Vroom Vroom! Everyone loves a road trip and where else on earth can you find better roads than in Germany. Driving on the German Autobahn can be quite an enjoyable experience especially when the weather is fine.
When traveling in a group, often it would be a more economical choice to rent a car instead of taking the train. Who knows, you could also save on the accommodation. There are various factors to consider when renting a car for your intended road trip.
The two largest car rental companies in Germany are Sixt and Europcar. They have the most extensive number of stations located throughout Germany. Similar to budget airlines, there are also budget car rental companies – Sixti and Interrent, whose parent companies are actually Sixt and Europcar. The booking procedure is exactly the same as budget airlines – the earlier you book, the cheaper it is. Other popular car rental companies are Enterprise and Buchbinder. The cars provided are normally all relatively new. On request, you could also have a car equipped with the convenience of a GPS Navigation unit. Most cars are manual-transmission. You may also choose to return the car at a different station in a different city from where you picked it up, but this is true only for larger companies.
Weekend or weekdays? The larger rental companies usually have a weekend offer where you pick the car up on Friday (1200hrs) and return it the following Monday morning (0900hrs).
Rental – There is no hard and fast rule as to which car rental companies offer the best deals, you have to basically check it out on each of their websites. Always look under theTopangebote when booking a car, you should find the Student offer which entitles you to a significant rebate off the normal price. You have to show your student identification when collecting the car. Before making your booking, always read the fine print to check what sort of insurance is included in the rental. The Student Offer usually includes the Vollkaskoversicherung (comprehensive insurance) for the unfortunate case whereby the car is damaged. The average cost of rental for a small car (VW Polo class) over the weekend should be around 80€.
Petrol – Petrol is not cheap in Germany. Do your calculations on the petrol and rental before selecting your mode of transport. When possible, try to indicate that you would like a vehicle that runs on diesel. These are however usually only available on the larger cars. Diesel cars travel further per litre and the cost of diesel is also cheaper than petrol (around 1.10€ versus 1.30€ per litre) . If you are travelling really far, you may want to consider the option of upgrading to a larger car which runs on diesel, whose running costs could ultimately be less than a smaller car running on petrol (and additionally provide more comfort!)
Highway tolls – At present there are no highway tolls on German Autobahns but this is not the case in neighbouring countries France, Switzerland and Austria. In Austria and Switzerland, you have to purchase a “Vignette” to be pasted on the windscreen. If you are lucky, the car you rent may already have one. The fine is quite hefty if you are found to be driving on their roads without one.
Lucky for you if you already have a license from Singapore. Presently, you can easily convert it to a German EU driving license without doing the theory nor the practical test. Do enquire at your local Rathaus. You may first require an official translation of your license from ADAC. I believe the conversion is done at TÜV.
Why should you convert to a German license? Rightfully the Singapore license (and the International license as well) only allows you to drive up to 6 months upon your arrival in Germany. Unfortunately when you convert your Singapore license, they will take your Singapore license and keep it for you for four years and destroy it thereafter if left uncollected (as I was told at TÜV). You can only collect your Singapore license again by returning the German license. Their policy is that we are not allowed to have two driving license in hand. Some German bureaucracy, we will never understand.
The car rental companies usually require that your driving license be at least one year old before you are allowed to rent a vehicle. Do note that when you convert to a German driving license, it does not indicate when you passed your driving test. It only indicates when you collected your license from them. You may want to make a photocopy of your Singapore license or request from the Singapore Traffic Police a letter indicating the status of your license. There may also be an age limit for the larger cars.
Driving in the city – It can be quite confusing initially if you are not used to driving a left-hand-drive vehicle. Certain signs and right-of-way rules are different in Europe as well. You may want to check what some of these signs mean. If you are uncertain of certain right-of-way rules, just stop and give way or wait for further indications from the other road users. Better being horned at than causing an accident. European cities can be quite a mess of tram lines, bicycle lanes, narrow cobble stone alleys and pedestrian zones. Be cautious and drive sensibly. You may feel more comfortable by renting a small city car.
Driving on the Autobahn – There are actually ‘Autobahn tourists’ who come to Germany just to speed down the highways. However, there ARE speed limits on many sections of the Autobahn (e.g. where there is construction work), so do look out for them or face a nasty fine if caught. (The car rental companies will indeed send the fine to you.) Always consider the weather and road conditions before thinking of putting that pedal to the metal. There is a joke that Germany does not have capital punishment but they have the Autobahn.
Planning your Route
If you lack the modern convenience of a GPS Navigation system in your car, prepare the route in advance by entering your departure and arrival points into the many available map planning websites online: http://maps.google.com/ or http://world.maporama.com/ orhttp://www.de.map24.com/ are some popular choices.
Have an enjoyable trip and drive safely!
Done your sums and realize renting a car does not make good sense of your cents? Car-pooling is possibly the cheapest way to get from one city to another in Germany. Mostly organized by the younger generation of students, car-pooling helps ease the burden of ever-increasing petrol costs. Many websites have helped put in place an organized system of car-pooling. http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/ is just but one of the more popular websites offering a database that matches drivers and passengers for car-pooling (“mitfahren”).
Average cost is around 5€ for every 100km travelled. Enquire with the driver about the costs before confirming your trip. Some drivers will charge based on the number of passengers he/she can find, meaning the fewer passengers there are, the more he/she will charge. Most drivers will however settle on a price before the trip, regardless of the number of passengers in the car. Settle on the pickup and drop-off points as well, otherwise you may find yourself on the outskirts of town when you arrive at your destination city. Also, be prepared to have to wait if you’re being picked up halfway along a trip, as traffic jams may delay arrival.
Car-pooling is also an interesting way to meet people; however, you do not know who the driver or your fellow passengers are. Western Europe is generally safe but it is always good to take precautions. Your parents may not feel very assured if they know their daughter is traveling with a stranger in a car. The ladies may therefore want to look for a female driver if possible. Also, do call (instead of email or sms) the drivers to get a feel of the person – and trust your gut instinct!
by Lester Bok