ATO targets tradies and motor vehicle claims (Part 2)

The ATO is currently targeting tradies and motor vehicle claims in general. While there is a perception that utes are commercial vehicles and not subject to the same record keeping requirement as cars, the reality may be different. Dual cab utes such as the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger – the two top-selling cars in Australia – could be subject to substantiation requirements and fringe benefits tax (FBT) as the extra weight of the dual cab reduces the load capacity.

ATO targets tradies and motor vehicle claims (Part 2)

We covered individuals and partnerships as well as logbook requirements in our last article. In this article we have outlined the main issues for trading companies and trusts and fringe benefit tax as a general guide.

Types of motor vehicles

The type of motor vehicle you drive can affect how you calculate your motor vehicle claim. A motor vehicle is either a car or an ‘other vehicle’.


A ‘car’ is a motor vehicle that is designed to carry:

  • a load of less than one tonne, and
  • fewer than 9 passengers.

Under Fringe Benefits Tax Law, the designed load capacity of a motor vehicle is to be taken as the gross vehicle weight as specified on the compliance plate by the manufacturer (broadly, the maximum all-up loaded weight), reduced by the basic kerb weight of the vehicle. For this purpose, basic kerb weight is synonymous with unladen weight. It does not include the weight of goods or occupants.

Many four-wheel drives and some utes are classed as cars as this load capacity is less than 1 tonne – particularly if it is a dual cab.

Other vehicle

Your motor vehicle is an ‘other vehicle’ if it is not a car. Other vehicles include:

  • motorcycles
  • minivans that can carry 9 or more passengers
  • utes or panel vans designed to carry loads of one tonne or more

Companies and Trusts

If you operate your business as a company or trust, you can only claim the actual costs for motor vehicle expenses based on receipts for expenses incurred. The cents per kilometre is not available.

FBT Exemption

Generally speaking, a liability for FBT arises where an employer’s motor vehicle is used by an employee or associate for private purposes or is available for the private use of an employee or associate.

However, under the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act, a liability for FBT will not arise where the private use of certain vehicles by employees during a particular year of tax is limited to certain work-related travel and non-work-related use that is minor, infrequent and irregular.

Work-related travel is defined to be travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment or other place at which employment duties are performed and any travel that is incidental to travel in the course of performing duties of employment.

Under current ATO Fringe Benefits Tax policy, minor and infrequent use is considered to be:

  • travel between home and place of work and any diversion adds no more than two kilometres to the ordinary length of that trip, and
  • for journeys undertaken for a wholly private purpose (other than travel between home and place of work), the employee does not use the vehicle to travel
    1. more than 1,000 kilometres in total, and
    2. a return journey that exceeds 200 kilometres.

The vehicle also had to have a GST-inclusive value less than the luxury car tax threshold at the time the vehicle was acquired, which is currently $76,950.

Vehicles Eligible for The FBT Exemption

The following vehicles are eligible for the limited private use exemption:

  • a single cab ute
  • a dual cab ute that is designed to either
    • carry a load of 1 tonne or more
    • carry more than 8 passengers (including the driver)
    • carry a load of less than 1 tonne but is not designed for the principal purpose of carrying passengers.

To calculate if a dual cab ute meets the condition that it is not designed for the principal purpose of carrying passengers, the maximum all-up loaded weight needs to be calculated and reduced by the basic kerb weight of the vehicle. If this amount is less than 1 tonne, it must be further reduced by allowing 68kg per potential passenger. If the remaining capacity is greater than the allowance for passengers, it is considered to be a vehicle that is not designed for the principal purpose of carrying passengers and eligible for the exemption.

  • a panel van or goods van
  • a modified vehicle (such as a hearse) if, for the entire FBT year when the car is used by the employee, the modification permanently affects the inherent design of the vehicle.
  • a taxi
  • any 4-wheel drive vehicle that is designed either o to carry a load of 1 tonne or more
    • to carry more than 8 passengers (including the driver)
    • for a principal purpose other than carrying passengers
  • any other road vehicle that is designed to carry either
    • a load of 1 tonne or more
    • more than 8 passengers (including the driver).

Please note that if a vehicle is subject to Fringe Benefits Tax, there are several other requirements that need to be met.

Record Keeping

You don’t have to keep special records to be eligible for the exemption. However, you must be able to demonstrate that the use of the vehicle at all times meets the limited private use conditions.


In an ATO audit it is not enough to say you just use your ute 100% for business use. There needs to be some evidence to support that. If you are using a ute for both private and work purposes the best course of action is to keep a full log book. This will substantiate your claim and allow a fair claim to be calculated. This can be a complex area, particularly when Fringe Benefits Tax is an issue.

The ATO is commencing audits in this area and your record keeping may mean the difference between a successful outcome and adjustments to your claims.

This article is meant as a broad outline of current requirement. If you have any questions or queries relating to your circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss.