June 6

The Pros and Cons of Buying a Retired Ambulance with Greg Berry

For almost two decades now, governments have sold thousands of ambulances through Municibid. Something that might surprise you is that most of them are not put back into use as emergency medical vehicles. Naturally, that leaves one question. What the heck are people doing with them? Turns out, buyers have discovered that with some sweat and elbow grease, ambulances can be converted into work trucks, RVs, and tailgating vehicles.

How Businesses Convert Ambulances

If you’re an entrepreneur, ambulances can be useful for a variety of business types. Those sold through Municibid have become:

  • Food trucks, mobile kitchens, mobile juice and coffee bars
  • Mobile retail shops, boutiques on wheels, and pop-up shops
  • Mobile workshops for crafts (jewelry, pottery, and woodworking)
  • Mobile hair and nail salons
  • Mobile veterinaries and pet services like grooming and bathing
  • Mobile bike repair vehicles
  • Delivery trucks
  • Mobile custom fabrication and repair trucks
  • Work vehicles for plumbers, electricians, and HVAC techs

The versatility found in ambulances is possible for a few reasons. First, there’s a spacious rear compartment with built-in shelving and storage. There are also storage areas accessible from the outside. All of this is perfect for hauling tools, equipment, and supplies to job sites. Speaking of hauling, most ambulances will have towing capability. As a work truck, you could tow a trailer with more equipment. 

An ambulance turned work truck carrying a trailer.

An ambulance turned work truck towing a trailer.

In addition to that, you have power outlets for charging batteries, which are needed for tools. There’s usually 4-6 heavy duty house batteries, separate from the vehicle battery, so you can plug in your tools without worrying about whether the engine will start later.

Speaking of power, everyone recognizes the flashing lights on ambulances. Before they become work trucks, those lights have to be changed to amber or another non-EMS color that’s permitted in your location. On the other hand, sometimes an ambulance will include flood lights that were used to light up a rescue scene at night. These can be kept and could come in handy when illuminating work areas. That means you’ll be able to conduct emergency repairs at night or simply work longer hours.

This ambulance is now used for rust and paint removal, plus much more.

This ambulance is now used for rust and paint removal, plus much more.

Another big plus for making an ambulance into a work truck is temperature control. Usually the ambulance box will have heating and A/C. The thick, insulated walls make temperature control efficient. You will want a controlled environment if you’re working on any temperature sensitive work. And don’t forget that working inside the box also keeps you out of the elements.

Ambulances as Tailgating Masterpieces

If you’re less interested in work and would like to have a bit more fun with your ambulance, then why not use it for tailgate parties? Imagine rolling up to the big game in your ambulance. You've got a covered space in the back to hang out, protected from the elements. There’s also storage for coats and blankets. Parking an ambulance is much easier than maneuvering a big bus into a spot. Plus, a tailgate ambulance comes with a cheaper parking fee.

Another benefit is the number of seats. There can be three to eight seats with seatbelts. If up to eight people are coming, everyone could fit inside. With the electricity available in the ambulance, it’s also easy to add in a microwave and a mini fridge for drinks and food. A TV could even be set up for the pregame show and for those who don’t go into the game.

Often ambulances are sold without any equipment, but sometimes they get sold with equipment like a stretcher or generator. You could tailor those items into something useful for tailgating. A perfect example would be Eric Lahti. He converted the ambulance he won into a tailgating masterpiece showcasing his love for the New England Patriots. 

This is the exterior front design of Eric Lahti's converted ambulance.

This is the exterior front design of Eric Lahti's converted ambulance.

Eric Lahti shows off his football fandom with a New England Patriots outside wrap for his ambulance.

Eric Lahti shows off his football fandom with a New England Patriots outside wrap for his ambulance.

Eric won the ambulance on Municibid and it included a stretcher. Geniusly, he attached a grill to the stretcher, making it easy to roll out for grilling and put away once he’s done.  Now by his admission, the ambulance has become the “showpiece of the whole parking lot.”

Eric attached a grill to the stretcher that came with his ambulance.

Eric attached a grill to the stretcher that came with his ambulance.

Making RVs Out of Ambulances

A third way people are using retired ambulances are as RVs. The pandemic and the RV Life movement have brought a lot of attention to what buyers affectionately call campulances. This type of conversation makes sense considering that ambulances already have a solid foundation with heavy-duty components and insulation. And if you’re serious about camping off the beaten path, you could find a 4x4 ambulance. Most are 2WD, but finding the former can make a big difference if you’re looking for adventure. Ambulances are small enough vehicles that they can easily be taken off road. If you’re using an ambulance as an RV, you can tow a boat or other toys for your adventures.

If you’re boondocking, in addition to a generator, you could add solar panels to the roof of your campulance. These help keep your batteries charged and keep amenities like heating, A/C, your microwave, and the fridge running. Some ambulances already come with a small sink and a water tank included, which is perfect for cooking and washing up.

Another ambulance converted into a more personal vehicle.

Another ambulance converted into a more personal vehicle.

Types of Ambulances

Now that you’re convinced about getting an ambulance, before you do, make sure you know which type you’re looking at. Do this by finding out how the ambulance was used. For example, a BLS (Basic Life Support) and an ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulance patrol cities and respond to potentially life-saving incidents. BLS and ALS ambulances are driven aggressively, and this wears components more quickly. Although ambulances are generally well maintained, expect to replace more components on a BLS or ALS ambulance compared to those that served as either a patient transfer vehicle (PTV) or a mortuary ambulance. These two types will usually show less wear and mileage.

Also be sure to check for “remounts.” The truck chassis is usually built by common manufacturers like Ford, Chevy, GMC, and International. However, the ambulance box is made by another manufacturer, like Medtec, Horton, Road Rescue, Wheeled Coach, AEV and McCoy Miller. That means the ambulance box can be pulled off an old truck chassis and “remounted” onto a new truck chassis. Don’t assume that the box is the same age as the truck. Ask for the specs and perform the same due diligence you would for a regular truck.

Ambulance types vary by size, function, and more.

Ambulance types vary by size, function, and more.

Retired Ambulance Downsides

Now there are some downsides worth considering. Ambulances aren't exactly known for their fuel efficiency. Therefore, be prepared for some hefty gas bills if you’re driving cross country or to far out job sites. And if you're looking to blend in while traveling or camping, an ambulance might not be the most inconspicuous choice. Of course, if any official EMS decals remain on the ambulance, these need to be removed before heading out on the road anyway. 

Lastly, if you do decide to convert an ambulance into an RV, know that it's going to take some work. You may need to update systems, add amenities, and customize the space to fit your specific needs. Making alterations gives you the opportunity to get creative with a wrap for the ambulance box. You could even paint it yourself!

Ambulance conversion is not a project for the faint of heart and the costs of conversion can quickly add up. Though, if you’re willing to put some sweat into it, it’ll be a lot cheaper than buying an RV. Those prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic!

Conclusion

In spite of the challenges, owning a retired ambulance opens up new possibilities. Are you feeling adventurous? Why not consider honoring the work of an ambulance by giving it a new life? Just be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully, and do your due diligence when looking at your options. Know the type of ambulance you’re inspecting and know what you want to use it for - work, leisure, camping, or something else entirely. Who knows – you might just fall in love with your new ride and be the talk of the town! So, why not start looking for an ambulance today?

Last Updated on June 6, 2024


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