3 Questions to Improve a Typical Car Allowance

Written by mBurse Team Member   |   Feb 1, 2021 7:00:00 AM
2 min read

Company car allowances policies are often some of the most overlooked policies in the organization. But these policies are more important than you might think.

What is a typical car allowance?

Recent mBurse surveys found that most companies in the U.S. pay a car allowance between $500 and $700 per month. So right around $600 is probably closest to the average – though the amount can very between different industries and different jobs within a company (i.e. sales rep vs. account manager).

Looking for car allowance benchmarking data specific to your industry? Get your free customized report here.

Here are ways to boost your company car allowance to go beyond the typical car allowance without breaking the bank.

3 important questions to ask about your car allowance program

1: When was the last time you changed the amount of your car allowance?

If it’s been more than five years, you may be in trouble. If it’s been more than ten years, you definitely are in trouble. (I’ll explain below.)

2: What generated the rate or amount of the car allowance?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, that’s a problem. If you do know the answer, and the amount wasn’t based on actual data about employees’ travel expenses, that’s also a problem.

3: Is your car allowance a standard amount, or do you tailor it to specific employee needs and roles?

The way you answer this question could say a lot about your commitment to maintaining equitable policies and practices.

Computer mouse on desk selecting step 1

If you haven’t already guessed it, behind these questions lie three criteria for a fair, effective car allowance policy:

3 qualities of a fair, effective car allowance policy

A car allowance should be:

  1. Flexible and reviewed regularly
  2. Based on accurate, relevant data
  3. Customized to individual needs

Ignoring those criteria? Your allowance is not competitive. 

Traditional car allowance plans are based on a one-size-fits-all model. But in reality, different drivers experience different operating costs and territory sizes. Businesses today need the tools to craft flexible car allowance policies based on accurate, relevant data.

Your mobile employees operate on a system of trust. As they work to bring success to your organization, they trust you to ensure that their business needs are met. Car allowances instill that trust as your team members travel to meet clients and move between your locations. If they have to travel using their personal vehicle, a robust allowance lets them know their income will be protected from the volatile costs of owning and operating a vehicle.

A car allowance is also a big piece of the recruiting process for mobile employees. The amount and the way it is derived can separate you from your competition, steering top talent your way. Or it can have the opposite effect. If a company offers candidates a $600/month taxable car allowance, which may equate to somewhere between $400 and $360 after taxes, those candidates know that their allowance may not cover their expenses, especially if they live in a high cost territory or cover a broad territory. 

According to our annual survey, nine out of ten mobile workers weigh their costs against the car allowance before accepting a new position. If candidates hear an arbitrary number that does not take into consideration each employee’s territory size or territory costs, then they will likely rank your offer lower than your competitors’ offers.

How to calculate a competitive car allowance

Forward thinking companies provide an up-to-date reimbursement calculated using actual costs. It is important that the process involve examining the relative costs of different territories – fuel, maintenance, taxes, etc. It is also important that the allowance amount account for territory size as well. Providing an allowance with a transparent basis instills confidence in new hires that they will be treated fairly and consistently.

The amount of the car allowance not only impacts recruiting new talent, but retaining your existing talent. When existing employees receive the same exact allowance but experience different expenses, they will figure out that the situation is not fair. Morale will dip. Employees who get the short end of the stick may look elsewhere to find an employer with a more competitive reimbursement plan. That’s trouble. You want to be the one attracting top talent, not losing it because you have an out-of-date car allowance.

Update your car allowance program today

According to recent mBurse surveys (2017, 2018, 2019), most car allowances have not been revisited or changed in years. Gas prices fluctuate and inflation occurs, but the car allowance stays the same. Insurance costs climb, but the car allowance stays the same. Territories expand, but…you get the picture.

Going back to the three questions from the beginning: At some point you have to re-evaluate your car allowance, but this doesn’t necessarily mean spending more. It might be a function of removing the unnecessary tax waste from your existing policy. Our tax savings calculator can help you predict how much the company would save and the employees would benefit.

At mBurse, we specialize in crafting fair and flexible car allowances that can be paid as non-taxable reimbursement.

Fair allowance

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