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  1. #1
    Saab Fan
    Join Date
    22 Oct 2019
    Nevada, USA
    2009 9-5 Griffin Sedan, 2001 9-3 Viggen Convertible, 1985 900 Turbo 3dr Combi

    Saab 9-3 - Manual Transmission Fluid change

    These instructions are for a simple drain and refill of the FM55 manual transmission used in various Saabs including the OG 9-3s and 9-5s.

    Tools needed:
    • drain pan
    • transmission funnel
    • 8mm hex bit and/or 8mm hex L-key (aka hex key, Allen key)
    • various socket extensions
    • ratchet driver
    • breaker bar or other means of adding leverage (e.g. jack handle, pipe, etc.)
    • right angle pick (optional)
    • floor jack
    • ramps and/or jack stands
    • wheel chocks

    Parts/supplies needed:
    • nitrile or mechanics gloves
    • degreaser and/or brake parts cleaner
    • 2 quarts/liters manual transmission fluid
    • thread sealant
    • paint pen
    • zip ties(to secure funnel to charge pipe)
    • rags, empty plastic bottles (for used fliud)

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    Difficulty rating (scale of 1 to 5): 2 – Easy to moderate.
    Without a lift you’ll be jacking and lowering the car several times, creeping under the car, etc so time and patience will be required. Additionally, loosening the plugs takes some serious muscle and some means of additional leverage.

    Time Estimate: 2-5 hours, depending on your mechanical skills, available tools, etc.

    Refernces: You may wish to refer to the WIS information on the manual transmission for your specific year/model at www.saabwisonline.com, or to this post for the 9-5 which runs a variant of the same FM55 transmission: http://saabworld.net/showthread.php?t=687. I’ll be adding to the WIS information rather than repeating most of it.

    Type of manual transmission fluid: Saab MTF0063 fluid specified (see note)
    SAAB 93165290 – GM synthetic manual transmission fluid, made in Germany
    $12.65/liter bottle at eSAABPARTS.com, plus shipping

    Red Line 50204 - MTL 75W80 GL-4 gear oil, synthetic, made in USA
    $17.50/quart bottle eSAABPARTS.com, plus shipping

    Important note on recommended fluid
    Saab switched over to MTF0063 specification fluid in its manual transmissions for model year 2002. For additional information refer to GenuineSaab.com. If you’re changing the fluid in your gearbox for the first time ever, and its a MY99-01 car, you may reference technical news bulletin TN-02-04-471 that essentially outlines a more elaborate “flush” process to switch over to this newer fluid.


    Saab used synthetic gearbox fluid as factory fill and did not specify a change interval (ie they considered it a lifetime fluid). I'm not a believer in such fairy tales, so I’m gonna change it on the same recommended interval as engine coolant – 40k miles or 3 years, whichever comes first.

    There are three (3) plugs in the manual transmission that we’ll be working with. Breaking these plugs loose is a bear, by design apparently. These plugs have 8mm hex fittings, feature tapered threads that compress very tightly and seal with the help of a thread sealant.
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    Gearbox endview - looking inboard from the left wheel

    Work completed for your reference here was done on my recently purchased 2001 9-3 Viggen convertible, with the 2.3L 4-cylinder B235R engine mated to the FM55 401 manual 5-speed transmission. The car is (was) nearly 20 years old and has clocked 110,000 miles. I have some service records from the previous owner which details a full clutch service done by a reputable Indy shop in 2015 at 84,800 miles. Helpfully, they note that gearbox was refilled with the Red Line MTL so I’ll be sticking with that.


    My suggestion is to break open all three plugs as a first or preliminary step, with the engine/tranny cold, just to make sure you have the tools and brawn to see it all the way through. I was (barely) able to get these cracked open with 3/8” drive tools, so should you. If successful in breaking them open, you can a) get straight into it, or b) re-tighten/snug the plugs back up and start the work at a later point in time. Otherwise, if you’re unable to break them open then maybe order some bigger/better hand tools or consider scheduling an appointment with your local independent Saab shop.

    Open the hood and locate the fill plug on top of the gearbox, looking down from the top left side of the engine compartment. Clean/degrease the hex fitting in the head of the plug and around the plug as well.

    Tip#1 – you want your 8mm hex tool seated as deeply as possible into the plugs so that you won’t strip/round them. Use some brake parts cleaner and a right-angle pick to clean out the hex fitting in each plug as you reach them in the procedure.

    Break open the fill plug. I used a 3/8” drive 8mm hex socket tied to a long wobble extension. Ensure the hex bit seats fully into the plug fitting.
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    Note:If you are simply unable to break open the fill plug, it is possible to use the level hole to pump fluid into the gearbox (that’s the only way to do it on some European cars actually), but its much easier to do from the fill hole on top.

    Once the fill plug is cracked open, just resnug it. We’ll be coming back to it later.

    Working with the level and drain plugs requires you to access from below, and thus you will need to raise the car. Two options here, namely a) raise and lower the front/left-front of the car several times throughout the procedure, or b) raise all four corners of the car once. Pros and cons to each, but I chose raise the front end only as there isn’t a rear jacking point on the Viggen to allow proper placement of the jack stands on the rear pinch rail locations.

    So then, raise front of car on ramps and/or jack stands to allow you to comfortably locate, clean, and break open the level and drain plugs from below the car. We won’t be draining any fluid just yet, so using ramps for this step is fine. However, the car must be lowered to level ground to completely drain the fluid (and complete the fill), not very feasible with the car on ramps. If using jack stands, chock one of the rear wheels for safety (not visible in picture below as the chocks are on the right rear wheel).
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    Locate the drain plug, which is located near center/bottom of the case up against the subframe rail. Clean out the hex fitting in the plug with your pick/degreaser.
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    There is just enough room to insert your standard 8mm hex L-key (aka Allen key) into the drain plug fitting – no, you’re not gonna get a socket&ratchet in there. You’ll need a long extension to add leverage to the L-key – I used a handle from a floor jack. Once she’s cracked open, snug the drain plug back up before moving on.
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    Lastly break free the level plug, located just to the rear of the left driveshaft. There is sufficient room between the suspension and frame to allow use of an 8mm hex socket, medium extension, and ratchet/breaker bar. Once broken free, snug the level plug back up.
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    Now that you’ve proven your tools and ability to get the plugs out, you’ve got the difficult part done in my opinion. Well done Lower the front of the car. Take a break here or come back to it later?

    Moving on….
    Draining the old fluid

    Take the car for a short drive to warm up the transmission fluid to operating temperatures, which will aid in draining. Plugs have been re-snugged, but perhaps not to anything near final torque specs, so don’t go on any long trips for now

    Prepare a level area to complete the remainder of the procedure. The car must be level to get the proper fluid fill. My garage floor slopes abit, so I placed some concrete pavers under the front wheels to get the car level.
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    Chock one of the rear wheels, Jack up the left (transmission side) front corner of the car, install jack stand under subframe additional safety. NEVER ever work under a car only supported by a jack

    Install drip pan and drain pan under the drain plug location. Remove the drain plug using the 8mm L-key, with the last few turns done by hand before the plugs lets go and you get that invariably surprising gush of fluid Fluid will be hot, wear gloves and take appropriate precautions to avoid scalding yourself. You’ll want to measure the amount of fluid drained for reference, so do your best to capture it all in the drain pan. Like me, you might have to fish out the drain plug from the bottom of a drain pan full of stinky old fluid

    Remove the level plug using the 8mm hex socket, medium extension and ratchet.

    Lower the car back down so that the car sits level again and allow the gearbox to drain completely. The fill hole is still plugged up top, but air will come into the gearbox through the level hole and allow fluid to drain completely.

    Clean the level and drain plugs, inspect the threads closely. Note that the drain plug has a magnetic insert (supposedly removable, I didn’t bother but should have). If the drain plug’s tip has a large amount of metal on it you might photograph this and consult with a mechanic, as it could be a sign of problems. In the photo below you’ll see the metallic “sludge” I wiped off the drain plug tip – quite abit more than I was expecting if I’m honest given that my gearbox had been drained previously
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    Once again, jack up the left front of the car and support with jack stand. Retrieve the drain pan from under the car. As mentioned earlier I like to measure the amount of fluid drained from the car, just to know how much was there and as a second check against the recommended fill volume. I got about 1.75 liters of old fluid collected, roughly estimated from me emptying the drain pan into a 1.5 liter lemonade jug and a 591ml PowerAde bottle.
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    Reinstalling the drain plug

    Clean the drain plug threads and seating area on the gearbox casing with a clean rag. Thread sealant is recommended for the plugs, per WIS. Perhaps something like Loctite PST 592 might be ideal. I used what I had, which was your everyday 242 blue threadlocker (not technically a sealant, but…). Install and tighten the drain plug. Torque specifications for the three plugs are all 50Nm / 37 lb ft. It’s not possible to get a torque wrench on the drain plug however, given the proximity of the subframe member, so I just guesstimated tightness as best I could. At this point you may choose to use a paint pen to mark a line across the plug and casing, allowing a visual check that the drain plug isn’t coming loose.

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    If you have a mechanic’s mirror, you should be able to observe the drain plug and paintline without having to get back under the car.

    Filling the gearbox

    Lower the car back down so that the car sits level again. Open the hood and once again locate the fill plug.

    Remove the fill plug using the 8mm hex socket, long extension(s) and ratchet. Carefully clean any remaining debris from around the fill hole with a rag. Clean the fill plug and set aside.

    Insert the end of the hose from the transmission funnel into the fill hole in the gearbox. I secured the top of the funnel to the charge pipe using a couple of zip ties, so that I could have both hands free when filling the gearbox.

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    Clean drain pan and place it under the gearbox (centered on the drain plug, not the level plug. Trust me

    Pour the first liter bottle of your new manual transmission fluid into the funnel.
    Tip #2 - Two (2) quarts is roughly the 1.9L of fluid WIS says will be needed to fill a “dry” gearbox. Saab technical news bulletin TN 02-04-471 hints that a ‘wet’ gearbox (ie following a drain) will likely take between 1.5-1.8 liters to fill. DO NOT just dump in two quarts – that will put too much fluid – as your gearbox isn’t “dry”.

    Begin pouring your second liter of fluid into the funnel. At 1.5 liters or so, stop and check under the car for dripping fluid into your drain pan. Add the remaining fluid abit at a time to the funnel, checking the drain pan below for dripping. While the fill hole is a fair ways rearward of the drain hole, once the gearbox is full of fluid it will begin to drip from the level hole, down and along the side of the casing, finally dripping from near the drain hole location (the lowest point on the casing). It actually looks like fluid is leaking from the drain plug (don’t worry, its not). Once dripping is observed, the gearbox is full. Mine took about 1.7 liters before dripping started. Not super visible in the picture below…
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    Remove the zip ties and funnel. Place thread sealant on the fill plug, insert the plug into the fill hole and torque down.

    Reinstalling the level plug

    One last time, raise the left front of the car and install jack stand. Place thread sealant on the level plug. From under the car wipe excess fluid from the casing and insert the plug into the level hole and torque down.

    Remove the drain pan. Lower the car. Remove the chocks on the rear wheel.

    Start the car, check for any leaks one more time, take it out for a road test. I was able to detect a slight improvement in the smoothness of the shifting. Hopefully that improvement isn’t just in my head (can you say positive bias), but what is in there is piece of mind from knowing my gearbox is being well cared for.

    Took abit of the old fluid out of the smaller PowerAde bottle and put it into a cup, compared against new fluid for reference. Clean fluid is better!
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    Don’t forget to properly dispose of your oil fluid. Its gear oil, so your local auto parts store should take it for recycling.

  2. #2
    Administrator nordwulf's Avatar
    Join Date
    30 Jul 2010
    USA - Netherlands
    previous: 2006 9-3, 2001-06 9-5, 2011 9-4X
    Great tutorial!

    Thanks for taking the time to document the process and include great pictures.

  3. #3
    Saab Fan
    Join Date
    22 Oct 2019
    Nevada, USA
    2009 9-5 Griffin Sedan, 2001 9-3 Viggen Convertible, 1985 900 Turbo 3dr Combi
    thanks Frank. Hoping its useful and that others might add or suggest improvements. Someone with experience on these thread sealants, or with other saab-spec fluids would be nice!



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