Category Archives: car


Driving on the “wrong side” of the road in Ireland

We went to Ireland a few weeks ago, a journey which I might describe in more detail in a future post. Because I really like driving, and automotive tourism, one of the most interesting aspects of the trip was renting a right-hand-drive car and driving on the left side of the road. I want to share my experiences here, as I hope they might be helpful.

In the weeks leading up to our trip, I was pretty terrified of the idea of driving on the left side. I imagined making mistakes when turning and getting confused in roundabouts, primarily. These aspects were interesting, but it turns out that I generally got the hang of that pretty quickly. There were a couple times in a small village at night when I drove for a short bit on a the wrong side before realizing my mistake, but overall this wasn’t much of a problem. Things just became more deliberate. Every time I turned, I had to do mental geometry to determine which lane to turn into, and which way to look for oncoming traffic (this is a problem on foot as well). I noticed that I brought this strategy home with me—for a couple days after returning to the US, I found that I was overthinking my turns.

The bigger problem, which I totally failed to anticipate, was judging the left side of the car and my position in the lane. Over the past 20 years of driving on the right side of the road, I’ve learned to position my driver’s seat over the lane, and I possess a decent mental model of the whereabouts of the right side of my car. In fact, I drive a truck, so this is even more important. A lot of the driving in Ireland is on tiny country lanes, sometimes with no lane markings, but usually with a wall or hedge right next to the road. So encountering oncoming traffic is terrifying at first and mildly unsettling after that. The first night we had the car, I had a long white-knuckled drive in the dark, contending with the occasional tour bus or truck.

Renting a car in Ireland is crucial. I’m not the type to ride around on tour buses and there isn’t train service to get to the important destinations. So, I have some suggestions:

  1. We were there in the off season. This is probably preferred in terms of driving. We encountered the occasional tour bus, but it would be much worse at the height of tourist season.
  2. Purchase the super insurance. Some rental companies have zero deductible insurance available. We rented from Dan Dooley, a local company, and we would have been liable for only EUR 100 if we happened to lose a mirror.
  3. Speaking of mirrors, make sure to point out all prior damage when checking out the car (of course this advise goes for all car rentals). The guy that looked at our car noted serious damage to the driver’s mirror and also marked damage to the passenger mirror, a move that might have been out of generosity, as I didn’t see anything wrong with it. Curb damage to the wheels is also quite conceivable, so check for this as well.
  4. We rented at the Dublin airport and then immediately headed for the west coast. This was ideal, as my first couple hours of driving was primarily on the highway.
  5. On the subject of highways, remember that you should cruise in the left lane and pass on the right.
  6. Make sure to adjust the seats, mirrors, and steering wheel, and learn the layout of the controls before leaving the lot. You’ll have enough on your mind without trying to figure out the windshield wipers when it starts raining, and in Ireland it will start raining.

So which is better, left-hand or right-hand drive? They are fairly equal, except one usability issue that I noticed on Irish cars. While some parts of the dash are mirrored, as in the case of the headlight switch, the turn signal is still on the left side of the steering wheel. I found that this makes it tricky to signal while shifting to accelerate out of the roundabout, as the stick also requires the left hand. I read a piece about driving a Nissan Skyline that states that the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel in Asian cars, which would probably be more usable in general but even less compatible with an American’s mental model.

car France law technology

The king’s tax collectors

The French government got me! They caught me driving by one of their speed cameras. Of course, the photo clearly shows that I was driving well below the speed limit. But what do facts matter when the real purpose is fundraising?

This ticket alleges that my car was traveling 97 km/h in a 90 km/h zone on the A6 down in Écully, just north of Lyon. Because there is a 5 km/h buffer to allow for error on posted speeds of less than 100 km/h (above 100 km/h, it would be 5%), this means I was formally charged with the crime of going 92 km/h in a 90 km/h zone.

I would never expect to have a good chance of success in fighting a ticket anywhere in the world. I’ve driven a lot, been ticketed, and fought tickets before. Interestingly, my tickets have been wrong more often than they have been correct. (My last photo citation showed somebody else’s car.) I am thus very aware of the uphill battle when wrongly ticketed, but I think it’s important to document these stories, even if we must live in places with such reduced liberté.

My case

I know society has a tendency to prejudge these situations (“Oh, he’s guilty, but he just wants to exploit some technicality. It’s a photo so it must be correct.”). I ask you to please try to forget those biases, and remember the following points:

  • There is no wizard! Technology isn’t magical. It has specifications that must be respected if you intend to get the desired result.
  • If you violate these specifications, in some cases the evidence can actually be evidence of innocence.
  • The roads do not become safer by wrongly punishing innocent drivers. Guilty drivers will generally be found guilty, even in a system designed to protect the innocent motorist.
  • It is more important to protect the innocent than to convict the guilty.

My argument closely mirrors that of this guy. I guess he won in court, but he’s French so he clearly has an advantage over me.

Here is the certificate (French) for the Mesta 210C speed camera. In the middle of page 2, it is clearly stated that the camera should be oriented at a 25-degree angle to the trajectory of traffic. This relates largely to what is known as the cosine effect, the idea that a car moving away from a radar looks faster than one moving across its beam, however it seems that this particular model has other reasons that make the discrepancy even worse.

Here is an official report from Metz (French) on the impact of improperly aligned cameras on reported speed. At the bottom of page 2, you can see a table showing the effect of small angular error on the reported speed. Note that the effect is very large for even a small deviation from 25 degrees.

Here is a photo from the certificate, taken from a properly configured camera at 25-degree angle from the trajectory of traffic. This angle can be verified with trigonometry (which I have done), but given that it comes from an official document just assume it’s correct.

An official photo with the car at the correct angle.

Below is a photo from my ticket. It is easy to see that the car is changing lanes and that this angle is different from that in the other photo. (Disregard the direction of travel, as the system works either way.) Trigonometry shows that this is approximately a 16-degree angle from the camera line of sight, but the difference is also very obvious to the naked eye. This difference in angle is so blatantly obvious that I don’t really need to type anything else to disprove this citation.

Speed camera photo of my car.

Some points to take away from these photos:

  • This ticket was issued in clear violation of the 25-degree angle in the camera certificate.
  • It is clear to the naked eye that this is true. Anybody who says otherwise has an agenda.
  • Based on the French government study linked above, this amount of deviation would lead to speed being over-reported by a lot.
  • It is unlikely that vehicle dynamics would allow for crossing lanes at a 9-degree angle while traveling at 97 km/h.

One more note, before I proceed to slam the system. The document regarding the government study stated that it is illegal to operate the camera in violation of the 25-degree rule. This means that the person who sent the ticket might be guilty of a crime.

Due process rights obliterated

The only thing more offensive than being found guilty of the crime, in which any bystander would have seen my innocence, is the complete lack of due process rights along the way. The entire system is set up to be as painful as possible for anybody attempting to challenge a ticket. This includes lost time, lost money, and stress (though, to be fair, this is most government interactions in France). Notice how long this process takes. There is no excuse for this slowness. The system is just incompetent and they probably like it that way, as a deterrent to those who might contest.

The timeline:

  1. October 25, 2013: “Infraction” committed.
  2. October 29, 2013: Ticket issued.
  3. November 2, 2013: I requested photos.
  4. November 12, 2013: Photos were sent.
  5. November 21, 2013: I paid EUR 68 “deposit” for the privilege of due process (early payment and admitting guilt would have only been EUR 45).
  6. December 13, 2013: I sent appeal letter by post.
  7. December 19, 2013: Notice was sent that file had been transferred to local tribunal de police.
  8. April 22, 2014: I requested information on the status of the appeal.
  9. July 1, 2014: Police sent letter requesting me to visit them on July 8 with info about driver’s license. (received on July 6, so limited time window to contact them about rescheduling)
  10. July 15, 2014: Police meeting. No translator was present, though I had called to request one. Because there was no proof of who was driving, I didn’t need to present my license to get points assigned.
  11. October 31, 2014: Written appeal rejected. (received several weeks later, but there a clock ticking on the 30-day limit to submit opposition letter)
  12. November 25, 2014: I appealed the written decision.
  13. December 19, 2014: I requested all details of the camera configuration via post.
  14. April 8, 2015 (4 months later!): Response to request for technical details was sent, though it didn’t actually have new information.
  15. April 27, 2015: I received service to appear in court. I had to go across town to collect this myself.
  16. April 27, 2015: I requested camera configuration specifications again, but never received response.
  17. June 3, 2015: Court date.
  18. June 24, 2015: Notification of decision.

Also note that, in the best case, the cost more than doubles if you fight it. In the worst case, the judge is free to impose a fairly extreme fine. You only fight one of these out of principle. The bureaucrats worked out the math so it’s always a bad financial move to contest, even if you are innocent.

The implications

This should have been a straightforward decision. Anybody can see that the car was changing lanes and it was therefore at an incorrect angle. The prosecutor, Lionel Gauthier, may very well have known his evidence was shaky, as he didn’t put up a serious fight in court. Though he was speaking too fast for my translator, it doesn’t seem that he ever really argued against the actual points I was making. The judge, Sylvie Lagarde, was friendly, but remember that traffic court doesn’t exist in any country to protect the innocent. The translator was nice, but it was her first time in court and she was unable to keep up just due to the nature of the interactions. Nobody was pausing long enough for her to get everything translated. So this alone was pretty unfair. The judge should have taken steps to ensure that every sentence was translated. As it was, 75% of what the prosecutor said was never relayed to me.

This presents a few problems for France:

  • This would be a hard enough process for a local to navigate, but successfully challenging a ticket as a foreigner seems impossible. Where is my égalité?
  • Because of the translator, I got to go first in court. The translation also meant that my appearance went very slow. It took about 35 minutes. When you have a courtroom of people waiting behind me on this, that has a negative effect on productivity.
  • There is a stereotype about French engineering. This ordeal is a data point in support of that. It’s troubling that a ticket with this problem was even mailed out.
  • The taxpayers lost money on this case. Yes, they charged me some money to fight it (in clear violation of standard due process principles) but they still didn’t make enough to pay all of the people involved:
    • People to process the multiple documents going back and forth,
    • Person to rule on written argument,
    • One hour of the translator’s time for the court appearance,
    • At least 45 minutes of the prosecutor time, and
    • At least 45 minutes of the judge’s time.

And you want to know why I recommend against living in France?

But, more seriously: Life is hard. I have a lot of legitimate stresses with respect to moving around and searching for jobs, etc. I want to feel like the government is there to serve the people. I want to feel like the government is there to stand up for the little guy and keep things fair. In general, I’m not anti-government. But when a government behaves like this, victimizing people for no good reason, it’s really upsetting and it leads to a lot of internal conflict about who the government is really there to serve. I know “life isn’t fair,” but in theory aren’t our interactions with the government supposed to be? Are we really supposed to sit back while the government randomly demands our money without any obligation to provide sufficient evidence of wrongdoing?

If the people of France want to reinstate the king’s tax collectors, they should just make it official.

Update (July 15, 2015): I’ve written a detailed description of the math and science behind these problems at

car France

Car care in France (or “Bumper cars in France”)

This could be a short post. As it turns out, the concept of “car care” is somewhat mythical in France. After our first visit to France and seeing that all of the cars are dented and missing parts (mirrors, etc.), Tiffany and I decided that we had to buy our car in Germany where things are very much the opposite.

This is probably the number one reason why I couldn’t see staying in France forever. It is nearly impossible to keep a car in good condition here. French drivers (in general; there are many exceptions) treat the other cars in the parking lot as if they only exist to help them determine when they are all the way in their spot or when their door is open all the way. I always park in a nice end spot at the lab, where only my coworkers park around me. Even though Chalon-sur-Saône doesn’t have particularly tight parking, drivers can’t be trusted. In the United States this can be a problem too, but there they at least know in the back of their minds that they are doing something wrong.

The French explain it away, saying they treat their cars like tools. This is a bad attitude for a few reasons. First, driving is a big responsibility and I can’t respect anybody who does it but doesn’t take pride in it. If they can’t be bothered to avoid other cars in the parking lot, what about small children? Second, the car represents a large investment, both financially and environmentally. It’s only responsible to treat it well to maximize its life. Even if they don’t intend to keep it long, they could leave some life in it for the next guy. Finally, I don’t really care how they treat their cars (well, I like the environment so I do care a little). When they damage my car is when we have a problem.

Repair shops

Despite this, I have managed to get decent car repairs in France. The Volkswagen dealership is about the same as in any country (high priced, but seemingly solid work). My biggest problem with the VW dealership in Chalon-sur-Saône (Saône Automobiles) is that I caught the service advisor resting my door on another car one time. He said, “Oh there’s a plastic strip so it’s OK.” Some of my coworkers are pretty car-conscious and they agreed this was unacceptable.

For little stuff we can go to Feu Vert. It’s a chain of general-service garages something like Goodyear in the US. I don’t like to trust chains like this for VW-specific stuff, but they are friendly and fine for the little standard stuff. We also go to Profil+, which is another such shop. They are great because they do free inspections. In two visits they have found nothing wrong, so I guess they are pretty honest. Of course, I suppose they are also French so maybe their calibration is off. Both of these shops and the dealership have always been able to communicate with me in some combination of English and basic French with no problems.

Finally, I discovered a place called L’Atelier Self Auto. This is a really cool concept where they let you rent shop space to work on your own car. They have tools, lifts, and fluid catch pans. For extra, they will allegedly help with the repair. I just went there one time to do an oil change and I was very happy with it. I’d like to see more of these places around the world. I suppose liability is tricky but it’s really awesome to facilitate car owners trying to learn about their cars. Plus I get to do the repair the right way with the best parts.

car Switzerland

Hôtel Bon-Port in Montreux, Switzerland, molests cars!

On my winter vacation (2 weeks mandatory time off!), we went to the Alps, staying in a few different cities in France and Switzerland. I’ll post more later on some of the things we saw during our trip, but here I wanted to rant a bit about a terrible experience we had at Montreux’s Hôtel Bon-Port.

Minor stuff

We stayed at the Hôtel Bon-Port for four nights, taking day trips around the area. The hotel was relatively cheap and it seemed to be in a decent location. There were some minor issues that I’ll describe first and then a major problem with poor management and customer service that I’ll get to below. The room was mediocre and small. The safe in our room never did work, even though the manager said he was going to fix it. There was no free WiFi. For some reason they made the circa-2000 decision to instead provide a PC for guests by the lobby, and charge 5CHF per half-hour for WiFi in the room. Trust me when I say that providing a computer will never be as cheap for a hotel as just providing free WiFi and it will also mean a significantly worse experience for guests. Most people who need internet have their own devices, so it just doesn’t make sense to do it this way. I used their computer a couple times and it was laggy because of all the software on there. Notably, somebody had installed some sort of internationalization app for one of the Asian languages that I believe was causing problems. Also, even before getting to the stuff below, I knew the manager didn’t really understand hospitality after I heard him yell at some guests for ringing the bell at the desk more than once.

Major stuff

Now to the real issue that brings Hôtel Bon-Port down from a mediocre three stars to a pitiful zero stars: Parking in Switzerland is terrible. I’ll try to post on this in more detail, but basically Swiss cities don’t seem to want visitors because they provide basically no overnight parking spots. This hotel offers underground parking for 15 CHF per night. This seemed like a decent deal considering that there were no other options closer than a 10 minute bus ride. Plus the car would be indoors. We had just paid a bunch of money to get it detailed (washed, waxed, etc.) right before our trip, so it was fairly clean. We thought if we kept it in the garage it could stay that way and be safe from damage.

On our last night we came in late after driving in a bit of snow coming down the mountain. When we got back, only one spot was available, plus another easier spot that said “no parking” but which we knew from previous nights people were sometimes allowed to use. To make my life easier, we chose the no parking spot and gave the keys to the manager in case he needed to move it, as we had also done previously.

Our car after a night at Hôtel Bon-Port our car next to a concrete wall at Hôtel Bon-Port

The next morning, we came down and found the car moved (which was fine) to the other parking spot. We noticed right away that it was a terrible parking job. He had parked it next to a concrete wall such that we had to put it in neutral and push it out before I could get in. If he had pulled it forward just a few more centimeters, it would have been no problem. Before attempting to move it though, we noticed a large white streak across the side of the car. The streak was about one meter long and we really didn’t know what had happened. We immediately informed the employee at the desk and she called the manager. I spoke to him for about 20 seconds before he actually yelled at me and accused me of accusing him of things. I told him very clearly that I wasn’t accusing him of anything, but that I was paying him 15 CHF for parking and I want to know why my car has a big streak on the side. We had no idea at that point what exactly had happened and we were mostly trying to ensure that the paint hadn’t been damaged. It was dark down in the garage and we had not yet pulled it out.

After we got it out of the garage and into the light, we pieced together what had happened. After his awful parking job, he exited the car through the driver’s door and squeezed himself (he’s a big guy) between the car and the wall. He must have rubbed himself all over the car when doing this, rubbing whatever salt residue and dirt there was into the paint. We didn’t find any scratches that we could positively link to this, but any time you do such things it is bad for the paint/wax in the long term. The girl working at the desk agreed that this is probably what happened and she told us that he would email us later in the day. Now it is 5 days later and he didn’t contact us. We see that he billed us the full amount for parking that night, even though our car looked terrible until we got back home and gave it a wash.

Stay away from Hôtel Bon-Port!

Note that I have no general problem with giving my keys to somebody. I used to be a valet at a resort in Scottsdale, so I have parked a lot of very expensive cars (Porsche, Rolls Royce, etc). I took pride in it and I took good care of the cars I drove. So I am fine with somebody else moving my car, but that comes with responsibility. There is no excuse for rubbing oneself all over a customer’s paint job. There is also no excuse for the manager of a hotel to be mad when he is asked to talk to upset customers. The correct move would have been to not charge us for the final night of parking, but this manager was not a big enough man to swallow his pride and admit that he may have accidentally caused this issue. He needs to realize that Hôtel Bon-Port is not a panini joint.

Please don’t stay at Hôtel Bon-Port. I’m sure many people have no problems there, but the moment you do have a problem, the manager yells at you instead of solving it.

car France

Importing a car to France (and getting the carte grise)

Here’s another how-to post about my experience importing our car to France. As you may have seen in my previous post, we bought the car in Germany and it had German export plates on it. This story took place in Chalon-sur-Saône, so things may differ from town to town.

Step 1- Prove that I don’t owe VAT

The first step was a trip to the finance office to get proof that I did not owe any taxes on the car. In my case, I owed none because I bought the car in Germany. The VAT system confuses me a bit, but basically I guess the car had VAT on it when it was new and since I was going from one EU country to another, it would not be charged a second time. I walked up to the front desk, armed with a translation of “I need to import a car from Germany” on my phone, and was pointed upstairs. I went upstairs, and luckily picked the correct door. The employee inside was quite friendly. I showed her my translation and found that she spoke a little English and a little German, which came in handy in the ensuing conversation. She asked for ID, but that’s when I realized I forgot my passport! Luckily she accepted my German driver’s license. She also wanted to see a document proving my French address. I have found that it is quite common in France to be asked to prove this. Luckily I had my laptop on me so I found something sufficient. She looked at my registration documents from Germany and the purchase contract. I’m not sure if she actually needed both or what information she got from them, but she eventually gave me a one-page document stating that I owed no tax.

Step 2- Safety inspection

The next step was the vehicle safety inspection (contrôle technique). I went by the shop with a coworker and we had to make an appointment for the next day. I returned by myself. The guy spoke no English but he realized at some point that I understand some German. After that we got along fine. The entire appointment only took about 30 minutes. The only thing he commented on was the broken fog light lens, which I knew about but have been putting off fixing. It was not the sort of thing that would fail the inspection though. Luckily he didn’t notice that my reverse light doesn’t work. That is another repair I have been procrastinating, because it will probably be expensive. I think I may not have passed the inspection if he had noticed that, but perhaps he would just think the bulb was blown (it’s not) so maybe he’d just advise me to fix it. I noticed afterward that he had put a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield, I guess just to show the test date. It has the old German license plate number, which I hope is normal.

Step 3- Sous-préfecture for the carte grise

Next I went to the sous-préfecture. This place was a circus. I took number 906 but they were only at around 870. I wasn’t sure I was in the right place because many LEDs on the number display didn’t work so I misread the number at first. I sat across the room, periodically checking the numbers. I waited almost 1.5 hours. The lady at the counter spoke almost no English so I just showed her the relevant papers. She took my folder and rifled through it taking some other papers. She went to the back to check on some things and eventually she kept some papers and told me to come back Monday morning to pay the fee and allegedly get the certificat d’immatriculation (informally “carte grise”). Luckily there was a girl who spoke some English that I was to see on Monday. She was excited to tell me about her travels in the US, but she didn’t seem to know the geography very well.

Step 4- Sous-préfecture part 2

I returned on Monday and didn’t have to take a number this time. I got to just go right up to the counter once there was an opening. After speaking (sort of) to a few employees, I was given all of my papers stapled together and told to go to a window to pay. I then realized they intended to take all of the papers permanently. I was angry that they indiscriminately took so many papers from my folder. It seemed that they weren’t very familiar with the procedure and just took everything that seemed related. The employees defended it saying they must have all of these documents, but they clearly didn’t need them all. For example, one booklet they took was for translating my original German export registration for travels outside the EU. I was told previously that this booklet was only for places like Russia. Many people apparently don’t even have this booklet because I didn’t have one with my second export registration. This was evidence that these guys had no idea what they were doing and they were lying to me about what they needed, because they didn’t really know. The next setback I encountered was that they wouldn’t accept my EC card or my German credit card, even though allegedly they d0 take cards. I had to go to an ATM with my German debit card (for a fee, of course). I returned with cash and they gave me a provisional certificat d’immatriculation. Note that I’m unsure if they always give the provisional one. It seems that they maybe wouldn’t have except I expressed concern that I wouldn’t be able to drive the next day, since they took my German paperwork required to drive on my old plates.

Step 4- Buy plates

The next step was to get French plates. I went to a place recommended by my colleague and, without speaking French, I was able to show him my paperwork and he understood what to do. I just got the cheap aluminum plates, though there were fancier options. After 15 minutes, I got my plates and some rivets that he indicated I needed to use to attach the plates. So this was a problem. I had forgotten that I would need to attach the plates with rivets. I should have gone to a place that would install them for me. This problem would need to be addressed later.

Step 5- Buy car insurance

Next I had to find insurance. I knew nothing about French insurance companies. All I knew was that my credit union was closed on Mondays and I had once heard the name AXA. So AXA it was! I found an office that was open on Monday and I went about teaching my credit union a valuable lesson about capitalism. The employee in the office did speak English. I showed her my letter GEICO stating I had no claims. She didn’t really like it because it didn’t have my policy number or my contract attached. I told her that in America we don’t really have a uniform “no claims bonus” so insisting on my “no claims bonus paperwork” wasn’t helpful. I offered her a copy of my GEICO contract and eventually I convinced her that was the best she was going to get. I only needed 30 days anyway at this point, so I could drive the next day and then further determine my options.

Step 6- Get plates installed

Finally, I had to go to a shop to get the plates riveted as required by French law. I should have gone to this shop in the first place because the price was 11 Euro for installation. The guy who did the install spoke English and he was quite friendly. It turns out they don’t actually have to rivet to the car itself. In my case, they just riveted the plates to the brackets that were already mounted on the car. He ended up letting me go without paying, so that worked out well.

That was it! The car was ready for a drive to the Geneva airport the next morning.

car Germany

German export plates

I’ll be writing a few posts about our experiences buying a car in Germany and then importing it to France. There is a lot of miscellaneous information out there, but there were questions at each step of the way that were not readily apparent (in English).

First I’d like to talk about German export plates. When you buy a car in Germany, even if you don’t live in Germany, you can buy “Ausfuhrkennzeichen,” or (in English) “export plates.” Don’t confuse these with temporary plates, which are for a much shorter period of time. You can get these plates in any town/city in Germany. You do not need to be registered as a resident. These plates can be, in theory, purchased to be valid for any number of months up to one year. You can do this multiple times and in different cities. I paid about EUR 150 total each of the two months I registered. It was around EUR 95 for the plates, EUR 30 to the machine at the Stadtamt, and about EUR 15 for the tax. Use this calculator to determine your tax. Our car is pretty environmentally friendly so that helped us, but it is also a diesel which hurt us.

These plates are purchased with 3rd-party insurance (in the US, we would call this liability insurance). This is a major downside. You cannot easily get full-coverage insurance to cover collisions. The good thing is that the insurance works all over Europe.

Some relevant terms:

  • Kennzeichen – License plate
  • Fahrzeug – Vehicle.
  • Personenkraftwagen (usually just the initials “PKW”) – Passenger car. If you’re just registering a normal personal automobile, this is what you have.
  • Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV) – The organization that does the safety inspections.
  • Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I – This is the registration paper that should be in the glovebox.
  • Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil II – This is the other page that should stay at home to prove ownership of the car.
  • Steuer – Tax.

How to get your own German export plates:

  1. I suggest going to the information desk at the local Stadtamt to get a list of exactly what will be needed. The procedure could differ from place to place. In my case when I did this the first time (in Bremen) the dealer was with me and he was experienced so we knew exactly where to go. The second time, I was in Göttingen. Since it was a smaller town, the Stadtamt was set up a bit different. You’ll basically need your proof that you own the car (could depend, based on where it’s from) and proof of an up-to-date Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV) inspection. The TÜV is the roadworthiness check that must be completed every two years after the car is three years old. If you bought the car in Germany and it already had a recent inspection, that will transfer to the new owner (you), so you won’t need to do it but you will need proof.
  2. Shop around for plates and insurance. Generally there will be several shops right near the Stadtamt. They will be obvious because they will license plates everywhere. The prices for plates with insurance will vary, mostly depending on the distance from the Stadtamt. The more inconvenient places (farther away) will be cheaper. In Göttingen, I shopped around and found that it was anywhere from EUR 92 up to somewhere around EUR 140 for a single month. Some shops had slightly different time periods available. Generally you can either get 1 month or three months at most places, but in theory it’s my understanding that you could get some other number of months, up to one year.
  3. Once you find a plate shop, you can go ahead and pay for the plates and insurance. You won’t get the plates yet, as you have not been assigned a number. At this time, you will just get a piece of paper showing that you have paid for insurance up to a given date.
  4. Go to the Stadtamt. Typically you will have to take a number and wait a bit. In Göttingen this was about 10-15 minutes, if I recall correctly, and I think Bremen was quite a bit longer. In my experience, these employees didn’t or weren’t allowed to speak English. I spoke broken German and presented the documents and they knew what to do. The employee will give you a card (maybe different in some cities) which you will take to a machine down the hall to pay. I believe this will just be a small fee for the registration. I think both times my (pro-rated) tax was taken from my bank account and I received an invoice later in the mail. I’m not sure how this would work without a German account, though it must be possible.
  5. Go down the hall and pay the machine.
  6. Return to wherever the employee told you to go after paying. At this point you will receive a document with the number for your new plates.
  7. Take this to the license plate shop and they will make your plates quite quickly.
  8. Then you will go back inside the Stadtamt and they will place a sticker on the plates. I recall for my first registration that they needed a quick trip to another office to prove my TÜV compliance before I could get the sticker. If you already have time remaining on your previous export plates, they will want them back so you can’t have two active sets of plates. I got the guy to return mine after scraping the sticker off, for a souvenir.
  9. Install the plates and put the insurance paper and the Zulassungsbescheinigung Teil I (that you received) in the glove box. The expiration date is printed on the plates. The insurance expires and you’ve only paid taxes up until that date so the plates will no longer be valid.

Hopefully this helps iron out some details. It’s a little silly the way they have private plate manufacturers, as they can basically only differentiate themselves on price and distance. It seems to me that it just adds hassle for the consumer, but the Germans like to do this sort of needless privatizing. The system actually does work well overall, and it can all be done in about an hour in a smaller town.