TÜV is short for "Test und Überwachungs Verein." The infamous German traffic regulatory commission judges vehicles on a bi-yearly basis and decides if they are road-worthy or not. Every motor vehicle must be inspected every two years; modification and tweaking is frowned upon. (Note how this would be a German-inspector frown, the kind that would make even The Grinch's blood freeze.)
While the test costs only $25, it's a royal pain and $25 dollars which could be spent on something else. But maybe there is a good side to it - one sees a lot less run-down / high-pollutant cars in Germany, plus it ensures that every car is fit for the Autobahn.
The Technischer Überwachungsverein (literally "society for technical monitoring") is not a single organization, but a common term for any of a number of associations and companies licensed by the government of Germany to perform certain government-mandated safety checkups. While the biannual roadworthiness test for motorized vehicles is their biggest job, it is not the only one: carnival rides, production and construction machinery and basically all potentially dangerous technical equipment must be TÜV-approved and checked periodically. driving license tests are also performed by TÜV experts.

The TÜV system is quite old and can be traced back to 1866 when a group of businessmen in Mannheim who owned steam boilers formed a society to have the safe and economical operation of their machines ensured by professional experts. By 1900, these societies had be founded all over Germany and were charged with the monitoring of all not government-owned steam boilers. In 1906 they started monitoring cars, and in 1951 the periodical TÜV checkup became mandatory. Due to growing evnrionmental concerns, a similar biannual checkup focussing on pollution was added.

This system has been so successful at preventing accidents due to creeping technical defects that similar ones have been installed in most other EU countries.

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