buy a school bus

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.


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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  1. Michael price October 31, 2016 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this very informative site. I will read every bit. W have not bought yet but will do so in the next week or 2.. we are going to tretire to this bus and live in it. We will use our Navy sons address and drive to park in when not ” ok the road”. We currently reside in Illinois but wi lbs going to Virginia/North Carolina after they move back ut there and my wife retires (special education, behavior disorder for 18yrs)…..I am disabled, retired firefighter and truck driver. Anyway thank you again and look forward to using and abusing this info!!!, have a great day…….best wishes to all………..Michael

    • discoveringus October 31, 2016 at 11:33 pm - Reply

      Michael, Best of luck to you finding your dream bus. So glad you commented and let us know you were finding the blog informative. Please email us if you have any questions and we will do our best to help you out.

  2. Melissa November 1, 2016 at 1:38 am - Reply

    Thank you … I am a free spirited artist who does a lot of travelling and working and I am looking to buy a flat nose front engine Bus and if all goes well I should have it purchased within the next 3-4 weeks … I live in Ontario Canada and I just got back from a 3 1/2 week road trip to Tofino BC to see my daughter get married it was just me and two of my small dogs and I did it in a Ford Explorer … put the seats down in the back and made a bed for myself and the dogs … I plan on doing most of my conversions myself I am a type of Jill of all trades so as for checking things on the bus before I buy I will be inspecting any and every nook and cranny on it I don’t mind getting dirty lol one will probably find me crawling right underneath the bus too rain or shine … there is much to my story and reasons for purchasing and converting a bus for myself but just as of recently due to certain unfortunate events in my life it has become more pressing that this is what I need to do for me … I hope to be able to learn and get as much information as I can to make this happen and your site was put right in front of me for a reason and I look forward to getting to know you more and share my journey to get to this point and the journey from this day on … my old nickname for years was missy and only a select few still call me that so I loved seein your name in my emails when they started to come in 🙂 just knowing there is some kind of support for me to lean on right now with what I am facing in life make me feel at ease

    • discoveringus November 1, 2016 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      Melissa, thanks so much for sharing part of your story and I look forward to getting to know you better. Please know that you are not alone! So thrilled you found out site. Hey, if you are interested join my Facebook Group for women who love to travel/live in a mode of transportation. We have many skoolie women in the group. Here is the link: Best of luck finding the right Flat-nose FE bus to fit your dreams.

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