Buying a car in Germany & registering it

With a few years in the country behind you often comes a more stable job with a more stable income. When this happens, you decide it’s time you earned some comfort and stopped with those dodgy BlaBlacar car-sharing trips and those horribly late Deutsche Bahn trains. You have earned some independence and so you might want to buy a car in Germany.

However, you are not really familiar with the rules that governs the local car’s market and you don’t want to be screwed over because the dealer took advantage of your lack of knowledge. I crafted a guide to a prospective car owner so you don’t make the mistakes i did. 🙂

Buy car germany

Here it goes.

1 – Buy a car in Germany

Buying a new car in Germany

I won’t go into much details about buying a new car in Germany as most of the process is similar to what you might know in your own country.

  • Create an account and search alerts on platforms like Mobile.deAutoScout24 or AutoHaus24
  • There are dealerships which sell your favorite brand of car
  • You go in one to test drive it and talk about options with the sales man
  • You discuss leasing rates if you can’t afford to pay for it cash
  • You discuss the trade-in value of your own car if applicable
  • You shake hands and wait 2-3 weeks to pick it up

The only additional information that is relevant to you at this point is that the dealerships usually offers to assist with the insurance & registration process. It is sometimes a way to get good prices on car insurance in Germany. Otherwise, there is little room for negotiation on the price than in other countries. Options’ prices can be more flexible though.

Buying a second-hand car in Germany

My father once said; “a new car is the worst investment you can make in life as its value only drops with time”. That might put you off buying a brand new car and will push you to go towards the more affordable second-hand options (Gebraucht). It’s a good idea. 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 that are in pristine conditions.

My father once said; “a new car is the worst investment you can make in life as its value only drops with time”

Speaking of car value; there is 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.
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. Other example; Skoda cars which use the same parts as Volkswagen experience a higher price drop. If you have already have a car, this list will help you trade it too.

You can find second-hand cars in Germany on platforms like AutoScout24 or Mobile.de too. I found my beloved Peugeot 308 on Mobile.de after creating an account and a search agent with my main criteria. Not too narrow, not too broad: “A Peugeot 308 or Skoda Fabia less than 10 years old, less than 150.000 km” was a good start for me.

What to look for when buying a car in Germany

Now all those are just reminders, i know you’ve made your research already! 😉 The ADAC also has a full check-list there (DE) or another check-list here in English.

  • Mileage – 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).
  • Engine power
  • Known issues

How to find cheaper second-hand 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.

Jahreswagen

Those are vehicles bought new by employees of car manufacturers such as BMW or Volkswagen 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.

EU cars

The European Union has introduced the common market where each country can freely trade their goods & products with anyone in it. This is also true for cars; you can buy them from other countries where they are cheaper, thank to lower tax rates among other things. In other words, you are free to shop for a second-hand car in Germany (or new cars too) in other countries. Be careful though; some models have different options from a country to another and 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. Make sure to read to small prints. Another drawback is naturally that you can’t test-drive the car before you buy it.

Vorführwagen

This literally means “test drive cars”. 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.

Graffiti of the Berlin Wall
Graffiti of the Berlin Wall

2- Administrative steps to take once you found your dream ride

Finding a car to buy in Germany is only your ticket to get into the ring, you need to fight a few more rounds to finally drive away with it. You have to make all the technical checks happen, insure and register your car in Germany.

TÜV/AU/HU – Roadworthiness inspection

In Germany, roadworthiness inspections are a public safety business conducted by private organizations such as TÜV & DEKRA in mandated technical center. 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. They are pretty much synonyms today. If everything goes well, your car will be given the green light for 24 months, after which a new inspection has to be performed. 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.

Insurance

I teach you nothing; to buy a car in Germany also means having an insurance. I have made an extensive post about it here on this page. It is also a step-by-step-guide and a recommended read. The EVB Nummer is also mandatory to register your car in Germany.

Registration

Once you have collected all the right documents (Insurance certificate, TÜV certificate, sales contract, passport, Meldebescheinigung), you are ready to go to the local car registration office, the Zulassungsbehörde also know as KFZ-Zulassungsstelle. Once all the documents have been checked, you will pay 46€ to receive a paper that will finally allow you to buy your license plates. You can’t miss all the shops right next to the Zulassungsbehörde which sole’s business is to sell you those. You can negotiate prices between 15€ & 20€. When you have bought them, you need to come back to the registration office so the Zulassungsbehörde employee can put an official sticker on one of them before the end of the same day. Yes, convuluted administration also applies when registering a car in Germany.

Can i register my car in Germany online?

In theory, yes but it won’t be possible for a lot of people. The reason for that is that a so called Neuer Personalausweis (nPA) oder elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT) with the new online authentication chip (eID) is needed. Other requirements include:

  1. A vehicle first registered after 01/01/2015. Ein nach dem 01. Januar 2015 zugelassenes Fahrzeug
  2. License plates including the stamp badge/tag (Stempelplaketten, the round sticker thing) with hidden security codes.
  3. Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I with hidden security codes, mit verdecktem Sicherheitscode

Detailed process is explained on this page.

3- Drive in the sunset

The road to buy a car in Germany and register was long and full of darkness, but you finally made it. Don’t forget to enjoy now. 🙂

Tip 1: In Germany, every car owner has to pay a “car tax” yearly to finance highways among other things. Its price differs depending on the power of your engine. I pay around 250€ a year for my Peugeot 308.

Tip 2: If you buy a car in Germany through a dealership (second-hand), it automatically comes by law with a 12-months warranty. This means that in case of repairs, the dealership has to cover the costs for a year. Beyond that, the seller might offer an special insurance for used cars that covers 50% of repairs. Again here, read the small prints.

Tip 3: Here are some commons terms of features on a car will you encounter during your research.

  • Getriebe (Schalt / Automatik): Gear box (manual/automatic)
  • Türen: doors
  • Klimaanlage: air conditioning
  • Tempomat: cruise control
  • Wegfahrsperre: Anti-theft device
  • Lenkrad: steering wheel
  • Serienausstattung: standard equipment
  • Bremskraftverteilung (EBD): ABS
  • Allradantrieb (AWD): 4×4
  • Handbremse: handbrake

Tip 4: If you are short on cash and need a loan to buy your ride, have a look at this post about getting one here. There are loans to buy cars too.

183 Comments

  • Reply Darius 25/10/2017 at 15:48

    Many thanks for your detailed information.
    One month ago, we bought a second-hand Skoda from a dealer. We made a one-page contract, paid one-third of the negotiated fee, and also gave the dealer all the requested documents such as insurance, passport, etc., since the dealer was supposed to do the registration paperwork for us. We were told to wait for something around one month for the registration process and then we will be able to pick up the car. So during the past month, the dealer had our documents.
    Now we intend to travel abroad in the next few days, but the registration has not yet been done. We asked to at least have the documents but the dealer told us they are in the police station. So my question is that, is this typical for the car registration office to keep our identification documents for a long time? I am aware that it normally takes several weeks to get an appointment, but I thought after finding an appointment date, the dealer must only show our documents to the officers and that’s it. I am wondering if they should keep our docs or not?

    • Reply Darius 17/11/2017 at 15:35

      I found my answer!! now please delete my unanswered question! tnx!

  • Reply Pedro 20/10/2017 at 16:20

    Great info here! Thanks. Do you know if it is possible to buy, register and insure a car in Germany even if I have a danish residence? (the car would stay on the german side of the border)

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2017 at 18:58

      Good question. I don’t think it would work, then it would be danish plates.

  • Reply Samanta 17/10/2017 at 14:02

    Hi and Thanks for the very useful information.
    I have a car with Italian license plate and I am moving permanently to Germany, Berlin with the car. I am renovating the Insurance in Italy and also there is something similar to TUV that every 24 months I have to do. (this time it will be in January). My questions are as follows: How much time do I have to travel and live in Berlin with the Italian license plated-car and Italian insurance? I know that I cannot park the car in public places unless I register the car, Can I register the car with the insurance from an Italian Company? Can I register the car in Germany with the Italian TUV-similar certificate?
    Do you have any suggestions that facilitate the traveling and living in Germany with my situation? what is the best path to follow?
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 17/10/2017 at 20:26

      Hi Samantha. There is no magic formula. Come here with your car on Italian insurance and switch to a German one when you are resident here. I believe the Italian TUV certificate won’t be enough i’m afraid. It’s probably not recognized in Germany.

  • Reply Nenad 15/10/2017 at 13:06

    Hello,
    I need some help.
    I found a car in EU.Bulgaria and it is on German license plates.
    Private owner.
    Can I buy it here in Bulgaria (without going to Germany)?
    I want to register it on my name in Bulgaria
    Who steps to take?
    What documents do I need?

    Thank you in advance

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/10/2017 at 16:54

      Hi Nenad. I guess then registration happen in Bulgaria so my advice is not relevant for you.

  • Reply Anna 14/10/2017 at 22:59

    Thanks for this awesome post! Quick question – I bought a used car from a dealer in a different city and have an appointment here in Berlin to register it next week, after which I’ll be able to go pick it up. The email I got from the Zulassungsstelle mentions potentially needing to take the previous licence plates of the car to the registration appt. I have all the papers from the dealer for the car, but not the old plates. Do you know if this is really necessary?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/10/2017 at 16:53

      Hi Anna. If you haven’t been provided the old plates, then there is no way to give them to the Zulassungstelle. I guess they want to avoid that these plates are used from criminal behavior. I guess you will have to explain the situation to them.

      • Reply Konrad 27/10/2017 at 13:49

        Hi Anna,
        You will need so called Kurzzeitkennzeichen (valid for five days, the date will be on plate on a yellow label) – you can order them online and as you will receive them go for the car, mount the plates and go to Berlin. Here is a link to order the plates:
        http://www.strassenverkehrsamt.de/kfz-zulassung-kurzzeitkennzeichen
        That worked for me as I bought a car in Germany and drove it by my own to Poland.
        You can also buy the plates at the place where the car is located.
        Best
        Konrad

  • Reply Spyros 11/10/2017 at 11:52

    Hi Bastien,
    I am registered at Hesse and i plan to get a new car . What are the advantages of Leasing vs Buying one ?
    Would you please be kind and advise of tax implications due to the owing a car ( apart from the annual amount of apprx.250 Euros, as you state in your article) ?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/10/2017 at 20:01

      Hi Spyros. tax implications depend on so many factors that i can’t explain in a comment and i would need to more details about your car and stuff.

  • Reply Petr 10/10/2017 at 22:48

    Hey buddy,

    Thanks for interesting and useful info. Do you know anything about the SIXT Leasing program? I heard you can get a car off them for a fixed time period (e.g. 2 years for a monthly installment , say 150 EUR and then just return it, without having to pay any initial lump sum. So it is almost like a long term rental!

    Cheers,

    Petr

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/10/2017 at 20:00

      Hi Petr. Havent heard from this before. Feel free to get more info and come back here to tell the tale.

  • Reply Kristo 09/10/2017 at 16:48

    Hi,

    I’m an Estonian currently living in Switzerland and want to buy a car from Germany, but i don’t want to register it here in Switzerland. How is it possible to use the car with German plates from October 2017 until May 2018 (then i can make an official registration in Estonia)? And what are the approximate costs of doing that?

    Thank You for Your help!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/10/2017 at 10:52

      Hi Kristo, it is possible to register for temporary plates but i don’t know about the costs.

  • Reply Roger Bryenton 02/10/2017 at 04:40

    We would like to buy a used campervan in Germany and are having a difficult time to find a registration service to do this, to provide a local address. There are several in Holland: BW Campers, Turner Cars, etc but we can find none in Germany. Can you help us please? Thank you very much. Roger

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/10/2017 at 16:19

      Hi Roger. Sorry, i cant really help.

  • Reply Edison 26/09/2017 at 22:55

    what if a car comes from another country try and they sale it in Germany but it is not registered yet? how much could it cost? would it be risky to buy a car like that? I am looking at a BMW X6 from 2008 with Lybian documents apparently. what do you suggest?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/09/2017 at 10:08

      Hi Edison. I would not do it because you’d have all the trouble of having to effectively import the car into Germany.

  • Reply J.K. 17/09/2017 at 17:11

    thanks for the wonderful posting! 🙂

  • Reply Ruth 12/09/2017 at 10:18

    hi! quick question: if you buy a 2nd hand car from a dealer, it is normal to pay all the amount in cash? This is how it is usually done here? Best!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/09/2017 at 19:24

      Hi Ruth. Yes, this is Germany and they ask for cash. It’s crazy and i don’t know how this is still a thing. I bought my car with close to 5000€ in cash for example.

      • Reply Anon 13/10/2017 at 14:38

        Just to add a bit: it is not really true. A lot of delars accept bank transfers as form of payment.

  • Reply Sara 29/07/2017 at 23:33

    Hello , and going to Germany for about 3 to 4 month and am thinking about buying a cheap used car instead of using public transportation to save time, I was wondering if I can register a car with holding a touristic visa only to,Be noted am not a EU citizen

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/07/2017 at 10:01

      Hi Sara. If you fit all requirements and give all papers mentioned in this document, i don’t see why not. However as a tourist, i’m not sure you will be able to register an adress somewhere in time to start the buying and insurance process.

  • Reply Saketa Musinipally 14/07/2017 at 00:37

    Hi Bastien!
    I am a diplomat in Berlin and I am getting lots of mixed advice on the depreciation of cars in Germany. Mercedes is currently offering me 24% of on list price and 10% tax is refundable as well ( I am only here for 1 year).
    So does it make more sense to buy a used car and get the 10 % tax back or should i buy a new one and get a larger discount. My main consideration is to lose as less money as possible!
    Also, is it just my experience or is the used car market in Berlin way overpriced than outside. I understand that people can buy cars from say, Frankfurt and drive them in Berlin. There is no state/lander restriction, so why do you think berlin is so expensive??!
    Thanks in advance!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/07/2017 at 19:22

      Hi Saketa. I don’t know why it’s more expensive in Berlin. I guess if you are confident you can sell your new car before you leave, it could be a good option. If not, then maybe a used car is preferable.

  • Reply Paolo gari 09/07/2017 at 00:24

    Hello everyone,
    I am italian and I live in rome. I am planning to buy a used car from germany for my son.
    Here are my questions:
    How ling does it to finish all the procedures when i find the car?
    How much does it cost to insure it for one week( just the time to get it to italy)?
    Can i register it in my son’s name without him
    Being present with me in germany?
    I will appreciate your help and thank you in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/07/2017 at 11:15

      Hi Paolo. When you find the car, and you have all necessary papers, it depends how soon you can get an appointment at the local “Zulassungsstelle”. Hopefully a matter of days. You need to check with your insurance provider for costs. It depends on your record as a driver, model of the car, etc. If you are buying the car to bring it to Italy, register it to your name in Germany, and then register to your son’s name in Italy.

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