Germany has good public transport connections but sometimes nothing beats the ease and convenience of owning your own car. If you’d rather source your own car here, this page covers all you need to know about buying a car in Germany - either new or used - so you can get on the autobahn sooner rather than later.
Buying a car in Germany: The requirements
Cars are big business in Germany, a country that despite its excellent network of public transport and long-distance trains and buses has a longstanding history of car production, and a strong car culture. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that buying a car in Germany is relatively easy and straightforward - much simpler than importing a vehicle from abroad. However, there are some requirements and regulations that you should be aware of before you start the purchase process.
To buy a car in Germany and carry out required formalities such as taking out insurance, taxing it and registering it - no matter whether it is new or used - you will need:
- To be aged 18 years or over (the legal driving age)
- A valid form of ID, such as a passport
- Proof of residence in Germany (e.g. a registration certificate)
- A valid driving licence (to drive it)
- Details of your German bank account
Can a foreigner buy a car in Germany?
Anyone is eligible to buy a car in Germany. You’ll need to be a registered resident to register your car, and also have a driving licence that’s valid in Germany in order to drive here. Many people are able to simply exchange their foreign driving licence for a German one, but you may be required to take one or both of the German driving tests. Make sure you also study up on German road signs and the rules on the autobahn.
Cars in Germany
The federal republic is a nation of car lovers. Many people prefer to drive in Germany and most households have a car. In 2019, there were around 570 cars per 1.000 people, a little more than one for every two people.
Broadly speaking, there are four different types of cars that are available to buy in Germany:
- New car (Neuwagen): A brand new car that has had no previous owners.
- Used car (Gebrauchtwagen): A used car that may have had a few or many previous owners. Used cars are a cheaper option as cars depreciate in value quickly, especially in the first few years.
- “One-year-car” (Jahreswagen): A car that has been used for a maximum of one year, often by employees at the car dealership, and so is usually still in great shape.
- Display car (Vorführwagen): A car that has been used for demonstration purposes and test drives at a car dealership. These vehicles usually have low mileage and are sold at a significant discount compared to the new price, despite being barely used.
Which type of car you buy depends on your personal circumstances, for instance, how long you plan on staying in Germany, how much money you want to spend, and how much use you’re expecting to get out of it.
Buying a new car in Germany
Buying a new car is a significant financial outlay, and is a particularly expensive option in Germany, where prices for new vehicles are among the highest in the EU. You might also face longer wait times to get the keys to your car.
However, buying a new car does offer a few advantages, namely:
- Ability to choose the exact make, model and colour you want
- Option to choose additional safety and performance specifications
- Better reliability and greater peace of mind, with comprehensive warranties often offered by dealerships
- Longer vehicle life expectancy
Car dealers in Germany
A car dealership (Autohaus) should be your first port of call when looking to buy a new car in Germany. Almost every large town in Germany will have at least a handful of car dealers. Dealerships are usually linked to one or several individual car manufacturers in Germany.
You can visit the dealership in person or browse cars on their website, before arranging a visit to inspect the car you’re interested in and take it for a test drive. You can also use a website like mobile.de or autoscouto24.de to see cars from multiple different dealerships, with the option to filter according to the specifications you want (e.g. engine size, number of doors, mileage, age).
The benefit of using a dealership is that they are reputable businesses linked to specific manufacturers, and generally offer good follow-up support. Many dealerships will also offer to take care of some of the paperwork for you, such as registering the vehicle with your local authorities. A delivery service is often also available if you cannot collect the vehicle yourself.
Warranties and guarantees
When bought through a dealership, all new vehicles come with a two-year warranty (Gewährleistung). Some dealerships offer extended warranties - should you encounter any issues with your new car - for additional fees.
Financing a car in Germany
If you’re not able to pay for your new car in full (and not many people are), you will have to finance it. This involves paying the amount back in monthly instalments, with interest, usually over a period of 24 to 60 months. Many manufacturers and dealerships offer their own financing options, usually with better interest rates than you would get at the bank. However, before you sign on the dotted line, it’s usually worth investigating all of your different options.
To be eligible for finance you’ll need to have a good credit history in Germany (backed up by a SCHUFA score). If you’ve only just arrived in the country, this might be tricky to obtain. You’re also unlikely to be offered finance if you don’t yet have a permanent employment contract or are still in your probationary period (Probezeit).
Used cars in Germany
There is a big and active market for used cars in Germany - one of the largest in Europe - with options to suit all different kinds of tastes and budgets. Used cars have the advantage of being immediately available and a lot more affordable. Buying a used car is relatively straightforward, but you should keep some important points in mind to avoid overpaying or falling foul of unscrupulous sellers.
Buying a used car from a private seller
Plenty of people choose to buy their car from a private seller. This is often the best way of finding a good deal. Most used cars are nowadays listed on websites like mobile.de and autoscout24.de, but you can also look for adverts on social media, local noticeboards, newspapers and even shop windows.
The seller will leave their contact details in the advert so you get in touch and arrange to view the car. You should also be able to give the vehicle a test drive.
Used car dealers
Many dealerships in Germany also sell used vehicles. This is probably the more secure option, as dealerships generally thoroughly test and service used cars before putting them up for sale. Some banks and dealerships may even finance used cars, making this a very affordable option.
The downside of going through a dealership is that you’ll generally find higher prices, especially as you’ll have to pay an extra 19 percent VAT on the vehicle.
Used car warranty in Germany
Dealerships must legally honour a one-year mechanical warranty (Gewährleistung) for all used cars that they sell. This means they are responsible for repairing defects that were present at the time of sale, but not new ones that appear after the sale is finalised.
Dealerships might also offer you a guarantee of up to three years on top of the warranty, for an additional fee. The guarantee covers defects that appear after you have purchased the car. They often have different scopes, for instance some guarantees cover only electrical problems, while others only cover mechanical problems. They usually cover the cost of labour and a portion of the cost of parts.
If you buy a car from a private seller, you won’t get the kind of warranties or guarantees you can expect from a dealership, but German law does state that within the first six months any problem you encounter will be considered a pre-existing condition. You could legally pursue the seller for compensation, but you’ll probably need a lawyer for this.
What to look out for when buying a used car
When buying a used car, therefore, a little bit of caution goes a long way, as you don’t want to end up with a poorly-maintained car that will cost you more in the long run. Most transactions go through without a hiccup, but you don’t want to be one of the unlucky ones caught out by a dubious car owner trying to hide flaws. Here are some things you should consider when buying a new car.
People generally prefer used cars with low mileages, as this indicates that the vehicle has had less wear and tear. 100.000 kilometres is typically seen as an important cut-off, and cars that have done more than this will command significantly lower prices.
Date of first registration and number of previous owners
The date of the first registration gives you an indication of how old the car is. Choosing the right used car is generally a case of finding a good balance between the age of the car and the number of miles it has done. When it comes to previous owners, it’s a case of the fewer the better.
Date of next roadworthiness inspection
Every car in Germany has to go in for a thorough roadworthiness inspection every two years (or after three years, in the case of new vehicles). This is known as a Hauptuntersuchung (HU) or TÜV. When buying a used car, be sure to check when its next TÜV inspection is due. The seller should be able to show you all previous test reports.
If the car has an inspection coming up in the near future, this could influence the price, as if it fails, as the new owner you’ll have to cover the cost of the repairs. Old vehicles are often cheaper when their inspection is coming up soon, and a lot cheaper if it’s already overdue (you’ll need to get it inspected before you can legally drive it). If it’s recently passed an inspection you’ll feel more confident knowing that it’s fit to drive.
Before signing a purchase contract or paying a deposit, if you want to be ultra cautious it’s a good idea to put the vehicle through a mechanical inspection by an independent third party. DEKRA is a well-known company that offers this service.
It’s a good idea to draw up a sales contract (Kaufvertrag) between the buyer and seller for used car purchases. You can find templates for these contracts on the internet - ADAC has a good one. The contract will contain all of the important information about your transaction and about the car, including any known defects.
The seller should be able to show all of the car’s paperwork, including:
- Registration certificate part 1: Vehicle registration, a small document which should be kept in the car.
- Registration certificate part 2: Vehicle registration document, which is usually kept at home. It is essential that the seller has these two documents, as it is almost impossible to register a vehicle without registration papers.
- Maintenance and service record: This log book shows any work and inspections that have been done on the vehicle. A meticulously-kept record is generally a good indication that the car has been well-maintained.
- Owner’s manual: While not essential, this is a useful document to have to get yourself familiarised with your new vehicle. If the seller doesn’t have the manual, this is also a potential warning sign.
You should receive all sets of keys for the car. The owner might also give you extra parts for the vehicle. For instance, if they made repairs themselves and bought parts, they might give you the original parts.
How to buy a car in Germany
Like many things in Germany, the process of buying a car contains quite a few steps and administrative hurdles. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to buy a car in Germany:
Find the car you want
There are many websites online that list cars for sale - both those of individual dealerships and other marketplace sites. You can also visit dealerships in person or browse personal ads on social media or in your local newspaper. It can help to narrow down your search with a few criteria, such as make and model or just price and mileage.
Book a viewing or test drive
Once you’ve found a car you like the look of, contact the seller to arrange a visit. This is your opportunity to get a good look at the car and ask the owner some questions. It is usually possible to also test drive the vehicle during this viewing.
Make a down payment
If you decide you like the car and want to buy it, you will sign a binding contract with the seller and make a down payment. Private sellers will generally ask for a down payment and then the full amount via bank transfer or in cash when you come to collect the car, while dealerships might let you set up some kind of payment plan or buy the car on finance. But before you can drive the car away, there is some additional admin that needs to be taken care of.
Get an eVB number
In order to register a car and get it on the road, you need to prove that it will be insured. You can do this with an eVB number. To get an eVB number you need to take out car insurance. Once you have paid for your policy, your insurer will automatically send you an eVB number, either via email or in the post. It’s usually possible to do this online.
Get your licence plates
Unless you are buying a car registered in the same city where you live, your new car will also need new licence plates. All cars in Germany have number plates that contain information about where and when the car was registered. The first letter(s) on the plate, for instance, tell you which city or town the car is registered in. You can reserve and buy licence plates online, or pay a visit to a shop; there are usually several around car registration offices.
Register your car
All cars in Germany need to be registered. This is done by making an appointment at your local car registration office or (in many federal states) on the internet via your regional i-car (i-Kfz) registration platform, if you have a form of eID. You’ll need some documents to register your car, including:
- Filled out vehicle registration form
- Valid ID
- Residence permit
- Registration certificate
- Part two of the registration certificate
- EU Certificate of Conformity, if registering a new vehicle
- Details of latest roadworthiness inspection, if registering a used vehicle
- Details of your car insurance
When registering your car, you’ll also have to fill out a direct debit form so that vehicle tax can be taken from your bank account once a year. During the appointment, the clerk will supply you with an emissions badge if you need one, print a new vehicle registration (part one) and add your name to the title (part two). They will also put some official stickers on your licence plates detailing where the car is registered and when the next roadworthiness inspection is due.
Some dealerships might offer to register the car for you. In this case, you will need to provide proof of your residency in Germany with a registration certificate.
Pick the car up
You’re ready to drive! If you are buying your car from a dealership, it’s a good idea to tell them the new licence plate number so they can fill out the paperwork ahead of time. All you need to do then is make an appointment to collect your vehicle.
Buying a car online in Germany
It is also increasingly common to buy cars online in Germany. It’s a quick and convenient way to purchase a vehicle - and actually cuts out a lot of the steps described above, since so much of the process is taken care of for you. You simply choose the car you want, complete the necessary paperwork online, and get the vehicle delivered to your door registered, insured and ready to drive. Many of these dealers also offer 14-day money back guarantees in case you are not satisfied with the vehicle.
There are, however, some drawbacks. For instance, you won’t be able to view the car in person or test drive it before committing to a purchase. Many of these websites are also currently only available in German.
If you do decide to purchase a car online, the process is very similar to visiting a dealership or private seller in terms of general requirements. You’ll need to submit the required documents electronically.
Car prices in Germany
According to the annual report of the Deutsche Automobil Treuhand (DAT), the average cost of a new car in 2023 was 42.790 euros, while the average price of a used car was 18.800 euros.
It’s worth noting that haggling over car prices isn’t common in Germany, and so the price you see on the sticker in the car windscreen is likely the price you’ll pay. However, you might get a discount for paying in cash.
On top of the cost price of the car, you’ll need to factor in other costs like car taxes, emissions badges, car insurance, and the cost of other things like fuel, parking fines, and maintenance costs.
Sell your car in Germany
If you own a car and are leaving Germany, selling it is a good way to recoup a large part of your expenses. There are several different ways to sell your car in Germany:
- Through a dealership
- List it on a website or online sales platform
- Create a listings ad in your local newspaper
To sell your car, you will need:
- Both parts of the registration certificate (Zulassungsbescheinigung)
- The latest roadworthiness inspection report (if the car is more than three years old)
Buying a car vs car leasing
If you’re set on getting your own vehicle, but buying a car outright seems like too much of a hassle, you might consider leasing a car. This is an arrangement where you get to drive a car (often a brand new vehicle) for a set period of time for a set monthly fee, without actually owning it. Especially for expats who don’t plan on remaining in the country for a significant period of time, it can be a more convenient option.
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