Basics & Renting a Car
page last updated July 10, 2022
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:
rental offices at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof
a car in Germany (Mietwagen, Leihwagen)
entails pretty much the same process as 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
rates vary considerably between the various companies, and the best
deals are usually available by booking before departure, although you
can often find good last-minute deals. Most online travel sites will
let you compare rates, or you
can use a consolidator service like AutoEurope or Autoslash. Once you find the best
rate and firm-up your itinerary, book it right away to ensure you get a
booking, be sure to check if the quoted price includes taxes and fees.
Typically, base rates do not include the 19% Value Added
registration fee, or any airport fees; expect those to equal 25% or so
of the daily rental rate. Base rates do, however, include the required
third-party liability insurance, but damage waivers will cost extra.
rent a vehicle, you will need your driver's license and passport. If
you're coming from the US, UK, or Austrailia, you generally will not
need an International Driving Permit (IDP), especially if your driver's
license is in the internationally-recognized numbered format (i.e. each
element of information, such as name, date of birth, etc., on your
license is numbered). For other countries,
check with the German embassy or consulate or the rental car agency
before leaving home to determine if you'll need an IDP.
mentioned above, your rental car contract includes the required
liability insurance. This means the rental agency will pay any claims
to other parties in case of an accident. However, you are responsible
for any damage to or theft of the rental vehicle. Just like in the US,
rental agencies offer their own damage waiver (CDW or LDW) that you can
purchase when you rent the vehicle. These can be pricey, but give you
the peace-of-mind of knowing that (with a few exceptions) you
can essentially walk away from the situation without any liability. Be
to read the fine print and understand what the waiver covers, what it
costs, and what your responsibilities are.
you don't want to pay for the damage waiver, check with your own auto
insurer at home-- many cover rental car damage, but be sure they cover
it for Germany and any other countries you will be driving in. Also
check with your credit
card company as most offer automatic coverage for free. Again,
check the fine print of the coverage to understand what it
covers, what you have to do to activate the coverage, and how
to make a claim should you need to. Also realize that many times,
credit card coverage is secondary, meaning you'll have to file a claim
with your own auto insurer first. Also understand that you
may have to cover any charges from the rental company for damages out
of your pocket first, and
then your own insurance or credit card company will reimburse
there are coverage options through third-party travel insurance
providers. Once again, be sure you
fully understand what's covered, how much it costs, and the claims
European 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, but note that
this will usually cost extra. Nearly all cars in Germany now
have air conditioning standard.
you really want luxury, you may also want to inquire about renting a
high-end German sports car or sedan; most rental agencies keep ample
numbers of these available for those tourists with the desire and
car rental agencies will allow one-way rentals within Germany (pick-up
the car in one city and return it at another), but most now charge a
fee for this. Most
rentals also allow unlimited kilometers, but double-check this when
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. Most agencies
will permit travel to most other western European
countries (Italy can be iffy), but probably not anywhere east of
Germany except Austria and maybe the Czech Republic. International
travel may incur additional fees.
and hybrid cars are now available for rental from most of the major
to check before you leave the rental lot
Be sure you understand the contract terms, fees, etc., especially
regarding insurance and fuel. Also understand any fees that may be
charged if you get a traffic ticket.
time to inspect the vehicle for damage and make sure any existing
damage is noted on the paperwork. Also be sure to understand what
constitutes chargeable damage in case you get a ding or scratch. Many
people like to take photos or a video of the vehicle prior to leaving
and again when returning the vehicle.
Every rental vehicle should have a "green card" insurance
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. This will usually be
in a plastic document wallet either handed to you at the rental counter
or already in the vehicle (check the glovebox.)
Check that the vehicle has a green emissions sticker (Feinstaubplakette or Umweltplakette)
on the windshield (typically on the passenger side) like the one shown
at the right. This will be necessary if you want to drive into one of
the many low-emissions zones (Umweltzone) in most German cities. (More on these zones on the City Driving page.)
sure that the vehicle has all of the required emergency equipment
(warning triangle, first aid kit, safety vest, and spare tire and jack)
as well as a parking disc.
Verify what type of fuel the vehicle
uses-- many German cars use diesel, which helpfully is the same word in
German. Otherwise, they probably use regular gasoline (discussed
below.) You can also check the fuel cap to see if it's noted there.
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.
(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 and truck stops located at intervals along the
Autobahn and major highways. The major brands are Agip, Aral, Avia, BP,
Esso, Fina, Jet, Total, and Shell. Nearly all stations
are self-service (Selbstbedienung,
the US, unleaded gasoline (bleifrei) has long been
the norm. Diesel fuel is also widely used in Germany and therefore
available at nearly all filling stations.
in Germany look a bit different than the ones in the US, but otherwise
work basically the same. Pay at the pump is still rare in Germany,
though. Instead, pump first, note the pump number, then go inside to
pay. If you plan to use a credit card, you may want to go inside first
and ask if they accept it before filling up, although it's pretty rare to find a station nowadays that doesn't take cards.
sure you are selecting the correct type of fuel. Both unleaded gasoline
and diesel are widely used for passenger cars in Germany. If you have a
rental and didn't ask when picking up the car what fuel to use, check
for a label on or near the filling cap or in the owner's manual.
unleaded gas is typically labeled "Super" or "Super 95" (meaning 95
octane), with higher octane unleaded (usually 98 or
higher) labeled "Super
plus". Note that Europe uses a different formula to calculate octane
they are higher than those for corresponding grades
in the US.
Since 2018, pumps
in Germany now also show standardized European fuel labeling. The label
for unleaded gasoline is a black circle with an "E5", "E10", or "E85"
inside it, with the number indicating the percentage of Ethanol it
contains. Again, check to see what your vehicle can use-- on newer
cars, there should be a corresponding label inside the fuel filling
will typically be a couple of diesel nozzles as well.
Often, both will be the same grade of fuel, but one has additives
to help clean
the internal engine parts. The standard European label for diesel fuel
is a black square with either "B7" or "B10" inside, meaning it contains
7% or 10% "biodiesel". There's also synthetic diesel, which is labeled
"XTL". Once again, be sure to confirm what fuel
your vehicle can use.
that fuel is dispensed (and priced) by the liter.
will likely experience "sticker-shock" when it comes to gas prices in
Germany. Expect to pay significantly more for gas in Germany than in
the US. As of April 2022, regular unleaded averaged €1.98 per liter (or
about US$8.08 per gallon) and diesel was about €2.03 (about US$8.29 per
gallon). Over €5 of the
price is due to taxes, which includes a flat tax per liter plus the
national 19% VAT. See the "Other
sites of interest" below for links to a sites with
current fuel rates.
is widely available in Germany, with nearly 7,000 stations. CNG
stations are much less prolific
with about 900 nationwide, and hydrogen stations are starting to be
added, with about 92 now in operation nationwide.
After a slow start, Germany has dramatically increased the number of
electric vehicle charging stations (e-Tankstelle) over
the past few years. As of mid 2022, there were
about 29,000 electric car charging stations around the country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in November 2019
a goal for Germany to have 1 million charging stations by 2030.
stations can be found at large stores and shopping centers, Autobahn service areas,
truck stops and travel centers, and increasingly on the street.
On-street charging may also have time-limited parking
requiring the use of a parking voucher or parking disc.
alternative fuel stations show a blue "shadow" gas pump symbol with
either "LPG", "CNG", or "H2" to indicate the type of fuel available, or
the pump with an electric plug to indicate charging stations.
electric vehicle charging station in Munich (left) and signs (right)
indicating parking reserved for charging at all times but limiting
parking to up to four hours with the use of a parking disc while
charging between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm
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
Auto Club of Germany.) Both offer a roadside
breakdown service (Straßenwacht, Pannenhilfe) that provides assistance
to both members and non-members. In fact, ADAC claims to provide
assistance every eight seconds and can repair the vehicle on
roadside more than 85% of the time. Basic
help from these "yellow angels" is free, but you will have to pay for
parts or towing.
To summon help on the Autobahn, use the nearest
emergency telephone, located at 2 km intervals; arrows on the roadside
posts will direct you to the nearest one (see
section of the Autobahn page). On
other roads, call 0180-2 22 22 22.
you are using a rental car, it's best to contact the rental agency
breakdown assistance vehicle
Nowadays, many of
us depend on online maps. But if you still prefer old-fashioned paper
maps (or just want to have one as a backup), German
maps 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 as big 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.
traffic and parking laws, and signs and signals are covered in detail
the traffic laws
and signs and signals
has the world's 12th largest road network-- pretty amazing for such a
compact country. There are 644,480 km of roads, with over 225,000
km of this total being trunk roads and highways including about 13,000
km of Autobahn and 40,000 km of Federal Highways (Bundesstraßen),
providing paved access to even the most remote corners of the country.
These roads carry a huge and growing volume of traffic. In 2020, there
were over 65 million registered vehicles, up from 55 million in 2009,
36 million in 1990, and just 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.
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.
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 some delays in maintenance and expansion of roads in the west.
Still, the overall quality of the road system is excellent.
and streets in Germany and in Europe in general tend to
be narrower and smaller in scale than what Americans are used to.
That is one reason (along
with high gas prices) that small vehicles predominate here.
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
Germany going up through that heirarchy:
government recently revised standards for rural roads, dividing them
into four classes for purposes of standardized design and driver
expectation. These standards will be implemented as roads are
reconstructed or new roads are built.
Forest/country lanes (Waldweg, Feldweg):
Paved and unpaved one-lane roads. These are in generally good repair.
Forest lanes are sometimes 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. Generally 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. Occasionally 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 federal highway 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 are often expressways (Kraftfahrstraße, Schnellstraße),
or so-called "Autobahn-similar" (Autobahnähnlich) or
"Yellow Autobahn" (Gelbe
Autobahn) roads, marked with expressway signs. Federal roads
connect large towns and cities and tourist areas. Universally
well-maintained. Generally heavy traffic.
Motorways (Autobahn): See the dedicated Autobahn page.
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 European Highway sign.
- Trunk roads:
These roads are intended carry long-distance traffic at high speeds.
These roads will have three continuous lanes: one through lane in each
and a center passing lane that alternates direction at regular
intervals. Intersections with other roads will typically be
grade-separated with entrance and exit ramps. The centerline of these
roads will be marked with a one meter wide buffer space painted
- Interregional roads:
These roads will also carry long-distance traffic at relatively high
speeds. To facilitate safe overtaking, these roads will have passing
lanes at regular intervals. Intersections will be limited and will
typically be signalized. The centerline of these roads will be marked
with a double white line: solid where overtaking using the oncoming
lane is prohibited, broken
where such overtaking is permitted.
- Regional roads:
Designed for shorter journeys, these roads will have one lane in each
direction, no overtaking lanes, and will have conventional
intersections or roundabouts. The centerline of these roads will have a
single stripe: solid where overtaking is prohibited, broken where
- Local roads:
These are narrow, one lane roads that are wide enough to allow oncoming
vehicles to pass each other at lower speeds. Intersections will not
feature any special design. These roads will have no
centerline but will be marked with broken white lines along both sides
to provide a visual cue for drivers to slow down. Drivers should center
themselves between those lines when there is no oncoming traffic, then
straddle the lines to the right when encountering oncoming traffic.
Road route marker
Germany has over 80 themed highways for tourists. Perhaps 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.
While guided bus tours are available along
most of these routes, 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, you should consider doing so outside of the prime tourist seasons to avoid the
crowds and traffic and to get the best hotel and restaurant rates.
Other sites of interest