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.
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.