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Auf Wiedersehen tourist to Germany: Here is your fine

American tourists love driving a rental car in Germany. The Autobahn (freeway) has no speed limits, it’s a magnet for any freedom loving car fan – but watch out for the many exceptions to the no speed limit rule.

Travel and Tourism is a major business in Germany, and car rental company love it as well.

I traveled to Germany five times in the last 12 months, and no matter if I rented a car for a day, or a week or even a month, I’ll get the same surprise letter a month after my rental.

First I see an “unknown” charge for $25-$45 on my credit card. A week later I’ll get a receipt in German language (lucky I speak German). The receipt is for an “administrative fee,” and 19% VAT tax is also added.  No one ever asked to authorize this charge before debiting my credit card.

My last invoice explains a “warning fine” was issued against me by the City of Duesseldorf for something I did when I was driving the rental car. It has no dates, no details.

It tells me my name, driver’s license and address data were forwarded to authorities in Germany and they would be in touch to punish me with an additional fine or more. So far I never received anything from an authority in Germany.

There has never been any explanation what I had done wrong, there was never a follow-up from a city or a prosecuting attorney.  My credit card was charged by Budget, Avis, Hertz, Sixt or whatever car company I used at that time.

I am wondering if this is a scam by car rental companies? I am wondering if this is a conspiracy between German authorities and car rental companies? I am wondering how legal this “administrative fee is” since I have no control over the fee, cannot stop it, have no due process, cannot object to it and won’t be told what it is for?

The oldest letter I received is now three years old, the latest one just came in the mail yesterday. Strangely I usually receive one letter every time I rent a car in Germany. I also get only one letter – regardless how long I had rented a car for.

Knowing the German mentality to follow rules, I do my best to comply with traffic rules. I watch speed limits, read parking signs and don’t turn right on a red traffic light. I don’t stay in the left lane of the Autobahn, I signal before turning, keep my distance to the car in front of me, and I speak fluent German – strange!