How to Buy a Bus for School or Commercial Use



Buying a Bus 


From schools, churches, and businesses to airports and entire cities, buses are in high demand by a wide variety of organizations. Even individual executives and entertainers often find themselves in the market for one, but few know where to begin. After all, how many bus owners can you say you know?


The truth is that buying a bus isn’t terribly different from buying a car or other vehicle. In either event, it’s going to require some preliminary thought and research, followed by a sourcing and negotiation process. However, there are a few things to note that set buses apart from the vehicles you might be more familiar with.


Let’s walk through this bus-buying guide step-by-step.


Identify Your Needs Before Buying a School Bus or Commerical Bus


Planning is a cornerstone to success in any walk of life, and it’s certainly no different when you’re purchasing a vehicle. Your first step as a prospective buyer should be to form an image of your ideal bus. The following criteria will give you a solid starting framework:




From van-style transports that comfortably seat single-digit numbers to superliners that move as many as 300, the range of passenger capacity across buses is expansive. But larger buses can be trickier to maneuver on the road and harder to find parking for. They are also more expensive, in terms of both initial investment and long-term operational cost. Because cost is a major factor for any school or commercial organization, it’s important to choose a model with a capacity that fits your requirements as closely as possible. You don’t want to pay for 50 seats when you’ll never use more than 25.


Make sure your school district or commercial property also has the space to store the bus. Local regulations in your area may prohibit parking the vehicle at your place of business. If your organization doesn’t already possess a dedicated bus garage, you may need to consider leasing space in one.


Style and Amenities


Most buses are built with a specific purpose in mind, and this is reflected in their physical structure. City buses, for example, make frequent stops and shuttle passengers with minimal baggage. As a result, they often have multiple doors and small or non-existent cargo bays. A regional transit or intercity bus, with stops few and far between, might lack a mid-point door and feature a raised floor to accommodate stored luggage or equipment. Picture your average passenger: how do they travel? What are their needs?


Buses that are designed for executive transportation, entertainment/parties and long-distance transit will often feature additional comforts. Remember that amenities like restrooms and integrated television systems are expensive and inconvenient to install after the fact – it’s almost always better to choose a vehicle that already meets your needs at the time of purchase.


Engine Type


When it comes to engines, today’s buyers have never had more options. Gasoline, diesel, hybrids, and even vehicles powered purely by electric battery are starting to hit the streets in limited numbers. But all these choices do add another factor to the selection process when you’re buying a bus. Deciding between engine types is particularly crucial if your bus will be seeing heavy use for years to come. After all, fuel costs and operational performance can make or break entire organizations.


Diesel engines have an extended history in the automotive world, and they remain popular even today due to the ease of obtaining fuel. While buses powered by diesel often get the best mileage, they do cause pollution more than any of the alternatives. Some cities are beginning to ban the purchase of new diesel-powered vehicles as a result.


Gasoline provides a slightly cleaner alternative, at the cost of fuel economy. Hybrids, meanwhile, enjoy superior fuel economy and low pollution output, but they typically carry a higher price tag. Weigh your options carefully when making an engine choice.




Storage Capacity


Storage space isn’t going to be relevant for every buyer. School buses, for instance, often lack any storage outside of the main cabin. For other organizations, storage capacity is a real concern. If you’re purchasing a shuttle bus or motor coach, consider the anticipated volume of passenger baggage as well as the type of baggage. Heavy suitcases don’t lend themselves to overhead storage, yet passengers may prefer to keep smaller bags on-hand and out of the cargo bay. Strive to find the perfect balance of available room.




Saving a few bucks isn’t worth completely sacrificing the above criteria, but budgets are a large part of your decision when making a major purchase. Do some preliminary research into local bus prices to help formulate a rough upper budget limit. Also remember that there’s no need to buy new — used buses often offer unparalleled value for your dollar. Be wary, though. Without careful inspection and vetting before you purchase the used bus, the vehicle could potentially wind up costing far more in repairs and maintenance over the first few years.


At this point, you should have a clearer picture of what you’re looking for in a bus. It’s now time to make the decision between buying new and buying used Buses.


Buying a New Bus for School or Commerical Transportation 


Whether you’re upgrading a fleet of transit vehicles, sourcing a private tour bus or purchasing a bus for any other purpose, the bells and whistles of a brand-new vehicle can be appealing. And that’s not to mention the long-term reliability and ease of mind.You should consider buying a new bus if:


  • Your budget is sizeable.
  • You have long-term needs.


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Manufacturers and licensed resellers are proud to showcase their newest and greatest offerings when you start to shop. There is a method to choosing the right bus dealer, however, and this is where the requirements you’ve identified above come into play.


Start researching local dealers in your region. Do you recognize their makes and models? Do you know any organization that actively uses these buses? If so, these individuals might be a great place to start sourcing info about reliability and operational economy. Dealers themselves should be willing to share personal experiences with their own models as well.


Safety, of course, is a primary concern no matter what your personal goals are. Check out the manufacturer’s track record, and see what sort of support they offer for current owners. Are specialized technicians available, and will spare parts be easy to locate down the line?


Finishing Touches


Another significant advantage of buying new is that professional customization often becomes substantially easier. You may have the luxury of selecting everything from upholstery and flooring materials, to the size and shape of storage compartments. Accessibility features, such as handrails, wheelchair lifts and wheelchair restraints, can also be readily added.


To help you save money at this stage, you may have the option to tailor the onboard electrical and HVAC systems to your specific needs and the regional climate. Running these systems day in and day out can be some of your largest recurring expenses, particularly if you’re paying for more than you need.


Every customization choice will inevitably have its pros and cons. Consider, for instance, the difference between easy-to-clean, durable vinyl seating, and delicate but aesthetically pleasing fabrics. Similar tradeoffs occur when you start choosing flooring materials. Your dealer should have the knowledge and time to discuss your options with you.


Buying a Used Bus


Prioritizing expenses is important for every school district and organization. If, for any reason, the cost of a new bus doesn’t coincide with your current financial plan, you can still purchase a reliable bus. Used vehicles are in ample supply, and they could be the perfect fit for your organization’s needs.


You may choose to buy a used bus if:


  • Your budget is limited.
  • You have relatively short-term needs.


Used buses can frequently be found at auctions, but they may also be available to purchase from the same dealer lots as new vehicles. In the United States, city transit systems are eligible for federal funding to replace buses that have been in service for twelve or more years.


As a result, it’s not uncommon to find vehicles in decent-to-great condition at absolute bargain prices. This means buses that retail for several hundred thousand dollars can be resold for just a few thousand. With proper maintenance, there’s no reason why one of these used buses can’t experience many more years of active service.


As thrilling as the rush of a live auction can be, purchasing from licensed resellers is generally a safer option. Licensed resellers are often more agreeable than auctioneers to independent inspection and test-drives before you’ve actually laid down money. Bus repairs are also quite costly, and you want to be able to incorporate any initial maintenance costs into the figure you discuss with your dealer. A dealer will be familiar with local regulations relating to bus outfitting and operations, so you can be sure that your new vehicle is up to par.


Inspection Tips


Just as you wouldn’t purchase a used car blindly, there’s no reason to buy a used bus without a thorough inspection. Low mileage doesn’t mean much if the previous owner let rust eat up the body, or didn’t practice proper upkeep on the chassis. The biggest issues may be hidden out of immediate sight.


Before committing to a price or purchase decision, it’s always good practice to double-check the following:


  • Body integrity – does the vehicle exhibit any signs of rust or corrosion?
  • Tire condition – do the tires retain the bulk of their original tread?
  • Kingpins – are the kingpins dry and immovable?
  • Leaks – are there any leaks present from the transmission, hydraulic system or brake components?
  • Transmission health – does the transmission slip at all while driving?
  • Paint quality – has the exterior been regularly cleaned/waxed, and has the paint been touched up as needed?


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If possible, it’s ideal to obtain the vehicle’s maintenance records, which will show you how often – and when – the engine and transmission were serviced. These records may not be available from a private individual, but if the bus was part of a fleet, it should have records.


As always, don’t be afraid to bring in a second set of eyes if you don’t trust your own inspection expertise. A reliable and trustworthy dealer should have nothing to hide.


Brands and Models


One specific thing to consider with any used vehicle is the brand’s history and current status. Replacement parts will likely be needed at some point down the road, and these may not be easy to find for defunct or obscure makes and models. Sticking to major brands, and to models with a lengthy production run, is usually the safest bet.


Pricing and Financing When Buying a Bus


Because buses vary so greatly in age, condition, mileage and model, there are few blanket statements that can be made about “standard” prices. Perhaps the most important factor in determining value is the vehicle’s physical condition (body, chassis and engine), as well as the existence of maintenance and repair documentation. Ask any seasoned buyer – the cheapest bus is the one that won’t keep breaking down on you.


So how can you tell what’s a fair price? Traditional go-to guides like Kelley Blue Book don’t evaluate buses. Any buyer has the right to be skeptical when faced with a price sticker on a bus, whether by a dealer or a private individual. The best advice is simply to find a reputable seller, and independently research the going rate for similar vehicles in your area and across the nation. It’s important to arrive at a figure you’ll be comfortable with.


If an immediate, outright purchase of the bus is not feasible, you can rest assured knowing that most reputable sellers are willing to work with you when it comes to financing. In addition to vehicle financing options, dealers are often amenable to customized leasing arrangements – both temporary and lease-to-own. Special provisions and buyback programs may also be available for schools and municipal agencies, so be sure to ask if this applies to your organization.


Completing Your Bus Purchase


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Buying a bus doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore, does it? Hopefully we’ve been able to demystify the process for you and set you on the path to smooth riding. For the best bus-buying guide, remember the basic course of action as outlined above:


-Identify your needs.

-Decide on new or used.

-Locate a dealer.

-Discuss customization options, if relevant.

-Negotiate a price and financing options.


The perfect bus for your school or organization is out there, just waiting to be found. Now is the ideal time to start your search. Let Rohrer Bus connect you with the right vehicle by viewing our latest bus inventory.


Questions or concerns? Our team is happy to help in any way, and we can provide expertise on brands, models, financing options and more. Contact Rohrer Bus online, or give us a call today at 1-888-287-1538.