Ask a JAG

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Q: I am considering buying a used vehicle while I am stationed in Germany. Is there anything I should know before I do so?

A: Yes. First, know that if you enter into to a contract to buy or sell a vehicle in Germany, the contract will likely be subject to German law.  Therefore, although there are many similarities between German and American law regarding the purchase or sale of a vehicle, it would be wise to have the Law Center’s German attorney review any contract you are considering entering into.

As in the U.S., in Germany it is not necessary to use a written contract to buy or sell a vehicle. But, as in the U.S., a written contract will better allow you to clarify the obligations of each party to the agreement, and prove the terms of the agreement, should you need to do so. That said, for a written contract to be helpful, the parties to that contract should be as thorough as possible.

Along with clearly identifying the vehicle at the center of the transaction, the parties should take time to ensure that all of their expectations are made clear in the contract, from the timing of payment down to the form of currency. And, if you decide not to use a written contract, it is prudent to at least have a third party with you during negotiations so that he or she can later testify about what was agreed to, if necessary.

If you purchase your vehicle from a professional used car dealer in Germany, the vehicle will come with a one-year warranty that makes the dealer responsible for defects that exist at the time of the sale and that are discovered later. A vehicle bought from a private owner, however, is, generally bought “as is” unless the parties agree otherwise, although a seller would be wise to make that clear in any contract. “As is” means that the seller is not legally responsible for defects that the buyer discovers after purchasing the vehicle.

Therefore, before buying a vehicle, potential buyers should have the vehicle inspected by a trustworthy third party. Although a contract might include a clause that requires the seller to ensure that the vehicle is able to pass inspection, the ability to pass inspection says little about the vehicle’s true condition or how long it will remain reliable. 

Additionally, ensure that you obtain the title to the vehicle from the buyer and that you receive all existing sets of keys.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.