This week was TUV car inspection week for me. It's a nine-year old Audi TT and I can proudly say it's in perfect order.....other than one single bulb which was apparently burned out.
For most Americans who've done time in Germany....the TUV inspection business is chaotic and stressful. If you went out and bought an absolutely brand-new car.....you got three years of no inspections....then the yearly inspections came. If you were a German, it was an every-other-year routine for the inspections.
The general list of failed points? Too much rust, cracked windshield, hole in the muffler, leaking oil (hence the reason why guys always did steam clean of the vehicle one hour prior to the inspection), tinted window film, ground clearance exceeding the norm, bad tires, missing first aid kit, missing warning triangle, or too much smoke.
American GI's were in four categories of car ownership.
First, there was the guy who brought his US car over for the tour. This was the guy who typically discovered six months into the tour that the BX garage did NOT have the parts to fix his broke wiper situation....then he was forced to call a friend in the states to special-order the part and send him to him (figure 10 days for this to arrive), and he had a personal vehicle which he hoped that it didn't rain or snow for the next ten days.
Second, there was the guy who took between a thousand and two-thousand dollars....to buy a 'junker'. This was typically a European-brand car (BMW was always the preferred route) which was eight to fifteen years old. Maybe the car was in decent shape and simply had significant mileage. Maybe the car had rust showing. Maybe the car had a long maintenance history. This was typically a car which people refused to put any money into the car until it was absolutely broke.
Third, there was the guy who was willing to spend five to eight thousand dollars for a five to seven year old European car....sometimes a Audi or Mercedes. These were typically cars with limited rust and seemed to always pass the car inspections.
Finally, you come to the guy who took advantage of the tax-free status and bought a brand new BMW or VW, with US spec's, and had an entire tour with no issues at TUV.
My worst stress at TUV was in the early 1990s when I had a car with a long crack on the front-windshield.....more than 18 inches across front. I had simply put off the replacement episode and was waiting for someone to 'order' me into doing it. On the day of the TUV inspection....in mid-April....there came this massive thunderstorm and I chose this moment to drive over to the base inspection point, and have the guy inspect it. It should have failed but because of the rain and limited light.....the guy failed to notice the massive crack. I passed. Eight months later, I finally replaced the windshield, but found only a month or two later.....this stone-point on the windshield where new damage had occurred.
There were probably thousands of epic sagas of GI's in Germany, who did impossible things within the TUV business. In 1978, I worked with some young guy with almost no real cash ($700 to spend on a vehicle). He walked into the Rhein Main base junk-yard....found a vehicle which still ran but had issues.....and spent a weekend fixing the problems to emerge on Monday at the TUV station on base and pass. The epic French-made car had probably a dozen failure points, and each could be fixed enough to make the inspector happy. New tires, a generic muffler, an entire door replacement (from another junker in the lot), etc.....were enough to do the job. The TUV people didn't care about paint jobs, leaking roofs, bad mildew smells, marginal seats, or gas-mileage (I worked with a guy who proudly noted he was getting seven miles per gallon with a US junker).
So, if you are ever dealing with an American who has been in Germany for a while and the TUV topic comes up.....you could note his anxiety and nervous behavior in person. He's got a reason for being this way.