The Art of Write-Offs and Putting Your Deductions into High Speed

16 May 2024

In movies and TV shows, we often hear characters dismissively say, "Don’t worry, it’s a write-off", but in reality, write-offs are anything but simple. Take the case of purchasing your dream car. Is it eligible for a write-off? Well, the answer isn't straightforward.

When it comes to your car expenses, determining if it's deductible depends on its usage. You can deduct your car's entire cost if it is solely for business. But if you use it for both personal and business purposes, you can only deduct the cost related to its business use.

You can generally figure the amount of your deductible car expense by using one of two methods: the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method.

*Pro Tip: If you qualify to use both methods, you may want to figure out your deduction both ways before choosing a method to see which one gives you a larger deduction.

Standard Mileage Rate Method:

For the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating your car for business, refer to Standard Mileage Rates or Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses. To qualify for this method, you must:

Own or lease the car
Do not operate five or more cars concurrently, such as in fleet operations
Have not claimed a depreciation deduction for the car using any method other than straight-line
Have not claimed a Section 179 deduction on the car
Have not claimed the special depreciation allowance on the car
Have not claimed actual expenses after 1997 for a leased car

* Important note: For a car you own, you must opt to use the standard mileage rate in the first year it's available for business use. Subsequently, you can choose between the standard mileage rate and actual expenses.

For a leased car, the standard mileage rate method must be used for the entire lease period, including renewals, if initially chosen.

Actual Expense Method:

To utilize the Actual Expense method, calculate the true cost operating the car for its actual usage. This includes:

Lease payments
Gas and oil
Repairs and tune-ups
Registration fees

Note: Additional expenses such as parking fees and tolls related to business use are deductible separately, regardless of whether you use the standard mileage rate or actual expenses.

Understanding these methods is crucial for maximizing your deductions and managing your car expenses effectively. Because let’s be real, at the end of the day, you want to deduct the most you possibly can. Whether you're a business owner or a freelancer, knowing how to navigate these rules can save you money come tax time.

Remember, while write-offs can seem complex and ambiguous, taking the time to understand them can ultimately benefit your bottom line. If you're unsure about any aspect of car expense deductions, consulting with a tax professional is always a smart move. When in doubt, trust the experts.


  • Car owners typically use the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) for depreciation.
  • If you switch from the standard mileage rate to the actual expense method, you must use straight-line depreciation over the car's remaining useful life.
  • There are limits on how much depreciation you can deduct, detailed in IRS publications.
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