What is the best way to buy a school bus? – Call your local school district.
There are over 13,000 school districts in the United States and each one has school buses to get rid off. Some may be a little bit worse off than others. Some may have over 400K miles while others may have just over 200k miles (which is really good). Though, be warned, many are just rusting away. Yet, there’s a good chance that there are buses for sale just a few miles away from you.
Many school district hold annual or even monthly auctions to reduce their material inventory. By just calling your local district they can give you all the information you need. Typically the district will have a motor pool or vehicle depot where all their buses sleep at night. This is the place where the school districts perform all the maintenance on the buses and the best place to start your search. Just call and ask. It’s that easy. Just ask if they have any school buses for sale. Chances are they will either direct you to the person in charge or give you some helpful information.
The reason this is the best way is because you cannot just drive a school bus legally through the streets of most cities without being employed by the school district. It is also illegal in most states to drive a yellow-colored school bus for private use. So, unless you tow it, you will need to get this bus from the depot to your house as fast as possible to avoid getting stopped by the local police. Though chances are pretty good an understanding constabulary will let you go on your way simply by showing that you just bought it, the less time you spend on the road with an unconverted school bus the better it is for all involved. So it is best to buy from the nearest school district.
What is the second best way to buy a school bus? – Government Online Auctions
Government surplus auctions used to be these in-the-know affairs only open to merchants or people-who-knew-people. Usually you had to check your local newspaper almost daily to find the auction announcements and almost always these auctions were held during the work day and required that you attend in person to bid on the item. Times have changed to your benefit. Today there are online auction sites that work much like EBAY, but rather than being full of sketchy individual selling whatever, all the sellers in the sites listed below are local, state, or federal government agencies. The benefit of this is that you can see all their policies up front and have a fair amount of confidence with your purchase. But most importantly you will be buying a fleet vehicle with a maintenance record that you can review.
Using a government-surplus site also allows for a greater variety of government agencies to search through and a much bigger geographic area as well. This gives you a better chance of finding the bus you want and is right for your needs, even if you find it somewhere all the way across the country.
Often you will need to place a refundable deposit to be able to bid depending 1) on the site 2) the agency you’re buying from and 3) the opening bid for the item. Often there is also a slight fee to the buyer after winning the auction.
See Also: “The Day We Bought Our School Bus”
*Note: With the exception of the GSA Auctions, these auction sites are privately run businesses and they always take a cut from the seller or charge a buyer’s fee, or perhaps both. The GSA Auction site is an actual government website run by the GSA (General Services Administration), however much of their inventory often leads you to privately-run sites like GovDeals.com.*
Top Government Auction Websites:
GovDeals.com – This is the big kid on the block. They charge a buyer’s fee if you win the auction which I found to be fair. When we bought our school bus, a 1996 Thomas Built Navistar/International 3800, we paid a buyer’s fee of about $200 on our $2800 winning action bringing our total to about $3000. Not particularly onerous given the convenience and speed of the process.
PublicSurplus.com – This site does not have the selection of Govdeals.com, but it is very good, much easier to navigate and visually more pleasing. Their smaller selection is nevertheless still quite substantial and is always a good place to search since their inventory is never the same as Govdeals.com.
GSAAuctions.gov – This is where you will find most of the Federal agencies auctioning their surplus goods. The site has a partnership with GovDeals.com, but some items are auctioned directly. If you’re looking for anything from Hummers, Chinook helicopters or just printer toner this site has a crazy variety of items in one place. Though, except for the auctions that involve GovDeals.com, sometimes the actual buying of the goods can be complicated and may require a phone call or two to the agency listed. Still it is always worth a look.
There are many other sites that will pop up on a google search. The fact that they don’t appear here is not an indictment on their processes or their inventory, but simply an attempt to give you the most likely and dependable sources. Also keep in mind that your local government may use its own online auction site.
So what is the third best way to buy a school bus? – From a school bus dealership.
School bus dealerships are a thing. They exist across the country though there may not be one near you. Also finding the selling price for a new school bus seems to be harder than it should be. Most dealers would rather have you request a quote, rather than list their prices and since the manufactures typically only sell through the local dealerships, you have to want a new bus to figure it out. However by scouring news reports from various school districts I have found the cost of a new bus can vary from 60K to just over 100K, depending on bus size and features included. If you’re looking for a low cost RV-alternative, a new school bus seems like a bad value exchange given that you will end up paying for items you will likely rip out of the bus (like the 30+ seats). However if money is not an object and you are obsessed with the concept of driving and living in a top-of-the-line skoolie, the a new school bus might be right for you. For you we recommend to seek out the dealership lists on each of the manufacturer’s websites:
Thomas Built Dealers – By some accounts the largest bus manufacturer in the United States and one of the most commonly sighted buses on the road. In the school bus business since 1972, Thomas Built is only second in popular recognition to Blue Bird. Because they are part of the Freightliner family, mechanics are more likely to have readily available parts, which is definitely a plus for them. Though this is only for their latest models, our 1996 Thomas Built apparently does not enjoy that that benefit.
Blue Bird Dealers – For many Blue Bird is the definition of school bus design. Since 1932 their buses have set the standard in people’s minds as to what a school bus is and should be. If you want a classic stick with Blue Bird.
IC Bus Dealers – IC (Integrated Coaches) is owned by Navistar International (formerly International Harvester) and the IC brand carries the combined legacies of school bus manufacturers Ward Works and AmTran, whose legendary school buses still roam the roads decades after their companies seized operations. IC, as the name suggests, has the advantage of being one of the few manufacturers whose entire construction happens under one single roof, rather than being a compilation of body/chassis/engine parts from multiple OEMs. This approach can yield better buses, but buses that many roadside mechanics cannot fix with the parts on hand.
Collins Dealers – Better known in some areas as ambulance makers, Collins has a good reputation for dependability and ease of operation mainly due to their reliance on cutaway chassis by Ford and GM. That makes these easy buses to fix at just about any auto or truck mechanic shop. Due to their focus on Type A bus styles (the famous short bus) most skoolie aficionados have not ventured much into the Collins market.
Lions Dealers – French-Canadian bus manufacturer since 2008. They are the up-n-comers of the bus world, with one of the more stylish and feature-filled line-ups of bus offering. It is hard at the moment to find used models.
Starcraft Dealers – Starcraft is better known for their shuttle buses, but soon after their acquisition by RV manufacturer Forest River, they began school bus production in 2008. They are considered by some to be the fastest growing school bus manufacturer, and considered a low-cost leader in school bus production. Like Lions Buses, Starcraft are difficult to find in the used market.
The Final Word – Do your homework before you buy.
The skoolie that’s right for you may not be the cheapest or easiest to find, but it is out there. Just know that the skoolie route is in itself an adventure before you ever hit the road. Converting a skoolie is hard work and very demanding on your patience, but the better the initial purchase the easier it will be once you’re on the road, and you might not get stuck in the middle of the highway. And if you have questions feel free to leave them in the comments and Katy and I will do our best to help you.