Inventory - Automotive Tax Tips


Notice: Historical Content

This is an archival or historical document and may not reflect current law, policies or procedures.

An inventory is necessary to clearly show income when the production, purchase, or sale of merchandise is an income-producing factor. If you must account for an inventory in your business, you must use an accrual method of accounting for your purchases and sales.

Automobile dealerships have a great deal of discretion in what accounting methods they will employ for various classes of their inventoried items. Whatever method the taxpayer chooses, it must clearly reflect income. Dealerships typically maintain distinct inventories and tend to account for them differently. Among the types of inventoried items are:

  • New vehicles
  • Used vehicles
  • Parts and Accessories

The methods used for valuing and accounting for these classes of items do differ from dealership to dealership, but once a method is chosen, it must be adhered to. If a taxpayer elects to change his/her inventory method, Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method must be submitted (PDF).

Lower of Cost or Market (LCM)

Most taxpayers use the Lower of Cost or Market Method (LCM). The LCM method is the same as the cost method (which simply requires inventory to be valued at its acquisition cost), except when the fair market value of the merchandise drops below cost. If the dealer is unable to recover its cost on the merchandise because the "market" has fallen below cost, the dealer is allowed to recognize the difference even though the loss has not been realized.

With the LCM method, the "market" generally refers to replacement cost for the same goods in the same quantities that the taxpayer would normally acquire. For auto dealers, the "market" will often be the retail sales price after markdowns and discounts. It is important to remember that the market value cannot be estimated. The taxpayer must actually offer (or be offered) those goods for sale at that price in order to call it market.

When you offer merchandise for sale at a price lower than market, you can value the inventory at the lower price, less the direct cost of disposition. These prices are figured from the actual sales for a reasonable period before and after the date of your inventory. Prices significantly different from the actual prices are not acceptable.

If no market exists, or if quotations are given without reference to actual conditions because of an inactive market, you must use the available evidence of fair market price on the dates nearest your inventory date. This evidence could include specific purchases or sales you or others made in reasonable volume and in good faith or compensation amounts paid for cancellation of contracts for purchase commitments.

You MUST use the FIFO or LIFO methods, explained below, if:

  • You cannot specifically identify items with their costs
  • The same type of goods are intermingled in your inventory and they cannot be identified with specific invoices

First In, First Out (FIFO)

The First In, First Out method assumes the items you have purchased or produced first are the first items you sold, consumed, or otherwise disposed of. The items in inventory at the end of the tax year are matched with the costs of items of the same type that you most recently purchased or produced.

Last In, First Out (LIFO)

The Last In, First Out method assumes the items of inventory you purchased or produced last are sold or removed from inventory first. Items included in closing inventory are considered to be from the opening inventory in the order of acquisition and acquired in that tax year.

The rules for using the LIFO method are very complex. Two common methods are used to price LIFO inventories, the Dollar-value method and the Simplified dollar-value method. To adopt the LIFO method file Form 970, Application To Use LIFO Inventory Method (PDF).

Dollar-value method - Under the dollar-value method of pricing LIFO inventories, goods and products must be grouped into one or more pools (classes of items), depending on the kinds of goods or products in the inventories.

Simplified dollar-value method - Under this method, you establish multiple inventory pools in general categories from appropriate government price indexes. You then use changes in the price index to estimate the annual change in price for inventory items in the pools. An eligible small business (average annual gross receipts of $5 million dollars or less for the 3 preceding tax years) can elect this method.

For additional information on the LIFO method, see Internal Revenue Code sections 472 through 474.

Differences Between FIFO and LIFO

Periods of Rising Prices (Inflation) (+) Higher value of inventory
(-) Lower cost of goods sold
(-) Lower value of inventory
(+) Higher cost of goods sold
Periods of Falling Prices (Deflation) (-) Lower value of inventory
(+) Higher cost of goods sold
(-) Higher value on inventory
(+) Lower cost on goods sold

Replacement Costs / Loss of Inventory

Regardless of which inventory method you use, you must take a physical inventory at reasonable intervals and the book figure for inventory must be adjusted to agree with the actual inventory. Precise inventory records will assist you if you were ever to incur a loss. There are several ways to claim a casualty or theft loss of inventory.

You can claim a casualty or theft loss of inventory, including items you hold for sale to customers, through the increase in the cost of goods sold by properly reporting your opening and closing inventories. If you choose to report the loss this way, you cannot claim the loss again as a casualty or theft loss. Any insurance or other reimbursement you receive for the loss is taxable.

You can also choose to take the loss separately as a casualty or theft loss. If you take the loss separately, adjust opening inventory or purchases to eliminate the loss items and avoid counting the loss twice. Also, reduce the loss by the reimbursement you receive or expect to receive. If you do not receive the reimbursement by the end of the year, you cannot claim a loss for any amounts you reasonably expect to recover.

If your inventory loss is due to a disaster in an area determined by the President of the United States to be eligible for federal assistance, you can choose to deduct the loss on your return for the immediately preceding year. However, you must also decrease your opening inventory for the year of the loss so the loss will not show up again in the inventory.

If your creditors forgive part of what you owe them because of your inventory loss, this amount is treated as income and is taxable.