Car-sharing in Germany

I want to bring up the subject of car sharing. Many foreigners, particularly Americans are impressed with the extent and reliability of public transportation in Germany. Yet if one needs a car, the simple hassle of trying to find a place to park in the cities is mind-boggling. For people who need a car on a daily basis one would probably want to buy or lease. For others like me who only drive once in a while, and not more than around 12,000 kilometers yearly, car sharing is fantastic. No need to have money tied in up owning a car and the associated costs of taxes, insurance, parking and repairs.

There are now at least 2 major car sharing concepts in Germany. Some other startups including ones that broker the usage of private cars exist but are very small scale at this point. One is Car2go , which is exclusively for electric Smart cars. They are small and pollution free, so perfect for city usage and short trips but not for hauling lots of stuff. The other system I would like to talk about is called Stadtmobil. They are now widespread with over 4000 vehicles at 1,600 pickup stations in 180 cities and expanding rapidly. They offer a full range of sizes from compact to large vans. They also have some electric cars, bigger than the ones offered by car2go but they are in a test phase. If they catch on they will eventually be added to the standard program.

Here’s how it works in Stuttgart, most cities should be similar but there can be some variation of conditions. One makes an appointment to sign up. You need to bring a German or International driver’s license, passport, certificate of registration of your local residency (Meldebescheinigung) and a credit card or EC card from which payments will be automatically booked from. On pays a one-time 50 Euro fee to join.

One has a choice of different tariffs, which are changeable according to need. In addition to the special Student and Business tariffs they have the basic and classic. The basic is ideal for people who seldom need a vehicle or want to first try the system out. The monthly fee is 4 Euros. The actual cost for car usage is then based on time used and kilometers. One can book a car for an hour or as long as you want. They can be driven throughout Germany and also in other European countries. Although the system is widespread, as it now works, one has to return the car to where it was picked up. One cannot take one from Stuttgart and leave it in Berlin although there is a special arrangement between a few cities but that skirts this limitation but until now that is the exception.

The tariff most people choose is the classic. There are variations. One can leave a deposit (Kaution) of 550 Euros and then the monthly fee is 7.50 Euros or 11 Euros for a household (couple and children). The other option is without deposit; monthly fee 9.50 Euros or 15 for a household. The kilometer rate is cheaper for the classic tariffs than the basic, so that it pays off if one drives a significant amount. Nothing is charged for the time used between midnight and 7 am (don’t misread this as meaning the first 7 hours of usage are free as I did). For other times there is an hourly cost depending on the category of vehicle. Example: 1.40 Euro/hour for a compact, 2.80 for a midsized or 4.20 for a van. One gets further discounts for day or week usage.

In addition comes the mileage charge. For a midsized auto - classic tariff: 26 cents/KM for the first 100 KM, 21 cents for KM over 100 and 17 cents for everything over 701 KM. Thus the farther ones drives, the cheaper the kilometer rate.

The price is then a sum of the time and KM rates. Example; a midsized car taken for 5 hours between 7 am and midnight for 200 Km would cost 5 x 2.80 = 14.00 Euros and then 47 Euros (26 cents/KM for 100 Km and 21 cents for 100 KM) Total 61.00 Euros. Sound expensive? The kicker is that this is a total price including the fuel and insurance.

Arranging a car is done online or by telephone. This this is possible well in advance or on as short as 10 minutes notice, most bookings tend to be done less than 24 hours in advance. One goes to the pickup point and uses the chip card given when registered and this unlocks the car and accesses the key. They suggest one refuels before giving the car back if the tank is down to a quarter full but it’s not required. To get gas there is a special card provided for payment or if one pays out of pocket, keep the receipt and one gets reimbursed. 

For people who live out in the middle of nowhere, this system might not be attractive since they have to get to the pick-up points which are concentrated in the cities. I live in Stuttgart –West and have a pick-up place next door, 6 within 300 meters and 11 within 500 meters of my apartment. So for urban dwellers it is optimal. I like that it is more ecological, meaning less cars in the city and flexible that I can always take the size of vehicle that fits each individual usage. One can allow someone else to share the driving but giving the car to someone else to use alone is not allowed. 

The insurance is full coverage accident and liability but has a rather high minimum self-payment in case of accident of 900 Euros. Never having had an accident this doesn’t concern me much but others might balk at it although, if I remember correctly, there might be the option for additional coverage lessening the self-pay for a fee.

What if I book a car and then can’t get it back on time? Boom, one is hit with a 30 Euro penalty. This can be problematic. But if one calls the central office, they can nearly always give an extension -  avoiding the penalty, if the car is not already booked out to someone else. I think this is a fair condition, otherwise one risks showing up to get a car and the previous user has not returned it in time. Just don’t forget to call if you get delayed in returning the car and best to book it in the first place with time to spare.

Cancelling a booking is also possible but one can have to pay a penalty if it is on too short of notice (didn’t find exact time frames mentioned). The penalty is based on a percentage of the intended cost so that it could be significant for an intended booking of multiple weeks but next to nothing for a short time usage.

Advantages to rental cars include that one is not limited to their opening hours, the usage times are more flexible; like for an just an hour at a time and the overall price.

Children’s safety seats and/or roof carriers are available. In case of accident, one calls the central hotline for help. All vehicles are non-smoking!

I just joined the Stadtmobil system myself and the one question that occurs to me that I haven’t asked yet is that as if I can also pickup and use cars in other regions other than Stuttgart where I am registered?

Information available at:

Great information, thanks!

I would like to add a few points:

- Car2GoONLY  has SMART Mini-Cars for two people  (it's run by Mercedes Benz, who also owns the SMART brand), thus is not suitable for families (this is the reason I am not member). Also, it is not allowed to use it outside of the city boundaries or for longer journeys.
Advantages are that you can pick a car up wherever you find it (and there are so many all over Stuttgart, with their location marked on their webpage, that you're almost always near one) and drop it wherever else you like. Also, you can park them for free on all public parking lots, incl. for-fee multi-storey car parks (some of them quite pricey!).
All their cars in Stuttgart are electric, but in other cities they also have fuel-driven ones.

- Stadtmobil has the widest selection of vehicles, incl. vans, mini-buses and even a few convertibles. I found their system a bit buerocratic, with vehicles at the more popular stations often booked up. You have to return the car at the station you picked it up.

- Flinkster is another Germany-wide car sharing organisation, run by Deutsche Bahn (the rail company), and thus has cars at all major train stations - the widest geographical coverage of all car sharers. They also have a bike rental scheme in major cities.

For longer distances (like the whole day, 200km trip Tom mentioned above) a budget rental car might be a better option. Especially on weekends you can get one for EUR30/day or less (plus you have to pay the fuel).

I brought up the idea of electric cars with the Stadtmobil people since that is where we should all be heading. The ones they are testing in their program are larger than the Smarts used by car2go. I think one can understand the rationale behind the electro-Smart:  zero emissions are most important in the city and most electrics don't go far anyway. So, as long as it is being intended as a purely city car, then why not have the smallest to fit in those tight parking spaces, something that is a serious problem here.

Like I mentioned, location of the pickup places is a factor if Stadtmobil fits your personal needs. There are so many options within walking distance of most places in the inner city of Stuttgart that availability should not be a problem unless you live in the outskirts. If you live rurally or in a small village then it is not for you.

It’s possible that a rental car company would offer a special that would be cheaper for a given day. If so, there is nothing to stop one from taking it! If I own a car, I am not going to go out and rent one. But being a member of a car sharing concept doesn’t limit one to using it exclusively. But I doubt that rentals can consistently beat the Stadtmobil prices because like mentioned, the fuel is included in the price. Foreigners should be aware that due to fuel taxes, the prices in Germany and most of Europe are about double as in the States. But because of that, such systems are going to tend towards cars that get good mileage.

The Deutsche Bahn system Flinkster sounds good on paper since there are train stations even in small cities but until now they have only supplied a very limited number of vehicles. For them to match cars to the demand, one will have to reserve well ahead of time or just hope a car is available; something that is unlikely in a small town on a moment’s notice. Thus one could get a car in a place not covered by Stadtmobil but not likely on short notice. Stadtmobil has noted that the majority of its cars are booked with less than 24 hours’ notice. Stadtmobil is ideal for people regularly or occasionally taking cars from their home city. Finkster is good for people who arrive in other cities and need a car and know this in advance.

Beppi  brought up the subject of the DB run bike rental system. This is worth going into but I intend to do so on a future post. :o)

Another thing I forgot to mention is that when one doesn’t have their own car, they will tend to use public transportation more anyway. One’s overall transportation needs should then be calculated with this in mind. The Stuttgart Stadtmobil cooperates with the Stuttgart region public transportation system VVS . People with VVS yearly passes get a rebate at Stadtmobil.

Formerly, I might have taken my car up to Hamburg for a week’s visit although I would use the public transportation to get around the city while my car sat somewhere. With the Stadtmobil system this would not be cost effective because one would be paying for extra days with no usage. In such a scenario, I would tend to take trains instead of a car unless I had to transport a lot of equipment. No system will be optimal for all scenarios but combined with public transport car sharing systems are extremely flexible.

I am happy that the German system convinced you, coming from the USA, the most car-loving country on earth. Germany used to be the second in that respect, but that is no longer the case!

Never had that big love of cars and the parking situation in German cities alone will change anyones mind. I walk or take my bike on a daily basis and often take public transportation.

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