First off, why get a bus?
Besides the cool factor, buses have many advantages over RVs. They are better constructed vehicles, and are far safer. They have to meet stricter standards than most vehicles on the road, and are built like tanks. On top of that, they’re cheaper! Most school districts are required to sell buses when they reach a certain age, but the engines and chassis are capable of so much more. Buses are often exported to become public transportation vehicles in other countries when they’ve finished shuttling kids around stateside.
I found my bus on eBay for $1,800. There are lots of places to buy buses, and lots of types of buses to buy. Some things to take into consideration:
1) Length and height of bus
2) Body type and engine location
There is obviously much more, but these are easy broad categories that will quickly narrow down your search. Whether you’re looking at a local auction, or at a dealer across the country, this is a good place to start.
Length and height of bus
Oddly enough, often times the larger a bus is, the cheaper it is to buy. Short buses, and buses on van chassis, tend to get more use because they’re easier to store. Not everyone has space for a 40 ft bus. I bought the largest bus I could find, since I intended to use all of the space. If you’re thinking about buying a large bus, but are having reservations about the size, fear not! School buses are very easy to drive. Manufacturers want to make them easy to drive since the people who operate the most, school bus drivers, rarely have a professional driving background. I have more blind spots in my regular car than I do in my bus. Short buses are also easy to drive. Mid ranges are available if you’re not looking for either extreme. Consider where you’ll be keeping it most often, and what you intend to do to the interior.
Interior heights vary in buses. This may not matter to you if you’re not vertically endowed, but headroom may be an issue for some people in some buses. Interior heights can range from under 6′ to as tall as 6′ 5″. Whether or not this effects you directly, vertical space is useful for storage, and taller buses give you more. I’ve noticed this is not always a statistic given when buying a bus, so ask if it isn’t listed. The overall height of the bus, for clearance purposes, won’t vary much. Most buses can make it under all but the shortest of overpasses.
Body type and engine location
There are three main styles of school buses: dog nose, with the engine compartment in front of the driver; flat nose, with the engine beside the driver; flat nose, with the engine mounted in the rear.
Dog nosed buses, like the Anne Marie, and flat nosed buses with engines beside the driver have both a door at the front and an emergency exit door in the back. Sometimes, these buses will have an additional emergency exit door on the side of the bus. Flat nosed buses with rear engines, often called “pushers”, do not have the rear emergency exit. Because of this, they almost always have one or more doors in the sides of the bus.
There are other emergency exits to consider: some buses have modified windows mid-way through the bus; others have roof hatch emergency exits. Though the windows aren’t of much use to an RVer (except, obviously, in an emergency), the roof hatches make for great vents, and can serve as restricted access to the roof. If you’re planning on using the roof of the bus for any reason, it may be helpful to look for a bus with roof hatches already installed.
Other options on buses include storage bays located on the underside of the bus. Depending on your plans, this can save you from having to make similar compartments for under-bus storage. If you’re planning on attaching tanks under your bus for water, waste, or fuel, you may want to look for buses that do not have these compartments.
If possible, look for a bus that has spent its time in southern states. These buses will have considerably less body rust than buses that have had to deal with northern winters.
If you’re planning on converting your bus to run on WVO, make sure you get a diesel. There are gas powered buses out there, and they will not run on waste cooking oil.
Luckily, most buses being sold are relatively cheap. You should budget at least $2,500 for buying and transporting the bus. Consider costs of fuel (most buses get between 8 and 12 mpg), temporary registration, insurance, and any travel expenses of your own to get to the bus. Buying local makes much of this cheaper, but you still need to plan for it. Depending on condition, used buses can go from $1,000 to over $6,000. The engines in these buses are capable of reaching 1,000,000 miles if well cared for, so throw your notions of mileage out the window. While most people wouldn’t consider a car with 200,000 miles, a bus with that is just getting started. Make sure you get a maintenance record when you buy your bus.
Usually more money will get you an engine with fewer miles and less rust. One of the nice things about converting a bus into an RV, is you don’t have to care about the condition of the seats. Pay attention to them, since seats covered in graffiti and tears show that the bus may not have had other problems tended to. If everything else is in order, you may be able to get a good bus for cheaper because of crappy seats.
Try to see what the wheel wells look like – if they’re rusted through, there is likely lots of other rust you’re not easily able to see. You can definitely work with this, but know what you’re getting into. The older a bus is, the more stock components you’ll want to replace, like flooring, insulation, and wiring. Again, something to consider when shopping.
I’ll be updating this as I keep working on the site. Feel free to email me with any questions, firstname.lastname@example.org