Three Questions You Can’t Afford NOT to Ask about Your Car Allowance Program

Written by mBurse Team Member Oct 24, 2017 7:08:00 AM

Three Questions You Can’t Afford NOT to Ask about Your Car Allowance Program

Question 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.)

Question 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.

Question 3: Is your car allowance a flat 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.

If you haven’t already guessed it, behind these questions lie three criteria for 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

2017 car allowance survey

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 $500/month taxable car allowance, which may equate to as much as $386 or as little as $306 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. 

Employees tend to 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.

Crafting 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.

Is it time for a change?
According to recent mBurse surveys, most car allowances have not been revisited or changed in years. Gas prices rise, but their car allowance stays the same. Insurance costs climb, but their 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. At mBurse, we specialize in crafting fair and flexible car allowances that can be paid as non-taxable reimbursement.

The ultimate guide to paying a car allowance or mileage reimbursement

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