Ah, ze Germans. They’re a strict people, with rules that cannot be broken and customs that can’t possibly under any circumstance be challenged. Some of those rules and customs deal with auto safety regs, which a number of American soldiers are realizing, are very strict.
The Polizei has given American Army soldiers stationed in Kaiserslautern a warning: if they try to drive overly-modified cars on public streets, they risk being pulled over. This, according to the U.S. Military news outlet Stars and Stripes, who says Kaiserslautern police is establishing a “souped-up car unit” of 10 officers to pull over illegally modified vehicles on local streets.
The newspaper says the police force in the town already issued a statement in the spring, warning locals that illegal car mods, such as hacked up exhausts and tinted windows, would not be tolerated.
Though police claim they’re not targeting Americans, Stars and Stripes points out that the statement last spring “included a photo of police stopping cars outside a U.S. military installation.” Not to mention, chief of Kaiserslautern’s highway patrol told the newspaper that American cars—which make up close to 15 percent of the car scene in the town—“often are souped-up in a much more extreme way than the German cars.”
He then went on to give some examples of these “extreme” mods, mentioning loud exhausts, tinted windows and enormous throaty V8s. Yes, the German police doesn’t want American V8s belching their wonderful symphony on German streets.
Some Army soldiers, unsurprisingly, aren’t too thrilled with these strict rules, with a number of soldiers saying they feel harassed, citing the heavily-advertised “meet the street” event they held in the spring. The show didn’t end well for U.S. military personnel (who made up about 15 percent of the total show attendance), with Stars and Stripes describing the scene, referencing civilian Jeremy Bisson and Staff Sgt. Kyle Helms:
The Americans “roll out there” to find about half a dozen German police and several U.S. military police vehicles on scene, Bisson said.
Police blocked the entrance to the parking lot and issued citations for any vehicle modifications they deemed illegal, Bisson said.
Bisson had to sand and scratch off the spray-paint tint on his tail lights in order to drive the car home. He also had to pay an 80-euro fine.
Helms said he was hit with a 105-euro fine for yellow fog lights on his Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Part of this struggle comes down to a huge difference in the way America treats vehicle inspections, with Sgt. Matthew Maynard—who works at the vehicle inspection station on post—reminiscing upon the freedom he had in the states, saying:
In Wyoming, you get a tag at Walmart...You do what you want. You come here and you have this, and it’s structured and it’s defined, so people are kind of taken by (surprise by) it, I think.
Something tells me if we told a German police officer that we got our tags in a grocery store, there would be much laughing.
Germany’s TUV inspection is one of the most intensive of any mandatory vehicle check-up on earth. Not only does the inspection flunk you if there’s a single rust hole in a body panel, but it checks headlight aim, brake torque (yes, they put the vehicle on the machine to measure brake strength), and makes sure no fluids are leaking.
Where TUV is especially strict is in its rules towards car mods. If, for example, you decide you want to bore out or turbocharge your little Ford Ka motor, good luck passing the emissions tests. If, you somehow bribe someone to get past that test, you’d better make sure you’ve updated your brakes and suspension components to handle the grunt.
Even if you’ve done all that, you’ll still have to carry a little booklet in your car outlining every car modification you have—wheels, suspension parts—the lot. If it hasn’t been gone over by the TUV inspector, it can’t be on your car.
American servicemembers’ vehicles have to pass all the same safety tests as German cars do, except the difference is that last bit about the booklet of modifications. The Stars and Stripes describes why German police are frustrated, saying:
“When polizei stops a German, he will get the registration” book, [Mike Pletsch, police squadron liason officer] said, that details every modification down to the serial number that’s been approved. “If we stop (an American), it says ‘unit, license plate, chassis number.’ That’s it.”
So while Germans are expected to be accountable for every part on their car, American soldiers are not, and that’s a problem. Another problem is that some German police aren’t familiar with American cars, with the news site describing a man whom police stopped three times for “vents in the hood,” which are a stock feature on his vehicle.
Stars and Stripes says that, everytime he’s pulled over, the owner “has to pull up the stock image of the car on his smartphone to avoid a citation, to prove the vents came with the car.”
But this dilemma isn’t just German police officers’ faults; some Americans are “taking advantage of the system.” One driver, Stars and Stripes reports, takes his car in for inspection with a quiet muffler, but bolts on the loud one after he’s done. To avoid being pulled over by German police, he “[just makes sure he is] in high gear so [his] RPMs are low or [he’ll] put in the clutch, so it’s really quiet.”
It’s a tough situation, because you can’t blame Germans for not wanting a town filled with ridiculously loud muscle cars, and modifications bought from sketchy Chinese Ebay sellers, but at the same time, Americans will always be hard-pressed to give up the freedoms to which they have become accustomed.
Plus, as Stars and Stripes notes, for a lot of these soldiers, cars can be a huge stress relief. Staff Sgt. Chris Bearss’ told the newspaper about his Ford Mustang GT, which he’s modified to produce 800 horsepower. He explains why he did it, saying:
It’s fun...My job is pretty stressful, a lot of hours and … I can take this out and just forget it all and have fun.