Buying, selling used cars in Germany

by Joerg Moddelmog 21st Theater Sustainment Command

Photo by Sean Pavone /

Are you thinking about buying a used car downtown or are you about to sell your car to a fellow service member? Then you might be interested to know that in both cases the sale or purchase will be subject to German law. Therefore, it is good to know what host nation laws say on the subject of warranties and defects.

Even though verbal contracts are valid and fully enforceable in Germany, only a written agreement enables you to adequately prove the terms of the agreement and clarify each other’s obligations under it. All terms should be reduced to writing and signed by the parties because written contracts are presumed to be correct, complete and without binding oral or side agreements.

The buyer should have the car thoroughly checked out and tested before the sale is concluded. The car should be inspected by a trustworthy independent third party, such as a garage.

Since it does not say anything about the real condition of the car, passing inspection is hardly enough proof that the car will remain reliable. Rather, it just shows the car is doing fine at that one moment.

Normal wear and tear usually does not constitute a legally relevant defect, even if it impairs the function of a used car, unless the buyer demanded a clear, concrete and binding representation from the seller to the contrary. Therefore, the buyer should ask the seller for specific assurances, express warranties or guarantees if certain conditions that are important to him or her. These should be put down in writing.

In Germany, the average total life span of a car is 10 years. After eight years, rust is a significant danger for almost every car in Germany and is, therefore, considered to be normal wear and tear.

When buying a car from a dealership, the warranty period is two years. It can be reduced to one year if you buy a used car from a dealer. Only when buying from a private person can the warranty be excluded completely by terms like “as is,” “with all faults,” or “Gebraucht wie besichtig,” which means “bought as seen.”

It is also important to verify the seller’s name on the bill of sale and to keep a copy of the power of attorney if the seller is selling on behalf of another person. Do not hesitate to ask to see the seller’s ID. Additionally, you should keep the seller’s local address and phone number on file in case you need to contact him later should a problem arise.

If you encounter problems when selling or buying a car, feel free to contact either the German Attorney-Advisor Matthias Voelker at the Ramstein Law Center (489-2552 or 06371-47-2552) or the German Legal Assistance Attorneys Joerg C. Moddelmog and Holger Blug at the Kaiserslautern Legal Services Center on Kleber Kaserne (483-8848 or 0631-411-8848).