The curious tale of buying a vehicle in Germany

Porsche tails 2 Germany is a country which is known for being efficient. It is also known for some other things, but they will not be the focus of today’s rambling.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I entered the world of vehicle buying in Germany, to find a system that could be, at best, described as kooky, and at worst, as bureaucratic. Here is my experience.

Having spent some time searching for the perfect vehicle, scouring classified ads and local dealers, we had found what we believed to be the perfect vehicle for our needs. This was then followed by some serious time peering at the engine in a wise and knowledgable manner, some debate over pricing, and finally, the time to part with some cash and drive off. Except, it wasn’t quite that easy.

The main issue was that of the number plate. In the three countries to date where I have had the pleasure of buying a vehicle (UK, Australia and New Zealand), the car has always come with a number plate. It is a part of the car, much like the doors or windows. Or engine. After all, you can’t exactly drive anywhere without one.

In Germany, it rapidly became apparent to us that the number plate is related to the car’s owner rather than the car itself. So when you sell a car, you take the number plate with you.

For what reason, you probably ask? To put on the next car, would be the logical response. Logical yes. True, no. In actuality, the number plate has a little sticker on it, which shows the world (or the German police) that your vehicle is legally registered. To cancel your registration you take your number plate to the nearest vehicle registration office, where the plot thickens.

We had the pleasure of going through this process for Vera’s parents car, in a totally separate adventure, which primed us for the journey before us. That time, we went to the vehicle registration office where we were handed a pair of safety goggles and directed over to the corner of the office.

Here, a hugely intimidating metal grinding machine lurked, waiting for us to feed it our number plate. This process was wonderfully boggling. People were wandering around a large, frankly depressing government building, clutching their number plates, waiting for their pair of safety goggles and go on the machine, which is operated via the means of a large red button. I have to admit that this is a lot of fun. I’m not convinced about the health and safety aspect.

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As a result of all of this, any vehicle bought in Germany is likely to come without a number plate, as the previous owner will have destroyed it in a fit of glee and button pressing madness. The vehicle we had chosen was no different. We, therefore, were going to need to enter into the world of getting a new number plate. Does life get any more exciting than this?

To get a number plate, we needed all the paperwork associated with the car. Which we weren’t able to get unless we had paid for the car, as due to a marvellous part of German law, whoever is in possession of the cars documentation, owns the car. So people are usually a bit shy of handing over the actual paperwork until they have received payment.

We handed over payment therefore for our new steed (more on her shortly), which got us some pieces of paper, and a vehicle we couldn’t take on the road as it had no number plate. The next step was to leave it where we had bought it, and find ourselves a number plate.

The obvious place to buy a number plate, to my mind, would have been the vehicle registration office next door to where we had bought the vehicle. This would have involved a short walk, some paperwork, and some number plate printing. Sadly, this was a little bit too easy to be the case.

It turns out that one has to go to the office that represents the region of your home address. In our case, this was a forty minute drive away. Quite how the car buying public not already in possession of a car goes through this process I have no idea.

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Still, this was how it was done, so off we drove to a large government building, much like the previous government building, where we waited for our ticket to come up and watched the entertainment on offer.

This largely took the form of people wandering around clutching their number plates with the expressions of those fairly sure that the internet was invented to make our lives easier, and wouldn’t some sort of online system for all of this be better? Although of course, that would make some metal grinding machines redundant, and we couldn’t have that.

After some waiting, we got to talk to someone, who asked us if we had a preference for the letters and numbers on our number plate. We opted for the randomly generated sequence, which happened to match my mothers birth date. Which was nice.

Randomly generated sequence assigned, we were given a ticket with our number plate printed on it, which we took to the conveniently located number plate shop, who printed out our number plate in front of us. Financial tip: the number plate printing business in Germany is one to invest in. Demand will never cease.

We were now the proud owners of a pair of shiny new number plates for our vehicle which was parked 40km away. Some driving later, and we were the proud owners of a vehicle with actual number plates, which we could actually drive away ourselves. Yay for us!

Oh of course, there is the matter of insurance. In Germany, insurance is a legal requirement. The insurance system however is a bit better, in that you can get a promise of insurance on a vehicle, which is good for fourteen days, in which time you can drive the vehicle legally, and be covered should something bad happen. You need the promise of insurance prior to getting the registration, as otherwise you won’t get your new number plates. In case all of this has got you as boggled as it got me, let me boil it all down for you into a nice, simple workflow:

Find a vehicle –> ensure vehicle isn’t leaking too much oil –> agree on price –> go to insurance company office and get a print out of an insurance promise –> return to vehicle and exchange some money –> get some bits of paper –> go to the registration office and get a number plate –> return to your vehicle, affix the plate and drive off –> pay for your insurance within fourteen days so it is valid.

Easy stuff!

All of the above means that we now have a new addition to our travelling family, whom we have christened Ma Fleur. Although largely she is being referred to as Fleurie. She is a long wheel base Renault Master, in other words, a large white van. Currently she consists of three seats and a large empty space (which we can stand up in!). Naturally we have grand plans involving converting her to a camper van, which we will use to tour Europe. Which is likely to be our next grand adventure. More on that in future posts!

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