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First time driving in Germany

I have traveled in Germany several times. Always use public transportation. This trip, I will be driving. Already booked a car, so I'm committed!
Any tips would help. I am particularly interested in gas stations. How do they work?
Thanks in advance, Milo.

Posted by
3696 posts

Just stay in the right hand lane on the autobahn unless you are passing... always use your blinkers... check left lane frequently if you pass because cars can come out of nowhere... do not pass from the right lane of the freeway... and enjoy it... I think they are the most efficient drivers in Europe. I am especially depressed when I come home and have to drive in Fl. where everyone chills out in the passing (left) lane:))
I don't remember much about the gas stations other than the food:) They are rather elaborate... kind of like what is on the tollroad in Fl. Lots of choice, etc. clean bathrooms (I think we had to pay, not just tip)

If I remember correctly the gas stations were mostly self-serve, just like home. Just be sure you use the right kind of fuel...gas vs. diesel.

Posted by
1631 posts

The most important thing about putting gas in your rental, is to make sure you are putting the correct type of gas in your car. Upon picking up the car, I would confirm with the attendant the type/grade of gas; i.e., regular unleaded, diesel, bio-diesel, etc. Generally, if you have a diesel car, there will be a sticker on the inside or outside of the gas cap indicating it. However, it's best to be sure. If you do have a diesel car, which I would highly recommend renting (best mileage), I would say that all of the stations I have been to have diesel gas.

If I am using a credit card, I go into the office and make sure they take that card. Just a precaution that I use. If the gas station is open and there is an attendant, you pump your gas before you pay for it.

If you are paying by credit card and your card does not have a chip in it, then you have to have an attendant present in order to process your purchase. On several occasions, we went to a station that was either closed for the day or closed during their lunch time (which can be several hours) and we could not purchase gas unless we had the chip credit card that we would swipe at the pump. Some stations will take cash in this case.

Remember to fill up before returning your car. If I have an early morning flight and depending upon how close I am to the airport, I will either fill up the night before or make sure that the station by the airport will be open when I need it. Once again, if you have a credit card without a chip, make sure an attendant will be present. Have a great trip and enjoy the freedom of driving.

Posted by
2829 posts

Gas stations work like this: you refuel, and then go pay inside.

Make sure you are getting the right fuel. Many pumps sell bio-fuel and are named by their biofuel content on the mix.

Many Autobahn restrooms are managed by Sanifair. You need to pay € 0,70 to use them, and you get a voucher to spend that amount on the convenience store.

Familiarize yourself with the most commons highways signs, namely those that are different than the ones used in US. Beware of city limits signs on local roads or highway off-ramps, they automatically imply a 50km/h limit unless otherwise posted.

Posted by
12040 posts

Gas stations are fairly simple. You simply drive up to the pump, select your fuel, and then fill your tank. You pay afterwards in the shop. I've only seen the pay-at-the-pump option once in all of Germany. Most service stations in heavily trafficked areas remain open 7 days a week.

Other than the signage (learn it!), there's only a few important differences between driving in Germany and the US that you need to know beforehand. The obvious, there's no speed limit on the Autobahn network unless specifically posted. Less obviously, there's implied speed limits for driving in towns or cities and on country roads that may or may not be posted. When you see the name of a town on a sign like this (the Ortschild), it means not only have you entered the given town, but the speed limit is now 50 km/hr. You may not otherwise see a speed limit sign, but there could be a radar camera that traps you just the same. Likewise, the crossed out town name means that you've left the town, and the speed limit now reverts to the rural limit of 100 km/hr.

Next, there's the confusing "priority on the right" rule. Well, not so much confusing as that it goes againts you're US-trained driving instincts. Fortunately, though, it only applies on secondary road intersection where no other sign indicates who must yield. In practice, you only find these in residential neighborhoods and some industrial zones. The rule won't apply for the overwhelming majority of the roads you are likley to use, because priority will be signalled with signs and traffic lights. But basically, it means that at an unsigned intersection, you must yield to traffic on your right, not whoever arrived at the intersection first.

Speaking of priority roads... you'll see this sign on most of the roads you will likely drive on. It signals that you have priority, and other drivers turning onto the road from side streets must yield to you, unless another sign or traffic light indicates otherwise. Hence, "priority on the right" does not apply for you.

Finally, there's no turn on red unless you see this arrow. This situation is not very common, however.

That's a start. As noted, familiarize yourself with the road signs. Most of them are obvious, some aren't. The only German words you should know are "Ausfarht" (exit, specifically for driving, as opposed to "Ausgang" for a pedestrian exit from a building), "Bei Nasse" (means that the indicated restriction applies in wet weather), "Kreuz" or "Dreieck" (cross and triangle, or in this context, an intersection of Autobahns), "Umleitung" (detour, the route is indicated by an orange arrow), "Staugefahr" (roughly, "danger, traffic jam) and "Eindbahnstraße" (one way street).

Posted by
12040 posts

"If you are paying by credit card and your card does not have a chip in it, then you have to have an attendant present in order to process your purchase. On several occasions, we went to a station that was either closed for the day or closed during their lunch time (which can be several hours) and we could not purchase gas unless we had the chip credit card that we would swipe at the pump"

As noted, this situation does not apply in Germany because the pay-at-the-pump option, unlike other countries, is almost non-existent. Gas stations usually only close late at night, if at all, and they never close for lunch in Germany... well, some stations in small out-of-the-way villages may, but you will likely never encounters this situation.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh, I forgot this important detail. You navigate not by geographic direction (ie, "Take I-95 south"), but by the towns and cities in your direction of travel. For example, "Take A5 towards Basel and Karlsruhe".

Posted by
321 posts

One thing that came in handy for us when we rented the car was we both knew how to drive a manual. I have heard that automatics are harder to come by, but this was also third hand info, so it could be complete gossip.

Posted by
12040 posts

You can get an automatic if you specifically request one in advanced. But if you don't, you're liable to get a manual, and that could be the only option the agency has available.

Posted by
980 posts

We've driven there twice, its easy to do, so don't worry. A few notes: In many smaller towns parking is free but the time is limited. Your car will probably come with a little disk that you use to set your arrival time and leave in the windshield area (ask the agent to be sure). I would strongly recommend a GPS; either renting a car that has one or bringing your own handheld unit. Also stop at one of the larger autobahn reststops for the experience; a place for gas, use the very clean restrooms, and even decent food in the restaurant.

Posted by
320 posts

And to add to John's post about parking, in many cities you must pay to park on the street. This is "Parkschein" I believe (Google it for a better description)- you park, go to a meter which is less than a block away, put your Euros in the meter for the length of time you want to park and put the ticket you get from the meter on the front dashboard of your car. And don't drink and drive as the laws are very strict. I always park the car for the day before having my first Bier!!! Have a good trip..

Posted by
25 posts

Thank you everyone. All your advice was spot on. Driving in Germany was lots of fun. I can't wait to do it again! Milo