How to Inspect a Vehicle Before Buying

You want to be able to count on the vehicle you buy for your conversion. No one wants to dump their conversion budget into costly repairs. Follow these steps to inspect a vehicle before buying. Never allow a seller to pressure you to rush the inspection. Walk away if a seller objects to an inspection. You’re investing a lot of money into this vehicle, and it is your right to look at it carefully.

Before arriving, ask the seller all about the vehicle history, mileage, past use, and any accidents. Ask for proof of what the seller reports to you (though it may not be available). Consider the mileage, and how any miles you intend to put on the vehicle. Do you feel comfortable with that number? A heavily-used vehicle may not be worth your time going to see.

When evaluating the exterior, the most important things to check are the windshield, tires, and body. In terms of the windshield, make sure there are no cracks. Replacing a school bus windshield will drain your conversion budget, so you’ll want to avoid any suspicious windshields. Next, look carefully at the tires. Make sure the tread in the tires passes the “penny” test (Abe Lincoln’s head should disappear when placed in the tire tread). Look close for signs of age, wear, and dry rot. You do not want to have to replace tires any time soon! In addition, carefully inspect the body of the vehicle for rust and dents. While rust and dents are to be expected on older models, extreme rust is a problem, and dents may conceal bigger problems that may have resulted from an accident.

Next, take a look under the bus at the chassis. The chassis is the backbone of the vehicle. It’s the long, black, rectangular steel frame underneath. This bears a considerable amount of the weight of the vehicle, so it needs to be in good condition. It also can’t really be replaced—if you buy a bus with a bad chassis you bought a bus with a death sentence. So make sure there is no damage and no pieces are bent or rusted. If there is damage to the chassis, that should be a dealbreaker for you.

Your next step is to look under the hood at the engine and transmission. Make sure there is no visible damage to either. Also make sure there are no gritty, black deposits on either. This may be evidence of leaks and other problems.

If all this passes your inspection, turn her on! Listen to the vehicle run. Does is sound smooth? Are there any suspicious sounds? If there are, consider consulting someone more-knowledgeable about the source of the suspicious sound. Take the vehicle for a test drive to feel how it runs. Is it smooth, or shaky and stuttering? While the vehicle is on, check the lights, flashers, and gauges.

If all this looks good, you’re probably looking at a dependable vehicle.

Legally Driving Your Conversion

Note: This post is still up-to-date as of August 1, 2017. Nevada caravaners, see my new post on Nevada seat belt laws!

This post contains information specific to Pennsylvania. If you’re licensed in another state, call your DMV and notary to ask about your options for titling your skoolie so you can drive it.

I have a non-commercial Pennsylvania Driver’s license. If you have any class of commercial license, you can drive any type of school bus, so title it however is cheapest and easiest. However, if you have a standard license like me, it gets trickier. There are a few options for titling your bus so that you can legally drive it. The best way is to title the vehicle as an RV, which has some benefits and drawbacks.

Short Buses

Your license allows you to drive a shorter school bus, up to 14 passengers. If you buy one of these buses, you can get it titled as a van or RV. If you title it as a van, all passengers will need to abide by all state seatbelt laws at all times, which might be tricky, as installing federal-regulation seatbelts is tricky. To get around this problem, you could title it as an RV. Some states don’t require passengers to abide by seatbelt laws when riding in an RV. For a list of these states, scroll all the way down. However, PA has strict requirements for titling a vehicle as an RV. It must have separate bathroom, kitchen, and sleeping area. It must have electric and plumbing. What’s more, you have to pay $200 for the title, and pay a body shop to inspect it and submit the paperwork for you to the state.

Now, you may be able to title it as an RV without meeting all those requirements. Some converters have been successful just going to the notary and saying, “I need an RV plate,” and they say, “OK.” However, I wouldn’t recommend this.

Longer Buses

You cannot drive a longer bus if it is titled as a bus, because a regular license does not allow for more than 14 passengers. You have a few options. First, you can title it as an RV, as discussed above. This is a solid option, especially if you planned to meet the PA requirements anyway. If you don’t want to follow this route, you can title it as a truck once you pull out all the seats. This means you intend to use it primarily for cargo, rather than passengers. In this scenario, all passengers will need to wear seatbelts (safer, anyhow). However, this will only work if the vehicle weighs under 26,000 lbs. If it is more than that, there is no way to title the vehicle to drive it with a regular license. So, if you want/need a longer vehicle, but don’t have a commercial license, you’ll have to make modifications to it to have it titled as an RV or truck.

In sum, it’s really important that your conversion is legal for you to drive. You want to know that if you are pulled over you won’t risk losing your license for driving a vehicle you aren’t licensed to drive. You also want to be sure that you’re insured for a legal vehicle so that you’re covered if you damage the vehicle in an accident.

States that require only the driver to wear a seatbelt. (Maybe use them anyway!)

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. Connecticut
  4. Florida
  5. Hawaii
  6. Illinois
  7. Indiana
  8. Kansas
  9. Louisiana
  10. Maryland
  11. Michigan
  12. Minnesota
  13. Mississippi
  14. Missouri
  15. Nebraska
  16. New Jersey
  17. New York
  18. North Carolina
  19. North Dakota
  20. Ohio
  21. Oklahoma
  22. Pennsylvania
  23. South Dakota
  24. Tennessee
  25. Texas
  26. Virginia
  27. West Virginia
  28. Wisconsin

States that require all passengers to wear seatbelts (safest way to travel anyway!)

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Delaware
  5. Washington
  6. D.C.
  7. Georgia
  8. Idaho
  9. Iowa
  10. Kentucky
  11. Maine
  12. Massachusetts
  13. Montana
  14. New Hampshire
  15. New Mexico
  16. Oregon
  17. Rhode Island
  18. South Carolina
  19. Utah
  20. Vermont
  21. Washington
  22. Wyoming

If you liked this article, support this blog by donating to my GoFundMe, or by repinning this post on Pinterest.

How to Choose the Right Vehicle to Use in Your Bus Conversion

First thing’s first when starting your bus conversion- choosing a vehicle. There are a few important things to keep in mind when shopping around for the perfect vehicle to use for your conversion. You’ll want to consider the condition of the vehicle, your budget, what type of license you have, state inspection laws, how much space you’ll need and how you plan to use your vehicle.

Condition of the Vehicle

Most of us are not school bus mechanics. If you are a school bus mechanic: what are you doing reading this? You already know what you’re doing. For the rest of us, servicing a school bus would be extremely costly. That’s why you want to do a full inspection of any vehicle before purchasing it. See How to Inspect Your Vehicle Before Buying for more details about inspecting.

Essentially, you don’t want to have to dump your conversion budget into a lemon. Make sure you’re confident in the exterior body, windshield, brakes, engine, transmission, and tires before buying from anyone.

If all this appears sound by your inspection, you’re probably looking at a good vehicle.

Your Budget

This is pretty self-explanatory. Budget out everything you’ll eventually have to buy for your conversion, including building materials and tools.  Assess how much you can actually spend on just the starting vehicle. Longer buses start around $1500, but can cost up to $60,000. Shorter buses start around $2500. You can look around Craigslist, eBay, and LetGo, but you may have more luck at a local auction.

What Type of License You Have

See Legally Driving Your Conversion for Pennsylvania-specific details about licensing. However, state laws vary widely in regard to licensing. Call your local DMV and notary to check what you could drive with your license. If you have any type of commercial license—you’re set to go. If you have a standard license, like me, it gets a bit trickier.

State Inspection Laws

This also varies widely from state to state. However, do not purchase a vehicle if you are not certain it will pass inspection immediately or without minor upgrades. You’ll likely be buying something out of inspection, so you’ll have to have it inspected before you could drive the vehicle.

How You’ll Use the Vehicle

Each skoolie has different dreams for their conversion. You might want to only use it in the summer as an RV, or you might want to live in it with your family year-round. For this reason, space is an important factor to consider. Think of the absolute-must-haves in your conversion—will you need plumbing, bathrooms, a kitchen? How many sleeping spots will you need? How many people will need to fit inside at once? Make a list of your absolute-must-haves, then roughly sketch where those things might go. This will help you decide what size bus you need. Buses come as large as 72-passenger, 40-ft vehicles, and as small as 12-passenger, 15 ft vehicles. My advice? Go as small as you can. It will save you on gas and be easier to get around in in the long-run.

Get your conversion project started off right! Consider each of these factors carefully before purchasing a bus. That way, you know you can count on your vehicle lasting you a few years without extreme servicing costs.