Whether you’ve got a busted odometer or you’d just rather not have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to calculate your annual mileage for work-related tax deductions, there are a couple simple ways to find out how many miles you’re averaging. Downloading a mileage tracker app for your smartphone can take all the guesswork out of adding up your drive time by automatically ticking off the miles while you’re on the road. If you only make the occasional business trip, consider simply plotting out your route and recording the estimated distance in advance.
Download a mileage tracker app.
Sophisticated, feature-packed programs like TripLog and MileIQ make it easy for users to keep up with how far they’ve traveled on a given trip. There are also more affordable options for those who are just interested in documenting distance without a lot of extra bells and whistles, such as Mileage Expense Log and Klicks.
Many of the more reputable apps require you to pay a small one-time charge, or a monthly subscription fee. This can be well worth it to people who drive a lot and would rather not have to tally up their mileage the old fashioned way.
Not all of these apps may be available on your phone’s operating system. If you have a serious need to track your mileage, it may be a good idea to upgrade or switch models.
Choose your preferred tracking mode.
Most apps feature an auto-tracking feature that begins recording as soon as you’re in motion. Others allow for more manual control, including options to start and stop the tracker at will or set a specified beginning and endpoint for each individual trip.
Auto-tracking can come in handy if you tend to be forgetful about inputting important app info yourself.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with what your chosen tracker can do before you take it on the road with you.
Drive to your destination.
Once you’ve decided which mode best suits your needs, start your engine. The tracker will log each mile you travel, updating you in real time. All you have to do is drive.
Mileage tracker apps use GPS signals to follow your movement along a certain route. Some may even offer turn-by-turn navigation to help you find your way around!
Due to the amount of processing power required to keep them updating, these apps can drain your phone’s battery pretty fast. Make sure you’re fully charged before you head out, or keep a portable charger in the car with you.
Stop the tracker once you get where you’re going.
If you’re in auto-tracking mode, the app should stop running when the car does. Otherwise, you’ll need to press the “stop” or “end route” button to indicate that your journey is over. In either case, it’s good to check—there can sometimes be a small margin of error in the tracker’s ability to gauge the vehicle’s movement.
If you forget to stop or reset your tracker, you may end up with an inaccurate number.
Record or archive your mileage for future use.
At the end of your trip, the app will display an overview of how far you’ve traveled, your total time in the vehicle, and even an estimate of how much of a write-off the trip was worth. Be sure to log your data so you can refer back to it come tax season or time for scheduled maintenance.
You’ll usually have the option of exporting your trip statistics as a PDF or CSV file that you can then email to yourself, or you can sync your data to the cloud and check it anytime you want.
If you opt to convert your mileage to a document, print it out at your earliest convenience. Having a physical copy will prevent you from losing your information in the event that the app crashes or you misplace your phone.
Plot out your intended route.
Determine the best way to get where you’re headed. The simplest way to do this is to plug your destination into your phone or GPS. You might also look up possible paths on a roadmap, if you’re somewhere without a reliable connection.
Since this method is somewhat less precise, it’s best reserved for professionals taking the occasional business trip or those who don’t need to document their driving habits frequently enough to pay for an app.
Pay attention to how far you’re going.
Most smartphone-based navigation apps will display the exact mileage beside each individual route. With a traditional map, you’ll need to use the scale and other elements of the key as a guide to find your overall distance. The important thing is that you have an approximate number in mind to serve as a metric.
Read roadmap scale carefully to make sure you understand it. On a standard driving map, the scale will usually be about 1 : 250,000. This means that 1” of distance on the map is equal to roughly 3.95 miles of highway.
Don’t forget to factor in the distance of your return trip, as well. If everything goes without a hitch, you can simply double the number listed on the map.
Drive to your destination.
For now, just focus on sticking to your scheduled timeframe and following the rules of the road. You can go back and make detailed calculations later on. Don’t attempt to tab out your mileage while operating a vehicle, as this could lead to accidents.
Account for any extra miles along the way.
If you happen to run into a detour, or you’re forced to turn around to pick up a coworker with a flat tire, make a note of it. To be as accurate as possible, program unforeseen detours and side trips into your GPS so you’ll have a concrete figure to work with.
Use your best judgment to approximate the additional distance when strict recordkeeping isn’t important—it doesn’t have to be exact as long as it’s in the right ballpark.
If you’re tracking your mileage for tax purposes, don’t include any non-business-related stops you feel compelled to make, such as personal visits or sightseeing adventures to out of the way places.
Write down your total estimated mileage.
Adding the number of unexpected miles to your original projected mileage will paint a picture of the amount of ground you’ve covered since you started out. Be sure to hold onto this number for your records.
Add up each individual outing as you go over the course of a year to find your annual mileage. Note this figure in the margins. It can be a big help come tax time.
Odometers are imperfect instruments. In many cases, there won’t be a significant difference in the mileage you work out for yourself and the one given by your vehicle, as long as you’re careful.