What Does it Take to Buy a School Bus?

A complete guide to buying a used bus

Now that you’ve been introduced to our new school bus, it’s time you really got to know him. After all, we are going to be exposing all his nooks and crannies for the whole internet to see! If you missed our post about our new bus, you can check it out here!

Our new bus is a 2010 Chevy Duramax G3500 with approximately 185,000 miles. He is five beautifully tinted windows long, and has an all electric door (think no big lever to open it!). His life thus far has been lived out in the backcountry of Mississippi, after being manufactured in Kansas. We are particularly fond of his nice tall ceilings and boxy build.

Five window short bus with passenger door open

But why a new bus?

We adore the freedom and adventure of the skoolie lifestyle! After traveling with our completed bus for nearly a year, we determined a few tweaks that could be made to better fit our needs. Although we will miss our previous bus terribly, we are excited to make this new one our own with a couple extra added surprise features!

How do you even buy a bus?!

Purchasing a retired school bus is surprisingly more simple than it sounds. A quick search on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist will give you dozens of buses looking for their next grand adventure! Short buses are generally in higher demand than full sized buses due to their simplicity of repairs (ours takes parts just like any Chevy Duramax 3500 truck), as well as their ease of drivability and fitting into normal parking spots. Once you’ve found one you like, it is as simple as going to pick it up and driving it home! No special licenses or permits required.

We personally have purchased both of our buses off Facebook Marketplace with great success. Our latest bus we purchased from Cowboy Truck and Auto Sales in Cornith, Mississippi. Our salesman Corey was fantastic. Everyone was so honest and down to earth, making the whole process a breeze!

Front view of short Chevy school bus

What do you look for when buying a bus?

Just like any vehicle, the older they are, and the more miles they have, the more prone to problems they are. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule of thumb, so do your research on “good” and “bad” makes, models, and years. Make sure to ask for the bus’s VIN number prior to purchasing, so you can run a Carfax report to gain a better overall insight on the vehicle. Above and beyond that, we definitely have certain things we look at!

Overall wellbeing of the vehicle. Are there any major dents, dings, or rust on the body? If there are, and you don’t feel comfortable with the repair, it’s best to keep looking.

Check the computer in the dash. Look at engine hours and mileage. Low mileage and high hours may indicate unnecessary wear and tear to the engine and premature problems.

Check for leaks! Check for any moisture under the engine, transmission, and rear axl. This may mean that seals need to be replaced.

Inspect the frame and undercarriage. Look for any cracks or major rust. This may make the frame unsafe and not pass your state’s vehicle inspection criteria, as well adding complications to your conversion. Check the brake lines and fuel lines for any severe corrosion.

Look under the hood. Prior to starting the engine, check the condition and level of the oil. If it’s black, it hasn’t been changed in awhile. If it is honey brown, it has just been changed. Check the transmission fluid, both the level and the odor. A heavy burnt smell could indicate the transmission is not in a “healthy” condition. Inspect any rubberized or plastic parts for dry rotting or breaks. That would indicate that they may need to be replaced.

Check the tire condition. Are they dry rotted or do they still have good tread? If you buy a short bus, tires are easier to come by than a full sized bus, but still expensive maintenance to have to do right off the bat.

Is the bus a dual wheel rear end? This isn’t a necessity, but a personal preference of ours. It assists in even weight distribution, allowing a slightly “heavier” build. As an added bonus, they can act as two spare tires to limp yourself along if you get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. A tow bill on a school bus is not something you ever want to see!

Turn the bus on! Listen for any abnormal sounds like knocking or a loud exhaust.

With the seller’s permission, take it for a spin! Test out how it feels to drive the bus on the open road.

man checking oil dipstick in school bus

How did you get your bus home?

Well, its a darn good thing we love roadtrips and podcasts! We drove both to and from Mississippi, 750 miles each way, in just three days. Talk about an exhausting trip! It was definitely worth it though, especially for the warm sunny weather we got to soak in. It was such a refreshing break from the snowy Buffalo winter!

When it comes to the legality of driving your new bus home, you want to make sure to check with state laws, as they vary. Also, make sure to contact your insurance provider and let them know of your new purchase. Our word of advice is to do your homework on insurance providers prior to purchasing. Not all providers are fond of a school bus turned RV! All in all, it was a straightforward and seamless process for us and we were on the road back home in no time!

What is it like driving a school bus?

I can’t answer what it is like driving a full length school bus, but I can tell you driving a short bus isn’t nearly as intimidating as it sounds! It is basically like driving a slightly longer version of a pickup truck. They don’t have air breaks like full sized buses, which I’ve heard can be a bit of a learning curve. However, there are more blind spots, and you may find yourself needing to make wider turns than usual. It is also very important to be aware of your height and weight, which may be a factor on certain roadways.

Do you think a school bus purchase is in your future? Would you want a short bus or a full length bus?

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