Buying a school bus is only half of the headache: Getting school bus conversion insurance and registration is a whole new can of worms!
The Headache-Free Skoolie Registration Process for ANY US State
Unfortunately, we’re from New Jersey which makes the bus conversion registration and insurance process for our converted school buses an issue. In order to convert our Thomas Built’s title from Commercial to Recreational Vehicle in NJ, we were asked to pretty much jump through hoops and do the following:
Remove all lights above the windshield on all sides, install a permanent stove, bed, and sink, remove the seats, remove lettering/signs, paint it, take colored photos of all work and door tags, get a certified weight slips, and send all information to the DMV. If that wasn’t enough, you may not receive a response for up to a month!
Upon further research, we discovered that we could register our school bus conversion as an RV with Vermont without any issues. They don’t require an inspection, proof of conversion, or whether or not you have air or hydraulic brakes. But, you should check to see if the state you have a Driver’s License in requires a CDL for air brakes (if you have them!). All they request is for you to repaint the bus and remove any school signage, which I’m sure you planned on doing anyway!
Vermont will offer a transferrable registration for any vehicle 15 years or older. While it’s not a title, you can easily take the registration and title your bus in the state you reside in. We just wound up keeping it registered only in VT since it wasn’t that big of a deal for us! On the other hand, if your bus is newer, you will receive at bonafide Vermont title.
You can access the Vermont Title and Tax Application here. The only sections that we filled out were Section 1 (personal information), Section 3B (seller’s information), Section 4, (we listed it as a “New Registration” and included “Motor Home 19” under registration/plate type), Section 5 (bus information regarding title, axles, empty weight, and gross weight), Section 6 (our net taxable was calculated by multiplying 5,000 x .06) and Section 9 (include an extra $35 if your bus is newer than 15 years). Finally, we included a handwritten page outlining exactly what we were looking to accomplish with the registration.
Back in December 2018, our turnaround time was about 2 to 3 weeks. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation, check out the article skoolie.net.
While we think registering in Vermont is the easiest go-to for converted vehicles, we have also heard that South Dakota is another solution for out-of-state residents. We sold and purchased another car while traveling and easily got plates for it in South Dakota. Each county is different, so you would have to call up the location’s DMV beforehand. However, we got our 1985 VW Rabbit registered in South Dakota as out-of-state residents with just our Driver’s License and a copy of our social security card. While you can’t quote us on this, getting your conversion registered as an RV in South Dakota, even without living there, is fairly hassle-free. You’ll have to set up a domicile first (simply a mail forwarding address) and must prove that you spent at least 1 night in the state (can be proven with a receipt at a local campsite). We found this from Chapter 32-03 of South Dakota’s DOT:
An Application for Motor Vehicle Title and Registration must be completed and filed in the county of the applicant’s residence along with payment of applicable fees.
A purchase order, sales contract or bill of sale will be required if the Dealer Price Certification is not completed on the application.
Attach to the application the manufacturer’s statement of origin or title properly transferred to the applicant.
Motor vehicle titling and registration fees are done through your local county treasurer’s office. Click here for all applicable license fees that must be paid to the county treasurer.
The Not So Glorious Side of Skoolie Conversion Insurance
Since getting registered was so easy, getting bus conversion insurance should be a breeze, right? Yeah, THINK AGAIN. We spent DAYS calling multiple insurance companies and getting constant denials. School bus conversions are tricky, and most agencies don’t want to insure them since they’re “homemade”.
We came across Allstate Insurance and talked to Kelly Newsome in Florida. Kelly is experienced with the skoolie underwriting process and put us in touch with an NJ state representative. Ultimately, we got quoted for an insurance plan that included roadside assistance for $160 per month. The issue was that the company required a personal auto insurance plan to know that the bus wouldn’t be used as a “personal” vehicle. So, we’d have to pay another $80 a month for auto insurance. They also required us to have our Vermont registered bus transferred to NJ registration. The price and time were just too much for us and we had to opt for something else.
Our next go-to option was National General which provided very general insurance for about $30 a month. Besides the price, we’d be able to keep our current car insurance and remain as a Vermont registered RV. Seemed perfect, right? Yeah, nothing is THAT easy! National General did require “proof” of a fully converted RV including:
Photo of the Back of the Bus to Front
Photo of the Front of the Bus to Back
Once they saw that we didn’t have an address in Vermont AND had a roof deck and solar panel rack (insurance companies really don’t like those), we were quickly denied.
So, Bus Conversion Insurance Solution if You’re in NJ?
We wound up securing an address from a friend we knew and were able to get insurance from Allstate in Vermont. The state’s rules were different and we didn’t have to get a second auto plan. On top of that, the price was cheaper (even with roadside assistance) at approximately $110 per month.
Side Note: While they couldn’t really help us in our state, Auto Insurance Specialist (AIS) is also a great resource that will provide you access to multiple insurance providers with great coverage and rates. According to AIS (and Bus Life Adventure), the following are what insurance companies base their decisions on:
- Your bus must show living quarters similar to an RV. Stovetop, sleeping quarters, and possibly a bathroom space(but not required).
- You cannot live in it full time.
- Your bus must be in good condition. It cannot appear that it is a makeshift job and should meet professional standards. AIS, among other companies, may require the bus to have its decals removed and yellow paint covered.
- The insured driver must be a good driver and have a clean record within the last 3 years.
- You must have active personal auto insurance and will be asked for proof because they do not want people driving their bus as a “primary” vehicle (work commute or for personal errands).
- The policies available are usually only liability and uninsured motorist protection and do not usually include comprehensive, collision or any contents coverage.
- Wood stoves or the “appearance” of are not allowed.
Insurance is tough, and sometimes certain states are easier than others (NJ is difficult). The best option is to keep calling around and being patient! Luckily, Allstate processed the underwriting within a day and we were able to finally LEGALLY drive our converted bus after an entire week’s headache!