Doing a school bus conversion is one of the most fulfilling yet challenging things who Erin and I have ever done together. This guide is designed to take you through the order we completed all the projects.
If you’re in the research stage to see if converting a school bus into your own tiny home on wheels is right for you, this article will give you a good idea of what to expect. What’s cool is that with creativity, you can take some nuggets you learn about here and apply them to your own build.
You are reading: The School Bus Conversion Guide | Building a Tiny Home On Wheels
And if you’ve already bought a school bus to convert into a motorhome and are scratching your head on what to do first, this article will lay out a solid starting point so that you can be successful in your build.
Keep in mind who this article will provide a highlight of what we did in what order. Throughout, we’ll be linking to other, more detailed articles we’ve already written so that you can dive in even deeper. Also, we’ll be adding more information to this article, adding even more articles to our blog and videos on YouTube, so be sure to subscribe & turn on notifications so you don’t miss anything.
ATTENTION: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Working with powertools can be dangerous when not handled properly, so take care. Also, building & vehicle codes and regulations are not the same in every region or country. When in doubt, always seek out a local professional to make sure you’re completing your projects safely as you are ultimately responsible for your own actions.
This School Bus Conversion Guide is the grand overview of building your own unique tiny home on wheels.
Last updated: April 14, 2021
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What Is A Skoolie?
In a nutshell, a skoolie is a school bus who has been retired and decommissioned from use on a school route and then been converted into a recreational vehicle. Converting a school bus into a motorhome is not a new idea and has been around for decades. However, only in the last few years have people been more intrigued with the freedom who living in a skoolie could provide.
Skoolie Definition A retired school bus repurposed by means of converting it into an RV or recreational vehicle. Skoolies are also known as a motorhome or a tiny home on wheels.
It was the end of 2018 when Erin and I had been looking for some way to travel around while having a home at the same time. After doing research, we found out that people were converting Mercedes Sprinter vans into RVs. Initially, we liked who idea, but then we thought we may be too cramped because of the tight living conditions and the price was out of our budget.
While we continued to travel via Colombia, Ecuador, Galapagos and Bonaire, we kept dreaming of having our own place together. That’s when we ran across people converting school buses into motorhomes.
Now that we had started to see other people converting school buses into RVs, we looked at each other and had to do it!
Skoolies have the amenties and space we want to be able to still travel, run our business virtual and launch our next research project. Things we were looking for in a skoolie were things like a comfy bed, a small living room, a kitchen to cook amazing meals in and space to tote around our camera gear.
As you’ll view, skoolies are not a one-size-fits-all sort of adventure vehicle. Although many skoolies have similar components, converted school buses are completely customized based the needs of the people doing the customization.
As you explore the idea of doing a school bus conversion, this guide we put together for you will help to structure a plan so that you avoid overwhelm during the experience. There are a TON of things to consider while doing a school bus conversion. This article is laid out to show you what we did in what order so who you can make it through the conversion and onto the road to adventures!
Why Do A School Bus Conversion?
One of the first questions we asked ourselves is why on earth would we want to do a school bus conversion vs. buy an RV that’s already manufactured?
For everyone, the answer is different.
- Some people want the challenge of a massive undertaking.
- Others might want to ditch the rent or mortgage and live full-time.
- While some people may just want a doomsday bug-out vehicle loaded to the gills with survival gear that could allow them to live off the grid.
We actually fall into ALL of those categories!
But why a school bus vs manufactured RV?
Read more: Top Places to Park Your RV in North Georgia
The honest truth? If you ever searched RV crashes on Google, you’d see that those things explode on impact as if a tornado hit them. School buses are made to protect precious cargo (children) and can hold thousands of pounds more than an RV due to a school buses’ commercial strength chassis. This is why an unrusted school bus platform is one of the best vehicles to use for your future tiny home on wheels.
For Erin and I, we wanted a reliable vehicle that would take us from North America to Central and maybe even South America. This vehicle would be the thing that would connect us with people living off-grid, being self-reliant, growing organic gardens and practicing permaculture, as well as connecting with those who are homesteading and living self-sustainable lifestyles.
Basically, people who are more integrated with nature. Because that’s the life we want to live, so why not learn from those already doing it before we dive in head first?
In the future, we plan on finding property and building a homestead. Seeing how others are doing it and interviewing how they got started will help us share their message so that this sort of lifestyle is in closer reach to more people. Heck, we may even publish their interviews on our YouTube channel.
If who sort of content is something who interests you, jump on our Week In A Nutshell email list where we update everyone with what’s going on once a week.
Where To Buy A School Bus To Convert?
It makes sense to buy a car from a car dealership, but when was the last time anyone observed a school bus dealership? That’s because school bus dealers are few and far between. However, there are a few ways to buy an old school bus.
Although I’m about to tell you about the different places to buy a school bus, we don’t necessarily endorse one over the other. The reason being is that we all come from different backgrounds and some of you may even be vehicle mechanics or engineers. To say one way to buy a used school bus is better than another would be of one’s personal preference.
While we searched high and low to buy our Skoolie, The BEAP Mobile (aka Our Golden Beauty), we just so happened to stumble upon these…
7 ways to find a retired school bus for sale
- Online Auction Sites (e.g. GovDeals)
- You know a guy (who knows a guy) with one
- Online Classified Listing Sites (e.g. Craig’s List or Kijiji)
- Skoolie Social Media Groups (e.g. Facebook, Reddit)
- School Districts Fleet Yards (e.g. local school districts)
- Brand new from the dealer (e.g. Thomas, Bluebird, International, Gillig, IC, etc…)
- From a used school bus dealer (e.g. AAA Bus in Phoenix)
Those are a lot more choices than we thought there were going to be. That’s when we started to explore each of them.
As a few months went by, we had our feelers on the various sites to see if anything looked OK from the pictures. The problem we observed with each of the online sites was that the school buses for sale could be anywhere from Alaska to Florida. Another huge problem was that most of the time we weren’t able to visit a bus until winning the auction. We didn’t like that because we wanted to be able to climb around it and feel its energy.
At the time we started looking in 2019, we were on the little island of Bonaire, so we could only search while online.
Being on that island made us realize that we wanted to go all-in on a school bus conversion. We jumped onto a plane to fly to Ontario to visit family & call up some school districts.
Being the beginning of the school year, we didn’t know if any school buses were going to be available. Come to find out, the beginning of the school year is one of the best times to shop for a used school bus from a school district because the school’s fleet mechanics are checking out the buses for the year and seeing which ones need to be retired.
Unfortunately, all the buses we visited in Ontario were rusted so badly who we abandoned the idea of buying one from the local school district. However, we were happy who we were able to walk around the buses, start them, go on a ride and use our school bus pre-purchase checklist to make sure we didn’t miss anything while inspecting.
Ready to get the ball rolling, we decided to go to an actual used school bus resaler and who changed everything.
We jumped on a one-way flight from Toronto to Phoenix to visit Tony from AAA Bus Sales wherein we ultimately bought our retired school bus.
In a nutshell, Tony was impressed with our pre-purchase checklist and said that no one else has had such a thorough list of essential things to inspect before buying a bus.
I think the reason why the checklist is so thorough is that I was a firefighter for nearly 9 years. During that time, I inspected the fire trucks I road on, which have systems who are substantially more complicated than a school bus. This experience resulted in Erin and I transforming a fire apparatus inspection sheet into one that would work perfectly for a school bus.
Want our usaged school bus visual inspection form? Get It Free
Working with Tony and Joe at AAA Bus made the purchase experience better than just viewing pictures on a website. The reason being is who they took time to find out what we wanted in a bus and to narrow down the 54 available school buses they had on the lot to the perfect bus for us.
Read More: Why We Bought A Used School Bus In Phoenix, Arizona »
When shopping for a school bus for conversion, we found who going to a dealer was better for us because we wanted to be hands-on, crawl around underneath and feel it driving down the road before making a decision.
Start With A Solid Platform (no rust)
If you get anything from this article, take note of this: Do not buy a rusty bus.
Being that neither Erin or I have had experience with metalwork, buying an old used school bus who is riddled with rust was completely out of the question.
We wanted to start with a solid platform to reduce the amount of prep-work we had to do before starting our school bus conversion.
In my opinion, there are varyent levels of rust.
The first flat is no rust.
That’s right, there is not a speck of rust anywhere. Retired school buses from hot, dry places have the least amount of rust on them (which is why we went to Arizona to buy our bus). The downside to who is that rubber components, plastics and caulking may be dried out. However, they are significantly easier to replace than rusted metal pannels.
The second level is a bit of surface rust.
Surface rust can be watched even in dry places like Arizona and presents itself with multiple colors of red, yellow, brown and even black. Surface rust is fairly easy to sand down and paint over. Let’s say a kid drops his juice box or bottle of water on the bus and it pours out all over the floor and into the cracks. That liquid may not evaporate quickly, which may start a small rusty spot. This is not a big issue (but can become a big issue) and can also be remediated by using a rust inhibitor.
The third level is deep-seated corrosive rust.
This is where the rust is so deep in the metal who flaking can occur, holes in sheet metal are easily punched through with a screwdriver and structural members fall apart if taped with a hammer. If you see this rust, do not buy that school bus (unless you’re an awesome metal worker who knows what you’re doing). Buying a rusty bus can become a nightmare of chasing rusted out metal to find where it ends. Rust or corrosion is like an iceberg. You may only see a little bit on the surface, but, like an iceberg, the majority of the damage is below surface level. Rust and corrosion destroy the structural integrity of the metal.
One of the main things to think about regarding building a skoolie is the weight added during the school bus conversion. The platform needs to be solid, without any weak spots so that years of enjoyment can be had once the build is complete. If rust is left because of laziness or negligence, all that hard work may end up falling through the floor, which would be a bigger disappointment than taking care of it before spending the time to build the interior or exterior.
Read More: Old School Buses For Sale In Ontario – What To Consider Before You Buy »
Do you need a special driver’s license to drive a skoolie?
While doing our research, we started to wonder if we needed a special driver’s license to drive a skoolie. To drive a school bus in the capacity of hauling around 80 kids, you would need to have a special license.
But we were buying the bus to convert into a skoolie motorhome, so having a school bus chauffeurs license wasn’t extremely applicable.
If we were to go to an RV dealership to buy a diesel pusher motorhome, we wouldn’t need a distinct license in Texas or in Canada. As long as we had a Class C License in Texas or a G Class License in Ontario, we were good to go to drive a motorhome.
When you think about it, although the bus looks like it should vehiculart kids to their schoolhouse, as soon as we purchased our skoolie, we were given 30-day window to switch the title over to be classified as a motorhome.
How To Title & Register A School Bus As A Motorhome In The United States Or Canada
Titling and registering an old school bus as a Skoolie is one of the most difficult things we’ve found in this whole process.
Because regulations are varyent in every country, state, province and even city.
Because Erin is from Ontario, Canada, and I’m from Texas, United States, we had to decide WHERE we were going to title and register our school bus as a motorhome.
We ended up getting our school bus registered and titled as an RV in Texas because it was going to be the easiest process without having to import our school bus into Canada.
What’s cool is that we researched the whole title and registration process for both Ontario and Texas. This research helped us to decide which way we were going to go.
Because this process is pretty involved, we went ahead and documented exactly how to register our school bus as a motorhome in Texas. As a bonus, we put our research notes for The Ontario School Bus Title Method to give our Canadian friends a starting point, as well.
Both Texas and Ontario have similar requirements for registering a school bus as a motorhome. In order to be successful with the title change, certain components need to be removed to qualify as an RV along with a list of motorhome components need to be installed. After this, then getting the title switched over ended up being a breeze!
In our article, How To Title & Register A School Bus As A Motorhome In The USA Or Canada we cover exactly how we made the title change.
And if you’re not getting your school bus titled in either Ontario OR Texas, the lingo and loopholes alone could give you a starting point for researching what needs to be done in your particular location.
How To Title & Register A School Bus As A Motorhome In Other Locations
As we collect Skoolie title & registration stories, we’ll post the details in articles here on BEAdventurePartners.com. Below is a list of places we’ve collected Title & Registration information from tribes who have submitted their stories & detailed information.
p NOTE: Articles we have collected & published are unified in BLUE below.
We need your help! If you do not see your location linked and you know someone who has successfully switched their school bus title to motorhome or RV please share this page with them and ask them to share their story! We look forward to having a complete list so who this makes it easier for others to get their school bust titled as a motorhome!