How to safely find a new car

Buying a car over the Internet is quick, easy and quite common today. Many interested buyers browse online car marketplaces to get an idea about what is on offer and to contact sellers. While Internet car portals offer a platform to post detailed information about cars for sale and to connect seller and buyer, the parties actually finalise the sale “in the real world” after seeing and test-driving the vehicle. If you play by certain rules, you will soon enjoy your new car.

Learn more about how to safely buy a car online in Germany.

Search & find the right car

18.11.2012 16:16

Complete the provider’s search screen with your desired criteria such as vehicle model, mileage or age of the car. Refine your search by entering further criteria such as your post code if you want to narrow down results to your region.

What you get is a list of vehicles, usually sorted by price. The number of hits for models with similar specifications will give you a rough idea of the current market price of the vehicle.

Clicking on an interesting offer, you will get more information about the car with photos and detailed description.

The dangers

Contacting the seller

18.11.2012 16:15

In addition to the car details and, usually, a selection of photos, the vehicle description will contain the seller’s contact data. If the seller is a dealer, have a closer look on the dealer’s homepage, if available, and look for indications of the seller’s reliability.
Call the seller at the number given and ask for an appointment.

Make sure and ask for confirmation that the specific car is still for sale – especially if its location is a longer drive away.

Reputable/disreputable seller?
You can always have rotten sheep among all the reliable and serious sellers. How can you spot them?

The following signs indicate that an online car seller is reputable:

For all sellers:

  • No deposit is required – the rule is: money for car
  • A landline or at least mobile phone number is available where you can actually reach the seller
  • Contact between buyer and seller is not limited to e-mail only
  • A potential buyer can inspect and test drive the vehicle before buying it

For dealers especially:
If a dealer has a homepage, it should list the mail address, registered office, the company’s legal form, its owner(s) and authorised representatives.

Make sure that the contact data are those of the vehicle dealer. Phishing can result in buyers believing to communicate with a dealer, while they are actually talking or mailing to a phisher.

Inspecting the car

18.11.2012 16:14

Never buy a pig in a poke. Make sure that the vehicle really exists. Absolutely inspect the car. Never only rely on the seller’s advertising – everything else would be careless.

Make an appointment with the seller to inspect the car, preferably in a busy place. To prevent misunderstandings, have a print-out of the vehicle description on you when you inspect the vehicle.
Make sure you thoroughly check the car. This includes a test drive on city streets at low speed and, if possible, on the motorway. Insist on taking a test drive. Some technical defects will only show while you drive. Take an experienced person with you when you test drive the car who might help discover any concealed or hidden defects, or tell you whether the car or the vehicle certificates were manipulated.
You best investigate the car during daylight hours to quickly discover any body or paint damage or repair work.

If it seems necessary, have an expert in Germany prepare a valuation report (at €250) or a status report (between €50 and €90). In addition to independent automotive assessors, you can get this service from automobile clubs, authorised dealers and free garages.

The dangers

Closing the deal

18.11.2012 16:13

When you have found the right car, and you have inspected and test-driven the vehicle, there is almost nothing left standing in the way of completing the deal. By the way: you can of course try to negotiate and bargain down the price of cars offered online!

What you need now is a comprehensive and correct bill of sale (sales contract). Ask the seller to give you all required documents. In Germany, the latest mandatory vehicle inspection and exhaust emissions test certificates and the service history booklet document regular maintenance and the technical conditions of the vehicle. Also, the service history booklet will help confirm the actual mileage of the car.
Ask the seller whether the vehicle has been damaged: the seller is required to disclose all damage he or she is aware of – this includes repaired minor accident damage.
If the vehicle is handed over only after the contract was signed, you should both record the time of delivery and any expensive equipment on the contract. Make sure that you are handed all documents (see below).
If required, use a model contract such as those usually provided on online market sites or by ADAC for ADAC members.

When closing the sale, the following documents are required in Germany:

  • Part I Registration Certificate (or, if you temporarily cancelled your vehicle registration before 1 October 2005, the cancellation certificate)
  • Part II Registration Certificate (ownership certificate)
  • For older vehicles the old-style documents or the cancellation certificate may be required**
  • Latest mandatory vehicle test and exhaust emission test certificates for vehicles which are older than three years
  • Identity card or passport of the vehicle keeper; the data should match the data in the Part II Registration Certificate (ownership certificate)
  • Power of attorney of the vehicle owner/keeper if not identical with the seller

**Please note that the German vehicle registration documents were amended with effect from 1 October 2005. The “Fahrzeugschein” (registration certificate) was replaced by “Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I” and the “Fahrzeugbrief” (ownership certificate) was replaced by “Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil II” (now: Part I Registration Certificate and Part II Registration Certificate). The old-style documents will remain valid until the registration is transferred.
Whether your new car will be covered by warranty depends on who is the seller. Private sellers can exclude the legal warranty, while dealers are obliged to honour the legal warranty which in Germany is 1 year minimum.

The dangers


18.11.2012 16:13

Never pay before signing the sales contract and receiving all documents and vehicle keys.
We generally recommend to pay cash rather than arranging money transfers in advance.
Do not make any deposits! Down payments are not customary when dealing over the Internet and there is a risk that you are the one to chase your money when the car is not delivered. This is especially tricky in cross-border dealings.

The normal procedure is delivery versus payment, i.e. you pay when you receive the vehicle and vehicle certificates. This is the safest way for you to settle the transaction and enjoy the pleasure of driving your new car.

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