Looking at school buses for sale for your school bus conversion can be a daunting task – trust me, we get it. Initially, all we knew about school buses were that they transported us to and from school when we were younger. When the idea came into our heads to build a school bus conversion, we became overwhelmed with how many different school bus options there were for sale. After hours of conducting our own research, we realized that purchasing the right skoolie all comes down to what you plan on using it for! Check out these key factors before you go out and find your dream bus.
Bus Length and Style
There are TONS of different styles of buses to choose from including high-tops and low-tops, truck or van chassis, flat noses, or dog nose buses. Of course, depending on what your lifestyle is going to be like while traveling in your school bus conversion will typically help you choose between all of these different options.
General Note: It has been known that some RV parks may not let dog nose buses inside the premises. However, they are generally more lenient with flat noses. Take this into consideration if you plan on wanting or needing to use an RV park.
WHAT’S YOUR TRAVELING STYLE?
Lemme ask you this: What kind of traveling do you plan on doing while on your skoolie? Are you going to be doing full-time or part-time? Just a weekend warrior or boondocker? If you plan on spending most of your time traveling to different campgrounds, a full-sized school bus may be ideal for you. Furthermore, they provide space for people looking to accommodate 2+ people. Just consider that a larger school bus will affect how easy it is to stay in specific locations.
A smaller sized school bus may be a more ideal option for you if you plan on doing a lot of traveling and boondocking to stay under the radar. Generally speaking, most state and national parks have vehicle restrictions of 21 to 28 feet to enter. If your goal is to visit the many beautiful parks around the country, you are going to have to consider a smaller bus OR towing an alternative vehicle. Smaller buses also mean less demolition, renovations, and money! So, what’s the catch? Unfortunately, you will have fewer amenities to chose from. Furthermore, according to @willathewanderbus, smaller buses are generally more expensive to purchase.
While a bit more rare to find, there are also medium-sized school buses that kinda give people the best of both worlds (that’s actually what our school bus conversion, “Charlotte”, is)!
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH DRIVING A LARGER VEHICLE?
Let’s be real here, school buses are LARGE vehicles, and you have to consider this when thinking of what size you want to use for your school bus conversion. If you aren’t as comfortable with driving such a large vehicle, a smaller sized school bus may be a more realistic option for you. Furthermore, you really need to consider the turning radius of the bus. A smaller wheelbase has a smaller turning base, making it easier to turn. On the other hand, bigger wheelbases have a larger turning radius that may take longer getting used to. Flat nose buses usually have a smaller wheelbase than dog nose buses. Many buses also come with either hydraulic or air brakes. Air brakes take some time getting used to, but practice does make perfect.
The largest buses can be approximately 45 feet. The short buses range from 19 to 22 feet.
HOW IMPORTANT IS BUS HEIGHT TO YOU?
Most school buses for sale come in either high top or low top styles for interior height. Low top ceilings are usually at 5’10” while a high top is at 6’4″. If you want an even higher ceiling, you’re going to want to do a roof raise. If done professionally, you are looking at spending another $8K-$14K. Personally, we’d recommend looking for a high top bus!
Drivetrain Options On a School Bus
It is very important for you to consider the drivetrain for your skoolie. Again, you need to consider the lifestyle you plan on living and the traveling you plan on doing in order to make a well-informed decision.
HIGH-GEARED (MOUNTAIN) BUS
Mountain buses have higher torque and lower top speed. In other words, they will have a higher RPM, which results in poor gas mileage. Mountain buses are great at climbing and descending mountain passes with ease and can get through backroads with no problems. If you are planning on doing a lot of backcountry and mountain exploring, this option could be ideal for you. However, while cruising on long stretches of road or highway, this bus will have slow speeds and guzzle through gas very quickly.
LOW-GEARED (HIGHWAY) BUS
Highway buses are much more efficient on fuel and mileage. This style has the potential to save you thousands if you plan on traveling long distances around the globe or country. The highway buses are still efficient with accelerating and climbing mountains, but not nearly as fast as a mountain bus. Furthermore, they are much slower at accelerating from stops and would do better in suburban or rural flat areas.
Always Consider the Condition of the Bus
I think this was the most overwhelming part for us when figuring out which bus to go with. Neither of us are mechanics, so it was difficult to figure out how to find signs of a bus in poor condition. After a few hours of research, we compiled a list of areas to check when visiting a bus for sale. To avoid many of the horror stories that you may hear about other skoolie builders going through, take note to check for all of these areas prior to making the final purchase:
Whatever you do, DON’T buy a rusty bus! You may think it’s the perfect fit for you (and, sure it may be), but the rust is just not worth dealing with. Rust always comes back, so unless it’s minimal and only surface level, move on. Remember, surface rust is manageable and can generally be sanded over.
Where to Check for Rust:
–Look underneath the bust. Surface rust is okay, but you should be concerned if it is flaking off when you poke at the metal.
–Look at the wheel wells.
–Look under the windows (Specifically the back, above the bumper). Check for paint bubbling or rust seeping out of any rivets or screws.
–Look at the driver vs. passenger side.
You’re going to want to do a nice evaluation of the tires for thread depth. A simple way to do this is to do the “penny test”: If the penny disappears when placed in the tire thread, you’re tires are good to go. Don’t bother if the tires are old unless the bus is affordable. New tires for a bus can cost a TON of money.
Do any of the windows or windshield have cracks in them? Replacing a bus windshield can be expensive due to how large the glass is. When we bought our bus, our entire front windshield was cracked. We loved the bus, so it was an expense we were willing to deal with and factor into our budget later on.
4. ENGINE TRANSMISSION
You don’t need to be a mechanic to look at the engine transmission for defects. If you see any black deposits, that generally means there could be leaks or something worse. Another issue not worth dealing with!
5. TEST RIDE
Of course, you’re going to want to take the bus for a test ride if it’s allowed. If not, at least start it up. Listen for unusual shaking while steering. This can often mean that the tires have abnormal wear or there are other mechanical issues not worth dealing with.
Don’t worry – it may seem difficult to find your perfect bus, but you’ll find it! Here are a few more things to ask yourself when making a decision on which bus you want (according to @willathewanderbus):
Will you be working full-time on the road?
How many people (or pets) do you plan on traveling with?
Is a shower and toilet important to you?
What are you most comfortable driving?
Here are a few more resources you can use when searching for your school bus: craigstlist.com, publicsurplus.com, or other local bus auction websites. Don’t worry – the perfect bus is out there for you! There are TONS to choose from, so don’t get discouraged.
We mention Adam and Abby Venci a few times throughout our article. They are the owner of the beautiful Willa (@willathewanderbus) and are traveling full-time in their fully renovated 2002 Thomas Built flat nose! Some of their favorite things about their bus are its ease in making turns, inching out into traffic, and fitting into parking spaces. Check out their Instagram to see their conversion!