Driving Basics &
Renting a Car
This page last updated
August 13, 2010
This page covers some of the
essential points you'll need to know about driving in Germany as well as
basic information about renting a car.
On this page:
Renting a car
in Germany entails about the same as it does in the US. Most of
the major US and European car rental agencies are represented in Germany
including Avis, Hertz, Budget, Alamo, Sixt, and Europcar. Rental
cars are available at all airports and many major rail stations and
other city locations, although you'll often pay more for the convenience
of the latter.
the best deals are usually available by booking with a US firm before
departure. You will not only get the best rate, but it will be set
in US dollars. You will need to book these at least 14 days before
you plan to pick-up the vehicle. Rental rates vary considerably
between the various companies, but all are fairly competitive.
Call around or check the web to get the best rate. Alternatively,
you can use a consolidator service like AutoEurope. Once you find the best rate and
firm-up your itinerary, reserve right away to ensure you get a
vehicle. Note that base rates do not include the 16% Value Added
Tax (VAT), registration fee, or any airport fees; expect those to equal
25% or so of the daily rental rate. Rates do, however, include the
required third-party liability insurance.
To rent a
vehicle, you will need your driver's license and passport. I would
recommend using a major credit card for the rental as most automatically
cover your insurance deductible in the event of an accident or other mishap.
However, be sure to check with your credit card company to verify that
it does offer this coverage, that it applies to rentals in Germany, and what you must do to qualify for this
(e.g. waiving the Collision Damage Waiver [CDW] option on
the rental contract.)
rental cars generally come equipped with a manual transmission
(the word "standard" really does apply here.) If
you want (or need) an automatic, make sure you specify this when you
book. It will probably cost extra, though. If you
really want luxury, you may also want to inquire about renting a
sports car or sedan; most rental agencies keep ample numbers of
these available for those tourists with the desire and corresponding
Most car rental
agencies will allow one-way rentals within Germany (pick-up the car in
one city and return it at another) for no extra fee. If you want
to do this, make sure that this is the case before you rent. Most
rentals also allow unlimited kilometers. If you plan to travel
outside of Germany, make sure that this is noted on the contract and
that the vehicle is properly documented for international travel.
Chances are, most agencies will permit travel to most other western European
countries (Italy can be iffy), but probably not anywhere east of Germany except Austria.
check before you leave the rental lot
Every rental vehicle should
have a green insurance certificate ("Green Card"). It is important
that you have this before you drive off. If you are stopped by the
police, travel to a different country, or have an accident, you will
need to produce this document. Make sure that the vehicle has all
of the required emergency equipment (warning triangle, first aid kit,
spare tire, and jack) and a parking disc. Also, verify what type
of fuel the vehicle uses-- many German cars use diesel, which helpfully
is the same word in German. Before
venturing out on the road, make sure you know where all the buttons,
knobs, and controls are. Take a little test drive around the lot to get a
feel for the car. This will allow you to make any necessary
discoveries or adjustments before you get out into the foreign driving
environment where you will need to concentrate. If you have any
questions, ask the lot attendant-- in my experience, they're more than
happy to help.
Gasoline (Benzin) and
diesel (Diesel) are readily available throughout Germany, although filling
stations (Tankstellen) are not nearly as prolific as in the US.
Still, you should have little problem finding a place to "tank-up" (volltanken)
when you need to. Most small towns have at least one station, and
there are 24-hour stations located at intervals along the Autobahn and
major highways. The major brands are Aral, Avia, BP, Elf, Esso, Fina,
Jet, Total, and Shell. Most stations are now self-service (Selbstbedienung,
or SB-Tanken.) Like the US, unleaded fuel (bleifrei)
is now the norm. Pumps in Germany work basically the same as in
the US. Europe uses a different formula to calculate octane
ratings, so the scores will appear to be higher than those for
corresponding grades in the US. Also, remember that fuel is
dispensed by the liter.
likely experience "sticker-shock" when it comes to gas prices in
Germany. Expect to pay three to fours times more for gas in
Germany than in the US. As of January 2010, regular unleaded
averaged €1.35 per liter (or about US$7.25 per gallon) and diesel was
about €1.13 (about US$4.27 per gallon). Most of this cost is due
to high taxes. See the "Other sites
of interest" below for links
to a sites with current fuel rates.
Germany has a
couple of major automobile/motorists clubs. The biggest is the
ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club, General German Auto
Club). The other is the AvD (Automobilclub von Deutschland,
Auto Club of Germany.) Both offer the usual array of motorist services.
Of most interest to the tourist is the roadside breakdown service (Straßenwacht,
Pannenhilfe) operated by both clubs (but especially ADAC), which
offers assistance to both members and non-members. Basic help from
these "yellow angels" is free, but you will have to pay for parts or
towing. To summon help, use the nearest emergency telephone, located at
2 km intervals along the Autobahn (see the
"Emergencies" section of the Autobahn page) and 5-10 km intervals
along Federal Highways. Arrows on the roadside posts will direct
you to the nearest one. Where emergency telephones are not
provided, call 0180/2222222 from a phone booth or mobile phone.
ADAC breakdown assistance
are, like most other things Teutonic, excellent in quality. The best
maps are from Hallwag (the German franchise of Rand McNally) and the
ADAC auto club. The RV Verlag Euro-City series of city and metro maps
is excellent (each map seems to be almost the same size as the city itself!).
Michelin also publishes a competent collection of regional and city
maps. Even the free maps available from tourist offices tend to be
more than adequate in scope and detail.
Licensing, traffic and
parking laws, and signs and signals are covered in detail the
traffic laws and
signs and signals
Germany has the world's
second largest road system (after the US)-- pretty amazing for such a
small country. There are 636,000 km of roads, with over 221,000 km
of this total being trunk roads and highways, providing paved access to
even the most remote corners of the country. These roads carry a
huge and growing volume of traffic. In 2009, there were over 55 million registered
vehicles, up from 36 million in 1990 and 17 million in 1970. In
addition, Germany serves as the crossroads of Europe funneling much of
the continent's east-west and north-south traffic.
Typical rural road
You will find
that the roads in Germany are well-engineered and maintained; rarely
will you find a pothole, and snow removal is almost instantaneous.
Signage is uniform and comprehensive. To put it succinctly,
Germany's roads are first class.
One note about
the road system: most of the roads in the former East Germany have now
been rebuilt or upgraded from their previously dilapidated condition.
Unfortunately, the expense of doing this has resulted in delays in
maintenance and expansion of roads in the west. Still, the overall
quality of the road system is excellent.
streets in Germany and in Europe in general tend to be narrower than
Americans are used to. That is one reason (along with high gas
prices) that small vehicles are the rule here.
Germany has a
hierarchical road system ranging from unpaved forest paths to the
world-renown Autobahn. Here is a brief description of the road types in
Forest/country lanes (Waldweg, Feldweg) - Paved and
unpaved one-lane roads. These are in generally good repair.
Forest lanes are usually restricted with access controlled by a
streets (Straße) - All town and city streets are paved,
sometimes with cobblestones. Generally in good repair.
Frequently narrow with tight corners, but usually with enough room
for two cars to pass. Usually named (although signs may be
hard to find at times). Variable traffic.
Community link roads (Gemeindeverbindungsstraße) -
Two-lane roads connecting villages and smaller
towns. Usually well-maintained. Light traffic.
roads (Kreisstraße) - Two-lane roads
connecting small and medium-sized towns. These roads have
official numbers starting with a "K" or with the official county code.
Sometimes these numbers may appear on guide signs or maps, but
usually not. Universally well-maintained. Light to
roads (Landstraße or Staatsstraße) - Very similar to
county roads. Usually connect larger towns. Again, these
roads have official numbers (usually four digits) starting with an
"L" or "St", but these numbers do not usually appear on signs.
Universally well-maintained. Moderate to heavy traffic.
roads (Bundesstraße) - Somewhat larger and usually
significantly busier than state and county roads. The routes
are numbered with "B" numbers (e.g. B35) and marked with
signs. These roads are usually two lanes but frequently,
especially in cities and busy tourist areas, they may have four or
more lanes. In larger cities, they may even be expressways (Kraftfahrstraße, Schnellstraße), or
so-called "Autobahn-similar" (Autobahnähnlich) roads, marked
signs. Federal roads connect large towns and cities and
tourist areas. Usually equipped with emergency phones at 5-10
km intervals. Universally well-maintained. Generally
Motorways (Autobahn) - See my special
European Highways (Europastraße) - These aren't separate
roads, but rather are co designated with other highways, usually
Autobahns. The European Highway System, with routes designated
with an "E", provides for continuous numbering between countries,
regardless of domestic route numbers. For example, near
Saarbrücken, the German A6 crosses into France and becomes France's
A32. However, both roads carry the E50 designation making it
easy for international travelers to follow the route. European
Highways are marked with the
Road route marker
over 80 theme highways for tourists. The most well-known is the
Romantic Road (Romantische Straße), a 180-mile route through
small, picturesque Bavarian villages from Würzburg to the
foothills of the Alps at Füssen. Other popular routes are the Castle Road (Burgenstraße)
from Heidelberg to Nürnberg and the Fairy Tale Road (Märchenstraße)
from Frankfurt to Hannover. Guided bus tours are available along
these routes, but the best way to see them is by driving yourself.
The routes are well marked and information is available at every town
along the way. If you do choose to travel one of these routes, do
so outside of the prime tourist seasons to avoid the crowds and get the
best hotel and restaurant rates.
Other sites of interest