 Volvo C70. Same symptoms as described for this BMW. Curious if the transmissions came from the same manufacturer.

  2. cindy

    I was driving all the sudden it came in and said trans failure pulled to the side of the road put the car in neutral rev the engine the light went out and she’s been shifting fine since do I need to replace the valve or is it a problem. My car is a BMW X5 2005

  3. Chad G

    I don’t have a overheating problem but when every I slow down and come between 10-15 mph which I assume is shifting into 1st gear the transmission thumps or clunks. What would you prefer?

    • Adam Goral

      I would change the transmission fluid out with a new filter, and while under the car inspect both the rear axle carrier bushings, as well as the transmission/engine mounts at the front. Thanks for reading, we have all of these parts available on our website.

  4. Hi, I have a 2005 X5 4.4, when slowing down to turn a corner, the transmission slams into gear so hard I thought I was rear ended, when applying gas, going around the corner. If I apply throttle slowly, no hard shift. this happens very seldom

    • Adam Goral

      Check the rear subframe, or have it checked. When theses bushings go bad the entire rear drivetrain assembly has freedom to bang around. See more info in the article.

  5. Alondra

    Hi, i have both an overheating and hard shifting issue. Ive changed the expansion tank many times, as well as the water pump and the thermostat but within days, or weeks if im lucky, it overheats again (ive been driving with my heater on and it really sucks). I also have a problem with the shifting. I have a 2001 automatic X5, but the transmission gets stuck or something and wont shift when its supposed to switch gears. Ive figured out how to switch from automatic to manual when it gets stuck and thats what ive been doing lately but i know something needs to be replaced. I was just told when i took it to get the transmission serviced that bmw transmissions give out at 100k but i dont know how true that is.

    • Adam Goral

      This sounds like a serious problem that you need to address immediately. Possible causes mentioned in the article point out the oil cooler and oil cooler thermostat. When these fail they can cause both overheating and hard transmission operating, which sounds just like your problem. Have a BMW specialist look at it and mention that you read about the oil cooler thermostat. The suggestion that BMW transmissions give out at 100k is a straight lie and you should never go back to the shop that suggested this, they are attempting to trap you. However if you let the transmission and cooling system drive around while compromised, it is possible that it will prematurely fail due to negligence. Don’t wait, these parts aren’t terribly expensive but a new transmission sure is!

  6. Michael Lawrence

    I have a 2012 x5 50i when driving ok at low speed but upon speeding up the transmission jerks between 2/3 gear I have change the fluids but still the same

  7. nabil

    hi,

    I have BMW e70 xdrive 35i 2011 it jerks or kicks when accelerating and when slowing down and gently applying brakes took it to BMW and they said the transfer case needs to be replaced.

    there is no sound when kicking and there is no any fault light.

    thank you

    • Adam Goral

      Before replacing your transfer case, you should change the transfer case fluid. Broken down, sheared fluid will not allow the clutches to slip properly and you will get jerkyness, changing the fluid once or twice may greatly improve your problem. Depending on the mileage, I would also recommend changing the fluid in the transmission as well as both differentials. The fluid in all these items only lasts around 80-100k miles on the outside before it completely breaks down. Please take a good look at this thread. https://www.eeuroparts.com/blog/11020/how-to-maintain-your-bmw-xdrive-system/ It’s the procedure for changing the fluid in an E90 but the differences will be minimal. The largest difference will be the location of the plugs on the transfer case. Good luck, let us know how it goes.

        • Adam Goral

          Good luck, it’s certainly cheaper than a new transfer case! While under there, be sure to inspect the rear subframe bushings for the problem described in the post. If they are bad, any problem will be amplified through the slop there.

          • nabil

            Hello,

            sorry to disturb you again, some people said to me to unplug the transfer case cable and drive the car and see if it still jerks it means there is another reason if not the problem is in transfer case and then i will try changing the oil.

            is it safe to do this and is it true we can locate the issue?

            Regards

  8. nabil

    Hello,

    sorry to disturb you again, some people said to me to unplug the transfer case cable and drive the car and see if it still jerks it means there is another reason if not the problem is in transfer case and then i will try changing the oil.

    is it safe to do this and is it true we can locate the issue?

    Regards

  9. Cory Black

    Hello
    I have a 2009 BMW X5 tranny is hesitating when I first put it in gear but once I get going it seems to get better doing the day I also had a transmission fail light come on to day

    • Adam Goral

      If you have a light on, the TCM has stored a fault code. Have that code read by a BMW specialist with the BMW specific scan tools to get an idea of what is going on.

  10. Stephen

    Hi Cory (and/or Adam),

    I am having the same problem now on my 2009 x 5, it seems to skip at times when accelerating especially going up hill and then the light came on. The driving was jumpy and we pulled over and sat for 15 minutes then restarted and seemed to be fine. Now worried to accelerate too fast for fear of this slipping/skipping feel.

    Cory, did you have this code diagnosed from the light being on? The light has not come back on yet. Anybody have any suggestions? Thank you.

  11. Matt Nolan

    Adam;
    This article is very helpful and I appreciate you taking the time to put it together. I have an 05 X5 4.4L, and now know that I have an overheating issue with my transmission. I have ordered the 17107559966 thermostat and wonder if I need to take another step forward. Two years ago I installed a Class III towing hitch, and don’t tow often, but now am concerned for when I do. Is there any method you know of to provide additional cooling/fluid capacity for the X5?

    Matt

    • Adam Goral

      I would recommend replacing the cooler with a new stock cooler while you are in there with the coolant drained. The passageways inside get gummed up over time and greatly reduces the cooling capacity. If both your thermostat and your cooler are in perfect shape you should never see any overheating with the truck. IF you live in a very hot climate and do some heavy laborious tows, you can always add an aftermarket oil cooler into the airstream, something like this: https://www.eeuroparts.com/Parts/404972/Engine-Oil-Cooler-10-Row-KOYXC101103W/

      You would have to adapt the cooler lines with some extra lengths of reinforced oil and temperature save hose, and securely clamp some AN10 fittings on to adapt to the oil cooler. This will give you more oil capacity and a big boost in cooling capacity. If you go that route, I would love to hear all about it. Hope that’s helpful.

  12. Raden

    Hello i have a 2002 bmw x5 3.0l and my p,r,n,d light are not lit up and it is starting to shift hard and most of the time it throws the trans failsafe prog if i shut it off and turn it back on it says im in septronic mode when its in park i have replaced my battery because i read that a lot of problems are cause from low voltage went away for couple moths niw its back iv changed trans fluid and filter had alternator tester its all good hiope you can point me in the right direction thank you

    • Adam Goral

      I think replacing the battery was a good first step, and if it had an effect on it then you may be on the right track with low voltage issues. Changing the transmission fluid is also a great thing to rule out. Sometimes rusty electrical grounds can cause low voltage situations even if if the alternator is outputting the proper power. The grounds you should clean most likely are related to the transmission control unit, since the strange symptoms you are encountering center around the transmission. I personally don’t know where these main grounds are but someone online probably will. Once verified the grounds are good, take it to a dealer and have them use a scan tool to reset the software. Hopefully that fixes it, or at least reveals enough information to get closer to solving it.

  13. Hello, I have a 2012 BMW E70 X5 50i with just over 117000 miles. About a month ago my transmission or the vehicle started quick and hard shifting on it feels like 2nd, 3rd, 4th very hard, jerky and quickly. I also notice it feels delayed even on the highway. Do you believe this is a simple fix or a whole transmission job?

    Thank you
    V/r

      • Godzi

        Hello,
        I have 2003 x5 4.4i with transmission problem.
        It seems to work fine when cold but after 5 min of driving it goes in to fail safe program and stuck in 5th gear. I replaced oil, filter, transmission harness and still same. I did harness because when scanned for live data ATF temp was shown-55 and I thought it’s sensor but same with new harness. Also I did all other readings and weird thing is wheel speed when not moving is showing LF,RF wheels speed 0 and LR 4080rpm, no reading shows up for RR wheel.
        Could it be something totally different that is messing up with computer?

        • Adam Goral

          That’s a real tough one, you’ll probably have to take this to a specialist who can probe pin-outs and get data from the inputs individually to see where there may be bad connections, grounds, sensors etc. It probably won’t be cheap unless you came across a savant.

  14. Dan Narbone

    I have a x5 2003 3.0i with 140k. The transmission shifts into low gear when going down a steep incline causing the motor engine to rev to 4k. Changed the fluid and filter and it is no better. Any thoughts?

    • Adam Goral

      Check to make sure you’re not in a transmission mode you aren’t aware of. Sometimes different transmission modes will allow this to happen, like sport mode or towing mode.

  15. Peter A Gray

    Good afternoon – my ’08 x5 4.8 is exhibiting a low speed shifting shifting issue. When starting off with low to moderate throttle is seems to skip or be confused by which gear to use. The RPMs drop off quickly, the system recovers. It may do it again as the car accelerates. Additionally, it holds gears too long when going uphill – at 50 mph on a moderate hill it holds 4th and won’t let go unless you lift the throttle off completely or switch to manual mode and shift to 5th where this engine is very comfortable. Another issue, different speed but feels the same, at 30 – 40 mph when you need to stomp on it it seems undecided which gear to drop to. Under heavy throttle from a standing start there are no issues (as long as there is no police presence!)

    Since I bought this car Sept 2018 alocal BMW dealer replaced faulty mechatronics sealing sleeve and pan, transmission oil pan and gasket and fluid as well as the throttle body wiring harness

  16. John DiNoto

    HI Adam,
    New to the site. I have a 2012 X5 50i which is running well except when I am cruising at about 45 mph and step on the accelerator. Around 60 mph I get a brief stuttering which feels like a tranny issue but only does it under somewhat hard acceleration and no other time regardless of the speed. After reading some of the similar issues here I am not sure what to think. What are your thoughts?
    John

    • Adam Goral

      Hi John, welcome. Start at the top of the article and work your way down for all the causes and solutions for hard shifting in your X5.

  17. Mohamed Abbas

    My BMW X5, 2006 model, was working fine until the engine
    Broke down. I replaced the engine, but now I am having problems with the transmission. The car rarely changes gears fine, but most f the time, it is stuck in fifth gear. The car moves very slowly and sluggishly. On the dashboard, there is the “transmission: false fail’ sign. Now, I am trying to change the transmission oil and transmission filters. There is something else, the battery positive cable is too hot.

    Have you any piece of advice regarding this problem.

    Thanks in advance.

  18. Bryan

    Hi, I got a 2003 e39 540i and when coming to a stop or taking a corner it feels like someone rear ended me also when I floor it, it won’t downshift to first gear all it does is let the engine rpm go to the red line but no power to the rear wheel, any ideas what it could be? Also I don’t have any codes for transmission or engine, atf has like 3k miles on and and and it has a new filter

      • Hamish

        I have a 04 x5 4.4 V8
        I noticed from 2nd to 3rd it would shift quickly and jolt and then drop back a gear. Today it seems like it’s stuck in 2nd or 3rd gear. No gear changing at all. I still have reverse however. No noises or clunking etc. also noticed the manual mode isn’t working now. Beforehand it was. No error codes either too

        • Adam Goral

          That’s really wild that there are no error codes. It sounds to me like the valve body has had some kind of major failure, but a specialist will have to look at this car to properly diagnose the issue. Let us know what you find.

  19. JOSEPH ZIEMAK

    I HAVE AN 01 X5 . HAD A BAD RADITOR, REPLACED IT, CHANGED THE TRANS FLUID AND FILTER. WENT TO BMW FOR ANY TSB, AND FOUND THAT A STICKY VALVE BODY COULD CAUSE MY THIRD GEAR ISSUES. SO I CLEANED AND CHECKED ALL THE VALVES AND SOLENOIDS. NOW I HAVE A GREAT REVERSE, SOLID FOWARD GEAR APPLICATION,,, YET WHEN THROTTLE IS APPLIED, IT LOCKS IN TWO GEARS. I HAD A TURBO 400 GM PRODUCT, THAT THE VALVE BODY WENT BAD ON. THATS IN THE 70’S THOUGH. ANY INPUT WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED.

    JOE Z

  20. Rebecca

    I have a BMW X5 57 plate transmission warning light comes on in Amber goes straight off had it checked out no error codes coming up from time to time Car is jerking at low speed and I can feel the gear changes where I have never noticed this before had a message on idrive say malufuntion p position may not be available set parking brake when stopped engine might start with delay I have only had this message or warning light come on when car first started then goes just had transmission service miles on car 140000

    • Adam Goral

      If you have a transmission light coming on, take it to an authorized transmission shop or BMW dealer to diagnose this before it gets any worse. Also, please use punctuation, it makes it easier for myself and others to understand your issue.

  21. Dawit

    HI i have 2008 X5 and transmission faulty and drive moderately happened on display. I have changed the GEAR oil 3 times but the error happen while am driving it.

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