Business Vehicle Depreciation Deduction: Auto Write-Offs

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Business Vehicle Depreciation Deduction: Auto Write-Offs

The business vehicle depreciation deduction for your work car can lead to some large tax savings. Keep in mind that you can only benefit from this if you use the actual expense method. Let’s go over some of the basics you should know about vehicle depreciation.

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Business Vehicle Depreciation Deduction: What You Need To Know

We’ll dive into the specifics below but the key takeaways are:

  • You must use the actual expense method for vehicle depreciation
  • Vehicle depreciation has special rules compared to other business equipment
  • This applies to vehicles that qualify as “passenger vehicles”
  • There are two ways to deduct vehicle depreciation.

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What is the Vehicle Depreciation Deduction?

Your business car declines in value over time due to wear and tear. The vehicle depreciation deduction allows you to write off that value. You can’t take this deduction if you’ve already deducted business drives, though. That’s because the standard mileage rate already factors in depreciation.

The business vehicle depreciation deduction has some special rules to be aware of. These apply to most types of vehicles. Normally, it results in a lower yearly deduction than other property.

What Are The Annual Vehicle Depreciation Deduction Limits for Passenger Vehicles?

The IRS sets an annual vehicle depreciation deduction limit each year. This limit applies to vehicles that qualify as “passenger automobiles”

The annual limit applies to all vehicles that qualify as “passenger automobiles.” A passenger automobile is any four-wheeled vehicle made for use on public streets and highways. It also must have an unloaded gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less.

Because the annual limits are so low, it can take many years to fully depreciate a car.

The IRS has two different sets of deduction limits for passenger automobiles. One is for passenger automobiles other than trucks and vans. There are slightly higher limits for trucks and vans that qualify as passenger automobiles (based on their weight) and have a truck chassis. This includes minivans and sport utility vehicles built on a truck chassis. This is as long as they meet the weight limit.

The charts below show the largest annual depreciation deduction allowed for passenger automobiles and trucks and vans placed in service in 2016. The second chart shows the limits for passenger automobiles that are trucks and vans as defined above. Both charts assume 100% business use of the vehicle. If you don’t use your car solely for business, the limits are reduced based on your percentage of personal use.

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Depreciation Limits For Cars 2016

Here are the business vehicle depreciation deduction limits for what the IRS defines as passenger vehicles.

Tax YearStandard50% Bonus
First Year$3,160$11,160

Depreciation Limits For Trucks and Vans 2017

Here are the limits of depreciation for trucks and vans. This can also apply to passenger vehicles that are built on truck chassis, like minivans and SUVs. Trucks and vans that are over a weight threshold are not subject to these depreciation limits.

Tax YearStandard50% Bonus

How Much Can You Write Off With the Vehicle Depreciation Deduction?

This deduction lets you write off your investment in a business vehicle. This is also called “basis.” Multiply the basis amount by the percentage of business use of the vehicle to determine how much you can depreciate each year. If you use a car 100 percent for business, you may depreciate its entire basis. If you use it 50 percent for business, you may depreciate only half of its basis.

How do you determine your car’s basis? It depends on how you got it and when you began to use it for your business.

If you buy a business vehicle and use it that same year, your basis is its cost. If you trade in your old vehicle to a dealer to buy a new one, your basis is equal to the adjusted basis of the trade-in. This includes the original cost minus depreciation taken, plus the cash you pay. The cash includes the out-of-pocket costs or if you financed with a loan.

If you convert a vehicle that you previously owned for personal use to a business vehicle, your basis is the lower of what you paid for it or its fair market value at the time you convert it to business use. Your basis will usually be its fair market value, as this is usually the lower number. You can determine the fair market value by checking used car value guides, such as the Kelley Blue Book.

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Bonus Depreciation for Business Car

For the past several years, businesses that purchase new personal property have been able to benefit from 50 percent first-year bonus vehicle depreciation. This allows them to deduct 50% of the cost of qualifying property the first year it is purchased and placed in service in their business. Bonus depreciation expired at the end of 2013, but it is expected to be extended through 2014, and likely beyond.

In December 2015, Congress passed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act. This extends the bonus depreciation through 2019. This assumes the vehicle is used 100 percent for business-the bonus amount is reduced by the percentage of personal use.

However, you may not use bonus depreciation at all if you use a vehicle more than 50 percent of the time for personal purposes. Moreover, the bonus is only available for new vehicles.

Depreciation Deduction Methods

There are two basic methods to depreciate a vehicle: the straight-line method which gives you equal deductions each year except for the first and last year; and accelerated depreciation, which gives you larger deductions the first few years you own your car. You must use your vehicle for business more than 50 percent of the time to use accelerated depreciation.

However, no matter which method you use, your deduction will be subject to the annual limits set forth above. Thus, depending on the value of your vehicle, it may not make much difference which method you use.

What Vehicles Qualify for the Full Section 179 Deduction?

SUVs, trucks, vans, and other vehicles that don’t qualify as passenger vehicles aren’t subject to the IRS limits. You can take a full depreciation deduction each year. Using bonus depreciation and/or Section 179, you may be able to deduct all or most of the cost of such a vehicle in a single year.

Here’s a full Section 179 vehicle list.

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Stephen Fishman

Stephen Fishman

Stephen Fishman is a self-employed tax expert and regular contributor to MileIQ. He has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for entrepreneurs, independent contractors, freelancers and other self-employed people. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles, and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Visit Fishman Law and Tax Files for more information on his work.
Stephen Fishman

MileIQ’s blog does not constitute professional tax advice. You should contact your own tax professional to discuss your situation.