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Oil Transfers ...moving someplace other
than where it belongs.  Water in the oil.  Transmission
input shaft seal. Transmission & rear drive lubricants.
Installing speedometer boot at the transmission.

Copyright, 2012, R. Fleischer
article 49

1. If the REAR DRIVE has excess oil; or, a reduction in oil level, and the driveshaft oil level is changing, the seal at the rear drive input may need replacing.    If the top (oil inlet) vent on the rear drive is spewing oil you may simply be starting up in very cold weather, possibly with a frozen-up breather vent; or using the wrong gear oil viscosity and quality.  Later model driveshafts that are run dry, such as GS should remain dry.  More a few paragraphs below.

It is possible for a clogged vent (the hollow speedometer cable bolt where the battery negative cable attaches) to allow the driveshaft housing to both pressurize or have a vacuum with a temperature change;  such effects could allow a 'sucking' of oil forward, past the rear drive's input seal (or, a pressurized driveshaft housing forcing oil into the rear drive) this is an area to check first, as checking it is VERY simple, check the hollow bolt. THAT speedometer hollow bolt vent is NOT the vent being discussed just below.  

Early models (/5 in particular) had more potential for driveshaft oil to appear to get by the rear drive input seal and fill the rear drive.  On all early models (I do it on some later ones too!) ....when I fit the pinion gear and nut, I put Permatex non-hardening Form-a-Gasket on the splines for the input gear (and Loctite BLUE on the threads where the nut tightens).    It is possible for oil to get behind the splines of the input gear, behind the nut, and behind the seal containing outer threaded ring....and thus those areas have some sort of sealant applied.  The oil travels right along those splined areas, getting past the seal.   That nut must be VERY tight, see the torque specification page on this website.....and if it loosens, bad mechanical things happen.  Later models have a thick plastic washer behind the input nut, and it deforms, so when removed, you see internal teeth formed from the splines in that washer.  This washer seals the splines from oil passing to the drive innards.  It was not used until later models.

The very earliest /5 models did not have a driveshaft and transmission venting system quite like the 1972+ models, and the rubber accordion could, if quite cold, reduce its size due to a slight vacuum in the driveshaft housing; and, be torn up some by the U-joint.  A fix is possible.  The same rubber accordion could expand rather a lot when the driveshaft housing was hot. See:

Now and then I hear of someone having a rear drive that has vented oil to the outside.  This is USUALLY reported in the Wintertime.   There can be several causes:   
a.  Rear brake drag is overheating the oil and it is spewing out the vent.

b.  If the weather is very cold, the inner gears will throw the very cold oil upwards & tend to plug the breather; or, moisture collected and the breather is frozen closed.   It is OK to run the oil level half an inch or so low, and when the rear drive heats up from normal riding, the phenomena stops.

c.  If the input gear (pinion nut) is loose, not uncommonly seen, oil can work its way past the input seal, from driveshaft to rear drive.  If the nut loosens more than a little, the gears can be ruined, $$$$.

d.  CHECK the rear drive oil level now and then.   The original specification normal oil level is at the very bottom of the threads of the filler plug on very early models. It is really much more than needed.  On later models, there is an oil level inspection plug (extreme rear, centered, small hex plug).   That inspection plug must not be over-tightened and.. proper oil level is such that the oil barely runs out, if plug is removed. 

e.  The amount of oil FOR THE DRIVESHAFT is best measured and then installed. I suggest you use these values:
For the /5 use 100cc; later models use 150 cc. 

As little as 50 CC left in the driveshaft housing would likely be more than enough to lubricate everything, primarily the spline and gear cup to the rear drive, and it is questionable if anything much gets into the universal joint. The driveshaft level is hardly critical.  Some folks simply measure the oil and install the measured amount. I do it that way.  It is also possible, sometimes, to use a tiny screwdriver or a very small allen wrench out of the on-bike tool kit as a measuring stick, stuck in sideways, in the filler hole, which is located on the nose of the rear drive, but there can be errors if the driveshaft angle is flatter and so the only reliable method is measurement by volume.    BTW, if the oil is put into the filler hole too rapidly, it will bubble up and overflow. Drizzle it in slowly.

It is rather common for oil to transfer TO THE TRANSMISSION.  Sacked rear end will do that, as well as mountain riding, and a few other things.   It is an annoyance, only.  For really long tours, if I am riding a bike known to transfer oil to the transmission from the driveshaft housing, I keep a modest sized plastic syringe with a few inches of attached plastic line, in my tool kit...for transferring oil.     You can improvise a wedge for the center stand so the bike tilts slightly to the right, to avoid transmission oil flowing out the transmission oil filler port.  I have never seen, nor heard, of any airhead having the driveshaft run dry from this oil transference to the transmission.  BTW: I am not worried about transferring oil that is molecularly somewhat sheared by transmission gears, back to the driveshaft. Or from any of the three places back to any other of those places.  MORE on oil transfers INTO the transmission, in section 3., below.

2. If the transmission level has been lowering, it could be a faulty transmission output seal.  It can also be the 13 mm headed bolt located in the center of the top of the transmission.  Use a sealant on the bolt threads and its washer.  I use Permatex non-hardening Form-a-Gasket.  Oil is being sucked up into the air cleaner housing and then to the carburetors if it gets by the 13 mm headed bolt.

If you are doing an input spline lubrication, and see the input seal of the transmission leaking at all...fix it NOW! is NOT difficult.  Oil can move forward into the clutch area, due to that leaking faulty transmission input seal. Replacing the input seal CAN be done carefully, without doing too much other than removing the transmission.  Drill a small hole into the metal part, insert a sheet metal or dry wall screw, and remove the seal.  You can do it with a fashioned puller and two such screws at 180 degrees. Several ways.  Just do NOT pry with a screwdriver and injure the sealing surface.

The seal that the shift lever goes through into the transmission fails now and then.  You do NOT have to remove the transmission to fix that. Tilt the bike to the right, and remove and replace the seal.

The transmission of the early Paralever models (Paralever models have dry drive-shafts) have an open, not sealed, and too large, V shaped vent hole, located just forward of the transmission output flange (that's the part on the transmission output shaft that the U-joint bolts to) is...just above, at 12:00 position, of the transmission output seal (that seal, green, has the open end, spring end, facing rearward on the Paralever model).   Paralever models should have that hole plugged with RTV silicone compound (or something similar), and then a very tiny hole put in it.  Later models don't have it.    NOTE what I said about the green seal...the Paralever models have the output seal (no matter color) put in REVERSED from the the other models.

3. A problem seen now and then is oil transfer from the wet type driveshaft to the transmission. The common complaint is something like: "I checked the oil in the transmission and it was overfilled, and the shaft housing was low by the same amount". For some folks this happens relatively quickly, few miles being needed...and for some only after long rides. What you can do is to put a thin piece of wood under the left leg of the center stand...which cants the bike slightly to the right. This wedge is for preventing oil from flowing out onto the ground.  Unscrew the left side transmission filler/inspection plug, and remove some oil, I use a large-animal type plastic syringe with a bit of tubing forced onto the tip.  I've seen up to 80 CC needing transfer.  Move an estimated amount of oil from the transmission to the driveshaft; remove the wedge and tilt the bike back slowly, to avoid oil running out.... rechecking as you do so, the transmission oil level. Repeat until level is just at bottom of the transmission filler and oil check threads.  The situation is not a serious problem, mostly it is an annoyance.  It is almost impossible to fix this cheaply.  Don't think about fancy venting ideas, they likely won't work. 

Primary Causes for this transfer of driveshaft oil TO the transmission:

a. Sagged suspension.

b. Nivomat rear suspension units...which take a very short ride or a few bumps to self-pump up....these were stock items on some RT models, optional on others. Nivomats after roughly 1982 pump up faster. 

c. Plugged breather passages/holes: there are two. The one that sometimes gets plugged is the small diameter hole in the special hollow bolt that holds the speedometer cable and battery negative wire. If that hollow bolt plugs up, you will pressurize the driveshaft housing. If conditions (heat especially) are bad enough, the accordion rubber will swell up. There is a bit of knowledge needed here, because on the very early /5, mentioned earlier, there is no vent into the transmission. See below for description of the other breather hole.  NOTE that it IS possible for that tiny hole to be plugged and have a VACUUM appear in the transmission and driveshaft, and that can suck oil out of the rear drive, forward.

d. Considerable steep downhill riding, like in the mountains.

e. Heavy 2-up or heavy rider or both.

f. Very bumpy roads.

g. Overfilled driveshaft housing.  The amount of oil needed is actually quite small, 50 cc is enough for lubrication of the rear drive input gear, 150 is the typical amount recommended for all after the /5 (use 100cc for it).    The oil does not need, nor should it be, filled to 1/8" above the 'bell' located straight down from the filler hole opening as sometimes recommended.  BMW originally, on early models, said to fill the oil level to, depending on where one finds the information, 'the filler plug'; OR, the lower threads;...ETC.  DO NOT.   If you slide a small tiny screwdriver blade down through the filler port hole, sideways alongside the internal bell, and see any oil at the tip when it is removed, you have MORE than plenty enough.

If the suspension has sacked out some, that way of measuring is not accurate.  So, the best way to check the level is to drain thoroughly, insert the proper measured amount of oil, and then, if you want to, fashion your own measuring tool (thin and tiny, such as a jewelers screwdriver insert) for YOUR bike; although that may or may not work, if the tool cannot reach the oil.   NOTE that if the rear suspension is sacked out some, or otherwise you have the driveshaft on a flatter angle, the oil is much more likely to be transferred to the transmission, particularly in downhill riding.  

h. Combinations of the above 7 items.

i. On all models it is IMPORTANT that the hollow bolt holding the speedometer cable (and battery negative cable) at the right rear of the transmission, be open & clear ...that is, not plugged. 
Water can get into the transmission via that hollow bolt ...or ...via a bad speedometer cable boot (even rainfall does that) or, especially, by hose spraying during washing ...and it will destroy the transmission bearings!  NEVER spray water at this speedometer bolt and boot area when washing the bike.   See the control cables article #7b:

This is also the ONLY breather for the transmission (on most models) and the driveshaft.   Clogging is often only noticed in very hot weather, when the large accordion boot would swell up.  The pressure can force oil out of the boot, even forward.   Never over-tighten this bolt, it may fracture.  Snip a tiny section of the battery lug, so you do not have to remove, only loosen, the bolt to disconnect the battery cable.  There is supposed to be two washers on this bolt; one is waverly; be sure you have them, and put the battery lug between the flat one and transmission. 

j. The very earliest 4 speed transmissions did not have the vent at the rear of transmission, above the seal.  Thus the accordion boot does tend to swell-up, as the driveshaft area heats up.  Leave it alone, unless you love playing with things like drilling or machining holes in transmissions.

Installing speedometer cable rubber boot at the transmission output area:

REMOVE the hollow bolt that holds the battery cable lug.  It also is the breather for the driveshaft (and thereby the transmission on most Airheads).  The hollow bolt SHOULD have TWO flat washers, one each on both sides of the lug, and then a locking washer against the head of the bolt; preferably that is a waverly type washer. You can modify the battery cable lug by snipping it JUST enough to allow you to push it over the hollow bolt, which allows you to disconnect the battery without completely unscrewing the hollow bolt.  By using the washers as noted, you will NOT spread the cut lug as you lightly tighten the hollow bolt.  NEVER over-tighten that hollow bolt.

ANY of the Methods, below, works fine.

Method #1:  Push the rubber back on itself and push up onto the cable with the large end upwards (pushed back on itself).  You will then be pulling the large end downward, so the small end stays upwards. Lubricate the cable and the top of the rubber (inside and outside) with a PETROLEUM grease, NOT silicone grease (often called dielectric grease at the auto-parts store); after the rubber boot is installed and the large end pulled back downward.   SOME use a drop of dish detergent, which will work fine.

Method #2:   Use a taper tool to expand the cable end of the boot, you could make a tool, but you will find a caulking tube tapered sealing cap works fine. Use petroleum grease, as above, or drop of dish detergent.

Method #3:  Install a piece of shrink tubing; lubricate it with one drop of dish detergent, push the boot up.  You can do this without the tubing too.  

Comments on those, or other methods:
Be sure you install the boot over the top of the adapter that goes into the transmission.  It is critical that the rubber boot does not leak water into the transmission.  This has been the cause for a lot of $$$ repairs.  The typical result of water into the transmission oil is that the oil looks like creamed-coffee.  My suggestion is that you either put a fair amount of grease inside the boot; or, BETTER, you seal the boot (my preferred method).  Sealing the boot is simple:

Push the top of the just installed brand-new boot down a bit, so as to expose more of the cable sheath.  CLEAN the sheath with a bit of acetone or MEK, or other fast drying solvent, using a rag.  The reason I use petroleum grease (using grease strictly for ease in installing the boot) is that silicone products are more difficult to clean off surfaces when you don't want remnants of silicone.   A piece of rag with acetone or MEK, etc., on the rag, will clean the small area easily, if petroleum grease is used. If you used a drop of detergent, clean it off with a water-dampened rag and then clean with acetone, MEK, etc.

With the top pushed-down some, and the cable and top junction well cleaned, put a small amount of black RTV sealant at the top, smooth it nicely with your finger, and then slide the top of the boot up a bit, and then reseal again slightly.  The typical leaky place is the actual top of the rubber boot, where the cable rises upwards ...the top expands with age.  That is why I use RTV at that point.

Some folks use a zip tie. That can work, but there CAN be problems.  This is especially so if the zip tie is a large one.  What happens is that tightening of the zip tie makes the top of the boot squeeze OUT OF ROUND, and can actually make things WORSE for water getting inside, and this CAN happen after awhile, long after you forgot to recheck.

After the RTV cures (allow overnight), use something like Armor-all or 303, etc., on the entire boot. This prolongs boot life, as the rubber compound BMW uses is adversely affected by smog and sunlight.


80W90 GL5 hypoid differential oil, NON-synthetic, is what BMW specified for the rear drive, transmission, & driveshaft (non-Paralever).  SOME who use synthetic oils find they have leaks.  IF you use synthetic gear oils & have leaks, I suggest you switch back to petroleum oils, & the seals may fix themselves, after a considerable number of miles.   I am not against synthetic oils.  In fact, use of them in the transmission is LIKELY to prolong the transmission life.

You do not have to use 80W90. You can also use 75W90.  

There are  wider-range oils such as 85W140, but I suggest that you DO NOT use them.... it is probably only OK for those in super hot weather and very high speeds, or pulling sidecars, or big loads, etc.  DO NOT willy-nilly change to 85W140.   MY BELIEF is that it is NOT at all any better until the rear drive is exceedingly hot.  In MOST situations, use of these wide-range gear lubricants is likely WORSE. 

04/21/2003:  Add .htm title; clarifications (minor).
02/04 and 06/2004:  minor clarifications.
03/06/2005:  Incorporate all changes and updates and fix typos.
01/21/2010:  Update, and review entire article.
06/14/2012:  Revise 9.
10/12/2012:  Add QR code; add language button; update Google Ad-Sense code; minor other.
04/30/2015:  Update article.
03/11/2016:  Update meta codes, layout, format, colors, fonts, etc.  Clarify details a bit.
09/27/2016:  Minor updates to metacodes, layout, format.

Copyright, 2012, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Monday, January 15, 2018