Mind on Germany: buying, registering a vehicle

by Staff Sgt. Alexander A. Burnett
21st Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs

A brand new servicemember, fresh from basic combat training and advanced individual training, disembarks a passenger plane at Ramstein Air Base. This is the servicemember’s first duty station, first time in Germany and they have a healthy amount of money saved up from training. This person is ready to buy a car and hit the autobahn.

Purchasing and registering an automobile is a very different process in Germany than in the U.S. Servicemembers buying their first European car need to know several key things before investing their money.

The first step in the process is identifying a car for purchase. Servicemembers can find affordable vehicles at local used car dealerships, online or by word of mouth. It is important to find an automobile within a set price range to avoid overspending.

“It is very possible to find a reliable car in Germany without spending a lot of money,” said Denise Fesel, the financial readiness program manager at Army Community Service. “If at all possible, save up for a vehicle and avoid going into debt. Life is much easier when you don’t have a car payment hanging over your head.”

After the servicemember has found a car within their price range, the next step is to personally check the vehicle for mechanical defects and take it for a test drive. Some very important things to look for when searching for defects include: rust on the undercarriage of the vehicle, oil leaks, transmission leaks, wear and tear on engine belts and dry rotted tires.

Depending on the season, service members also need to check what kind of tires are on their vehicle, said Sgt. Ray Christian, a wheeled vehicle mechanic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command.

“During the winter months, everyone has to have either all-season or winter tires on their car,” Christian said. “Another thing to look out for when you buy a car is that it will pass inspection. Every vehicle here needs to pass inspection in order to be on the road. Before you buy it, make sure it will pass.”

Now the car is checked, found worthy and purchased. The next step is getting it registered. The Vehicle Registration Office in the KMC is located on Kapaun Air Station, in Bldg. 2806. Office hours are from 7 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, except the last day of the month when they close at 11 a.m.

The day before going to the registration office to register a vehicle, servicemembers need to get insurance for their vehicle. Insurance policies in Germany are available through both U.S. and German companies.

“Insurance companies on the German economy will provide the purchaser with a double-wide insurance card that we will use to input the vehicle’s plate information to our system,” said Senior Airman Olivia N. Venson, a vehicle registration clerk assigned to the 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron. “The U.S. companies that provide insurance will automatically load a digital copy of an insurance card in our system.”

For vehicles being purchased from German nationals, the purchasing servicemember needs to bring the bill of sale, the German registration title book and a stamped pamphlet from the German registration office proving the vehicle is no longer registered in the German system. Once Vehicle Registration has processed all the paperwork, the purchaser will be given 30-day temporary plates. These plates are given so the servicemember has a chance to get the vehicle inspected.

When purchasing from a fellow member of the military, the vehicle must pass inspection before it is transferred if the vehicle is 10 years old or older. If it is a newer vehicle, it does not need new inspection paperwork provided there is still a 60-day period left on the vehicle’s current inspection. Then, both the purchasing and selling parties would go to the Vehicle Registration Office with their own paperwork. The purchasing party needs to have insurance on the vehicle either uploaded in the system or proof physically with them. The seller needs to bring a bill of sale for the vehicle, proof of a valid vehicle inspection, the vehicle’s current registration card and a lien release if the vehicle was previously financed.

“Something to pay attention to when buying a vehicle from another military member is how many people are registered to the vehicle,” Venson said. “If a vehicle is registered as owned by both a husband and wife, then both of them need to be at the Vehicle Registration Office to sell the car. The only other alternative is to have one party and a power of attorney.”

That same brand new servicemember has now been in Germany for one month. By listening to his chain of command and following all proper steps and procedures, that servicemember purchased and registered his vehicle with no complications. Following the proper steps set that servicemember up for happy motoring in Germany.