You must carry your driver's license and the "Fahrzeugschein" (car's papers = a small leaflet) at all times when you are driving. Comprehensive and up-to-date information be found here.
Signs and road rules may differ from your own country. You can obtain a German language copy of the road rules/signs from the ADAC (Germany's car driver association, www.adac.de) or any driving school. All of the above are in German though. However, some publishing houses offer study materials for the German driving test, which may be suitable to introduce you to German traffic signs and road rules. Just for example, www.degener.de offers instruction materials in English, Arabic, Russian, Romanian, French, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Croatian, and Greek. Some of these materials may only work in connection with a full-scale course at a driving school. To find out what suits your needs, send them an E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some common differences:
Honking is used only to warn people. In all other cases it is generally considered pushy and impolite.
Yes, it is true: There is no general speed limit on the Autobahn. However, German freeways are almost always crowded, so you need to take that into account while driving. Getting stuck in freeway traffic, even outside metropolitan areas, is a very common experience in this country, especially on Fridays, Sundays, Monday mornings, and during the entire summer holiday season (mid-June to late August). Moreover, many individual freeway sections DO have a speed limit, and you better stick to it.
The general speed limit within cities and villages (once you pass a yellow sign that states the name of a town) is 50 km/h (kilometers per hour). In some residential areas, the limit is 30 km/h. The general speed limit for country roads is 100 km/h.
Many German city center districts are pedestrian zones and therefore closed to regular car traffic. In most cases, you can park within walking distance from city center areas. In many medium-sized and larger cities, chances are you need to pay for parking. Look out for multi-story car parks (Parkhaus) or coin-operated vending machines for parking stubs (Parkautomat). When using a Parkautomat, do not take the whole stub with you – leave one part on display behind the windshield.
The legal limit for driving is 0.05 % – about one large beer or one glass of wine. If you are caught above the blood alcohol limit, your driving privilege for Germany may get temporarily suspended, or – depending on how intoxicated you are – permanently revoked. But you can get pulled over and punished even with less 0.05 % if the police think you are driving funny. Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is, of course, illegal as well.
Ride sharing is a cheap and safer alternative to travel with others. For a small fee plus your share of gas expenses you may be able to score a ride to many places in Germany and abroad at the Mitfahrzentralen or Mitfahrgelegenheiten:
There is also a ride sharing board on the main university campus at the city center. For viable alternatives, also see the chapter on public transportation.
Bringing a car from abroad
Foreign registered cars can be driven for a certain period by temporary residents (e.g. students), but not by permanent residents (employed, etc). Cars owned by permanent residents must be reregistered in Germany and go through the TÜV (test carried out by the Technical Inspection Agency). Foreign cars must carry proof of ownership and insurance (see Before your arrival)
Please find comprehensive information about car insurance on HowtoGermany.
Buying a car
Cars must be registered directly to the owner. This is done in person at the Rathaus - involves taking the car's old papers, cash, ID etc., being issued with number plates, which must be officially attached. Ownership papers include "Fahrzeugbrief" and "Fahrzeugschein". The Schein must be carried at all times by the driver of the car.
When selling a car you must unregister it at the Rathaus. Scrapping a car costs!
Winter tires and first aid kit
It is regulated by law that you must use winter tires on your car for the winter season because it can get very icy in winter, especially in Nikolausberg and the Fassberg, where our institute is located. You must carry an approved first aid kit and a warning triangle, otherwise you can be fined (even if there is something missing in the kit or if the used-by-date has passed). It is very wise to join the ADAC, which is the national car club. They will even help you for free if you get stuck anywhere. They also offer insurance, cheaper than usual maps and car and road information. There are different categories of membership, so make sure you get what you want. Check www.adac.de (in German) for more information.