Your miles are a big part of your expenses when you deliver for Doordash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates and other gig companies, which means you need to track them.
If you don't track them, you cannot claim them.
If you don't track them AND you claim them and the IRS checks into it, it can cost you big. Really big.
You need to understand what's required for tracking and you need to make sure you have the right documentation.
Do I need to track miles if I don't drive enough to itemize my deductions?
You don't have to. Not if you like paying more taxes than you should.
But you should. Because you are self employed, you deduct your miles somewhere else. You can take the standard deduction AND still claim your miles.
Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise. Unfortunately, there are too many out there who do. Way too many.
By the way: Don't ask for advice on Facebook or Reddit. Just don't do it.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about tracking miles.
What kind of tracking does the IRS require of delivery drivers?
The IRS requires a written record four specific things of your record.
The date. There's an implication to this: You need a written record for every single day that you have business miles. You cannot lump several days together.
A description of where you went. It does not need to be detailed.
How many miles you went.
The business purpose of your trip.
On top of this, you need a record of the total miles driven for the year. This is best handled by taking an odometer reading at the start of the year (or when you obtain that vehicle) and at the end of the year.
This means a couple of things:
First off, this means you have to have a record. You can not estimate. You cannot say that I drive 100% for business so every mile counts. It is NECESSARY that you have a DAILY record.
This also means you cannot rely on any mileage report that you get from Uber Eats or Doordash or anyone else who might have an estimate for you. That's especially true if the mileage amount you are relying on does not break your miles down daily. That report doesn't meet the IRS requirements.
What is the best way to track miles as a delivery driver for Grubhub Doordash Uber Eats, Postmates or other gig apps?
Is it better to use a GPS app or keep a written record.
I think either one can be good. There are benefits to both and I personally do both.
A written record with Odometer readings is my primary means of tracking.
On top of that, I have a GPS record that shows where I traveled. It serves as a backup. It also provides nice documentation in case a customer lies and says they didn't get their food.
Advantage of a written record.
I have heard rumors that IRS auditors tend to be old school and trust the written record more than GPS records. I have no idea if that's true, and there are aspects of the GPS record that seem more reliable.
It may be that a reason that a written record might be preferred is that the odometer reading lends credibility. Maintenance records usually have odometer readings, and those can be cross referenced.
If you are making up miles as you go along, you end up claiming more miles than you actually put on your car. A good auditor can sniff that kind of thing out.
With a GPS, it's far too easy to let it record when you are a passenger, taking an Uber, or using public transportation. You might have a GPS record but you cannot demonstrate that all those miles were used on your particular vehicle.
The regular task of recording odometer readings demonstrates an attention to detail. That also lends some credibility.
Disadvantage of a written record.
There are two major potential problems when you rely on your written record.
What happens if you forget to record your odometer reading?
What happens if you lose your written record?
There are actually measures in place where you can go back and recover mileage records if you forget to track your miles. If you have other evidence supporting the miles you drove, you can legally update your mileage record accordingly.
In fact, it's probably easier to do that with a written record than if you forget to turn on your GPS tracker, because your odometer readings from the previous day give you a point of reference.
Personally, I use Google Sheets for my written record. My record is stored in the cloud. I can access it on my phone and I can access it on my home computer. I have a shortcut on the home screen of my phone.
Advantage of a GPS app.
The biggest advantage with a GPS app is that it provides more detail. Make sure that you're using a program that will show the route that you've taken.
If you have the right kind of tracker, you can look at the record and see exactly where you were. That goes above and beyond on the IRS requirement of identifying where you went.
Some trackers will automatically start and stop recording based on when you start driving. If you're hesitant to use a written record because you're afraid you will forget to record your miles, you want to get an app with this feature.
Of the apps that I know, automatic tracking is only available on the paid versions. But think of it this way: Forgetting to record your miles for one or more days of delivery could cost you far more in additional taxes than the cost of an automatic tracking app.
Disadvantages of the GPS app.
There are two major issues using a GPS app.
The first one is something I mentioned earlier. It's too easy for the app to record miles when it shouldn't be. It can record times you're walking or when you're travelling in another vehicle. This is a credibility problem.
A big problem is accuracy. I know, sounds weird to say that. How can you get more accurate than an actual recording of where you went.
I did a comparison of several popular mileage tracking apps and how they work for those of us doing delivery. One thing I noticed was that compared to baseline odometer readings, the apps did not track as many miles.
There were several problems. The apps would lag before they actually started recording. Mileage apps use a lot of resources and if there was much else going on with the phone, it can block the phone from recording. Sometimes the app just wouldn't turn on.
Delivery apps can lock up your phone, and you have to reboot. Your phone runs low on power and you have to shut it down from time to time. The GPS can't record during those times. Sometimes the GPS would skip part of the recording.
And of course, there are the times you forget to start recording.
On average I was recording about 7% fewer miles on GPS apps than what I was actually driving. 7% fewer miles for me last year would have cost me $221 more in taxes. That's an expensive issue.
What would a good written record look like?
You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like.
The simplest way is take a notepad and draw six or maybe seven columns. Use these headings:
Starting Odometer Reading (Start for short)
Ending Odometer Reading (End for short)
(this is optional but good for documentation) Note. The note column is just to add any explanation you think might be necessary for a particular trip.
I mentioned that I use a Google Sheets spreadsheet. I do mostly the same thing on that. In my situation I use the spreadsheet to also list my earnings for each company (which adds further documentation to show my business purpose).
Below is a simpler sample spreadsheet.
Remember the four things the IRS requires? The date is in column A, Miles total is column D, Where I went is in column E and the business purpose is column F. It meets all four requirements.
What is the best type of GPS app?
Some were free, some had a cost to use. Some would track automatically. I mentioned some of the accuracy issues above, and those issues seemed worst with the automatic tracking.
Here's what you want to look for:
The app must be able to provide a written report that meets the IRS requirements. It needs to record the four essential elements we listed above. It needs to be downloadable or something you can print out.
I HIGHLY recommend that you get an app that shows the path that you drove. Some apps only show a starting point and an end point. The problem with that is that on delivery you can often have the same start and end point, a lot of miles, and nothing that seems to back those miles up. It just looks odd.
Choose an app style that works for you. Apps that you start and stop manually are generally much more accurate. If you're prone to forgetting to start and stop them, you may be better off with an automatic tracker.
In my evaluation, Triplog was the most accurate. Triplog would only record when one of my delivery apps was open, but then it would record everything during that time. This avoided some of the accuracy issues with automatic loggers.
Here's a brief rundown of the mileage tracking apps that I looked at.
Some links are affiliate links, where I may earn commissions. For more detail on each of these apps, you can check out the comparison article on the best mileage tracking apps for drivers for Doordash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Instacart, Lyft and others.
Triplog was in my evaluation the best pure mileage tracker and the most accurate. It has a paid version that has automatic tracking with unlimited tracking. There's a free version that has manual tracking and limits you to 40 trip records. Triplog also provides the best route record of all the apps, allowing you to see the time you were at different points along the route.
Hurdlr was the top overall pick, in my opinion, because of the additional expense tracking and tax features. They have a paid version with unlimited automatic tracking, or a free version with unlimited manual tracking. Hurdlr does provide a map detail of the route you took.
Everlance provides a good overall product that also has good expense and income tracking features. I did run into times where the auto tracking did not kick in, thus losing a lot of miles, basically it didn't like the battery saving features on my phone. Everlance does provide a route map showing where you went. The free and paid versions both have automatic tracking, but the free version only gives you 30 trips. Because of all the starting and stopping that goes with deliveries, I used my 30 trips up within three days.
These are two free apps that have manual tracking capability. I list them together because of the similarity in how they work from a tracking standpoint. Both will provide a map showing the route you drove. Both require you to manually start and stop your tracking for each trip. They tend to be memory hogs. They are different in their other features, where Stride has a very basic expense tracking feature, while Gridwise automatically pulls your earnings reports from the various apps and gives you some analytics on your earnings.
Quickbooks Self Employed is actually a bookkeeping program designed for self employed individuals. After the promotional period, the cost is $15 per month, there is no free option. They added a mileage tracking app to integrate with their program. The mileage tracking is automatic. Quickbooks Self Employed does not provide a route detail, only a starting and ending point of your trip.
MileIQ does allow you to track up to 40 trips per month for free. For typical delivery days for me, that comes out to about 4 days worth. The paid version does allow unlimited tracking. Like Quickbooks Self Employed, it does not provide a map of the route that you took, only a starting and finishing point.
The Triple Whammy (This is what I do).
My primary tracking is using my Google Sheets spreadsheet. Mine is pretty extensive – for each day I have starting and finishing odometer readings, total miles, an earnings breakdown of each delivery app, the number of miles I drove, and a list of statistics (profit per hour, trips per hour, etc).
It doesn't stop there. I actually two other records for each day.
I have a GPS record of my trips. In fact, if you have Google maps, you may have one as well.
For awhile, I was running Stride along with my manual record. Stride was my backup, giving a visual record of my trip.
Then I realized that the timeline feature in Google Maps was already doing this for me. It shows where I've been with my phone, for just about any time for the past couple of years. It's a little creepy when you think about it.
I don't recommend you use this for your overall tracking, as Google Maps doesn't update location nearly as frequently as any of the apps mentioned. You'll lose a lot of miles if you do, however it's a fantastic backup.
The third record is another spreadsheet I keep. This is the nerd in me.
I started tracking every delivery. It wasn't for tracking purposes, but for analytics. I enter the miles and time for each delivery, and it allows me to see how profitable I was for each delivery, each delivery company, and even for certain times of the day.
I keep this on Google Sheets, and it gives me a great view of how my day is going. If it ever comes down to an audit, I have even further backup of my miles.
Track your miles.
You have to do it. If you do not have a good record of your miles and the IRS audits you, they will disallow any of your deductions. I drove about 20,000 miles last year, and not tracking miles would have added about $3,000 to my taxes.
Okay, but what if you don't claim the 57.5 cents per mile (2020)? What if you choose to claim actual expenses?
You still have to track those miles. You can only claim the business use percent of those expenses. If 80% of the miles you drove were business, you can claim 80% of the actual expenses.
Either way you have to check off on your Schedule C that you have a written record.
As a delivery driver who is an independent contractor, whether for Grubhub or Doordash, or any others like Uber Eats or Postmates, you have to keep a record of your miles.
You don't have to go triple overboard like I do (though it doesn't hurt). If a GPS app like Hurdlr is easier, go with that. But if you do that, pay close attention so you're not missing trips. Make sure all your trips are classified properly.
Personally I think the written method works the best because it forces a discipline.
However, whatever works best for you: Track. Your. Miles!!!
- Understand the four things the IRS Requires. If you want to claim your vehicle expenses, you need a written record that includes the date of the trip, where you went, how many miles you drove, and the business purpose of your trip.
- Understand the advantages of a written record. A written mileage log is often more reliable and more widely accepted.
- Understand the advantages of using a GPS app like Hurdlr or Triplog. If you're prone to forget to write down miles, maybe a GPS that automatically records your trips is better for you.
- Decide on a method and start tracking. Yesterday.
You can claim your miles, even if you take the standard deduction. But you can only claim them if you have documentation. This article goes into more detail about how you can document those miles.
The Delivery Driver's Tax Information Series
- Introduction to the Delivery Driver's Tax Information Series
- Your Taxes are Based on your Profits, not Revenue
- Understanding your Revenue: Money In
- Understanding your Expenses: Money Out
- Filling Out Your Taxes
- Preparing for next year: How much should I save?