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 Konrad 22/11/2020 at 21:06

    Hi Bastien!

    Many thanks for the comprehensive guide. I do have a silly question. What happens to the car while it’s being registered? Should I organize a garage for it while I wait for the KFZ-Zulassung? I get that you can move around with the temporary license plates but I’m wondering if the car can stand on the street without registration plates.

    Many thanks for the response!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/11/2020 at 09:57

      Hey Konrad. Yeah, in theory this is not legal and if the police sees this in time, it can decide to take it away, and without a license plate, that will be very hard to prove you are the owner. That’s what the temporary plates are there for.

  • Reply Enrique 13/10/2020 at 15:24

    Hi, I am selling my car but I don’t know what the process is?
    Should I deregister my car? How can I keep the plates? Should I do something with the plates?

    Thanks in advance,

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/10/2020 at 15:22

      Hey Enrique. I am not sure either. I found you this source in German though, maybe that helps.

  • Reply Amit 05/10/2020 at 13:35

    Hi Bastien, I’m looking for a used car and confused with the number of previous owners e.g if a car is first registered in 2013 and has 3 previous owners, what does it indicate? Does it mean the car had some faults and so people sold it so soon or anything else?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 06/10/2020 at 10:17

      Hey Amit. I can’t really tell you. This is why it’s best to buy a used car from a garage or a retailer directly, in case there are some faults with the car. In this case, you have the safety of being able to claim your money back or free repairs.

  • Reply Sara L 01/10/2020 at 12:01

    Hi there, thanks for this info! I’ve run into a problem. I bought a car from a car dealer who is taking car of the vehicle registration etc. I bought my car insurance and provided the EVB number, along with ID, Meldbescheingung and so on. I am waiting on my Aufenhaltstitel – right now I just have the appointment set up for December. So the dealership said the EVB number didn’t work. What could be the problem? Do I need a residency card already? Right now, I have the “Fiktionbescheinigung” and my US passport. Neither the insurance company nor the car dealers know what the problem is…

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/10/2020 at 09:50

      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Reply Ivan 15/09/2020 at 18:26

    Good evening everyone, I’ve bought a used car from a car seller the 4th of September. The car is already paid and I’ve provided the insurance EVB number. The seller (is a car shop, not a private) is taking care of the paper work and he told me that now we need to wait for the registration and the plates, which is something I really don’t understand. Is it because of COVID? With all the paper done, why is taking so long? :/

  • Reply Jan-Hendrik van Leeuwen 13/09/2020 at 12:29

    I live in the USA, have a Dutch passport and do not have a place of residence in Europe.
    I plan to leave the US and move to Europe shortly. I plan to buy a used car in Germany and look for a place to move to, probably in France or Italy. I assume it will take me three months or less to find such a place.
    I have 3 questions:
    1. Can I get a temporary registration for my car in Germany for three months?
    2. If so, what are the procedures? (could I use an Empfangsberechtigter to do so)
    3. Can I get temporary insurance?
    As soon as I have found a place of residence, I will permanently register and insure my car in my new home country.
    Thank you for your cooperation

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/09/2020 at 12:57

      Hey Jan. You’d need to be a German resident to have your car in your name, registered in Germany with local insurance and so on. So i don’t think this plan would work.

  • Reply Les 27/08/2020 at 02:10

    Hi Bastien. We just recently purchased a German registered car in Ireland and need an advise on changing ownership. We are Irish and would like to keep the van just for travel in Europe on German plates. Can we do it? My sister lives in the same city where car is registered in Germany. If you have any thoughts please let me know. Kindest regards. Les

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/08/2020 at 17:38

      Hey Les. As non-German residents, this would not be possible for you. The car would need be registered and insured in your sister’s name as a workaround..

  • Reply Marius 10/08/2020 at 19:38

    Hi all!
    Could you please help me with some information? How can I move a car from one city to another in germany after i bought it? “The buyer can transfer the car with the 3-day license plate he has brought with him”. I don’t quite understand what he means by that.
    Many thanks in advance for your answers!

  • Reply Denise 18/07/2020 at 22:47

    Hi all,
    I signed a contract for a car at a VW dealership and handed over my passport and other appropriate documents with the EVB number from my insurance for the registration, and have now been waiting 5 weeks and heard nothing. The registration office still have my passport (which I am NOT comfortable about) and I am simply waiting. Has anyone else experienced similar long waits for car registration? As the car is a small camper, the plan was to be able to use it over the summer break, but that is looking like it won’t happen. It is so frustrating!

    • Reply Khushi 30/07/2020 at 19:43

      Hi Denise.
      I’m in the same shoes. I just bought a Volvo Jahreswagen from a volvo authorised dealer in Wuppertal. I live in Bonn. They are doing the registration on my behalf and have taken all the docs as you mentioned. It’s been 3 weeks for me. But if you say it is 5 weeks for you already then I’m even more worried. Please feel free to contact me soon as you get yours. I will do the same. It’s annoying to have to wait so long before I could drive.

    • Reply Zyad 03/08/2020 at 11:49

      That’s actually normal, the waiting times to get an appointment are longer especially after the Covid shutdown. It’s super annoying as am also in the same situation.

      Funny thing is that they give individuals earlier appointments that they do with companies doing it on your behalf. So you could next time just go through the process on your own. You’d just need to ask the dealership for a new HU certificate + the car papers and you’re good to go.

  • Reply Catherine 18/07/2020 at 18:15

    Hello, thank you very much for the informative post. I have a question: Does the car and/or do the old number plates have to be there when I register the car? I’m planning to buy a car from a friend in the city where I currently live. I’m also in the process of moving to a new city. If I do my Ummeldung first for the new city, could I register the car in my new city, then bring the plates back to my old city and put them on the car and then drive it away? Thanks very much in advance for your help 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/07/2020 at 20:48

      Hey Catherine. If i followed you correctly, yes, you could do that.

  • Reply Ray Williamson 16/07/2020 at 23:07

    Hey,

    I am picking up a new lease car next month. I wont receive the license plates until the day of the pick up. How can I be insured to drive the car home?

    Thanks in Advance,

    Ray

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/07/2020 at 20:29

      Hey Ray. You can signup for insurance before you pick up the car, provided you have the right details, as mentioned in the post.

  • Reply Pogonyi Hunor 25/06/2020 at 16:46

    Hey,

    I am planning on purchasing a used vehichle from Mainz Kastel. The only problem is that the next appointment is in August. Can I go to the closest registration office ? Like in Wiesbaden wich is 15km away ?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/06/2020 at 10:17

      Hey Pogononyi. You need to go to the office located your district/city. Source.

  • Reply Steffen 17/06/2020 at 10:03

    If you buy a car with a valid Hauptuntersuchung you will naturally NOT need to get a new roadworthiness inspection. Just take the report from the last one with you, which the previous owner will provide. Your new number plate will get a HU seal according to the remaining validity

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/06/2020 at 09:46

      Hey Steffen. Thanks for the input.

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