May 12

How to Understand School Bus Costs

Last Updated on June 13, 2023

Buses are useful for more than just driving kids to and from school. They make great platforms for building a food truck business, or even just reselling. In the world of recreational vehicles (RVs), a repurposed school bus is called a “skoolie”. There’s a large and dedicated community gathered around the concept, but before you join or do anything else, you should know how to understand school bus costs.

Once you do, you’ll be able to decide which bus type works best with both your budget and with your goals, then start the conversions.

As of 2023, a used school bus is often much cheaper than a used RV, because only 12 percent of schools in the US buy used buses for their fleets. The main customer of school buses are schools, and if three quarters of them aren’t buying used, then the demand for used school buses is low. On the contrary, most potential RV owners are willing to buy used, so the demand for used RVs is high. 

Whether you want to use your school bus as an RV, a coach bus, a tour bus, or even as a school bus, due to low demand, used bus prices are significantly depreciated compared to other vehicle types.

Now that you have a better idea about pricing, let’s take a look at bus types.

Which bus type is right for you?

There are several factors that influence the cost of a used school bus, factors like condition, age, and size. The bus’ type is also important to note. Bus types have varying lengths, ranging from 20 to 45 feet, and have different weight ratings.

There are three main types of buses, plus one other type that has recently increased in popularity. That would be Type D.

Bus Types infographic

Type A 

This type seats between 10 and 30 passengers. The bus body is built on a van or cutaway truck chassis and includes a left side driver’s door. There’s a further division within this category into Type A-1, which has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of up to 10,000 pounds. Then there’s a Type A-2, with a GVWR of greater than 9,999 pounds.

Type B 

Buses within this type seat between 10 and 42 passengers. The bus body is installed on a stripped chassis, and it has a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds.

Type C 

These buses are also known as conventional school buses and are built on a truck or flat-back cowl chassis with a bus body. This iteration seats between 54 and 90 passengers, with a GVWR at more than 10,000 pounds.

Type D 

Buses in this final category seat up to 90 passengers. These are the classic transit buses with a bus body installed on a bus chassis. The engine is mounted either at the front, rear, or middle of the vehicle, and the GVWR consists of more than 10,000 pounds. Sometimes they are referred to as transit-style or “flat-nose” buses and have a flat front design.

Used buses are surprisingly cheap

Once you start perusing for used school buses, you’re bound to find prices that shock you, in a good way.

A 10-year-old 70-seater in decent-to-good condition with about 100,000 miles will cost between $40,000 and $50,000. The same bus, but with 150,000 miles will cost between $25,000 and $35,000.

If you find a 10-year-old 36-seater in decent condition with about 100,000 miles, the price will be between $25,000 and $35,000. Likewise, a 10-year-old 12-seater in decent condition with about 100,000 miles will cost between $15,000 and $25,000.

It’s easy to find a used bus in the $5,000 to $15,000 price range if you’re willing to look in the 15 to 20 year range. 

Now, compare those prices to price ranges of similar-sized RVs. 

The Type A RV is the largest RV type, so it’s a good comparison for the 70-seat bus above. RVs in this size category with about 100,000 miles range from $60,000 to $200,000 or more. There are a lot of features and luxury items that escalate the price. Nonetheless, by choosing a bus over an RV, you’re saving between $10,000 and $20,000. The same RV with about 150,000 miles will range from $40,000 to $200,000 or more. This option is at least $5,000 to $15,000 more expensive than a used school bus.

Mid-sized RVs are called Type C, and they’re a good size comparison to the 36-seat bus mentioned above. A mid-sized RV similar in age and with similar mileage costs between $30,000 and $50,000. The low price end here overlaps with the high price end of similar sized used school buses.

A Type B RV is actually the smallest RV type. RV types from largest to smallest are Type A, Type C, Type B. A used Type B RV with about 100,000 miles and 10 years old will cost between $20,000 and $120,000. Again, the low price end here overlaps with the high price end of comparable used school buses.

Used RV and School Bus Prices

Used RV and School Bus Prices infographic
VEHICLE TYPECOST
Used RV Type A$40,000-$200,000
Used RV Type C$30,000-$50,000
Used RV Type B$20,000-$120,000
Used School Bus Type A$15,000-$25,000
Used School Bus Type B25,000-$35,000
Used School Bus Type C$25,000-$50,000
Used School Bus Type D$25,000-$50,000
Skoolie$10,000-$100,000
New RV image
2023 Jayco Precept 34B RV Total Pice: $148,494
New RV image
2023 Coleman Lantern 242BHWE RV Sale Price: $33,995

New school bus prices

Like their used counterparts, the price range of new school buses varies significantly depending on size, make and model, engine type, seating capacity, and other features or customizations. Here are some general price ranges for new school buses:

New School Bus Prices infographic
SCHOOL BUS TYPECOST
Type A or Small$50,000-$80,000
Type B or Medium$80,000-$120,000
Type C or Large$100,000-$130,000
Type D or Large$110,000-$200,000
VEHICLE TYPECOST
New RVs$10,000-$300,000
New School Bus$50,000-$200,000

The cost of converting your used school bus

Conversion comes with some costs. If you plan on using the bus for any purpose other than as a school bus, you will have to pay for the materials, and possibly the labor. 

Your major costs will include building materials such as flooring, wall panels, and roof tiles. There’s also furniture items like beds, chairs, and drawers, along with appliances. The appliances include a stove and fridge. Amenities added to skoolies are usually heating, air conditioning, interior lighting, and a toilet. And lastly there are the professional services, such as electrical, plumbing, and welding. 

What you want to do with the used school bus directly influences the cost of the conversion. However, AffordableHousingTips.com suggests that the cost of converting a used school bus into a liveable home to be between $20,000 and $40,000. 

Major costs for skoolie conversions infographic

How much can you sell a Skoolie for?

The resale value of a skoolie, much like your initial purchase of the school bus, can vary significantly based on several factors. These include the condition, the model year, quality of the conversion, the features and amenities installed, and the overall demand for skoolies in the market at that time of sale.

Prices for these vehicles can range anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 or more. Lower-priced skoolies may have basic conversions or be older buses, while higher-priced ones may have more extensive and professionally-done conversions with luxury features or be newer bus models.

Skoolie image

To determine the best price for your particular skoolie, research similar ones on sale in your area and those in online marketplaces. Then assess the overall condition, features, and desirability of your converted bus. Remember that the value of a skoolie is subjective, and you may need to negotiate with potential buyers to find a price that both parties find reasonable.

Figuring out the annual costs 

According to the School Superintendents Association (AASA), the annual cost of bus ownership can range from $34,000 to $38,000. That amount includes diesel fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs. 

School buses drive and idle three to four hours each day. If you plan on driving less than that, you can save on fuel costs. 

Recreational Vehicle image

Also, there are various fuel options which will influence total cost of ownership, as well as purchase cost. Diesel fuel is the standard fuel for buses, but you can choose propane, electric, and hybrid. Propane-powered buses cost a little more than diesel-powered ones, but propane-powered buses cost less to refuel. Electric buses cost even less to refuel, but their purchase cost is even higher. Hybrid buses are also costly, but provide the benefits of dual power. 

You will also discover that finding a hybrid or an electric bus more than 10 years old is difficult. Searching for propane-powered buses will also significantly narrow your search. 

Keep in mind, maintenance is related to fuel usage. The more you drive a vehicle, the greater the maintenance costs will be.

Here’s a table outlining school bus production by fuel type.

School Bus Production by Fuel Type

FUEL TYPEAMOUNT
Diesel19,567
Gasoline10,321
Propane1,739
Electric1,181
CNG121

Impact of location on used school bus price

Location can significantly impact the price and condition of used school buses, and it’s essential to consider that when purchasing one, especially if you plan to convert your bus into a skoolie for traveling. 

Here’s an expanded look at how location can affect used school bus prices and conditions:

How location affects school bus prices infographic

Snowy States

In states with harsh winters and heavy snowfall, such as those in the Midwest or Northeast, used school buses may be cheaper due to increased wear and tear, rust, and corrosion resulting from exposure to snow, ice, and road salts. However, these buses may also require more maintenance and repairs to address those very issues. Additionally, buses from these regions are more likely to have built-in heating systems to accommodate colder temperatures.

Southern/Warm States 

Used school buses from southern or warm states, such as those in the Sun Belt region, may be in better overall condition due to the milder climate and reduced exposure to snow and ice. Consequently, they are likely to command higher prices. These buses may not have heating systems or may have less efficient ones, as heating is not a high priority in warmer climates. Rather, intense sunlight and high temperatures in the Sun Belt states can cause the paint on school buses to deteriorate over time. This results in peeling, chipping, or fading, which caffect the bus’s appearance and potentially reduce resale value. However, it is essential to note that paint issues are generally cosmetic and do not necessarily reflect the bus’s overall mechanical condition.

Insulation and Heating for Skoolie Conversions

If you plan to convert a used school bus into a skoolie and travel to states with snowy, cold climates, you will need to factor in the costs of adding insulation and a heating system to the bus. Buses from states with heavy snowfall are likely to have better insulation and heating systems already installed, which could save you money and time during the conversion process. However, if you purchase a bus from a warm state, you may need to invest more in insulation and heating to make your skoolie suitable for those colder climates.

Regional Market Factors

The prices of used school buses is also influenced by regional market factors such as supply and demand, local economic conditions, and state or local regulations. For example, areas with a high supply of used school buses and low demand will have lower prices. Likewise, areas with a limited supply and high demand have higher prices. Additionally, state or local regulations related to the conversion and use of school buses as skoolies may impact prices and the ease of purchasing a bus.

In summary, location plays a crucial role in determining the price and condition of used school buses. When buying a bus for conversion, consider the regional climate, heating and insulation needs, and regional market factors. Doing so will help you make an informed decision and ensure that your skoolie is well-equipped to handle your travel plans in various climates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need commercial license to drive a school bus? 

Whether or not you need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to drive a retired school bus for recreational or personal use depends on the bus’s weight and seating capacity.

Typically, you will need a CDL if the bus has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of over 26,001 pounds or is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver. However, if the bus has been converted into a recreational vehicle (RV), you may be exempt from needing a CDL depending on your state’s regulations.

Laws and requirements can vary from state to state. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for specific requirements and any necessary endorsements or permits.

How much does it cost to get commercial license?

The cost of obtaining a commercial driver’s license varies depending on the location and the driving school or training program you choose. Generally, the costs include fees for the written test, driving test, and license issuance. On average, a CDL training program can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $8,000.

How much can you sell a Skoolie for?

Skoolies have a selling price ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 or more.

Skoolie cost example

Conclusion

By now you have a clearer idea of the price differences of buying a school bus used, new, or an RV. With this newfound knowledge you’re well on your way toward a skoolie conversion. Now’s the time to start your search for a used school bus today, and we have plenty of options just for you!


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