What is the difference between "das Auto" and "der Wagen"? Usually I hear people say "Auto fahren" but not "Wagen fahren". But I usually see "Mietwagen" but not "Mietauto".

3 Answers 3


"Auto" is short for "Automobil", so it is specifically an automobile. "Wagen" is a more general word for car, it can for example also denote a train car. The word predates the invention of the automobile.

Which is used in fixed expressions or in compound words is often somewhat arbitrary, that's just how languages develop.

  • "Mietwagen" vs. "Mietauto" depends on the region. Compare for example hertz.ch and hertz.de. The former uses "Mietauto" in the footer while the latter uses "Mietwagen".
    – idmean
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 16:43

They use der Wagen because it sounds more high-brow in the context of automobiles. Das Auto is a mundane, everyday term. Everyone has one. But ein Wagen is something extraordinary you are going to rent and enjoy. Think limo.

Mieten Sie diesen wunderbaren Wagen!

There's also die Karre which is derogatory.

Nein. Solche Karren kenn ich zu genüge!


Der Unterschied liegt darin, daß ein Auto (von automatisiert) immer selbstfahrendes Gerät ist. Ein Wagen (z.B. Leiterwagen, Bollerwagen) muss immer gezogen werden (durch Pferde, Menschen). Werden Personen befördert, wird aus einem Wagen eine Kutsche.

Mietwagen statt Mietauto: Das liegt in der Historie begründet. Man konnte früher (bevor das Auto erfunden wurde) Wagen (z.B. Kutsche) mieten. Daher der Name.

  • 1
    Ein Lieferwagen fährt genau so von selbst wie ein Rennwagen. Diese These stimmt also so nicht.
    – idmean
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 16:40
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 4:40
  • "Auto" is short for "Automobil" and doesn't come from "automatisiert" even though related with this word.
    – bakunin
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 11:26

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