The apparent Km and maximum velocity values of benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase and benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II from Acinetobacter calcoaceticus were determined for a range of alcohols and aldehydes and the corresponding turnover numbers and specificity constants were calculated. Benzyl alcohol was the most effective alcohol substrate for benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase. Perillyl alcohol was the second most effective substrate, and was the only non-aromatic alcohol oxidized. The other substrates of benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase were all aromatic in nature, with para-substituted derivatives of benzyl alcohol being better substrates than other derivatives. Coniferyl alcohol and cinnamyl alcohol were also substrates. Benzaldehyde was much the most effective substrate for benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II. Benzaldehydes with a single small substituent group in the meta or para position were better substrates than any other benzaldehyde derivatives. Benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II could also oxidize the aliphatic aldehydes hexan-1-al and octan-1-al, although poorly. Benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II was substrate-inhibited by benzaldehyde when the assay concentration exceeded approx. 10 microM. Benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II, but not benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase, exhibited esterase activity with 4-nitrophenyl acetate as substrate. Both benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase and benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II were inhibited by the thiol-blocking reagents iodoacetate, iodoacetamide, 4-chloromercuribenzoate and N-ethylmaleimide. Benzyl alcohol or benzaldehyde respectively protected against these inhibitions. NAD+ also gave some protection. Neither benzyl alcohol dehydrogenase nor benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II was inhibited by the metal-ion-chelating agents EDTA, 2,2'-bipyridyl, pyrazole or 2-phenanthroline. Neither enzyme was inhibited by a range of plausible metabolic inhibitors such as mandelate, phenylglyoxylate, benzoate, succinate, acetyl-CoA, ATP or ADP. Benzaldehyde dehydrogenase II was sensitive to inhibition by several aromatic aldehydes; in particular, ortho-substituted benzaldehydes such as 2-bromo-, 2-chloro- and 2-fluoro-benzaldehydes were potent inhibitors of the enzyme.