When did GPS become the magic elixir for everything in trucking? Don’t get me wrong. GPS works beautifully for recording a vehicle’s whereabouts (or at least the whereabouts of a functioning GPS receiver), and the combination of GPS and really good routing software can be a Godsend for anyone who manages a fleet of trucks.

But if you’re responsible for filing IFTA, IRP, and other distance-based tax returns, there are three things you need to know about GPS:

1. GPS Does One Thing

A GPS receiver does one thing and one thing only: based on signals from satellites, it records latitude, longitude, date, and time.

That’s it.

Want to know how fast you’re going? What road you’re on? Software makes those calculations. Did you make your exit or did you blow by it because your navigation system said you had 50 meters to go? Again, software.

The thing is, there is no standard algorithm for turning GPS data into points on a map. Every routing and fleet management program has its own proprietary way of using GPS data to determine your truck’s location and the distance it travels.

Some programs are more accurate than others. You know this. So do auditors.

That’s why state and provincial auditors won’t accept distance summaries generated by routing or fleet management software. They want to see the raw GPS data so they can verify for themselves whether your distances are correct.

2. “Having GPS” Is Not Enough

There are great fleet management software developers out there. (Full disclosure: my company uses Verizon Networkfleet). They’re wizards at helping dispatchers, fleet managers, maintenance managers, safety managers, accountants, and drivers use data from their trucks to do their jobs better.

But they’ve never filed a tax return or sat down with an auditor. They don’t know IFTA or IRP policies or the requirements of your base jurisdiction.

Relying on a software vendor to handle your IFTA or IRP reporting is like using Turbo Tax to do your income tax returns. It’s inexpensive, sure, but a product designed for the masses is no match for an accountant who understands the trucking business. That accountant may cost more up front but he’ll pay for himself in the long run through tax planning and compliance.

3. It’s Your Name on the Tax Return

I’d love to say that software developers are doing you a disservice by implying that their products will do everything you need to comply with IFTA and IRP, but the salesperson is only telling you what you want to hear.

Carriers want push-button distance reporting from fleet management systems. So do service bureaus and consultants who think that GPS-based distance summaries are sufficient when they process your IFTA and IRP return.

Unfortunately, there is no such feature that will pass muster with an auditor.

When missing GPS points create gaps in your distance records, it’s up to you to provide the records—driver logbooks, trip sheets, dispatch records, fuel receipts—necessary to recreate missing portions of trips. When an auditor asks to see your original GPS data (going back four years for IFTA and five and a half years for IRP), it’s up to you to know where this data is kept and how to access it.

If you think your GPS or software vendor is responsible for your IFTA or IRP compliance, ask if they’ll be there to help the auditor sort out your records. They produce great tools, but they can’t do all the work for you—or make your tax obligations disappear.

SIDEBAR:

GPS for IFTA & IRP: What Smart Carriers Know

1. Computerized distance summaries are not accepted as the sole source document.

2. You must be able to produce original GPS data for an audit. This data consists of latitude, longitude, date, time, and possibly an engine odometer reading.

3. Original GPS data must be kept for four years for IFTA and up to five and a half years if you are also using this data for your IRP licensing renewal.

4. GPS is accurate and reliable, but not perfect. You need to have a method in place to check for gaps or problems with data.

5. Verify your base jurisdiction’s requirements for using GPS and similar location technologies in distance reporting.

6. IFTA and IRP do not specifically endorse any GPS-based systems.

Conclusion

A lot of this can seem hard to navigate.  So many boxes to check and steps to take.  We want to help.

Please take a moment to take a look at our Free Fleet Tax Compliance Toolkit.

This tool kit is made up of these invaluable resources and tools:

  • Fleet Tax Compliance Guide (7 Critical things you need to know about Fleet Tax Compliance)
  • [VIDEO] IFTA Fuel Tax 101
  • Driver Trip Report (Excel Spreadsheet Template)
  • How To Use the Driver Trip Report
  • GPS Reporting & Checklist

If you have any questions regarding IFTA regulations or protocol, please reach out to us, we are here to help.  Call us today or drop us a line via email.  Here is our contact information:

Call us Toll Free: 1-877-860-8025

Email: sjohnson@fleettaxpro.com


About the Author:
Sandy Johnson is the founder and managing partner at North Star Fleet Solutions in Calgary. The company provides vehicle tax and license compliance services for trucking operations ranging from single vehicles to large fleets. She can be reached at 877-860-8025 or northstarfleet.com.