Auto, Car, and Truck Business Expenses

Many business owners purchase vehicles that are used extensively for business purposes and need to know to what extent this business use is deductible from their income. Taxpayers who use a passenger automobile, including “luxury” automobiles, in the pursuit of business or in an income-producing activity can deduct certain costs related to its acquisition and maintenance. The deductible items include gas, oil, tolls, parking fees, insurance, and depreciation (if you own the car) or rent (if you lease the car). All of the expenses must be allocated between business use and nondeductible personal use. Use of an automobile for commuting to and from work is personal and expenses related to commuting are nondeductible. You can deduct actual expenses incurred as a result of the business use or you can use the standard mileage rate.

Instead of figuring actual expenses, you can use the standard mileage rate of 51 cents per mile for travel during 2011. The standard mileage deduction is in lieu of deducting operating and fixed costs of the automobile. Depreciation is a component of the standard mileage rate, therefore, the basis in the automobile must be reduced by the depreciation allowed. However, if you use the standard mileage deduction, you can still deduct parking fees, tolls, interest relating to the automobile’s purchase, and state and local taxes. Up to four cars used simultaneously can be computed using the standard mileage rate.

If you want to use the standard mileage rate for a car in any year, you must choose to use it in the first year you place the car in service in your business. After the first year you can switch to deducting actual expenses.

If you choose to deduct actual expenses, you can deduct such items as oil, gas, insurance, depreciation, etc. However, there are special rules that apply if you use your car 50% or less in your business. Generally, you must use a car more than 50% for business to qualify for the §179 deduction (election to treat a portion of the cost of the car as an expense-see below) and there is a limit on the depreciation deduction. Using your car as an employee is treated as business use only if that use is for the convenience of your employer and required as a condition of your employment.

Generally, the cost of an automobile is a capital expenditure; however, if you use the automobile more than 50% for business purposes, you can elect to treat a portion of the cost, subject to yearly limits, as an expense in the year the automobile is placed in service. The yearly limit allowed is determined by the year the automobile is placed in service and the percentage of business use. A special rule for 2008, 2009, and 2010 allows an additional 50% first-year depreciation deduction and an $8,000 increase to the annual limitation amount.

For example, if an automobile is placed in service in 2010, the expense deduction and the depreciation deduction cannot be more than $11,060 for the first year (the placed-in-service year); $4,900 for the second year; $2,950 for the third year, and $1,775 for any year thereafter. This limit is reduced if the taxpayer uses the automobile more than 50%, but less than 100%, for business use.

Vans and trucks placed in service in 2010 are subject to a higher limitation than passenger automobiles: $11,160 for the first year; $5,100 for the second year; $3,050 for the third year; and $1,875 for each succeeding year. Vans and trucks placed in service in 2009 are subject to the following limitations: $11,060 for the first year; $4,900 for the second year; $2,950 for the third year; and $1,775 for each succeeding year.
Trucks used in construction and other certain activities may not be subject to these limitations. Large SUVs are also subject to different rules as well. If you would like more information about auto, car, and truck expenses in your business, click here to contact Paul to discuss the matter further.

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