Driving Tips for Germany • Car Rental/Lease
Renting and driving a car in EuropeIn order to rent a car in Europe, non-Europeans need a valid driver’s license from their home state or province. Although the legal driving age is 18, drivers usually must be over 21 (sometimes even older) to rent a car. As of July 1, 2011 foreign drivers must also be at least 18 years of age to drive any car in Germany. (See more below.)
International Driving Permit
Austria, Germany, and Switzerland also require an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is actually just a translation of the original license from your home country. However, in Germany you don’t need an IDP for a license in English. If you plan to drive a lot outside of Germany, you may still want to get an IDP, which is valid in over 150 countries. The minimum age for the IDP is 18. In the US, you can get an IDP for a small fee from most AAA offices or online.
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Automatic vs Stick Shift
While most cars in the US have an automatic transmission, it’s exactly the opposite in Europe. Germans and other Europeans learn to drive with a manual "stick-shift" transmission, and most cars on the road in Germany have a four or five-speed transmission with the shift lever in the center floor console ("four on the floor").
If you’re planning on renting or leasing a car in Germany or anywhere in Europe, this gear-shift business can be important. First of all, most rentals are also manual-shift models. You can get an automatic, but it’ll cost ya — in two ways: (1) A higher rental fee. (2) Higher fuel costs. Automatics usually get lower fuel mileage than manual-shifts. (Don't forget, gasoline in Europe costs about twice as much as in the US.)
A lot of Americans have never even learned to drive a stick-shift vehicle. If you have no idea how to use a clutch and shift gears, you’ll need to rent an automatic. If your European trip will last longer than two weeks, it may be cheaper to get a short-term car lease rather than rent.
Although you will seldom see a parking meter in Germany and much of Europe, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for parking!
When parking in an urban area (business or residential) in Germany, always look for a sign that says “Parkscheine” (“Parking tickets”) and the machine that dispenses them. Never just assume that parking is free. You insert coins to pay for the amount of parking time you want, then place your ticket on the car’s dashboard in plain sight. See the photo below for more.
Parking Payment App
Some German cities, including Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Wiesbaden and others, now offer the EasyPark or Pango smartphone app that allows you to pay for parking using your mobile phone (Android or iPhone). The parking fee is charged to your phone account! (A few US cities also have this option, but usually only for parking garages.) The app even sends you a warning 15 minutes before your parking time expires!
Rental Tip: GPS Navigation
Want a GPS navigator for your rental? You can rent a portable GPS “Navi” (NAH-vee) for about 9 euros a day (EuropCar) or get a rental car with a built-in GPS navigation system. Mention this when you make your reservation, since they are not always available. - More alternatives: Rent or buy a portable GPS unit that also works in Europe before you go.
Driver’s License Age Requirement
As of July 1, 2011, a non-German driver must be at least 18 years of age in order to legally drive in Germany with a foreign driver’s license. This applies to US exchange students and other foreign residents in Germany, as well as tourists visiting Germany. This has always been true for driving rental cars (many rental agencies require a minimum age of 21), but the new law means that after July 1, 2011, a US teen aged 16 or 17 may not legally drive any vehicle in Germany with a US driver’s license. (There may be an exception for US military dependents, but you should verify this with the appropriate authority.)
Violating the new law is a criminal offense that can result in an expensive fine, but more importantly, such a violation can also mean that the offending driver may have great difficulty in ever obtaining a German driver’s license or car insurance! If an under-age driver has an accident, the insurance company may refuse to pay any claims.
Expat Tip: Driver’s License RequirementsNon-EU expats (i.e., Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc.) living in Germany have six months before their home country license is no longer valid. (If you’re staying a year or less, you can usually continue to use your American license, but you have to apply for an exemption.) If you’re staying longer than six months and you’re lucky enough to have a driver’s license from a state or province with a reciprocity agreement, it’s fairly easy to get a German license. If not, be prepared to spend time and money to attend a driving school (Fahrschule), take tests, and obtain a license. — The reciprocity odds are not in your favor. Only about half of the 50 US states have a license waiver agreement with Germany, and some populous states (California, New York) are not among them. If you’re headed for Austria, you’re in luck! Unlike Germany, Austria now allows the automatic conversion of a US driver’s license.
Learn more: How to Get a German Driver’s License
Environmental ZonesSince 2008, many cities in Germany have introduced environmental “green zones” (Umweltzonen) that require cars to have a special sticker (Umweltplakette) for entry. Motorists driving into these zones without the proper sticker are subject to a 40-euro fine. The law applies to foreigners as well as residents. If you have a rental car, you need to be sure it has a green sticker. Expat residents also need to get a sticker for their car. An Umweltplakette for cars registered in Germany costs only 6 euros. A sticker for foreign vehicles costs 12.50 euros.
Learn more: Driving: Environmental Zones
Tip: Winter DrivingIn 2010 Germany introduced new, stronger laws and regulations concerning winter tires and winter driving. These laws also apply to rental cars. Learn more: Winter Driving in Germany
Tip: Other RequirementsDrivers must carry a warning triangle (Warndreieck) and a first-aid kit in the vehicle (found in the trunk of all rental cars) for use in an emergency. Since your North American auto insurance is not valid in Europe, be sure you have coverage from the rental agency and/or a credit card. Most rental cars require unleaded (bleifrei, pron. BLY-FRY) gasoline or diesel fuel (Diesel, much more common in Europe than in the US).
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Seven important rules of the road!
Tip: Diesel CarsDiesel cars, also as rentals, are more common in Europe than in North America. When filling your car’s tank with diesel fuel, make sure you do not mistakenly pull up to a truck diesel pump. The size of the nozzles for the auto pumps versus the truck pumps is different. A truck fuel nozzle is bigger and has a higher flow rate. It won’t fit in the narrower automobile diesel fuel pipe.
MORE > Winter Driving in Germany - Snow tires and the "O bis O" rule
MORE > GPS Navigation in Germany and Europe
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Copyright © 1997-2013 Hyde Flippo. All rights reserved.
- The Autobahn - Legend and reality
- Driving on the Autobahn - Seven vital rules!
- Autobahn Tolls in Austria and Switzerland
- Driving: Environmental Zones - Many cities in Germany have "green zones" that require a special sticker for entry.
- Winter Driving in Germany - Snow tires and the "O bis O" rule
- Driving (from the book)
- Expats in German-speaking Europe
- GPS Navigation in Germany and Europe - rent or buy
- Police (with links to German and Austrian police Web sites!)
- The Autobahnpolizei, the German highway patrol
- Travel Page - Travel-related links of all kinds for German Europe
- The Autobahn - From Getting Around Germany site by Brian Purcell
- Autobahn online - A very good German site about the autobahn
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft Autobahngeschichte - The history of the autobahn from a German association
- Driving in Germany (U.S. Embassy: Living in Germany)
- Porsche Club of America
- Travel Page - Travel-related links of all kinds for German Europe (this site)
Auto Clubs & Information
- ADAC - The main German autombile club
- AvD - Another German autombile club
- ÖAMTC - The main Austrian autombile club
- EUAC - The "other" Austrian autombile club
- ACS - Switzerland
MORE > Driving on the Autobahn
BACK > Driving (Part 1)
NEXT > Education