What Do You Need to Know Before You Buy a School Bus

So, you have decided to buy a school bus to convert into a home on wheels. AWESOME!

(If you are still wondering if a school bus is right for you, check out this post on “5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Bus.”) 

School buses not only make great campers but can be a traveling home customized to fit your personal style. Before you decide to buy a school bus to convert, it is a good idea to know the answer to these four questions. If you take the time to research and answer these questions, you will know where to buy a school bus, you will buy a school bus within your budget, you will buy a school bus that has the square footage you need, and you will have done everything possible to prevent starting out your Skoolie journey with costly repairs.

buy a bus to convert

Know the answers to these 4 questions before you buy a school bus.

What type of bus do you need?

Take the time to do your research about the different types of buses available. Do you want a diesel or gas engine? Are you looking for a bus with the engine in the rear or in the front? How long of a bus are you needing to fit your family? Keep in mind when buying a bus, the height of the interior is only 6’2″. If you are taller, you might want to consider a transit or charter bus. If you have a large family like us, GO BIG! We enjoyed our 35-foot bus, but our 40-foot bus allowed us more room for storage. Storage for a large family is always nice.

To save you a little bit of research time, here are a few notes from my files. There are three types of school buses.  Most of the time, visual appeal, ease of mechanics, and your conversion layout will determine which one of these buses would suit your needs the best.

Let’s Talk Bus Types

The Dog-Nose

If you like the traditional school bus look, you will want to purchase the dog-nose school bus.  Our first bus was a dog-nose bus. One thing Jeff loves about the dog-nose bus is that they are easier to work on and the engine is more accessible.

The Flat-Nose Front-Engine (Puller)

If you are wanting more of the RV look, go with a flat-nose bus. The front engine will give you more convertible interior space, but it has the downfall of being a bit loud. Oh, and it has some cool curved steps. … Just saying (Our second bus was a Flat-Nose Front Engine bus.)

The Flat-Nose Rear-Engine (Pusher)

The rear engine bus is the quietest of all three options. But, in order to have a more quiet ride, you are going to lose some storage space in the back of the bus. If you choose to purchase this type of bus, keep in mind that repairs will cost more due to the placement of the engine.

Once you decide on the style of bus you need, you need to figure out how much square footage you are going to need. If you have a small family and are just using the bus as a weekend camper, you might need to go with a midsize bus (9-11 windows) . If you don’t have any children and need a limited amount of room, a short bus might be what you are searching for.

Pro Tip: One way to figure out how much space you need would be to go ahead and design a floor plan. Imagine that you bought a bus that was 25 feet in convertible space. Draw up a floor plan/layout and see if everything you need will fit into the space. Then adjust your plan accordingly.

When will you be ready to purchase a school bus?

Are you like Jeff, and think you were born ready to purchase a school bus? If so, please resist the urge to just rush out and get a bus because the desire is so great you just can’t control yourself. At this moment, imagine the STOP sign swinging out in front of you!

STOP! Do not proceed until you know your budget.

Don’t just think about how much you have to spend on the school bus purchase, but consider the entire conversion process.

How are you going to pay for your conversion? Are you going to put it on a credit card and pay it off when you no longer have a mortgage or rent? Do you already have a bus savings account? Either way, it is important to know how much you need to spend on your conversion. Come up with a budget and a plan to save money for the project. Setting a budget is one step you do not want to overlook when starting a Skoolie conversion.

Then, decide if you are going to purchase your bus before having the full amount.

Pro Tip: Jeff’s advice is as soon as you have the money saved up to purchase the bus, go ahead and buy it.

When you are looking at the school bus in your yard, it will encourage you to keep saving and working toward your total budget needs. Also, you can work on your bus a little at a time as the money is available.

Once, you have determined your budget and have a plan to purchase the bus. Set a deadline to purchase the bus and one for the complete conversion. Having deadlines keeps you working toward a goal.

dog-nose flat-nose school bus

Who has school buses for sale?

I’m sure since you are looking to buy a school bus to convert into a camper or home on wheels, you have already searched Craigslist and Ebay. Here are a few other places that have used buses for sale. Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with any of these places. In the past, we have bought our buses from local churches or via contacts that Jeff knows.




Pro Tip: Make friends at the local school bus maintenance shop. They are full of bus knowledge.Click To Tweet

Get to know the owner/manager of the maintenance shop.  They love school buses and will give you free advice on mechanics and parts for your bus. Most of the time, they can tell you when a really good bus is coming up for auction.

Before you show up to purchase a bus, or even participate in an online auction, read the next section. You need to know where the problem areas are on a bus. If you are participating in an auction, be sure to ask questions before bidding. If you live near the auction, you are allowed to view the bus before bidding.

Where are the problem areas on a school bus?

By problem areas, I mean what things do you need to check out before you buy a school bus to convert.

The biggest problem is rust. If the bus you are looking to purchase has a little surface rust, it’s not a huge deal. But, if there is rust on the chassis and in multiple spots around the bus, you might want to keep searching.

In addition to rust, another problem area would be the tires. Tires can cost anywhere from $500 and up. You will not want to buy your bus and then on the way home have to call out roadside assistance to replace a tire. Also, you are going to want to put your money into converting the bus before replacing the tires.

Pro Tip: When inspecting school bus tires, use the “penny trick”.

Stick a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head you need to replace the tire.

If you would like to save research time, check back next week and read the post, “Buying a bus? 5 Important Things to Inspect”

Let’s Review

Do you know what type of bus you need?

When will you be ready to purchase your school bus?

Where are you going to start looking for a bus to buy?

What are the problem areas that you are going to inspect before buy a school bus?

Tell me your answers to these questions in the comments below.


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