Buying, selling used cars in Germany

by Joerg Moddelmog
Kaiserslautern Legal Services Center

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/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 (side) agreements.

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

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 (e.g., a garage).

Passing inspection is hardly enough proof that the car will remain a reliable one since it does not say anything about the real condition of the car.  It just shows that the car is doing fine at that one moment. A clause like “inspection guaranteed” means only that the seller has the duty — and the right — to place the car into such a condition that it passes inspection.

Normal wear and tear usually does not constitute a legally relevant defect, even if it impairs the functioning 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 a certain condition is important to him or her. It 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 besichtigt.”

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. Also, 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/buying a car, feel free to contact either the German Attorney-Adviser 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).