There’s no doubt, mileage tracking apps are quite alluring. The App Store is flooded with all sorts of them, all claiming to solve your mileage log needs. They are offered at an affordably low cost or even for free. But that low cost comes with some serious drawbacks.
How you think mileage tracking apps work
From all appearances, apps work like this: First, you have the app running on your phone. Next, at some later point you get in your car and take a drive. The app detects that you are driving, so it starts to log your trip. When you stop driving, it ends your trip.
Bam, done! That was easy! (quick side note… this actually is how mileage trackers like the Mileage Ace work).
Except that later on you actually look at your log and say “Hmm… it says I drove 11.2 miles from Los Angeles to Los Angeles. That seems wrong!” You actually drove 15.1 miles from USC to Hollywood, which means the mileage tracker just missed 4 miles, costing you $2 from your deduction.
And then there’s this sinking feeling you get that, aside from how much this mileage tracker is probably costing in missed deductions, no IRS auditor would ever let you say “Los Angeles to Los Angeles”.
How Mileage Tracking Apps actually work (the art of Guessing)
Your phone has absolutely no idea whether its in your car or not – therefore any app running on your phone is also in the dark. So mileage tracking apps have special algorithms to help them guess whether you’re driving your car.
Here’s the problem: the more accurate the guessing, the more draining it is on your battery. So they make a tradeoff that is greatly in favor of extending battery life (because you’ll notice that immediately) and costing your deduction.
Why this makes them inaccurate
Good dedicated mileage trackers like the Mileage Ace take rapid GPS readings to create extremely accurate logs.
Apps, however, can’t do that because it’ll kill your battery. Instead they use approximate location information that the phone provides by knowing which cell towers are nearby (this is called course location information).
Your position can only be updated when you move enough to change your phone to a new cell tower. So as you bob and weave through town, across a country road, or curve around an off-ramp… the phone doesn’t know you are moving!
This creates three key problems.
First Inaccuracy: Your mileage is way off
Since you are moving and driving around, but the app doesn’t know it, obviously your trips aren’t going to match your odometer.
Just how much it’s off will depend on a lot of factors. But we’ve seen trips that were 65 miles only get recorded at 52 miles. The inaccuracies for that one single trip would cost you $8 from your deduction!
Second Inaccuracy: Your log is super vague
Why does an app like MileIQ say you drove 11 miles from Los Angeles to Los Angeles? It’s because they have no idea where you are!
The best they can do is provide the city because that’s where the cell tower is located. A mileage tracker like Mileage Ace will give you exact addresses because the GPS coordinates are so accurate.
Third Inaccuracy: It only works when in cell range
If you leave cellular reception, your mileage tracking app can’t track you. Say goodbye to those miles – and you probably won’t even know it.
A GPS mileage tracker like Mileage Ace, however, will track you everywhere you go with extreme accuracy.
Consider the costs of mileage tracking apps
Apps like MileIQ can be off by 20% or more of your miles. If you drive 1000 miles a month, that’s over $100/month the app is costing your deduction. You’d be hard pressed to find a top-notch mileage tracker even half that cost.
It’s really worth considering a dedicated mileage tracker. They do cost a little more up front, but those are basically ALL of the costs. They are still extremely affordable, and you’re going to get every mile tracked.