Old School Buses For Sale In Ontario – What To Consider Before You Buy
As you start scrolling through the handful of sites with old school buses for sale in Ontario, you’ve likely started to wonder what you should consider before you buy your future skoolie.
Throughout this article, you will collect some reliable resources & ideas to take with you while school bus shopping.
Quick Note: This information about buying an old school bus is subject to change, and the same goes for acquiring insurance and getting a school bus registered as an RV in Ontario. Requirements may also vary between Provinces & States. This article is meant to be a guide, and we will do our best to share with you what we discovered while shopping for a bus in Ontario. It is our hope that you leave with some insight and you are armed with the lingo you need to do your own research.
In this article, you will discover the process to buy an old school bus for sale in Ontario.
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- No matter where you find old school buses for sale, go in prepared
- Why buy a school bus over an RV?
- What do you need to know before buying a skoolie?
- Cheap old school buses for sale, is that really the right way to go?
- Where can you find old school buses for sale?
- Are you getting serious about buying a skoolie in Ontario?
- The process to buy an old school bus for sale in Ontario.
- Is importing a school bus a better option for Canadians?
- Buying a used school bus is a shot in the dark.
- In Conclusion… Should you consider old school buses for sale in Ontario?
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No matter where you find old school buses for sale, go in prepared
When we bought our bus, we felt ready. Not because we had all the money in the world to spend, and not because we were going to get a sick deal. Brian + I felt prepared because we had spent the previous year researching what we wanted. Which lead to a LOT of notes, a stacked Trello Board, and eventually a handy dandy inspection checklist of essential things to have on our radar while shopping.
Want our used school bus visual inspection form? Get It Free
If you’re anything like us, you may not know where to start looking for an old bus. No worries, we’ve got you covered.
As you know, it is a significant investment to buy a school bus to convert into an RV, just like buying a house. You know this is going to take commitment, time, energy, money, and a whole lot of sweat equity, but you also know that this could be your freedom mobile, so it’s smart to go into this ready to ask lots of questions before you buy.
Why buy a school bus over an RV?
For us, it was pretty simple. We didn’t want to sink $30,000+ into an RV, knowing what they do when they get into an accident. Not that we plan to get into an accident, but with Brian’s background as a former Firefighter, RV’s explode upon impact. You can Google images of RV crashes. They look like a tornado blasted through them, while school buses are left fully intact.
Think about a school bus for a second. School buses haul precious cargo around. Children! They are built with strong ribs that are meant to survive rolling. It seems like a smart foundation to build your future home in, doesn’t it?
Another thing that attracted us was bringing something old back to life. Putting time & energy into a vehicle that still had a lot of life in it was very appealing to us, and diesel engines are known to run up to 1 million miles (or more!)
What do you need to know before buying a skoolie?
You need to know what you REALLY want. We watched endless amounts of van life videos on YouTube when we realized it would be way too small to be our tiny home on wheels.
Things to consider when buying a school bus
- The amount of time you will be spending in it?
- Where do you plan on taking it?
- Are you are going to park it in one place forever?
- Is it a weekend adventure vehicle?
- Will you be living in it for more extended periods?
- In all cases, size does matter, and so does the type & quality of engine you choose.
Once we realized that we didn’t want to cram our life into a Sprinter Van or pay for it (not knocking Sprinters, it just wasn’t for us at the time), we came back to the idea of buying a school bus, which initially we thought was too big.
At this point, we were getting pretty serious about it, so we had to decide what we wanted most. We had been traveling for three years together and felt like we wanted something that was ours with the caveat that we could keep exploring. We like living pretty minimally, so if we had space for our camera gear, wilderness & sports equipment, a few favorite kitchen things, plus our creative tools & supplies, we would be happy.
Cheap old school buses for sale, is that really the right way to go?
We have heard a LOT of nightmare stories about people buying cheap old buses for sale, and thank goodness we did before we settled for one ourselves. You can read about it yourself on apps like Reddit or by doing a simple Youtube search to find people’s honest experiences.
There was this one guy who bought a bus for about $1500 through an online auction site. The site showed the bus was in Miami, but what it didn’t share was that the bus had lived a long life in Alaska previously. When he picked it up, he realized the bus he purchased was a rust bucket. To make matters worse, the transmission went out while he drove back to Arizona, the brakes were sketchy, and there were an array of other issues.
After hearing many similar stories about people buying cheap buses from online auctions and having breakdowns before even getting them home, we realized this wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. We wanted a skoolie that had good bones so we could put our time & money into converting it instead of fixing it.
Where can you find old school buses for sale?
Kijiji & Craigslist
The first two places we looked for old school buses were Kijiji & Craigslist. People seemed to have pretty good luck finding honest people who took care of their coaches. There wasn’t much at the time we were looking, but we wouldn’t write it off as an option. Just make sure you ask the owner a LOT of questions before you buy a used bus from a seller on one of these sites, and see it in person before you spend a dime.
Like we mentioned in the story above, be cautious and see if you can look over before you invest in it, or at minimum, get a LOT of photos. Ask for pictures of the underbody, the engine, the exterior, and lots of close-ups. You can even ask for the history of the bus. Where has it been living? Was it fleet maintained by a school district? If so, that’s a good thing.
GovPlanet has some interesting vehicles that we had never seen before. The user experience on this site isn’t fantastic, in our opinion, and it didn’t make sense for us to fly somewhere to take a look at one bus. We wanted to take a look at multiple buses if we were going to fly somewhere.
School Districts/Retired Fleet Buses
Duh?! Why hadn’t we thought of it? It makes total sense to look into local school districts. Once we heard about other people looking in their local & surrounding areas at school districts, we started making phone calls. After making about 20 phone calls, we found the one guy who deals with all the old retired fleet buses from First Student in Canada. We told him what we were doing, and he suggested a small city near us in Ontario that had five retired fleet buses for sale.
Excited to check them out, we printed off five of our Bus Inspection Checklists and went to look at our local options. Luckily we had our checklist because there were a lot of obvious problems with these old International school buses. Rust is the primary issue.
We will get more into why our skoolie didn’t end up being from Ontario, but we think that Retired Fleet Buses could be a reliable option BELOW the Snowbelt.
Used Bus Dealers
Spoiler alert, this is what we ended up doing because the condition of the buses in Ontario was so brutal. Buying a bus from a dealer could be a more pricey option, but if you find the right dealer, you will end up with a better quality base to build your tiny home on wheels, at least we did.
Are you getting serious about buying a skoolie in Ontario?
Maybe you have had better luck than we did in Ontario, and you are getting ready to buy your coach. If you have found your golden beauty, this process below should help you with your research & help to iron out the details.
The process to buy an old school bus for sale in Ontario.
Let’s say you find a golden unicorn of a school bus without serious rust problems, and you’ve decided you want to buy it. Here is the order of operations we found. As I mentioned above, policies are subject to change because we aren’t in charge of Ontario’s policies or the insurance companies.
- Buy the bus
- Ownership will be signed over to you
- Tow the bus to your location
- Remodel the bus to include 4 Creature Comforts as per MTO Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations C.R.C., c. 1038 HERE (scroll to “motor home” section)
- Create a “Written Declaration” with year, make, model, VIN, description of changes, equipment installed & removed, and changes to a vehicle made to meet “motor home” criteria (See MTO link in #4.)
- Get a “10 Day Permit” from the MTO Service Ontario to get rated as an RV (Take your “Written Declaration” with you)
- Get Insured as a Motorhome
- Get Safety Inspection completed at any MTO Certified Safety Location
Why tow the bus?
BUT why get the bus towed to where you are going to convert it versus getting insurance and driving it off the lot yourself?
Unfortunately, our research showed us that the skoolie movement isn’t much of a thing up here in Ontario (yet.) While it is not impossible to buy a vintage school bus for sale in these parts, it comes with several hoops to jump through and rules because it is still in a grey area for insurance companies.
Towing the bus seemed like the easiest route, versus opting for commercial vehicle insurance. Remember, the bus needs to be “converted” or have 4 Creature Comforts before the title can be switched to Motorhome. The seller could give you a document to hand over to the MTO to switch the rating from being considered a “school bus” to a “commercial vehicle.” However, you would need a commercial driver’s license with an air breaks endorsement to go that route, PLUS a minimum policy of 6 months for about $5,000 CAD. This was the lowest price we found after calling around to several commercial vehicle insurance places. That wasn’t going to work for us.
We can’t speak for Ontario in this case, because we bought our bus in Phoenix, Arizona and got it titled in Texas. BUT we did find a loophole in Texas that allowed us to get the RV title fast without doing a full conversion. Consider this…
The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in Texas expects that you have 4 of 6 creature comforts installed on your bus for it to be considered as an RV. What we did was create a temporary living space specifically to get our title. We bought a little Goal Zero battery, with a Goal Zero solar panel, then hooked a small fridge up to that. Thank goodness for the Habitat for Humanity Restore, we were able to get a cheap table which we mounted a “sink” on, along with a little camp stove. Then we hooked up to a makeshift water tap, with plumbing to a greywater bucket. Everything we “installed” was easy to take out, but it got us through the RV title process with flying colors.
This video should give you some ideas on how you can hack the system to get your RV title sooner and get insurance faster. (Please keep in mind we did this in Texas, not Ontario.)
What kind of license do you need to drive a school bus in Ontario?
After making a lot of phone calls we found that once your school bus is titled as an RV, you do not need a special license to drive it as a motorhome in Ontario. Hopefully, Ontario doesn’t change their policy on this, but we can’t give you any promises.
Timeline restrictions for how long you are allowed to live in a skoolie.
A skoolie/RV cannot be a full-time dwelling. While many people are likely living in their skoolies full-time, many insurance companies in Canada & the US will tell you that your future tiny home on wheels is only meant to be a Recreational Vehicle ONLY. This means that you are required to show proof of a permanent residence and are only allowed to live in your RV for no more than 3-4 months out of a year. Big thanks to all the moms & dads out there who don’t mind extending their addresses to this resurgence of hippies wanting to live full-time in old school buses.
Living in a van (or Skoolie) down by the river used to be looked down upon… Now, it’s a life goal.
Is importing a school bus a better option for Canadians?
Since all we found up here in Ontario was a bunch of rust buckets, we started getting pretty serious about buying a school bus from somewhere in the United States. Again, the research showed that this could be a bigger headache than we were willing to deal with, and it could cost a small fortune.
If this is a route you are considering, you may want to use a broker or an import service as Canada no longer considers modified vehicles for importation. This makes things a bit sticky because, in the US, you can’t drive a bus off the lot without it being decommissioned/modified to deem it no longer a school bus. That’s right, but if one seat is removed or the school bus stop sign is taken off, it has been modified in Canada’s eyes.
The Canadian Government has plenty of dry documentation to read through about vehicle importation into Canada. If you want to skip all that reading, give the Canada Border Services Agency a call and ask them what your options are for your unique situation. The policies between countries are still not in alignment, so having professionals help would be beneficial if you want to import a school bus from the states.
Buying a used school bus is a shot in the dark.
If the bus wasn’t yours from the day it was born, you don’t know it’s history. The safest bet is making your purchase from someone who knows the history. School districts keep good records of their fleets, so you can always ask about the bus’s history. Another thing we learned from Tony at AAA Bus in Phoenix is that it is smart to get a bus mechanic to run a test on the engine with a computer. This test will reveal all the quirks your future bus could potentially have. Super old buses will be mechanical, and not have advanced computers that give analytical readings.
One of the beautiful things that I think we all love about converting an old used school bus is the idea of breathing new life back into it, and making it our own.
In Conclusion… Should you consider old school buses for sale in Ontario?
Sure, there may be lots of old school buses for sale in Ontario when you are in the market. In the end, it all depends on your capabilities and willingness to acquire new skills. How much time you have to do a conversion? What do you want to spend? Could there be amazing buses in Ontario that are still in excellent condition? Of course, there could be.
The moral of the story is, no matter where you buy your bus, please consider that what you are buying is the foundation of your tiny home on wheels. You want to buy something that has good bones so you can start spending your time & resources on the fun stuff, not the things that could have been solved by investing in a better quality bus, to begin with.
We hope this helps guide you when you are looking at old school buses for sale in Ontario. Oh, and here’s the story about Why We Bought A Used School Bus In Phoenix, Arizona if you want the other side of the story.
Also, please let us know if you have questions or things to add about your experience in the comments below. We are so grateful to have you here.
Your skoolie story matters
We know it’s kind of a dry topic, but your skoolie insurance & RV title story could really help someone in your area get going on their dream machine.
Our goal is to gather stories from people from all over Canada & the US who have successfully gotten their school bus titled as an RV, and their insurance story too. The goal is to curate stories from each state and province to make it easier for people to confidently jump into this adventure.
If you want to share your story with us, please fill out this short survey! We will happily feature you on our blog! This info needs to be known! Some people will quit their tiny home on wheels dream because this step seems too daunting! BUT with everyone’s help, it doesn’t have to BE.
Hey, we're Brian + Erin. Currently, we're workin' on our bug out bus. Lucky the proverbial $hit hadn't hit the fan yet when we picked up this 40-foot beauty in Phoenix AZ and drove it up to Canada to convert it. Hopefully, we all still have time...
Honestly, this bus conversion has been the only sane thing in this insane world lately. We can't tell you how good it feels to BE working on something that lights our souls up and has such potential for a life that is entwined with nature, love, and happiness.
Our main goal is to inspire people to get off-grid and become self-reliant. We are well on our way and are super excited to talk about solutions with others who are shooting for a similar way of living.
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