Your Guide to Getting Your Vehicle on the Road in Germany
The third item on my bucket list when I landed in Germany, immediately after finding a food source and securing shelter, was getting the means to exploit the autobahn to its full potential. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration, because one would need a Ferrari to accomplish that. I don’t think any writer here has anything beyond a Porsche Turbo. A fair clarification of that statement would be: I intended to find something that moved me from A to B with four wheels, would accelerate with fuel in the tank and resembled a car to a sufficient degree as not to attract the attention of the Polizei.
In Australia, that would mean checking out the classifieds, buying the car, registering it at Vic Roads and turning the ignition switch. Well, that and not drag racing within the city limits. It was with these presumptions that I entered into this venture. Unfortunately, the result was half-baked: A car that gathered dust for months while I floundered with the German regulations. So, in the spirit of community, I will share my hard earned license to drive in Deutschland.
Step 1: Find the car!
This part is a no-brainer. You find a car, you buy a car, then you drive it away. That should be easy, right? Well, not exactly. But before we get into the red tape jungle that stands between you and the road, you’ll need to know where to look for your dream machine. Apart from the obvious dealership auctions, it is worthwhile checking out the online portals. The largest online car portals are listed at the bottom of this article. But for the best bargain, the brave go to eBay's German car auctions. Believe it or not, eBay in Germany is the second largest in the world and it has an impressive car section for those willing to take a chance on the auctions. My BMW was bought on auction there and I got it at a bargain price. Mind you, all of my German friends shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them where I bought my car. So the question you need to ask yourself is:
(Cue the Clint Eastwood accent) “Are you feelin’ lucky, punk?”
Step 2: Before you buy, know what you need to get from the seller.
Cars in Germany are subject to three important regulatory systems. If you buy a vehicle that is outside the scope of what the regulations in these systems prescribe, you are left with three choices – fix it, sell it or dump it. Since none of those options involves actually driving it, understanding where your car fits into these systems is paramount when purchasing a vehicle. Often, you will come across a very cheap car that at face value seems like great value for money. Be wary when an offer looks to good to be true. Usually, these vehicles have been devalued because they can’t be driven in major metropolitan areas or are otherwise unroadworthy due to the application of these rules.
The first system is the emissions standard. Germany, like most of the EU countries, is signatory to environmental treaties which compel them to reduce pollution in urban settings. Germany, unlike most of the EU countries, actually takes every treaty it signs seriously and has implemented a system to achieve this that it strictly follows. The ins and outs of this system are complex, but what you need to know is that the vehicle you are intending to purchase must be rated a ‘4’ if you intend to drive it within city limits. You will need to either have a certificate called an ‘Abgasuntersuchung’ (abbreviated to ‘AU’) delivered with the vehicle to establish compliance with this standard or have a qualified mechanic issue a new certificate for the vehicle. It is safe to assume that if the seller is hesitant to supply this certificate, he needs an emissions check of his own!
The second system is the mechanical standard. This is a rigid and comprehensive system that is unique to Germany, for reasons I can only ascribe to their culture. Germans simply require excellence in all things mechanical. Before you can register any vehicle (and this applies to registration renewals too), you will need to acquire a ‘Hauptuntersuchung’ (abbreviated to ‘HU’) certificate. This system is overseen by the Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV), a body that exists solely for this purpose. Obtaining the certificate involves a comprehensive safety check of the vehicle by a certified mechanic, covering everything operational on the car. This includes glass, wheels, engine, brakes, lights, chassis and more. The good news is that if a seller can provide you with this certificate, the car should be in reasonable mechanical condition. The bad news is that it almost always uncovers work that needs to be done before the car can be registered. It may sound draconian, but I actually find merit in this system because it maintains a safer road environment. On a peculiar note, you can find the same certification in elevators too. That random fact should give some comfort to those readers who have a fear of elevators descending faster than the speed of an ex-pat on the autobahn.
The final system is the registration standard. There are two documents that you will need here. The first is the Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I (a small, folded up piece of paper with the registration particulars of the car) and the Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil II (a certificate that confirms the ownership of the car within Germany). The former needs to be kept in the vehicle at all times and produced to the Polizei on demand, while the latter should be stored safely elsewhere because it functions as a deed of ownership for the vehicle. You will need both documents to transfer registration of the vehicle, so make sure they are provided and match the vehicle when you acquire it. If these are missing, the Kraftfahrzeugzulassungsstelle (Vehicle Registration Office) may refuse to register your car or may deem the vehicle to be a foreign vehicle, subjecting you to 10% duty and 19% VAT on the vehicle’s value. All of these papers with their extremely long names left me scratching my head in confusion when I received them. To think, we in Australia just take a sticker that Vic Roads (the registration department) prints out for us and simply stick it to the windshield. How very unsophisticated of us!
If you’ve got your pile of paper in order, top it off with a standard contract for the sale of the vehicle and take the keys. You’re one step closer to getting into that driver’s seat.
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Step 3: The insurance hurdle – How to avoid being busted down to new driver status.
I’ve been driving for almost 20 years accident free. That translates to about 7,300 days of driving genius, with a substantial dose of switching to different sides of the road as I changed continents. So I take a measure of pride in my safe driving record, especially considering some of the places I have driven in. Not surprisingly, the German registration rules required me to obtain my own third party insurance from a German based insurer before my car registration would be processed. But imagine my surprise when I learned that no German insurer would recognise my driving record. Despite going to every major insurer in Germany, the answer was always the same: We do not accept insurance records outside of the European economic area. With no way to verify my insurance history, the quotes I received were sky high – almost 30% of the vehicle’s value annually – and all of that money for just third party insurance coverage. I was beyond words. The bureaucratic machine had busted me down to an 18 year old, albeit without the youth to match!
It took me a few months of investigation to find a way around this roadblock. If you find yourself in the same boat, I recommend seeking out an insurance broker who has experience in dealing with US military personnel. I know it is a little ‘out of the box’, but it is a solution that worked for me. The United States has major military bases located in Germany and as a result a large number of service personnel are stationed there. As many of these soldiers need to arrange car insurance, they represent a significant insurance market and the major insurers in Germany make exceptions to their rules accordingly. With some work, the broker I found was able to use their contacts to submit my Australian insurance history via these channels. A short time later, I was holding my new and very acceptable insurance quote. I was provided with the second lowest quote possible, which was a great result. I used Culpeck Insurance and I am happy to recommend them for absolutely no financial reward. Their staff provided me with a service that saved me thousands of Euro. As far as I am concerned, I owe them one. Their website link is listed at the bottom of this article.
Step 4: Go to the registration office.
This step is easy! You will need all of the paperwork above, your license and your passport. You can find the nearest Kraftfahrzeugzulassungsstelle (car registration office) at the link available at the bottom of this article. When you are there, you will choose your registration plate and afterwards you will need to get it made. However, the folks at the registration office will give you all the assistance you need.
One other point to remember: If you have an acceptable foreign license, you can register your vehicle without an issue. However, be aware that in Germany there are time limits for driving under foreign licenses. Some licenses (such as Australian licenses) can be exchanged only within the time period. Once the prescribed time period expires, you will be required to learn to drive through the German system. This will take months of lessons and cost you a small fortune. Add to that the requirement of passing an exam that is written in German and you have every incentive you need to exchange your license in a timely manner.
Step 5: Start your engines!
Why are you still sitting here reading this? You should be on the autobahn by now! See you on the road.
Car registration offices: http://www.das-kfz-portal.de/kfz-zulassungsstellen
Culpeck Insurance: http://culpeck.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.