How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes

How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes

Sarah York, EA
February 23, 2024
February 23, 2024
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Tax guide
How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes
Sarah York, EA
February 23, 2024
February 23, 2024
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Reviewed by

We use our cars for everything — errands, school drop-offs, vet visits, and daily commutes, among many other things. Some of us are so reliant on our vehicles that we even give them nicknames and soothingly pat the dash when they make noises that indicate problems we can’t afford to repair.

Considering all the value they add to our daily lives, it shouldn’t be surprising that our vehicular companions help us save on taxes too! Believe it or not, you can use the amount your vehicle depreciates over time to reduce your tax bill.


What is vehicle depreciation?

Put simply, depreciation is a way to measure the declining value of an asset. We all intuitively understand this concept: a Ford Focus purchased in 2014 is less valuable than a Ford Focus purchased in 2018. (I would know. Thanks for nothing, CarMax.)

The reason for this decline is also apparent: the more a car is used, the more wear and tear it gets. That’s why a used car with low mileage is a great purchase (Who knew you’d get car buying tips here too!).

The other contributing factor is that humans continue to innovate.  Every year new models of cars are released with improved functionality and features. In other words, the car you bought five years ago simply can’t compete. 

What auto depreciation means for your taxes

The general idea behind car depreciation for taxes is to spread the cost of a car out over its “useful life,” instead of writing off its whole cost the year you buy it.

The term “useful life” refers to the amount of time it takes for your vehicle to lose 100% of its original value. For tax purposes, the IRS generally considers five years to be standard for most vehicles. (In other words, your car has the life expectancy of a guinea pig).

There are two basic methods to depreciate your vehicle for taxes: mileage and actual expenses.

If you use the standard mileage deduction

Most people are familiar with the term “business mileage.” If you’re not, it’s exactly what it sounds like: the number of miles you drove for work in a given year. This is a great option for people who drive a lot for work, such as truckers or Uber and Lyft drivers. It may also make sense for, say, Turo hosts whose cars get rented out a lot.

Every year the IRS posts a standard mileage rate that is intended to reflect all the costs associated with owning a vehicle: gas, repairs, oil, insurance, registration, and of course, depreciation.

For 2023, that rate is $0.655 (65 cents) per mile. For 2024, it's set to increase to $0.67 (67 cents).

Calculating your standard mileage deduction

You can use these rates to calculate your tax deduction at the end of the year. For instance, let’s say you drove 12,000 miles in 2024, 5,000 of which were for work.

Your mileage write-off would be $3,350 (5,000 x the standard mileage rate of $0.67= $3,350).

Don't count the miles you spend commuting

The only rule is that “business mileage” does not include commuting mileage, which is defined as the distance you drive from home to work.

Car Depreciation for Taxes | Miles driven from your home to the office, or from your office back home, count as commuting and aren't tax-deductible

If you have a home office as your exclusive place of business (meaning you don’t have a second primary office somewhere else), you’re eligible to include the mileage between your home office and other locations where you do business, such as clients’ offices.

If you use the actual expense method

This expense method allows you to claim your actual vehicle costs, such as gas, oil changes, repairs, insurance, and depreciation. The nice thing about this option is that it's easier to track during the year since you can include the expenses with your other write-offs. You'll still need to keep current notes supporting the business purpose of the trips you took.

Make sure you carefully consider which method is most advantageous to you. If you claim mileage your first year, you can switch to actual car expenses the next year. But if you choose the actual method the first year, you're locked in and can't switch to mileage later on.

This is on a per-auto basis. So in theory, you could have two vehicles and employ a different method for each one. The only rule is that you can’t alternate between methods on the same vehicle. 

How much can you write off for car depreciation? 

If you choose the mileage, you won’t be able to claim depreciation as a standalone deduction — it’s already included in the standard mileage rate. But if you use the actual expense method, the amount you can write off as depreciation is your “basis” in the vehicle.

Basis essentially means sunk cost. Let’s say you purchase a used car for $18,000, and after all the fees, taxes, and registration, the total price is $20,000. $20,000 is your basis in the vehicle (regardless of whether you need financing to make the purchase or not).

Before you rush to sign on the dotted line, however, you need to be aware that only the business portion of your basis is eligible to depreciate on your taxes.

Most of us don’t have vehicles that are strictly for business use, so we have to treat our autos as “listed” assets, meaning we have to carve out the amount that’s personal. The business portion is calculated the same way as mileage above: business miles / annual mileage = business use.

Car Depreciation for Taxes | Calculation for the business-use percentage of a car driven with a business mileage of 8,000 and a total mileage of 14,000

The basis is multiplied by our business-use percentage to determine the “depreciable basis” of the vehicle for tax purposes. In the example shown above, the depreciable basis on our $20,000 vehicle would be $11,400.

See how this would be allocated on your taxes in the table below:

Useful Life Depreciation % Max Allowed Deduction Taken
Year 1 35% $18,200 $3,990
Year 2 26% $16,400 $2,964
Year 3 15.6% $9,800 $1,778
Year 4 11.7% $5,860 $1,334
Year 5 11.7% $5,860 $1,334

This table assumes the auto was placed in service at the beginning of the first year. See IRS table A-2 for further details.

You may have wondered why the depreciation percentages were so large for the first couple of years. That’s because the vehicle is over 50% for business use, which means we’re able to use MACRS depreciation (which stands for Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System). This allows you to front-load the bulk of the expense in the first two years.

If, alternatively, the business use on your vehicle is under 50%, you’re required to use the straight-line depreciation method (SLD) instead. SLD is easy to calculate because it simply takes the depreciable basis and divides it evenly across the useful life. So $11,400 ÷ 5 = $2,280 annually.

When it’s time to file your return, you’ll use Form 4562 to report your car’s depreciation. 


Can you get a bigger write-off upfront?

Many people are surprised to learn they can’t deduct the entire cost of their vehicle when they buy it. In response, the IRS has developed ways to “accelerate” depreciation in order to allow a bigger write-off in the first year.

There are currently two methods to accelerate depreciation. 

Accelerating depreciation with Section 179

The Section 179 deduction was introduced to incentivize business owners to purchase machinery and equipment. It  enables you to write off the entire cost of the purchase in the first year, rather than depreciating it over its useful life.

The 179 deduction extends to automobiles as well, with the only caveat being that the max write-off is limited to $12,200. 

Note that the 179 deduction can’t be taken on vehicles used less than 50% for business. 

Accelerating depreciation with bonus depreciation

Bonus depreciation makes it possible to claim a bigger chunk of the cost of any machinery and equipment the year you buy it.

How much can you write off with bonus depreciation?

For a car you purchased between 2017 and 2022, the IRS allowed you to write off 100% of the cost in year one. After that, it started to "phase out" that helpful subsidy by 20% every year, culminating when it vanishes entirely in 2027. Here's how it breaks down:

Year Write-Off You Can Claim in Year 1
2022 100%
2023 80%
2024 60%
2025 40%
2026 20%

As you can see, bonus depreciation only gives you a bigger first-year write-off up to 2025. By 2026, you might as well use MACRS, which lets you write off 35% of your car's cost the year you buy it.

Unfortunately, bonus depreciation has limits — the max deduction is $20,200 in the first year. In addition, bonus depreciation cannot be claimed on vehicles used less than 50% for business.

Section 179 vs. bonus depreciation: What’s the difference?

Section 179 gives you the bigger write-off in year one, but bonus depreciation is easier to use. It's automatic, meaning you don’t have to elect anything special to claim it.

Before 2023, Section 179 and bonus depreciation provided the same result. Consequently, many people opted for the more convenient method.


Depreciation on SUVs, trucks, and other heavy vehicles

Up until now we’ve been discussing depreciation as it relates to “passenger vehicles.” A passenger vehicle is what most of us drive. They’re typically not designed to seat more than nine people and usually weigh less than 6,000 pounds.

In many cases, however, freelancers and self-employed people work jobs that require more heavy-duty autos. SUVs, pickup trucks, and other heavy-weight vehicles are categorized as “transportation equipment.” Consequently you’re eligible to claim 100% of their cost under bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing.

For instance, if you purchase a truck for $80,000, and it meets the transportation requirements, you can claim the full $80,000 in the first year. 

To verify that your vehicle meets the transportation requirements, it must have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of above 6,000 pounds. Most manufacturers will note this on the vehicle’s label.

Similar to passenger vehicles, if the business use falls below 50%, you’ll have to depreciate it using the straight-line method over its useful life — typically six years for heavy vehicles.

Calculating car depreciation is not the ideal way to spend an afternoon, but taking the time to consider your options is worth every penny!

Sarah York, EA

Sarah York, EA


Sarah is an Enrolled Agent with the IRS and a former staff writer at Keeper. In 2022, she was named one of CPA Practice Advisor’s 20 Under 40 Top Influencers in the field of accounting. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, Money Under 30, Best Life, GOBankingRates, and Shopify. Sarah has spent nearly a decade in public accounting and has extensive experience offering strategic tax planning at the state and federal level. Her clients have come from a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, manufacturing, real estate, wholesale and retail, finance, and ecommerce, and she has handled tax returns for C corps, S corps, partnerships, nonprofits, and sole proprietorships. In her spare time, she is a devoted cat mom and enjoys hiking, painting, and overwatering her houseplants.

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How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes
How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes

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How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes
How To Depreciate Your Car on Your Taxes

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At Keeper, we’re on a mission to help people overcome the complexity of taxes. We’ve provided this information for educational purposes, and it does not constitute tax, legal, or accounting advice. If you would like a tax expert to clarify it for you, feel free to sign up for Keeper. You may also email with your questions.