Buying a car in Germany: a complete guide to become a pro
Public transportation, bikes & shared mobility options are enough for most people to get around. Buying a car in Germany is a necessity for some.
In this guide, we go through the whole process, from first searching through the car market to driving off in the sunset.
This guide is based on research & experience while I bought my first car in Germany: a Peugeot 308. I also leased a 2008 for some years. I made some mistakes along the way. Hopefully, you can learn from them too.
How to buy a car in Germany: TL;DR:
This guide goes in great details on all aspects of buying a car in Germany. Here are some important points to take away. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
- Use online platforms to find & compare new or second-hand cars. They connect dealership & private sellers to private buyers like you.
- Other platforms are offering a one-stop-shop experience. Order the car online with registration service included. Get the car delivered at home & with a 30-days satisfied guarantee.
- Buying through a dealership/platform is more expensive but safer. Buying through a private offers more room for price negotiation but it’s riskier & needs more preparation.
- When you buy a new car, leasing is often a better idea than a flat-out purchase. It does require a good credit score though.
- Registration involves having a car insurance, a safety inspection certification, licence plates & forms. It’s done at your local registration office. It’s sometimes possible to do it online.
- This guide otherwise includes tips on finding cheaper cars, getting a lower quote & making registration easier.
Finding the right car
Finding a new car in Germany
It’s much easier to look at new cars (Neuwagen) online, instead of entering a dealership right away. More choices, more options and easier to compare.
Create accounts and set up search alerts on those platforms:
You will only find professional listings coming from dealerships. They use those platforms to generate leads & attract you with competitive offers. Sometimes, the car offered is not available anymore but they will try to sell you something similar.
Finding a second-hand car in Germany
German people absolutely love trading cars and they also take good care of them so it’s not rare to find second-hand cars in Germany (Gebrauchtwagen) that are in great conditions. You can find offers of cars for sale in Germany from both privat sellers and dealerships on:
- Mobile.de (English interface)
- AutoScout24 (English interface)
- eBay Kleinanzeigen
- Facebook Marketplace
More recently, newer platforms have tried to make the second-hand purchase experience a lot more streamlined & digital. On there, you can find certified cars and have it delivered to you: they also take care of registration in some cases. Financing options are also possible. Those one-stop-shop platforms are:
Buying a second-hand car in Germany through a dealership automatically comes by law with a 12-months warranty (Gewährleistung). However, this only covers existing issues, not normal tear & wear or undiagnosed issues. It is sometimes tricky to make use of that warranty when there is an issue. The dealership also often offers a special insurance for used cars that covers 50% of future repairs. Again here, read the small prints.
Buying a second-hand car in German through a private seller involves more risks because there isn’t any warranty but you aren’t liable to VAT, as it is a transaction between private pople.
Identifying defects when buying a car in Germany
Buying a second-hand car for the first time is a complex task, especially when you don’t know much about mechanics. It’s best to bring somebody knowledgeable if you can.
- Mileage (Kilometer Stand) & age of the car
- First registration (EZ – Erstzulassung)
- Number of owners
- Diesel fuel or Petrol (Diesel or Benzin)
- Date of the next roadworthiness check (HU/AU/TÜV).
- Comprehensiveness of maintenance records (Checkheft)
- Engine power
- Known issues
- Emission certification (Umweltplakete) stickers that come on the windshield.
Take your time to ask questions and to look around/under the car. The seller should not try to limit your inspection time or avoid questions. Prefer models with lower maintenance costs (which you can check there).
How to find cheaper cars in Germany
You can take advantage of certain tips & rules to drive the price down further and making the most of your budget if you want to buy a car in Germany.
Those are vehicles bought new by employees of car manufacturers or dealerships with a special discount. To avoid unlawful trading, they have to keep it at least a year before selling it again. This means that the car are in a really good condition, fairly recent, and at a good price. Definitely something to look for in listings.
You can buy new & second-hand cars in Germany from other EU countries at cheaper price, thank to lower tax rates among other things. In other words, you are free to shop for a second-hand car in Germany. This is also called EU Wagen or Reimport.
A few things to note:
- Some models have different options from a country to another.
- The law of the country applies: the terms of the sales contract & warranty might be less protective of the buyer than in Germany. There might also be less included service in the contract.
- Foreign dealer’s guarantee and service booklet is required.
- You can’t test-drive the car before you buy it.
- You need to apply for temporary plates in the origin country to move the car to Germany.
Companies specialize in importing cars from other countries to sell them to you, taking over the complex process for a fee. Googling “EU wagen kaufen” gives you a long list of platforms. You can also do the import process yourself but that’s quite complex.
Test drive cars – Vorführwagen
Those are the new cars used to take around customers looking for a new car in a dealership. Although it’s not exactly a second-hand car, there can be a significant rebate on a car that has been driving only a few kilometers. However, what you see is what you get. No possibility to take different options or a different engine. There is only this one car.
Price negotiation, financing & buying a car in Germany
Assessing the value of a car
There is a scale known as the “Schwake Liste” that all car traders who sell & buy cars in Germany recognize. It sets the value of all cars down to every model of every year. This is handy to compare the listed price with the offers you will find. Although it’s excellent guidance, this list also reflects price drops due to the bad reputation or perception of certain brands. You can use this to your advantage:
Typically, German cars experience a smaller value drop than french cars due to their reputation. Although it is often justified, some cars with less “prestige” might also be worth a second look. Skoda cars which use the same parts as Volkswagen’s experience a higher price drop.
There is often only little room on bargaining the price of new cars in Germany. The listed price is often quite close to what you will pay. There is wiggling room though:
- Dealerships might apply a discount if they have excess inventory and need to reach their sales targets.
- Negotiate additional options or equipment to be included at no extra cost or at a lower price.
- Negotiate that the dealership takes over the registration process & plates for free.
- Negotiate a better overall price via a leasing option. Compare the total cost of ownership with leasing vs without.
- Negotiate a better insurance rate with the dealership, than you would otherwise with your own comprehensive car insurance. Best to compare offers here.
- If you own a car already, you may be able to trade your old model in for a discount.
Bargaining price when buying second-hand cars in Germany is a lot more normalized. Based on the possible defects & issues you have detected, together with the data of the Schwake Liste, you can drive prices down.
- Be open about the issues your raise and avoid a completely frontal angle.
- Respect the person’s time & make up your mind up fast.
- Your best negotiation power is the ability to say no: don’t take a deal you don’t like.
- If the person accepts to deal in English, be aware that it’s a favor made to you.
Do note: When you buy from a dealership, you pay a 19% VAT. When you buy from a private seller, you do not pay VAT.
Most new cars are leased and not bought upfront: that’s how most car brands make their money nowadays. The financing almost always goes in pair with the leasing option. Simplifed, the process looks like this:
- You sign a contract with car brand’s bank to get a loan to “buy the car” at a fixed value, fixed term & fixed rates.
- At the same time, you sign another contract where the bank promesses to buy the car back at the end of the fixed term, at certain pre-set residual value (=depreciated price).
- Like with a normal bank, you need to show your credit score with your SCHUFA to get it approved.
Buying a new car outright does not make a lot of sense for most people as it’s an extremely cash-intensive for a highly depreciative asset. However, if you want to take a loan out to buy your new or second-hand car in Germany, you can turn to this guide about loans in Germany. Take your time, compare options.
It’s not unusual for cars to be bought in cash. We paid almost 6000€ in cash for our first car!
Registering your car in Germany
Once you have bought your car in Germany, it’s time to take the administrative steps required to be able to drive it.
Passing the road-worthiness inspection: TÜV
In Germany, road-worthiness inspections are a public safety business conducted by private organizations such as TÜV, GTÜ, KÜS & DEKRA in mandated technical centers. They make your car go through the “Hauptuntersuchung” (HU) & the “Abgasuntersuchung” (AU). Both checks are part of the same test now, and German people will often simply say the “TÜV check” when talking about the HU.
- Newly-bought cars must go through this inspection first after 3 years in Germany, then every 2 years. At first, you get a certificate of conformity instead.
- Used cars must go through this inspection every 2 years.
- This inspection is mandatory to register your car in Germany and costs around 110€.
- If the car you bought still has a valid certificate, you don’t need to make it test again. Make sure to get the certificate from the previous owner then.
If the vehicles passes inspection, it will be registered in the Zulassungsbescheinigung (certificate) that comes with the car.
Getting a car insurance certificate: eVB nummer
The public authorities will require an eVB Nummer (elektronische Versicherungsbestätigung – digital insurance confirmation). It’s a unique ID that confirms that your policy is indeed valid. You automatically obtain this number from a car insurance provider.
I have made an extensive post about car insurance in Germany here.
Getting your license plates:
There are 2 ways to get your license plates:
- Offline: This is done in the shops right next to the car registration office, which sole’s business is to sell you those. You negotiate prices between 15€ & 20€ and you get them on the spot. You can only do that after you have been at the registration office once.
- Online: You have convenient services like this one or that one that lets you order them online, with the possibility to pick a custom plate and reserve it with the registration office. Expect an additional convenience fee on top of the plates themselves. It’s more expensive but you don’t need to come back at the office again, it’s more convenient. Make sure you order one with the right prefix for your city or Bundesland.
It’s not required to change license plates if:
- you move to another part of the country (since 2015). You still need to update the papers & stickers though.
- the new owner lives in the same district/city. You still need to update the papers & stickers though.
Going to the local registration office
The finishing line is almost in sight. You now need to go to the local car registration office, the Zulassungsbehörde also know as KFZ-Zulassungsstelle.
- Book an appointement at your local office as soon as you have bought your car. You can use this portal to find yours. New cars owners go to Neuzulassung (new registration) appointements & user car owners go to Halterwechsel/Umschreibung (owner change) appointments.
- Have all of these ready:
- eVB Nummer – Insurance certificate.
- TÜV certificate for used vehicles
- Certificate of conformity for new vehicles, provided by the dealership.
- Sales contract.
- Passport/ID card.
- Meldebescheinigung – Residence registration certificate.
- New license plates (if ordered online)
- Old license plates if relevant.
- Old Zulassungsbescheinigung (registration certificate) if relevant.
- Debit authorization form 032021 filled out. This is how the car tax is paid every year. IBAN details only.
- The actual registration form filled. Can be obtained online from your local Amt (e.g for Berlin)
- Pay 30-60€ in cash or via debit card (EC-Karte).
- If you have your plates with you, the clerk with put the license plate certification stickers on them. If not, you receive a paper, get out of the building & buy the plates in one of the special shops next to the Amt & come back again.
- Optional if your car doesn’t have it, buy the Umweltplakete (emission certificate) stickers from the clerk. It’s cheaper and faster.
- You get an updated registration certificate (Zulassungsbescheinigung) with your details.
Register a car in Germany online
There are 3 possibilities:
- Most foreigners can’t use the designated public digital service. This service requires a Neuer Personalausweis (nPA) or elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT) with the new online authentication chip (eID) is needed. Most foreigners don’t have this. Detailed process & requirements are explained on this page.
- Open to all are specialized 3rd party registration services – Kfz Zulassungsdienst. They go through the whole process for you for about 150-200€. It’s more convenient but more expensive. You also need to send some original documents via post & a power of attorney. You’d need to be ok with that.
- As mentioned above, if you use full-service platforms to buy a car in Germany like HeyCar, Instamotion, AutoHero, they can take care of registration for you.
Drive into the sunset
Well done, you have successfuly bought your first car in Germany! With your registration certificate, you can now go back to the dealership or to the private seller to pick the car up and drive off.
Make sure that you get all the documents & equipment.
Total cost of car ownership in Germany
Here is a quick overview of different fees associated with car ownership in this country:
In Germany, every car owner has to pay a car tax (KfZ-Steuer) yearly to finance highways & roads among other things. Its price differs depending on the power of your engine. The average tax in 2023 is 142€ per owner. I pay around 250€ a year for my Peugeot 308. You can use this calculator (DE or EN) to get a precise figure.
No surprises there, a car needs to visit the repair shop once in a while. After buying a car in Germany, this is one of the more expensive parts of ownership. Your choice of vehicle will greatly impact how much is spent on maintenance. More reliable models need less maintenance. You can use the following database to get an overview of maintenance costs in Germany:
The average comprehensive car insurance policy is 324€/year in 2021, but depending on your vehicle it can be anywhere between 200€ & 800€.
You can find different ways to decrease the costs of car insurance in Germany in this guide.
The energy crisis has impacted the prices of gas in the long-term. You can use apps such as Clever Tanken that lets you localize gas stations with cheaper fuel prices.
Electric cars in Germany have access to a lot of affordable public 11Kw & 22Kw charging stations within cities, and more expensive fast-charging stations along the highways. Use apps like ChargeMap & Plugsurfing to find charging stations around you.
Depending on the type & size of your city, parking costs will vary wildly. A resident parking permit may be required on your street too. Google “Bewohnerparkausweis [city]” to check if that is needed. You can also see it on street signs.
This costs anywhere between 20€ & 50€ per year.
As pointed out above, getting a TÜV check costs you 80-120€ every 2 years.
I hope this guide to buying & registering your car in Germany was useful to you. Feel to ask questions in the comments’ section if something is still unclear.Bastien
Buying a car in Germany – FAQ
There are certainly ways to get discounts on new cars, free option upgrades or at least preferential financing terms. It’s fairly rare to pay full price for a new car. Price listed on second-hand cars have less room for negotiation, unless you can find defects that were not listed in the ad.
Yes, some platforms let you buy and register a car fully digitally in Germany.