For exploring Germany, you have two options; public transport or renting a car. There is an abundance of different car options and rental stations, some in airports, next to train stations, and even downtown locations in large cities. No matter whether you want to rent a small car to navigate big city parking, a family car for a group of four, or a fast car to try on the Autobahn, Germany will have the car you are looking for. This article will help you navigate the process. Let’s start with some basics to help you plan.
Where to Book a Rental Car in Germany
You’re going to want to try to book online with one of these larger companies, since they have the most offices in Germany and also a large network of European offices. This will most likely get you faster service or car replacement in case there is something wrong during your rental. Booking with smaller companies like Thrifty or Dollar will make car replacements a bigger ordeal since these smaller companies only have a few offices in large cities or at large airports.
The largest car rental companies in Germany are:
• Avis (336 stations)
• Budget (300 stations)
• Enterprise (200 stations)
• Europcar (579 stations)
• Hertz (300 stations)
• Sixt (500 stations)
I would recommend making a spreadsheet so you can easily compare offers, and how much each company charges for fees, and more. If you’re still deciding whether a rental car is a good choice for your trip, you can keep train and subway ticket prices in the same spreadsheet to give you perspective before deciding.
Fees You’ll Want to Know About, and Avoid If Possible
• VAT | Value Added Tax of 19% is included in most rental quotes. This is a mandatory tax, much like the sales tax in the United States.
• Premium Station Fee | To keep fees low, try to avoid picking up your rental car from an airport or train station, as there is an additional Premium Station Fee (convenience fee) of 22-23%. This fee also applies to all extras you add to the car, like a GPS or car seats for children. The Premium Station Fee only applies for pick up. If you return the car at an airport or train station, there are no added fees. Try to avoid picking up your rental car up on a Sunday or holiday. Most non-premium rental offices are closed, leaving you with only an airport or train station pickup, guaranteeing the aforementioned additional Premium Station Fee.
• GPS Rental Fee | The cost for a GPS is usually between $5-$15 per day, which can add up if you have a car for more than a few days. If you decide to wing it without a GPS, download an offline map of the area you are traveling in via the Google Maps app on your smartphone or tablet. GPS navigation systems may only have enabled the map for the country you rent them in. If you are crossing borders, make sure to inquire about a GPS that has maps for ALL the countries you are traveling to.
• Automatic Transmission | Cars with an automatic transmission are rare and cost extra.
• One Way Rental | If you pick up your rental in Germany and return it in another country (or vice versa), there will be added charges, that can often be higher than the rental charge itself. Try to avoid crossing borders for the return of a rental car.
• Unlimited Mileage? | Depending on the provider, only a certain number of kilometers are included.
• Additional Driver | Extra drivers cost extra money, usually $5-$25 per day. Try to stick with one driver if you are trying to save money. You can ask if spouses are exempt from the additional charge.
• Punctuality is Paramount | Return the car on time, there usually is no grace period (see our article about German punctuality). Also, the billing for rental cars is per 24 hour period. Pick up the car at 1pm and return it a week later at 3pm, these two extra hours are going to cost you a full day rental fee.
Do You Need Rental Car Insurance in Germany?
No one wants to pay for it and we figure out we should have paid for it once it is too late. Boring subject, but here are some pointers regarding rental car insurance in Germany.
All German car rental companies are required to protect themselves and their customers for damage on any property and persons outside your vehicle. The portion that remains which you are responsible for is theft or damage to the rental car, which is collision (CDW) and theft insurance. This insurance ranges from $10-$40 per day and carries a high deductible of $1,000 or more. Want to avoid paying that? Here is how, and it will surprise you.
Many people do not realize that by booking a rental car with a credit card, that you may already have collision and theft insurance coverage. Most credit card agreements offer collision and theft insurance automatically with a low or zero deductible as a benefit to their customers. Before you book your rental, check out the rental car insurance coverages of the different credit cards you already have, and book the rental with the credit card that offers the best coverage. Ask your credit card provider about glass, undercarriage and interior coverage, which might not be covered.
This is also a good time to check if your credit card charges for foreign transaction fees. This can be a costly 3% premium on all purchases in Germany, so try to use a card that does not charge you foreign transaction fees. When you’ve chosen which credit card you want to use, ask for an emailed copy of the insurance certification, or log in to your account and look for it in the benefits section. Keep the document handy on your electronic device and/or printed when you approach the car rental counter, you might be asked for it.
At the rental counter, present the credit card of your choice and make sure to decline the collision/theft coverage offered by the car rental company. Don’t not sign any contract unless you are sure that you have declined their collision/theft coverage, otherwise your credit card provided coverage is invalidated! If you are unsure, you can add above your signature “I hereby decline optional CDW and theft insurance.”
And if you are looking to take a Porsche or high-end car onto the Autobahn, be advised that most high-end luxury cars need two credit cards presented and some contracts also require the purchase of an extra collision/theft insurance through the rental company only. Check your credit card provider for limits and, if you plan on renting a high end car, ask your credit card provider for extra coverage options.
Get Familiar With the Fine Print
You are entering a legal contract, so make sure you read all the fine print before clicking the Book Now button on the website. Yes, I know it is a lot of text, but you have to know the details to really have peace of mind. Invest the time now, which will hopefully mean no (costly) surprises later.
What to Bring or Ask When Picking Up a Rental Car in Germany
• Bring a copy of your car rental voucher (printed or electronic)
• Bring a copy of your car rental reservation confirmation (printed or electronic)
• Bring the credit card you booked the car with
• Decline the collision (CDW) and theft insurance (or write “I hereby decline optional CDW and theft insurance”).
• Ask for a contract copy in English, if the person at the counter does not automatically give you one.
• Check if the rental car uses regular gasoline or diesel fuel
• Record any scratches or imperfections on the car with the rental company in writing. Take detailed pictures or a video of the car at the pickup location.
Driving on the Autobahn
Germany is the only country in the world without a general speed limit on its highways, the legendary Autobahn.
Nevertheless, an advisory speed limit 130 km/h (81 mph) is agreed upon, unless otherwise posted. Driving on the Autobahn is serious business and requires your full attention at speeds well over 100 miles per hour. Abide by the general rule, that slower traffic stays to the right, the left lane is reserved for fast traffic. If you are going slow in the left lane, German drivers will flash their headlights, tailgate and honk at you… a lot.
In Case of a Car Accident in Germany
Call 112 from your cell phone, which has to be logged into a German mobile network (T-Mobile / Vodafone / EPlus / O2) in order to get an ambulance or police to record the accident or for first aid. If this is not an option, ask people around you to use their handy, which the Germans associate with a cell phone.
Do You Need an International Driving Permit in Germany?
Get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from AAA or National Auto Club (NAC), the two only licensed retail outlets for the IDP. It is not required for a car rental in Germany, but “technically” all German car rental companies “recommend” to carry an IDP, which is a translation of your regular driver’s license. Make sure to bring your driver's license along with the IDP, since the IDP only works in conjunction with your regular license.
Returning the Rental Car
• If you have to return your rental with a full gas tank (read the fine print of your contract), make sure to get gas as close to the drop-off station as possible and keep the receipt from the gas station as proof.
• Remove all personal items from the car.
• Take one final video or photos of the car in case there’s a dispute over scratches or the state the car is left in.
• Get final paperwork/breakdown of charges from the rental company.
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