Low oil, big problem? '94 325

I've googled but don't feel confident about what I found. Any help is appreciated.
My friend, who doesn't have near as much money as most BMW owners, was
driving today and her '94 325 BMW automatic transmission went out of gear. She moved the shift lever to 3 and still out of gear, so she moved it to 2, and it caught and she drove back to work slowly.
Later in the parking lot, she was able to drive it normally for a couple hundred feet, but she didn't try to go farther than that.
No obvious evidence of leaking, but I suppose it could still just be leaking, yes???
She's going to take it in, but if the problem is worse than a leak, could it also be less than needing a new or rebuilt trans? Is there something for $100 or 200 that could account for this?
If it is just leaking, can I once in a while check the level and add more fluid if necessary?? (She doesn't want to spend a lot because she was already planning to buy a new car.)
If I do add trans fluid, what am I supposed to use?? She's convinced normal ATF is not acceptable. Obviously a '94 is out of warranty, but we don't want to ruin the transmission for the next owner if it's not ruined already.
I gather there is a bolt on the passenger side of the transmission to add fluid. It's easy to find, right? And takes a standard metric wrench? If it's hard to get under the car, any reason a trustworthy gas station can't add fluid?
Thanks a lot,
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Sorry about the thread title. I meant transmission fluid, and I don't know it is actually low, but if it's not low, I expect the repair will be very expensive. So I was thinking "low". If the answers don't apply this time, they will for her next car.
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mm wrote:

It's not likely to be low trans fluid. More likely some worn components or sticking valves.
Yes, many of these cars use special "lifetime" fluid depending on which model of transmission it actually is. So don't just dump Dexron III in there until you determine what is correct.
Bring it to a reputable transmission specialist and if one of the first words out of their mouths is "rebuild" before even doing a teardown go find another that will actually diagnose the problem first.
It may be expense, but it also might not be.
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Fred W wrote:

Could very well be low and/or burned oil. I've known a few auto boxes come back to life after a top-up (followed by numerous flushes and refills)
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In my experience "reputable transmission specialist" is an oxymoron of the first magnitude.
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What he said.
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On 28 Jun 2006 07:31:53 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.co.uk wrote:

Thanks. That's good to know, for next time and for me wrt other makes. They say it's bad and will be 1500 to repair or rebuild. This would be ok if she hadn't had the thing rebuilt only 2 1/2 years ago at the same place. They charged 1800 then and say they are charging less now because it only lasted such a short time.
Apparently she had it repaired or rebuilt on location last time. They didnt seem to offer her a "factory" rebuilt trans. My impression is that those are better than shop rebuilt, because they do them over and over, have more space, and replace more parts, not just the ones that have failed or are near failure, but everything that ever fails (maybe other than freak things that have only failed once.)
Do they have "factory" rebuilt transmissions for BMW? I don't mean the BMW factory but some place that does nothing but rebuilding, no installation.
She doesn't want to keep towing it all over the place, and I guess she shopped last time. But it is annoying to pay the same place twice in 3 years.
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It's common practice to replace all the wearing parts when overhauling an auto - and those non wearing parts that have a history of failing. Also the torque converter if there are any signs of fluid contamination. The labour cost is so much more than the parts that it doesn't make sense not to. No specialist worth the name will simply repair a fault if it means removing the box.
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On Thu, 29 Jun 2006 23:32:04 +0100, "Dave Plowman (News)"

Well I doubt they will tell her what specific part they found that didn't work, even though I would love to know.
What's the difference between factory rebuilders and in-shop rebuilders? And have you all not heard that factory rebuilders do a better job?
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No reason why they shouldn't? It is possible to diagnose most auto faults by going through a series of checks even if it doesn't have electronic diagnostics built in.

If it is the factory that made the transmission - ie ZF in this case - they probably should do a better job since they have access to any modifications, etc. However, there's no intrinsic reason why a specialist can't equal their standards.
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how the hell does a rebuild only last a couple of years ? does she drive between alaska and mexico all the time ?
sounds like a ripoff. go somewhere else.
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