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floyd86uk 11-27-2018 05:21 PM

Weird shifting and a now daily TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG...
Hi All,

Really hoping this isn't just another Trans.Failsafe thread, but my E53 has been insulting my intelligence for a few weeks now! Sorry for the long post, but I wanna get it all out there...

I bought my 2004 X5 E53 3.0d with 140,000 miles on it at the start of September this year. I've always been a bit concered about the auto gear box. It seems to hold onto the lower gears for too long and every now and then would rev up to 3500 before shifting into 2nd/3rd when pulling away slowly. Although it still has its speed when kicking down, it's impossible to keep it from peaking at around 2500/3000 when trying to drive sensibly. I know I have a sport model, but it doesn't seem right that if I want to pull away slowly, it needs to rev up that high with almost zero power following it.

I took it to my mechanic for a service in mid-september and after giving it a good going over, the only standout issue was a broken brake pad wear sensor cable.

In mid-october, I changed the stereo from the OEM model to an Xtrons Android one (which is a bit pants to be honest). I also fitted a reverse camera (also, a bit pants). This took several hours to complete and I didn't disconnect the battery (probably should have). Either way, having the door open and the interior lights on for a couple hours killed the battery. When trying to start the car, I saw TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG for the very first time. I charged the battery and this did not come back.

2 weeks later, driving home from work, I got SELF.LEVELSUSP INACT flag up. I got home, cut the engine and it cleared. This message has not returned to this day. There was no apparent change to the car when this message was up.

1 week later, I was driving early in the cold and TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG came back. The car kicked into 3rd gear and I had to limp home. Restarted a few hours later and all was well.

A few days later, driving to the supermarket, TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG came back. It has happened every day since.

Something to note is that it NEVER does this from cold start. It ALWAYS kicks in when the coolant gauge is on 1/4 - without fail. Every day. I'm at the point where I know exactly when it will happen. When in this state, gears can be selected without needing to press the brake.

I have taken it to my mechanic who scanned the fault codes and got the following for Transmission:

4E87 - Solenoid Valve 4 (shift lock)
51AE - CAN brake light signal
5088 - Sensor gearbox selector switch

The mechanic cleared the codes and wanted me to drive it to see if TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG happened again. Then he would rescan and see what came back. Fair enough.

As I say, it comes back every day. So just waiting for him to be available to hook the X5 up again.

Most forum searches have pointed me in the direction of the battery being dud. The fact that the first time I got this message was during a flat battery situation made me think that it could be related. However, I have had the battery checked and it (unfortunately) passed with flying colours.

I'm wondering if the previous SELF.LEVELSUSP INACT message is somehow connected to whatever is causing the daily TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG message. Long shot, but the car went from no warnings to these issues being flagged within days of each other and all began after I killed the battery.

I would think that this is purely electrical, if it wasn't for the fact that I've always been a bit freaked out by the late shifting and to be honest, slight clunking of the gears.

It seems that TRANS.FAILSAFE PROG happens to a lot of BMW's and Range Rovers - all for different reasons, so I'm not expecting this to be a common cause. However, I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar symptoms/circumstances to mine and if anyone had any ideas of how to continue?

I am not sure if the trans fluid has ever been changed and I'm trying to get some ideas to fire at my mechanic. I'm pretty handy at doing things myself, but I don't have garage space in my current house to be able to get my hands too dirty. I have changed the drivers side door handle carrier, but that's about it so far! Certainly no means to start tinkering with the trans, if required.

Any ideas greatly appreciated! Thanks

andrewwynn 11-27-2018 10:04 PM

Check your main transmission connector. I had some of the exact symptoms and it was entirely due to water intrusion into the connector.

It comes off with a twist lock connection.

wpoll 11-28-2018 03:01 AM

floyd86uk, I have the same car (with similar mileage) and your transmission operation sounds about the same as mine - although mine will change way sooner than 3,500rpm when cold (fortunately!).

I always try to keep the revs under 2,000rpm until the temp gets to 1/4 (top of the blue), which is 50DegC via the BC display.

Coincidentally, this is the temp that changes the shift behaviour in the factory transmission software, allowing the use of top gear. Below this engine temp, the transmission will not shift into top (6th).

And it's likely this change that triggers (not causes) your trans fail-safe behaviour - the change in shift pattern.

As to why? :dunno: Might as start with Andrew's suggestion, although I think this issue is more of a problem with the 5-speed transmissions - perhaps due to the different mechatronic connector location. Easy to eliminate it though. :thumbup:

BTW, FWIW, the shift pattern is very dependant on how you drive this car, especially how FAST you press on the gas pedal. Well, diesel pedal. Pressing fast, accelerating hard, will force the trans shift pattern into sport mode pretty quickly, with rather high shift points.

And on another tack, you mention something I've been meaning to raise.I see a lot of UK owners refer to the "3.0D Sport" and I can't find this label in any other market. I have a feeling that the 3.0D we got (Aust and NZ etc.) is an identical car to the UK 3.0D Sport - the "Sport" label being a UK-marketing label. Not sure... :dunno:

*edit* just found the info. on the 3.0d Sport ? (from XDrivers) - the 3.0d Sport is identical to the 3.0d except is has the larger staggered wheel set and stiffer susp.

*edit* Given this all started with a totally flat battery, it's a good bet the battery is involved. And I've never seen a car battery recover properly from being totally run flat. Their capacity is usually severely reduced when run totally flat, even just once. :(

floyd86uk 11-28-2018 06:15 AM

Thanks guys - I really appreciate the replies and a bit of hope that I can get this sorted!

After I changed the stereo and fitted the reverse cam, the wife has been giving me grief about how the car was working fine before I started messing with it. Problem is, she's right! It was pretty much OK apart from the odd slow shifts. I'm all out of ways to say that changing the stereo shouldn't kill the transmission!

I'm going to get at the transmission connector this weekend. You know, we had a pretty harsh (by UK standards) summer this year and didn't get rain for a real long time. But, it started getting cold and wet around mid-October time. About when the Trans Failsafe started happening a lot. I also recall driving through a massive puddle of rain water a few Sunday's ago. Water in the connector could well be it... thanks for the suggestion!

I'm also going to check the 'secret menu' and keep an eye on the voltage for a bit. Read somewhere that dips can cause all kinds of problems. I had the battery checked by a local garage and they said it was fine. These guys are in the battery selling business, so I was fully expecting a quote for a new battery off the back of the check, but no. Maybe worth a voltage check anyway to rule out any alternator probs.

The holding of the gears is pretty intermittent. I can reverse out of my drive, pull away slowly and it will shift under 2000. But, I need to join a 40mph road soon after and it's impossible to get it to 40mph in less that 40 seconds without it revving over 3500. Sometimes I'll stop at a junction, then pull away normally and it rolls along in 1st gear; 1500, 2000, 2500, 3000 and I'm screaming at it, "SHIFT!!! SHIIIIFT!!!!!" and then it goes into 2nd. But, if I did really push down, it will take off. So, there doesn't seem to be a way to intentionally keep it under 2000 without driving at 3mph, slowly creeping up to the same speed as everyone else on the road. But then, some days... no problem at all.

One other thing that I noticed a while ago is that when I start the car, a load of white smoke (vapour?) shoots out of the exhaust. It also smells a bit strong if I'm stood by the car with it running. One time, the smoke was pouring out for about a mile down the road - but this only happened once. I haven't noticed it happen since, so I kinda just got over that and put it down to being the start of winter.

As I said above, I've only had the car a few months and I'm not sure if the trans fluid has ever been changed. My mechanic didn't do it when he serviced it because of the BMW sticker saying not to. I know now that 100,000 is probably their idea of 'life'. So, it's probably a good idea to insist on getting that changed.

I'm thinking I'll check the connector for water, get the X5 scanned to see what faults come back, get a trans fluid change and keep an eye on the voltage. May be worth a new battery too, as even though it came back fine - I was really surprised to have completely flattened it after leaving the interior lights on for a couple hours. Although, that said, there are loads of lights in this thing.

Thanks again for the suggestions and I'll keep you posted.

andrewwynn 11-28-2018 11:51 AM

When my battery failed it tested fine under load but it wouldn't start my car if I left the hazards on for 8 minutes.

Victorious4.8is 11-28-2018 02:30 PM

Check your alternator as well. When I got my 4.8 the owner changed the battery the night I bought it. After returning home I would get the occasional battery light but after a quick restart the light would go away and not return for another 4-5 days. I would restart it and the light would go away. One night heading to Walmart I pushed it really hard going onto the freeway all types of warning lights came on to include the trans-safe light, and the X would not shift out of the gear it was in. I thought I had purchased a lemon and was heartbroken!:( So I limped to Walmart since there was no reason to return home at this point. Went inside and did a little shopping and when I came back out and started the X several of the lights had mysteriously turned off. The abs, brake and several other warning lights were still on. Driving home the X shifted fine but these warning lights remained. :dunno:Once home I shut her down and went inside wondering if I had just bought a X with a bad tranny and lord knows what else was wrong with it. I went back out later and started it and all warning lights were gone and she drove like a champ again. A day later the battery light popped on again so I decided to check the alternator and it was only charging about 12.2 volts. Enough to run the X but not hardly enough under any type of decent load much less a full throttle smash! Changed the alternator the next day and have not had any warning lights or issues since. :thumbup:Its worth a quick check. Thanks!

wpoll 11-28-2018 03:44 PM


Originally Posted by floyd86uk (Post 1147437)

The holding of the gears is pretty intermittent. I can reverse out of my drive, pull away slowly and it will shift under 2000. But, I need to join a 40mph road soon after and it's impossible to get it to 40mph in less that 40 seconds without it revving over 3500. Sometimes I'll stop at a junction, then pull away normally and it rolls along in 1st gear; 1500, 2000, 2500, 3000 and I'm screaming at it, "SHIFT!!! SHIIIIFT!!!!!" and then it goes into 2nd. But, if I did really push down, it will take off. So, there doesn't seem to be a way to intentionally keep it under 2000 without driving at 3mph, slowly creeping up to the same speed as everyone else on the road. But then, some days... no problem at all.

Yikes - OK, I take it back - yours is rather different - mine never behave like that. It's the intermittent nature that seems the most odd.

Reading some codes might help a lot here... :dunno:

SlickGT1 11-28-2018 08:53 PM

See my signature. Follow it to unlock your cluster and start monitoring your voltage. Pay attention to voltage when you go into failsafe mode. Also a proper Scanner like dis or Inpa would be able to show an error for voltage spike and trans failsage at same time. So you can diagnose it that way as well.

I ended up replacing my voltage regulator and all has been well in the hood since then. Obviously my battery was also destroyed and replaced pretty much same time. I was actually getting overvoltage, not under voltage.

floyd86uk 11-29-2018 08:38 AM

Thanks for that - I have unlocked and monitored on an early drive this morning and again on the way to work. So far, hovering at around 13.7, but didn't get a Trans Failsafe to see if and where the voltage dipped to. I will continue to monitor.

I'm also open to the idea that seeing this message for the first time a couple months ago was due to the battery being flat and now it's actually due to something else. Just a brilliant coincidence, maybe. But, hopefully not.

I can't say that the shifting is smooth though. I'm getting some real jerky changes from 3rd to 4th and down again through the gears. Again, not always. But, enough to keep my mind on the idea of the transmission actually being the problem.

I will get it scanned this weekend and take a look into the possibility of water in the connector as well. I've got a small pile of bills ready to pony up if the trans is shot, but I'd rather not have to go there. I do really like this car, so I'll end up doing whatever and just hating the guy who sold it to me forever! World keeps on spinning.

Thanks again and I'll post back any developments.

floyd86uk 12-05-2018 06:16 AM

Hi All,

Just thought I'd update on this issue. Unfortunately, the connector was squeaky clean and totally free from moisture of any kind and the voltage doesn't dip below 13.5 at any point before, during or after it goes into failsafe.

After clearing the fault codes a few weeks back, another scan has shown this one again:

5088 - Sensor gearbox selector switch

In fact, it was the only fault in the transmission this time.

I'm told that this is not in the gear stick selector itself, but right up inside the trans on my 2004 X5. A faulty one can also be responsible for the gears clinging on for too long and slamming around apparently.

At present, it seems that it's not possible to order this part from BMW without getting a whole mechatronic unit for the GA6HP26Z. Being the type who likes to dig in, I won't be taking that and have done some digging around. I found this video and it describes my issue almost exactly - apart from the fact that my X5 does start every time.


The gentleman in the video sends the TCU off to a company called Soft Electronic in Bulgaria to be repaired and they send it back good to go. Just wondering if anyone here has done the same thing and can vouch for the service, if I was to go this route?

I'm going to wait and see what the mechanic comes back with regarding spare parts. Luckily, he is my step-brother, so I'm sure he will try his best to do me as many solids as he possibly can on this!


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