Over the past 40 years, the 218 series has shaped the image of the DB away from the main electrified lines like no other diesel locomotive. Both in double traction in front of heavy InterCity trains in the Allgäu and on the Marsch Railroad line or used in regional transport services as shuttle trains – the class 218 units clearly played a significant role in determining the image of motive power with diesel locomotives. The class 218 locomotives represented the end of development of the "V 160 family". Electric train heating could be used with no problem with them to replace steam heating. After the development of a diesel motor with a performance of 2,500 horsepower (1,839 kilowatts), the generator for the electric heating could also be run in addition to the traction motor, which made an auxiliary diesel motor superfluous. In 1968/69, the DB initially purchased twelve test locomotives with the new motor from Krupp, road numbers 218 001-012. After a successful probationary period, the 398 regular production units followed starting in the spring of 1971 as road numbers 218 101-398 and 400-499, with construction by Krauss-Maffei and Rheinstahl-Henschel in addition to Krupp. Road number 218 399 previously not rostered formed a "lateral entrant", because it was road number 215 112 involved in 1975 in an accident, which was restored with electric heating and then rostered as road number 218 399. Naturally, numerous detail improvements were done on the series during the long procurement period. Initially, only the 2,500 horsepower motor was installed. The later production runs, over half of the units, were given a more powerful motor with 2,800 horsepower (2,059 kilowatts) performance. Initially, only German motors from MTU were installed, later also motors from the French manufacturer SEMT Pielstick (licensed production KHD). Starting in 1981, exhaust hoods were added on the roof to direct exhaust gas away from catenary and to minimize exhaust gas affecting passengers. Here hoods arranged next to one another identified the MTU twelve-cylinder motors (TB10/TB11), and diagonally arranged hoods identified the sixteen-cylinder motors (Pielstick, MTU 4000).
In recent years, their ranks have thinned out considerably. With a service age of at least 40 years, many units, mostly the older production series, have since been retired. Uses worthy of mention are the bases of Niebüll, Mühldorf, Kempten, and Ulm. Road number 218 499 has been based at the last location since December of 2008. It came to the DB in June of 1979 and is thereby the last large diesel locomotive purchased by the German Federal Railroad at all. As with its sibling units of the last series (road numbers 218 485-498), a Pielstick diesel motor, type "16 PA4 V 200", was initially installed in it and around 1985 diagonally arranged hoods were added. In the course of an overhaul in 1995, the Pielstick motor was replaced by an MTU motor of the same power (12V 956 TB 11) now with two exhaust hoods arranged in parallel. Here it kept its V-shaped Behr cooling equipment, which is recognizable by the large mesh grill on the roof. Tour de force performances by the Ulm units and thereby also road number 218 499 have sometimes been up to the present the Intercity train pairs IC 2012/2013 "Allgäu" between Stuttgart and Oberstdorf, IC 2084/2085 "Nebelhorn" between Augsburg and Oberstdorf, as well as occasionally IC 118/119 between (Stuttgart) Ulm and Lindau.