German TÜV Testing Here

Electronic data readout in the general inspection of a car;
Electronic data readout in the general inspection of a car; | © TÜV Rheinland

The acronym “TÜV” is associated for many Germans with the biennial general inspection of their vehicles. But the Technical Inspection Association tests much more than only cars.

It all began in 1865 with the explosion of a boiler in the Mannheim Joint-Stock Brewery. There was one dead and four injured. The causes were lack of water, too much pressure and poor maintenance. The explosion of the Mannheim boiler was only one of many, but it finally tipped the scales: about a year later, Mannheim steam boiler operators founded the Association for the Supervision and Insurance of Steam Boilers with Their Seat in Mannheim, the forerunner of today’s TÜV.

Breakdown and stop were too expensive for the operators

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, industrialization had made great strides in Europe. The first steam locomotives in England revolutionized the transport of goods, mechanical looms drove textile production forward and the first machine tool factories started mass production of farm machinery. But increasing mechanization also harboured its dangers. The engines of industrialization were chiefly those said steam boilers whose pistons churned hot air. But it was just at the beginning of their increased use that they were prone to failure, and workers often lacked the knowledge necessary to maintain the machines. “If a boiler that drove a loom broke down, factory operation was crippled for half a year”, says historian Wolfhard Weber, who until his retirement taught at the University of Bochum. “This was simply too expensive for the owners.”

Across Europe different models were developed to implement the desired monitoring and safety of machines. While France invested its functionaries with extensive supervisory powers, in England owners themselves joined forces to hire engineers to monitor problems of technical safety. After operators founded the first Association for Steam Boiler Supervision in Mannheim, this model became a success all across Germany. Thus in 1905 there were already 36 boiler inspection associations. “The individual states of the German Empire recognized step by step their professional services and transferred to them, especially after 1884, the supervisory tasks previously carried out by government”, says Weber.
 
  • Schreibtischstuhl: Ist der erste Arbeitsplatz fürs Schulkind stabil? © TÜV Rheinland
    Schreibtischstuhl: Ist der erste Arbeitsplatz fürs Schulkind stabil?
  • Karnevalschminke wird auf Hautverträglichkeit getestet. © TÜV Rheinland
    Karnevalschminke wird auf Hautverträglichkeit getestet.
  • Bei Spielzeug wird auch geprüft, wie lange es gegen offenes Feuer resistent ist. © TÜV Rheinland
    Bei Spielzeug wird auch geprüft, wie lange es gegen offenes Feuer resistent ist.
  • Test von Sonnenbrillen: Wie viel Lichtschutz gewähren sie? © TÜV Rheinland
    Test von Sonnenbrillen: Wie viel Lichtschutz gewähren sie?
  • Fahrradtest: Funktionstüchtigkeit, Dauerhaltbarkeit, Handling, Verarbeitungsqualität. © TÜV Rheinland
    Fahrradtest: Funktionstüchtigkeit, Dauerhaltbarkeit, Handling, Verarbeitungsqualität.
  • Im Chemielabor werden Textilien auf Schadstoffe geprüft. © TÜV Rheinland
    Im Chemielabor werden Textilien auf Schadstoffe geprüft.
  • Ein Teststand mit Schlagregen kontrolliert die Dichtigkeit einer Photovoltaikanlage. © TÜV Rheinland
    Ein Teststand mit Schlagregen kontrolliert die Dichtigkeit einer Photovoltaikanlage.
  • Die Geräuschentwicklung von Produkten wird gemessen und kontrolliert. © TÜV Rheinland
    Die Geräuschentwicklung von Produkten wird gemessen und kontrolliert.
  • Fernseher: Sicherheit, Gebrauchstauglichkeit und elektromagnetische Verträglichkeit. © TÜV Rheinland
    Fernseher: Sicherheit, Gebrauchstauglichkeit und elektromagnetische Verträglichkeit.
  • Brückenprüfung Schadenskontrolle © TÜV Rheinland
    Brückenprüfung Schadenskontrolle
  • Prüfung einer Windkraftanlage © TÜV Rheinland
    Prüfung einer Windkraftanlage
  • Messfahrzeuge erfassen Straßen millimetergenau und erkennen früh Schäden. © TÜV Rheinland
    Messfahrzeuge erfassen Straßen millimetergenau und erkennen früh Schäden.
  • Kontrolle von Seilbahnen © TÜV Rheinland
    Kontrolle von Seilbahnen
  • Lichtkontrolle bei der obligatorischen zweijährlichen Hauptuntersuchung © TÜV Rheinland
    Lichtkontrolle bei der obligatorischen zweijährlichen Hauptuntersuchung
  • TÜV-Plakette der Hauptuntersuchung von 2014 © TÜV Rheinland
    TÜV-Plakette der Hauptuntersuchung von 2014

Increased turnover abroad

This model has worked to this day, and has at the same time of course changed. “TÜV doesn’t exist, but there are various testing organizations bearing the name”, we can read at the page of the Federation of Technical Inspection Associations (Verbandes der Technischen Überwachungs-Vereine / VdTÜV e.V), which therewith clarifies a point that is usually lost in everyday usage. At least 25.1 per cent of any association that today bears the designation “TÜV” belongs to a Technical Inspection Association, which is in turn sponsored predominantly by industrial and commercial enterprises. The principle of private sector self-management has therefore remained intact. At the same time, TÜV associations now work internationally as providers of testing services.

“All together, the TÜVs have an over five billion euro turnover, of which between 20 and 50 per cent, depending on the particular TÜV, is earned outside Germany”, explains Geraldine Salborn of the VdTÜV interest group. In the 1970s, says historian Wolfhard Weber, German testing skills had already developed into a major export. The largest TÜV companies today are TÜV South, TÜV Rhineland and TÜV North. All three have established joint-stock companies with subsidiaries. Thus, for example, the bulk of TÜV Rhineland’s international business, according to its 2014 business report, is made up by Asian countries, including India, the Middle East and Africa.

The services of the bank next door can now be TÜV-tested

Simultaneously, the range of products targeted by the TÜV associations has vastly expanded. TÜV testers are now underway at power plants, in ships and at wind turbines, in offices and medical practices and at factories for the manufacture of children’s toys. And TÜV now also tests the services of companies. In 2014, the certificate “Service tested” of TÜV Saarland came under fire. It is a seal of approval that banks, travel agents, estate agents, car dealers and Internet portals can be awarded on the basis of a customer survey. “The lever for this growth is credibility, TÜV’s good name”, said Professor of Economic at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, Nils Stieglitz, in a feature for the TV magazine Panorama in March 2014. “But the more it expands, the greater becomes the danger that it will put this credibility on the line.”

“The limits of TÜV and its testing services” is the heading of an online text in which the Federation highlights various TÜV tests. Thus, for instance, the general inspection for cars is a statutory regulation under state control. The seal “Geprüfte Sicherheit” (GS sign) (i.e. Safety Certified) is also state-controlled, but this test is voluntary for companies. TÜV, however, also carries out tests according to standards and criteria it has itself developed “when there is a demand on the part of business”. These include tests for data protection of apps, security management at Bundesliga stadiums and service quality at hotels. How reliable is a TÜV seal in the end? “TÜV certifications provide additional dependability, but can’t guarantee one-hundred per cent dependability”, says the association at its website. First and foremost, it continues, the manufacturer of a product must answer for its quality. And a TÜV certificate does not relieve the consumer of all responsibility: “The buyer and consumer is also responsible; he should inform himself about products when he goes shopping, pay attention not only to the price and seek good advice”.