Today’s the day your dreaming, planning, and saving starts to become a reality. It’s buying a bus day! Are you nervous? Have you been searching the internet, looking at auctions, and now are ready to go buy your bus?

It doesn’t matter if I am buying a bus for us or for a client, I always get nervous. I wonder if I am buying a bus that might have some problems. One thing that puts my mind at ease is Jeff’s checklist of the 5 Important Things to Inspect Before Buying a Bus. When a bus passes the inspection, I feel better about the purchase even though there is no guarantee.

Buying a bus is a huge step.

For goodness sake, if you are planning on this being your home on wheels, you are buying your house! You should know what type of bus you need before beginning your search.  If you haven’t decided yet, check out What Do You Need to Know Before You Buy a School Bus? 

Are you ready? Let’s talk about buying a bus!

buying a bus inspection

Buying a Bus? 5 Important Things to Inspect

For most people, price is a determining factor when buying a bus. Please don’t just buy the first bus under $2,500 because it looks like a good deal. Now, don’t get me wrong. You can buy a bus at this price point, but you just want to make sure it is in good condition before handing over the cash. You don’t want to buy a lower priced bus just to sink $5,000+ in it before your first trip.

Here are 5 important things to inspect before buying a bus

1. Chassis

The chassis is the frame of the bus. It is important that you check to make sure it is not bent or rusty. If there is damage to the chassis, walk away. Another bus will come along. Buying a bus with a damaged chassis is going to cost you an extreme amount of money in the future.

Pro-Tip: If the chassis is in good condition, while you are under the bus, check out the rear axle and u-joints.

When buying a bus to convert, make sure the chassis is in good condition.Click To Tweet

2. Rust

Depending on the age of the bus, you can expect to see some surface rust. If you see more rust spots than yellow paint, walk away. A few places to check for rust are under the bus, the inside rear wall, the steps, and around the lights. Again, some surface rust is expected and can be sanded, treated, and painted. If there is considerable rust, walk away.

3. Mechanics

The Engine:

Jeff always carries a rag in his pocket when inspecting a bus. One of the first things he does is look around the engine for leaks, oil spots, and damage to the hoses. He will check the oil and antifreeze. When he starts the bus, he listens to make sure there are no problems. Next, he will test drive the bus, listening for any problems. Before you test drive the bus, crank it and let it run for about 15 minutes. When you return, park the bus in a different spot. As you are test driving, look to see if the bus is smoking. If you have a diesel mechanic friend, this would be a great time to cash in on a favor. Buy him lunch and his favorite beverage and let him inspect the engine prior to buying a bus.

The Transmission:

During the test drive, listen to how the bus changes gears. If it is a manual, make sure it changes gears smoothly. Put the bus in reverse, back up, and make sure you don’t feel a bump when it changes gears.

Ask the owner if the engine and transmission have been rebuilt. If so, is there a warranty on the rebuild that is transferable? Ask if the owner has any maintenance records and ask to see them. This will tell you how often the oil has been changed, and other maintenance that has been done on the bus. If the owner has the records and refuses to let you see them – walk away. Likely, he is hiding something. Make sure you know how many miles are on the engine and transmission.

4. Leaks

When Jeff is checking the chassis, he looks on the ground to see if he can find any spots where the bus might be leaking. Also, he will get under the bus in the front and feel around on the engine from underneath checking for leaks.  During the engine inspection, Jeff will look for oil leaks, transmission leaks, and radiator leaks.

After the test drive, he checks the ground where the bus was originally parked and where he parked it after the test drive.

Check the battery boxes for leaks. Is the bottom of the box corroded out?

Look around the windows for leaks inside and outside.

5. Tires

Tire inspection involves more that just kicking it with a boot. Take your time and check out the following things on the tires before making an offer on the bus.

  1. Tread – Pick 2-3 different spots on a tire and make sure it has 4/32 tread depth in the groove on the steering tires. The back tires should have 2/32 inch depth. If you don’t have a tread depth gauge (or whatever that thing is called), you can use the “penny trick” to check the tread. Place the penny in the groove upside down, if you see Lincoln’s head, it is time to replace the tire. Take your hand and feel the sidewall and tread while looking for any fabric that might show through. Make sure the tires do not have any bumps, dips, cuts, or knots.
  2. Wheels or rims- check for cracks and any damage.

Pro Tip: Check the date on a tire during the inspection.

If the tires need replacing, it is an excellent bargaining tool to get the price down. Jeff would tell you to bargain if you have to replace one tire, but if the bus is going to need all new tires, to walk away. A new tire will cost you anywhere from $500 and up.

After checking the chassis, tires, for leaks and rust, and looking at the mechanics you will have a pretty good idea about the condition of the bus. At this point, if nothing made you walk away, negotiate the price based on the results of your inspection. Keep in mind that no matter how detailed an inspection you perform, things happen.

Tweet This:

There are no guarantees when buying a school bus but a thorough inspection calms the nerves.Click To Tweet

On our current bus, Jeff did a detailed inspection. Ten days into the conversion, on the way back from getting a generator installed, the bus started running hot. Yep, you guessed it! We had to replace the radiator 20 days before Katie’s Make-A-Wish Trip. See, there are no guarantees, but neither are there in life. So, just get out there and get your Skoolie dream started.

Have you purchased a bus recently? If so, tell me about your bus inspection process in the comments below.

(If you are looking for some more information on buying/inspecting, or converting a school bus, we have a course coming out soon. Get on our email list and you will be notified when we launch.)



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  1. Marie Watson January 5, 2017 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing some tips for inspecting a bus. It makes sense that you would want to make sure the tires are in good shape. You make a good point about how important it is to make sure the bus tires have a good tread. I would think that it is a good idea to get new ones if they are getting thin.
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    • discoveringus January 15, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

      Marie, thanks for stopping by and agreeing. When people first purchase a school bus to convert they really don’t want to hear the cost of replacing all the tires. It is a must if the tires are thin, over 10 years old, or just in need of repair. Of course, it depends on how people are going to use the bus. If the intention is to convert it and leave it stationary then tires wouldn’t be as important as they would if driving it all over the country. In short, this is a topic that needs addressing due to the dangers of driving on unsafe tires as I am sure you would agree.

  2. Tim Clark April 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Excellent article. Many thanks. Makes me think it would probably be best to hire a school district mechanic to inspect the bus instead of going DIY; seems like money well-spent.
    I am looking at converting a bus as a living (not driving) space that would facilitate the care of my wife, who has Alzheimers. We’re older, can’t afford to buy a house and there’s a terrific housing crunch here.
    But the bigger problem beyond conversion is how to find a place to park it and remain; no RV parks accept buses of any kind, including new purpose-built rigs. And definitely won’t accept any vehicle that’s more than ten years old.
    If you or any reader have a suggestion on where to advertise to find such a place it’d be very welcome.

  3. Vivian Darin July 18, 2017 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed the article immensely and comments as well. I hope to purchase as soon as possible. Next month perhaps.
    Interested in the course you have coming out soon.
    Thank You, Vivian

  4. Vivian Darin July 18, 2017 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    I totally enjoyed your article and comments. I plan to purchase a bus fairly soon (perhaps next month) and I’m sure I would benefit from it.
    Thank You, Vivian

    • discoveringus July 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Vivian, Thanks so much for the compliment. Keep in mind that we also offer a bus buying service. On our lot, we have a few buses for sale.They have passed Jeff’s 25 point inspection. If you are interested, here is our email. Let us know if you have any questions as you search for your bus.

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