Where to Buy a School Bus for Your Skoolie Conversion
Buying a car is a tedious process. Perusing the local car dealerships and test driving the ones that interest you, searching the all-knowing internet for deals on Craigslist or whatever your favorite private party selling platform is, and checking the "For Sale" signs in the window of the car on the street corner.
But at least you know where to look.
Now where on earth are you supposed to buy a school bus? I mean, that's just not a normal vehicle purchase and doesn't typically pop up in the search results when car shopping. At least not for me.
No need to worry. It's really not as hard to find a school bus as you might think.
School Buses are Constantly Being Replaced
That's right. School districts are required to replace their school buses every so often, though the frequency might differ from one school district to another or by state. And if schools are getting new school buses, then their old ones have to go somewhere.
And why not let that somewhere be you?
Our school bus is from Columbia School District in Washington state. Kind of fun that it is from a school district close to home for us.
Here's something to look out for: school districts in places that salt the roads in the winter.
All that salt can lead to some very serious rust problems for a bus. And rust is not something you want to deal with when doing your skoolie build. Now if you're getting an older school bus, some small amount of rust is normal. But check under the bus, near the engine and other crucial parts, and the stairwell. Students walking on and off the bus can track in a lot of the salt and snow leading to rusty stairs.
There are Multiple Resources Available
Normal people buying a school bus is still not that common. Not surprising. It took us about a month before we saw a bus we liked online, and another week or so before we could go see it.
When looking for school buses for sale, there are more options available to you than you might think.
For starters, try dealerships. Not your local car dealership, but at a commercial vehicle dealership. There are even school bus specific dealerships. If you can find one of those, that's awesome! You can be assured they will be knowledgeable about the buses and have lots of good info for you. If you find a school bus at a non school bus specific dealership, they might not be as informative about the bus so make sure you've done your research before you go check it out.
Another option for school bus shopping is private party. This could be Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, or any of the other online platforms. You might even find cheaper prices this way. Since there are several of these platforms and several people using each one, you'll get to see lots of options.
If you are looking for a unique school bus such as a classic mini or crown coach, then private party is your best bet. Rare school buses like this are more likely to be owned by a collector or someone who's had the bus for ages than by a dealership.
We found our school bus while searching online on Facebook Marketplace of all places. The bus was posted by a commercial vehicle dealership called RWC Group in Spokane, Washington. They primarily sell commercial trucks and other vehicles of the sort, but received this school bus as a trade-in. They were pretty knowledgeable about the school bus since they were familiar with air brakes and taking wide turns. Because of this, the experience of going to see it was much better. Fortunately for us, the bus was only a five hour drive away and not several states away.
Lastly, you could try your hand at an auction.
Government surplus auctions to be more specific. Here, you'll find large equipment, trucks, planes, buses, and much more. These auctions are online, so you won't need to travel anywhere to attend. However, you could need to work out the logistics of getting the school bus should you get one from the auction. Keep in mind that other school districts will get first dibs on school buses if it is in an auction. Now, if the bus is a trade-in at a dealership, then the first dibs rule does not apply.
You could also check other large equipment auctions. Depending on where you live, you may or may not find these near you. One such auction is Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers which can be found across most of the US.
I personally have not tried this method, but I've seen it work for others and it could certainly work for you. Like I said, everyone is going to have a different experience. Make the most of any opportunity you can, since you never know what could happen.
There are many ways to find a school bus. And I think you should definitely try more than one. Personally, we had the most success with commercial vehicle dealerships and that is what I would focus on if we were to do it again. Though searching around private party was great and we got a good taste of what was out there. Those would be my top two choices.
Don't be Discouraged if it Takes Time
For some, finding a school bus is easy and there is one conveniently close by. For others, it is a long process and maybe you have to travel over a state or two to find one. But don't lower your standards!
You're going to be investing a lot of time and resources into making a skoolie that's perfect for you, so don't settle for something less than ideal if it's going to make living in your skoolie less enjoyable.
That being said, be realistic with yourself about what you're getting into. Not everything is going to be perfect. And that's okay. Even though our school bus has relatively low miles and is a 2007 and is the ideal body style for us, the handles on the under-body storage had rusted a tad bit and there is a small dent in the back. While I would have liked to find a flawless bus, neither of those problems outweighed all the pros of the bus we found. Think about it. If the school bus was perfect, the school would still be using it.
If you want a 35-footer to make your living space ideal, then don't settle for a 25-footer. That's a much bigger difference that is sounds like. Those two buses are going to be perfect for two totally different people. Personally, we wouldn't want anything smaller unless we were only traveling in it part time for small trips. But maybe you're into the minimalist life and don't need all the under-body storage or extra 10 feet. That's a decision you'll have to make for yourself.
Now before you go school bus shopping, read How to Pick the Right School Bus for Your Skoolie Conversion. I've outlines some of the most important things to keep in mind when figuring out what type of bus will work best for you. Again, shopping for a school bus is going to be a lot different than shopping for a car.
You got this! Happy shopping!