BMW E61 Hydraulic Liftgate Pump Rebuild

The liftgate hydraulic pump in my 2010 BMW 535xi Touring lost hydraulic fluid level about 2 years following a quick fluid level top off. This time, there were two issues: i) bad seals on the liftgate cylinder; and ii) failure of the seal in the hydraulic pump accumulator piston, leading to leakage below the pump. 

I'll do a writeup on replacement of the lift cylinder separately. This post describes the replacement of seals and o-rings in the pump assembly.

BMW Hydraulic Liftgate Accumulator bore, piston and spring following dissasembly

When your liftgate starts struggling to reach the full open position, troubleshooting is fairly straightforward. The pump is located in the rear compartment, directly below the liftgate cylinder on the left hand side of the car, attached the left rear fender. To access, remove the left hand rear storage compartment door, then remove any audio components hindering access. Be very careful disconnecting the fibre optic connections on the audio components.

BMW Hydraulic Pump - low fluid level, fluid weeping from the accumulator (left side of pump)

Once you can see the pump, you'll note the "+" sign on the side of the plastic fluid reservoir. The oil level should be in the center of the "+" sign. In my case, the fluid reservoir was nearly empty, with traces of hydraulic fluid dripping from the accumulator housing (to the left of the fluid reservoir). 

Unfix the pump, lift to show bottom of accumulator and fluid weeping from vent hole

There are some gymnastics required to unfix the pump. Some can remove the pump without removing the left rear cargo area trim panel. If you're removing the pump for a rebuild, it may be easier to take the time to remove the trim panel. 

Once you have the pump removed from the car, and the hydraulic lines to the cylinder disconnected, you're ready to work on the replacement of seals. In the photo below, working clockwise from 12 o-clock, you have the motor top right. You have the mechanical pump mid right - between the motor and reservoir. The reservoir is bottom right. To the left of the reservoir is a hydraulic accumulator (a piston and spring designed to maintain hydraulic pressure, which holds the liftgate in the open position without the motor / pump running.) Just above the accumulator is a valve body, where the hydraulic lines connect and where the pressure sensor (top left) connects. 
Right side: Motor, pump and reservoir. Left side: Accumulator, valve body, and pressure sensor.

Removing the pressure sensor is straightforward. Remove the two hex head cap screws, and pull the pressure sensor straight up. The pressure sensor is sealed with a single o-ring - 9mm x 2mm. (All o-rings mentioned in this post are described by inside diameter (ID) then thickness. For outside diameter (OD) - double thickness and add to the ID.)

Pressure sensor with cap screws, and o-ring seal at base

I removed the motor, it is sealed to the pump with a single o-ring (41.6 x 2.4mm). I made no attempts to remove any pump components, I removed the pump, tried not to change the indexing of the drive spring, replaced the o-ring and replaced the motor. 
Motor removed. The o-ring stayed in the pump recess, it removed with a pick. 

In order to remove the accumulator piston, you need to split the two halves of the pump assembly. There are two long hex head countersunk screws which hold the two halves together. When you split the two halves, you'll note 5 oil passages which are sealed with small o-rings (4 x 1.5mm). Replacing these o-rings is very simple, just pop out of their recesses and clean any debris with a clean, lint free rag. 
Left and right halves separated - note 5 sealing o-rings.

Once you have the two halves separated, you can disassemble the accumulator. There are four hex head countersunk screws which hold the bottom plate to the accumulator body. Remove them slowly, and remove them equally (a few turns on each screw in rotation) because the bottom plate of the accumulator is under spring pressure. By separating the two halves of the pump, you ensure that the piston is at the top of the bore by removing any hydrostatic pressure remaining under spring tension. 

Accumulator piston removed from bore, note bits of piston seal disintegrating, dirty fluid

The piston will only come out of the bore with the two halves separated. Try to remove the piston square to the bore - to avoid the metal edges of the piston from scoring the aluminum bore. Same when replacing the piston, avoid rocking the piston in the bore, and insert squarely. The piston is a urethane U-cup seal, 35mm ID, 45mm OD, 7mm tall. 

Accumulator disassembled - piston, seal, spring, base and screws

Old accumulator piston seal on the left, new urethane U-cup seal on the right

New seal on the piston, old seal on the right
The final seals which are replaceable are the reservoir to pump seal which is a 39.4 x 3.1mm o-ring, and the reservoir drain/fill port, which is a 6.1 x 1.6mm o-ring. Reassemble in the reverse order of disassembly. Ensure that the accumulator is reassembled before assembling the two pump halves. 

After having rebuilt the pump, and disconnected / reconnected the cylinder hoses, you will need to bleed air out of the system. Reinstall the pump in it's normal location behind the left rear wheel well, but keep the reservoir off the pump. I used some 1/4" vinyl tubing to draw oil from my replacement oil can, and to reject oil and froth from the return line to an empty aluminum can. 

Bleeding the pump using vinyl hose. Note froth returning to the aluminum can. 

I used AeroShell 41 Hydraulic Fluid for this repair

Once the froth turns to a consistent air free oil flow, you can stop bleeding, remove the vinyl hoses, and partially replace the reservoir cup. I then refilled the reservoir using a syringe and vinyl hose to get the fluid level back to the "+" sign on the side of the reservoir. I used a regular stainless steel band clamp to hold the reservoir on the pump. 

Refilling the reservoir with the pump mounted in the car

Reservoir replaced, topped up to the correct level. 
I purchased extra seals when I completed this project, I'll put some seal kits up for sale on eBay for anyone interested in doing this repair.



Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below. 




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4 comments:

  1. how long did it take you to get all the air out of the system?

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    Replies
    1. It wasn't long - 3 or 4 cycles and it was cycling fine.

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    2. Well I am having a problem that it doesn't take it up form the moment where it is fully closed but only when you help it with the first bit and it doesn't fully open aswell. Still cant find what it exactly is, did the process of bleeding the air out which was my first thought.

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    3. Couple of ideas - have you replaced the non-powered strut on the right side? Is the range of motion set to full in idrive?

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