Need to keep a log of your business-related driving? Let your smartphone do the heavy lifting.
Going for a drive? If it has something to do with business, you might be able to get a deduction come tax-time, or a reimbursement from your employer. Indeed, business owners and the self-employed alike have long known the value of keeping track of their mileage.
They've also known the hassles. Assuming you actually remember to manually log the details of each and every drive, it takes time to record the date, destination, miles traveled and all that. Plus, will that log be properly formatted for IRS and/or reimbursement purposes?
Apps to the rescue! Thanks to your phone's built-in GPS, mileage-tracking apps can automatically detect when you go for a drive, then save and classify that drive. At the end of the year (or sooner, as needed), the app will crank out an IRS-friendly report, thus ensuring you receive all the mileage credit you're entitled to.
Not bad, right? There are just two things to consider when deploying a mileage tracker: How much it's going to cost you, and how big an impact it's going to have on your battery.
For example, some trackers charge a monthly or annual fee, while others have an up-front cost. Fortunately, even the priciest services can pay for themselves pretty easily if you log a lot of miles, as you'll be recording (and getting credit for) trips you might otherwise have missed.
As for the battery issue, these apps work their automatic drive-detection magic by keeping your GPS active at all times, which can definitely affect battery life.
Below I've rounded up three popular mileage trackers, all focused on the same goal, all very different in terms of pricing, features, interface, etc. These are by no means the only options, but they're representative of what's available.
Available exclusively for iOS, Mileage Expense Log is one of the most affordable trackers you can get. Although there's a free version, trust me when I say you should buy the Pro version -- which costs all of $3.99.
That's a one-time price that buys you freedom from some seriously intrusive advertising. Just as important, it enables automatic trip tracking, though the implementation here is a bit confusing.
So is the interface, which starts off with a blank summary (blank because you haven't recorded any drives yet) and no clear indication of what you're supposed to do. Tap the "+", however, and you'll see fields for recording your first trip: vehicle, destination, purpose, etc.
From here you can choose Auto Track or Odometer, the latter if you prefer to manually log your mileage. But the former includes Start and Stop buttons, which would seem to challenge the idea of automatic tracking.
Once you figure out the interface, however, MEL works well enough. It can sync your data to iCloud or Dropbox, and it's even Apple Watch-compatible. Just take note that its export options are limited to HTML and CSV.
MileIQ (Android, iOS) is by far the most expensive option in this little roundup, but it's also one of the most polished and easy-to-use apps I've tried.
The ease-of-use part goes like this: For every drive MileIQ records -- and it does this with effortless automation -- you swipe left if it's personal or right if it's business. (It's like Tinder for trips!) From there you can get more granular about drive organization (like classifying different purposes), but ultimately it's the lightning-quick categorization that makes life really easy. And the app keeps a running tally of how much your business-related drives are worth (based on 2016 IRS deduction rates), which is neat.
You can also specify work hours so that MileIQ isn't automatically trying to classify drives outside those hours. Alas, automatic drive-detection (which does affect battery life) can't be scheduled accordingly. But it does offer robust exporting options and integration with tools like Concur and Freshbooks.
The app costs $5.99 per month or $59.99 annually, a price that includes tracking for an unlimited number of drives. There's also a free option, but it limits you to 40 drives per month -- probably not enough if you use your vehicle for both business and personal trips. (Totally optional, but if you want to get the annual plan for $47.99 for the first year, you can use my referral link.)
TripLog offers a robust feature set that matches -- and in some cases even exceeds -- MileIQ's, but for a lower price. In fact, you can use the app for free for up to five vehicles, complete with manual or GPS-based trip logging, vehicle fuel- and expense-tracking and map-based route review.
To really get the most from it, though, you'll want to upgrade to either the Personal or Business plan, which cost $1.50/month ($15 annually) and $2.50/month ($25 annually). Those options add support for things like automated mileage tracking and cloud backup, receipt photos (for things like gas expenses) and unlimited IRS-ready reports.
The automated mileage tracking is more comprehensive here than in either of the other apps, at least in terms of how it engages. It can start when power is connected to the phone (think: car charger), when a Bluetooth connection is made (think: car stereo), during a selected time period or when it detects sustained movement above 4 mph. You even have the option of syncing with a Bluetooth OBD-II scanner, which would eliminate the need to use battery-draining GPS.
I can't say the interface is anywhere near as polished or intuitive as MileIQ's, but for less than half the annual price, you get a very versatile, feature-rich mileage-tracking tool.
Have you tried any other mileage trackers? If so, how did they rate? Hit the comments and share your review!