If you drive as an independent contractor for food delivery apps like Doordash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Instacart, or rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft and so many others, tracking miles makes a HUGE difference in your tax bill.
Delivery contractors in the gig economy put hundreds, if not thousands, of miles on their cars. At the standard mileage rate of 62.5 cents per mile (for the second half of 2022), that lets you knock a lot of money off your tax bill.
Failure to track miles can be an expensive mistake. We'll talk about how to track miles for Doordash, Uber Eats, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and all the other gig economy apps:
- Should I track miles if I'm only taking the standard deduction (and not itemizing)?
- Should I track miles if I'm claiming actual expenses instead of mileage?
- What does the IRS require for a mileage record?
- Do you need a written log or can you use a GPS app?
- What a good written record looks like
- What to look for in a good GPS mileage tracking app
- My personal mileage tracking routine
- What miles can you track and claim as a business expense?
About this article
This article is about how how to track mileage in the United States. Other countries have their own tax laws that may or may not be similar. Because there are so many state and local governments, we don't dive into local or state taxes. You should seek out a tax professional who can help you with your locality and the related taxes.
EntreCourier is mainly about the business side of delivery work in the gig economy. Therefore, many examples will be related to food delivery companies like Grubhub, Shipt, Amazon Flex, DeliverThat, and many larger companies.
There are a lot of aspects related to delivery driver taxes. It's impossible to cover it all and do it well in one article. For that reason, this is part of a more comprehensive series on gig worker taxes. We'll link to other articles where appropriate, and at the end, we have a list of all articles in the series.
Finally, this is not tax advice. The purpose is to inform and educate about how taxes work. For advice relative to your personal tax situation, you should seek guidance from a tax professional who is familiar with independent contractor taxes in your area.
Do I need to track miles if I don't have enough deductions to itemize?
Yes, because this has nothing to do with standard vs. itemized.
As an independent contractor, you write off business expenses on form Schedule C, not as a personal tax deduction. This means you can claim your business miles regardless of whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.
There's a section in Schedule C where you can enter your total automobile expenses.. There is no minimum mileage amount required before claiming miles. Whether you drove 10 miles or 10,000, you can write it off. Therefore, you should track it.
Should I track miles if using the actual expense method instead of mileage?
Yes, you should. First, you need to know how many business miles you drove to determine the business percentage. Second, it's good to know both the mileage and actual expense deduction so you can know which is best for you.
The IRS lets you choose whether to claim a flat rate per mile or add up all driving costs and claim the actual cost of using your car. If claiming actual expenses, you can only claim a percentage of that cost based on the percentage of miles driven for business.
Either way, you must know how many miles you drove for business.
What kind of tracking does the IRS require of delivery and rideshare drivers?
The IRS requires that you have written evidence of your deduction. There are four things you must have on your mileage log:
- The date, meaning you need a record for each day that you drive for business.
- A general description of where you went.
- How many miles you drove for the trip.
- The business purpose of your trip.
On top of this, you need a record of the total miles driven for the year. This works best by recording the odometer reading at the start of the year and the end.
Three implications come to mind from this:
- You can not just pull a number out of thin air at year's end. The IRS wants documentation.
- The IRS won't accept just the starting and ending mileage for the year for a car that's used 100% for business. You must have a daily record.
- Many gig companies will send a year-end email with an estimate of your mileage. That email is not IRS-compliant.
Is it better to keep a written log or use a GPS app?
You can purchase a log book, keep a record on a notepad, use a spreadsheet, or use one of many GPS apps to track your miles. Any of those methods are acceptable to the IRS if your method meets the four criteria listed and you can provide a written record.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.
I've heard (but can't prove) that auditors prefer the written record, mainly if it includes odometer readings. However, if you forget to record trips or lose your log, that can create problems.
A good GPS app provides indisputable evidence that you were where you said you were. They can also be less reliable. The apps track your movement and do not know if you're driving, riding, or walking.
What to include in a written mileage log
You could make your mileage log as basic as a notepad, where you jot down the details of each trip. You can also use a spreadsheet like Google Sheets, which has the advantage of storing your log in the cloud.
For each line, you can track:
- Starting Odometer Reading
- Ending Odometer Reading
- Total Miles
- Where you drove
- Business Purpose
I can not find IRS documentation that requires the odometer readings. However, odometer numbers give you a level of authenticity, allowing you to compare those numbers to maintenance bills, etc.
The notes section is also optional. Sometimes, a note about the trip may further explain why it was necessary.
Below is a sample spreadsheet.
This sample shows the four things required of a compliant log: total miles, destination (you do not have to have every address listed), the business purpose, and the date.
What should you look for in a GPS app?
An app must allow you to download a printable report with details that meet the minimum IRS criteria to be compliant.
If you choose to use a GPS app, the most important thing is to find the one that will most accurately capture your miles. However, that's not always the same app for everyone. Some apps will be better for some folks, while others may be better with other apps.
A couple of well-known apps are free to use. They require you to start and stop tracking manually. However, they are often more accurate because they start tracking immediately.
A common feature for subscription-based apps is automatic trip detection. The app can sense when you are driving and automatically record the trip. You can then classify whether trips were personal or for business.
Manual tracking is generally more accurate, but only if you remember to start and stop recording. If you forget frequently, automatic trip detection may be better for you.
Auto tracking apps have their accuracy issues. To distinguish between walking and driving, they usually wait until you are going 5 to 10 miles per hour. That can often result in several missed miles. It's also fairly common for the app to be asleep when you start a trip, thus never beginning a recording.
Many apps have additional features, such as expense and income tracking.
Some of the mileage tracking apps
A while back, I made a comparison where I ran multiple mileage tracking apps simultaneously. I wrote in-depth about my comparison of the best mileage tracking apps.
I won't go into detail, but here are some of the apps I examined:
- Hurdlr. Hurdlr was the best all-around app based on its tracking and other features. It has a free version and a subscription option. Here you can find my Hurdlr review.
- Triplog. Triplog was the most accurate of the auto-tracking apps. It has a feature that automatically records your trips any time one of the food delivery apps is open.
- Everlance. Everlance came in third of the seven apps. It has a solid mileage tracking feature and an average expense tracking feature.
- Stride Tax. Stride tax is maybe the best-known free app in the gig economy driver community, with manual tracking only. The expense tracking feature is minimal. I wrote more in my review of the Stride app.
- Gridwise. Gridwise has a functional manual mileage tracking feature, limited expense tracking, and a feature that can interface with your driver accounts to give you earnings reports.
- Quickbooks Self-Employed. CBSE, better known as accounting software, includes a mobile app with mileage tracking. It is the highest-priced option of the subscription options I examined. I reviewed Quickbooks Self Employed as an app for delivery drivers.
- MileIQ: MileIQ is strictly a mileage tracking app. It did not have any income or expense tracking features. In my experience, it was actually the least accurate, missing several miles.
My personal mileage tracking routine.
I use a Google Sheets spreadsheet as my main tracking format. In fact, I use more than one spreadsheet. Because Google stores the data in the cloud, I don't have to worry about losing my information.
My spreadsheet gets pretty involved. I track every delivery, but not for tax purposes. I do a lot of analytics, examining deliveries to see how profitable they are and making adjustments accordingly.
At the end of each day, the entire day's information is entered onto a daily log, including the date, starting and ending odometer readings, and what I earned for each platform.
Finally, I have Google maps as my backup. The Google Maps app has a Timeline feature that keeps a record of where you've been each day. It's a bit creepy that Google knows everywhere I've been with my phone, but it makes for a great backup if it's ever needed.
At one time, I used to run the free Stride app as a backup but discontinued that when I discovered the timeline feature in Google Maps.
It is not necessary for you to go to the same extent. The minimum requirements are the four criteria we mentioned earlier. The important thing is to find a method and routine that works the best for you.
What tracking method is best for you?
The best method is the one that captures the most miles for you. That ultimately depends on some personality traits and your way of doing things.
I believe that for someone disciplined and not likely to forget to write information down, manually tracking miles is the best way to go. You are not at the mercy of glitches, the app shutting down, or the inability to connect to GPS satellites for a reading.
If you're on the forgetful side, it may be worth paying for an app that automatically records trips. In my experience, Triplog is the most reliable because it detects your use of gig apps, and Hurdlr is the most well-rounded and feature-rich app.
The bottom line is that you must find a tracking method that works best for your style and preferences.
What miles should I track?
Once you have determined how to track your miles, you must know what miles you can claim.
The IRS says that for a business expense to be deductible, it must be ordinary and necessary for your business. You can use that same principle for tracking miles. If the miles are an essential part of your delivery business, they are deductible. Read more:
The Delivery Driver's Tax Information Series
- 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.