What Counts as Business Mileage?

Over the two decades from 1999 to 2019, the IRS raised the per-mile deduction for business driving from 31 cents to 58 cents. You can use the write-off to claim the costs of driving on business, or you can claim the actual costs of maintaining, repairing and fueling your car. Either way, you have to know the difference between business miles and miles driven for fun.


You can claim the business-miles deduction for trips from your workplace to job sites, meetings with customers and for business errands. The commute from home to work is not deductible unless you're driving from a home office to another place of work.

Business Miles vs. Commuting

If your only work-related driving is from your house to your office or your store, this deduction is not for you. The IRS says commuting from home to work and back doesn't count as deductible business mileage.

What does count?

  • Making trips from your office to meet with clients. This can include meeting them for lunch or drinks, as long as it's a business get-together and not just hanging out. 
  • Going between workplaces. So, office to branch office, construction site to construction site.
  • Commuting from home to a temporary workplace. A lawyer's morning drive to their office isn't deductible, but if they spend six weeks driving instead to the courthouse for a case, that's a write-off. However, you can only take off the business miles if you have a regular workplace as well as the temporary one.
  • If you have no regular workplace, but you have a temporary gig outside your "metropolitan area," you can claim the commute as business miles. A metropolitan area includes city limits and the outlying suburbs.
  • Attending a professional conference.
  • If you take any qualifying trip using a taxi or an Uber, or use a leased car, you can claim the per-mile deduction for that, too.

If You Have A Home Office

If you have a home office that serves as the heart of your business, the rules change. Commuting from your home to meetings and other workplaces become a valid business-miles deduction. However, you have to meet the federal standards for claiming your home as your principal place of business.

To qualify, you must use that part of your home exclusively for the administration and management of your business. You can't have another location where you also do significant management work. Administration, in this context, includes submitting bills and invoices, keeping records, ordering supplies, setting up appointments and writing reports.

There's an exception if you have clients or patients regularly coming by your home for appointments. Even if you have another place of business, the regular visits may qualify your home office as a principal place of business.

Working While Commuting

The commuting exclusion is an ironclad, open-and-shut no. The IRS says that even if you try to justify it by doing work during the drive, you still can't claim any business miles. That also applies to claiming other personal trips as business miles. Specifically:

  • Making business phone calls during a drive doesn't make it a business trip.
  • Driving with equipment, tools or paperwork in the trunk doesn't make it a business trip. If, however, you incur added costs for hauling equipment or tools, such as renting a trailer to tow behind your car, those costs are deductible.
  • Having advertising for your business on your car does not turn commuting or recreational driving into business mileage.

Sweat The Small Stuff

Driving a half-mile from your place of business to the post office may not seem worth the trouble to report. If you run lots of errands, as many small-business owners do, the miles may add up over the course of a year. You can claim business miles for trips to the post office, the bank, the office-supply store and similar business-related missions.

Dividing Your Driving

If you have a car you use entirely for business driving, then the mileage is entirely deductible. If like many people, you use a car for both personal and professional trips, you need to separate business miles from personal miles.

This can be tricky if you combine personal and business miles into one trip. It's fine if you make a short stop during a business trip to grab lunch or pick up a prescription. If you go several miles out of your way to run an errand or to visit family, you need to subtract that part of the drive from the total mileage before claiming your deduction.

Business Miles Or Actual Expenses?

Deducting the per-mile amount is one way to write off your business miles. The other is to take a deduction based on the actual expenses of driving your car, such as maintenance, oil, gas, registration, new tires and so on. In some cases, you don't get to choose:

  • If you want to take the per-mile deduction for a vehicle, you have to claim it the first year you drive it for business. You can switch to actual expenses later, but you can't switch from actual expenses to mileage.
  • If your company uses five or more cars, such as a delivery fleet, the per-mile deduction is off the table.
  • If you claim any form of depreciation for the car other than straight-line depreciation, or you claim the Section 179 deduction for the car, you can't take the per-mile write-off.

To claim actual expenses, you have to track your mileage and what you spend on your car. If 70% of your driving is for business, you can claim 70% of your expenses. You can make a rough estimate of how much you get to deduct with each method, then decide which works best.

Driving Long Distance

If you drive outside your tax home – the city or area where your business is based – the same rules apply. For example, if you want to drive from Savannah, Georgia, to Mobile, Alabama, for a business conference, you can claim the business miles deduction for the trip. You can also write off meals and lodging.

If you combine business and pleasure, you have to exclude the personal expenses. If you stay an extra day after the conference to see friends, for instance, that extra day isn't deductible. If the trip is primarily personal with business an add-on, you can't write it off at all. Only expenses specifically related to business, such as faxing your office from the road, would count.

Keeping Mileage Records

If you're claiming the business miles write-off, you'll need documentation to justify your deduction. You don't have to send it in with your tax returns, but if you're ever audited, the IRS will want to see your paperwork. For a given trip, you'll need the date of the trip, the destination and the reason it qualifies as business mileage.

If you have regular, scheduled trips – you're a salesperson or a delivery person who regularly makes the same stops – you don't have to document the purpose of every trip. If your business use isn't that regular, but it's consistent, keeping detailed accounts of your business driving the first week of each month may be all it takes. A less detailed record the rest of the time may suffice.

For an actual-expenses deduction, you'll need invoices for the money you've spent on your car.