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What's killing so many GM torque converters? (320d '03)

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What's killing so many GM torque converters? (320d '03)

Postby Autonils » Mon, 31 May 2010 16:04:21 UTC

Hi all,

at only 60.000+ miles my 320d '03 (acually 09/2002), 150bhp, GM automatic transmission (A5S 390R),
the torque converter has given up and is being replaced. The sympthoms were a deep rubling noise and
uneven pulling/jerking sensation under light throttle on a slight incline at 1500-2000 revs.

I find it unsettling just replacing torque converter while the reason remains unknown.
My car is original and unmapped, has never been used with a trailer, has always been driven gently etc.

Any ideas on what could be causing these torque converters/gearboxes to fail? The gearbox specs
(390nm torque) indicate that the 320d engine would be no match (the same box used in the 330d?).

One theory is that the engine mounts are losing their flexibility and dampening properties as they
age, causing too much engine vibration. Another theory is overheating of the the oil caused by much low
speed driving/idling. Manufacture defects? I believe that the "new" torque converters sold by BMW
workshops are not really new, but actually refurbished, as the damaged ones are returned to the factory.
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Postby solly » Mon, 31 May 2010 22:25:59 UTC

Unsure as the actual cause of these failures but my '05 330d auto box recently failed at 43k ish miles. When I phoned for quotes every repairer / refurbisher said the boxes are just weak and unable to cope with the power/torque produced. I went for a full rebuild and 36k/3year warranty whiuch was just as well as 2k miles later the whole thing went again and had to return for another rebuild. I was informed that anything less than a full rebuild with upgraded parts would result in further failure down the line. These are known to be weak boxes and I'm afraid it appears that you are either "lucky" and get to get to 100k + miles or like me unlucky.
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Postby tenchiten » Mon, 31 May 2010 22:40:29 UTC

Does any knowledgeable person know exactly which auto gearbox was fitted to exactly which models ?
I think there were two types fitted to the e46 (I think) one being the GM box and the other, erm a different one :oops:

Am I right ? and if so what are the pros and cons of each unit ?
325Ci Sport Auto.. With a few adjustments.
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Postby Autonils » Tue, 01 Jun 2010 12:02:53 UTC

If you know the production date of the car, you can use www.realoem.com or bmwfans.info to see what type of gearbox was fitted by the factory. In the case of my 320d it says "A5S 390R - XR". With a little googling, the numbers should translate into either GM or ZF, the former in my case. Maybe there is a simpler way to tell, but it works...
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Postby tenchiten » Tue, 01 Jun 2010 12:20:01 UTC

Cheers I'll give it a go :wink:
325Ci Sport Auto.. With a few adjustments.
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Postby Shuggie » Sun, 13 Jun 2010 07:48:51 UTC

Autonils

What was the outcome with your car? Did it need a whole new torque converter?

Cheers

Shuggie
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Postby Autonils » Mon, 14 Jun 2010 09:50:59 UTC

Shuggie wrote:What was the outcome with your car? Did it need a whole new torque converter?


Actually, my torque converter is being replaced today... :(
During a (very) few miles of gentle driving, the rumbling noises, vibration and uneven
pulling got A LOT worse. The whole car was literally shaking, and at 1500-1600 rpms it
was so bad that I started expecting that a full breakdown was just around the corner...
thankfully I made it to the nearest BMW garage.
There were no error codes registered, but according to the mechanics there was no
doubt that (at least) the torque coverter needed to be replaced... Fingers crossed that
the actual gearbox hasn't been damaged...

It is worth noting that desipte the parts catalog saying that the 320d gearboxes should
be a A5S 390R, the actual labeling on the gearbox says 360R. Why would BMW stop
supplying new 360Rs just like that? Hmmm....

Autonils
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Postby E39mad » Mon, 14 Jun 2010 10:06:33 UTC

They also fit GM boxes to the E39 diesels rather than the ZF box in the E39 petrols. There are cases of GM box failures in these cars but it tends to be at 100k + miles.
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Postby Shuggie » Sat, 26 Jun 2010 13:03:49 UTC

Autonils wrote:Actually, my torque converter is being replaced today... Sad
During a (very) few miles of gentle driving, the rumbling noises, vibration and uneven
pulling got A LOT worse. The whole car was literally shaking, and at 1500-1600 rpms it
was so bad that I started expecting that a full breakdown was just around the corner...
thankfully I made it to the nearest BMW garage.
There were no error codes registered, but according to the mechanics there was no
doubt that (at least) the torque coverter needed to be replaced... Fingers crossed that
the actual gearbox hasn't been damaged...


Since my car does show the same "cattle grid" vibration symptoms, although irregularly and without the uneven pulling and shaking, I had a chat today with J Dain transmission repairs in Norwich, who had previously changed the car's transmission fluid and filters for a very reasonable fee. They said that, although there are known failures with the GM torque converter, the "cattle grid" vibration is primarily slippage in the lock-up clutch, which may be caused by common faults in one of the sets of control valves in the 'box, which can be changed for only a couple of hundred pounds (only one set of valves needs attention, so the whole valve block doesn't need to be changed at huge cost). In many cases, apparently, this resolves the lock-up clutch and vibration issue, since the replaced valves then control the clutch mechanism properly. So, J Dain advise that I have those valves changed, which does not entail removal of the 'box or torque converter, and if the problem has gone away, then it's job done. The valves would need to be changed along with the torque converter anyway, so it seems sensible advice to me. The cost of a re-manufactured torque converter, including labour charges is relatively low according to J Dain, certainly a fraction of the costs mentioned in the various GM autobox threads here on BMWland.

Autonils - is your car back to good health now?
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