Texas Couple Accidentally Won School Bus Auction | Registering & Building A Skoolie In DFW
Joeseph & Jennifer Davis from DFW, Texas accidentally won an online auction to buy a school bus in Arkansas so they could build their tiny home on wheels. The story they share not only made us laugh, but it inspired us because they show exactly how they pulled up their boots, jumped over some red tape, and just made it happen.
There were some hurdles that Joseph & Jennifer had to navigate right out of the gate because of how Arkansas registers their school bus fleets. With the desire to live a life of freedom before hitting their 40’s, they aren’t letting any excuses (or “rules”) get in their way of turning their dreams a reality.
See how a young couple started the process to get their school bus titled as a motorhome in the Dallas Fort Worth, Texas area even without a title from the school district they bought it from.
DISCLAIMER: Everyone's situation is different. Laws for titling and registering a school bus as a motorhome vary from country to country, state to state, province to province and even city to city. Also, laws, rules and regulations can change without notice. What works for someone in one place, may not be the same for someone else. Use this Skoolie Title Story as a guide to give you the language you need and to get you going. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to verify what's current in your area. This article is for entertainment purposes only and should not be substituted for legal advice. Please consult your local title and registration governmental agency for current processes & procedures.
How to register an old school bus and get RV insurance in DFW, Texas
Regardless of where you live, registering a school bus as a motorhome and getting insurance can be tricky. With a little patience, research, and endurance, we believe that you can do it, just like Joseph and Jennifer did in DFW, Texas.
What first intrigued you about building a Skoolie?
We love the freedom having a skoolie offers us. We are almost in our 40’s and we want to travel in our prime and according to our schedule not in our twilight years when we can’t hike or be active. Also, we love the challenge of learning completely new skills to build our bus!
When did you acquire your Skoolie?
Where did you buy your school bus?
Due to COVID-19, the school district was getting rid of their excess busses to save on expenses. Truth be told, we kind of bought the bus on accident! My wife and I collect uranium glass and we use an online auction site to buy a lot of what we have. We had been kicking around the idea of setting up a booth at an antique store and traveling the country to buy antiques to fill our shelves. We had talked about doing van life or building a skoolie, but that’s crazy, right?
Well, one evening in October 2020, I was searching the auctions for antique glass while watching skoolie youtube videos. For fun, I typed in school busses just to see what was there. Lo and behold, I found an ISD in Arkansas that was offloading their unused busses.
After doing zero research, I put in a $3,000 bid on a 40′ Thomas Saf-T-Liner school bus fully expecting to be outbid. I then told my wife and she about had a heart attack. LOL! However, after talking about it for a while, we got excited at the prospect of winning the bus and building a skoolie!
The next day, I called the ISD and talked with the superintendent over their transportation division and asked him about the buses that were being auctioned off. He gave me his opinion on each one and thankfully, I picked the best bus out of the lot.
My wife and I decided that we’d keep our bid at $3,000 and if we won that would be great and if we lost, that would probably also be great…so, win/win. The next evening the auction completed and we won our bus!!
The problem was, I didn’t read the fine print…I had a two-hour window to pick up the bus the NEXT DAY 500 miles away in Arkansas! So, I called my brother and father-in-law and asked if they wanted to drop everything and go (of course they did!). So, I packed an overnight bag and we left on our adventure!
When you bought your school bus, how did you get it from the seller’s lot to your conversion location?
I would love to say that everything worked out perfectly. But, I can’t.
Unfortunately, our insurance didn’t start until the Monday after we were supposed to pick up our bus. Also, the school district could not give us the plates for the bus, nor could they provide a temp tag.
So, our options were to be safe, do the right thing and pay for a tow back to DFW.
Or, risk everything and drive this 40′ monster (which none of us had any experience driving) all the way back by ourselves.
Well, we’re Texan, damnit!
I put my boots on, spent 10 minutes driving in the bus barn parking lot, and then hit the road!! LOL! We got her home safe and sound. Only hit 2 curbs while turning the whole trip back. LOL!
What components did you need to install to meet the Ontario mobile home title requirements to go from school bus to RV?
We needed all of them. We had none of them. We registered as a private bus for now. Will change it later when we meet the requirements.
What were the steps required to register & title your school bus as a motorhome / RV in DFW, Texas?
It was not a fun process, there are multiple steps and you have to register it in stages before you can get a full RV/Motorhome registration. My situation might be a little different than others. So your experience may vary a bit. I bought my school bus from an ISD in Arkansas. Evidently, in Arkansas, they do not have to title their school buses. The bus number acts as their license plate. So, when I picked up my 1999 Thomas Bus, they gave me a bill of sale and the certificate of origin.
Step 1: Get insurance on the bus asap!
Most of the conventional insurance companies won’t be able to help you until your bus is titled as a motorhome. I went with Good Sam. They know about skoolies and will insure your bus in stages and they will require a ton of pictures before moving through the stages.
Stage 1 is “demolition” and they only will provide legal liability insurance. This is fine (unless you have a lien that requires full coverage).
Stage 2 is construction, they will require pictures of each step of your build process.
Stage 3 is “livable.” (has a toilet, water tanks, electricity, bed).
Stage 4 is completed. That is when you will get full coverage insurance (sometimes in stage 3, but don’t count on it.
Step 2: You will need to have your bus safety inspected.
I would find the dingiest diesel shop that also has a certified inspector onsite. They will take one look at your bus and tell you that they can’t do it. Inform them that they are not inspecting a school bus or a commercial vehicle. Let them know that it is an RV and will be titled as such. They’ll say okay charge you $7 and walk right back in their shop. (they may actually go look at it out of curiosity, but that’s about it) No emissions test and they didn’t even attempt to drive mine.
Step 3: You will have to get a certified weight certificate.
Most large truck stops have CAT scales. I went to a local metal recycling company and they set me up for $15 cash.
Step 4: You have to go to your local tax assessor collector’s office and start the registration process.
Do this within 30 days of buying your bus (and after the first 3 steps). This establishes a timeline and that you attempted to follow state laws. This is a worthless step as they are going to stare at you with confusion on their faces, they are then going to tell you that it’s not possible (keep pushing them, they will eventually call over their supervisor). They will then tell you that you don’t have the right paperwork and will tell you that you need to go to your local regional TXDMV office and they will provide the letter of approval needed.
Step 5: Make an online appointment to visit your local TXDMV (they do not allow walk-ins).
Choose the option for vehicle registration. Once you get there at your appointed time, be prepared to wait! There will still be a line. I had to go multiple times and figured out a trick, I showed up an hour early and they put me right in line, and was seen much faster (not much of a trick, I think they only care if you have an appointment number).
Step 6: Explain to the TXDMV that you are converting a school bus into a private bus/RV.
They will ask for your pre-filled registration paperwork and will look it over. Depending on where you bought the bus and if you have the correct title, 10 out of 10 times they will probably make you get a form 68A (it’s an inspection by a vehicle fraud task force). Hopefully, they will give you a list of local Cities with police departments that will do this for you. If not, be prepared to go to a major city. But, they typically only inspect vehicles once or twice a month and the inspection slots fill up fast, so make an appt right away. They will also give you a two to three-digit number to give them when you get there. Don’t forget it as they will turn you away if you don’t have it. They will also require that you get the bus appraised by a local dealership that is certified to sell the bus (most are). You can also schedule an appraisal with a certified appraisal firm (but they will charge you). TXDMV will probably give you the form the dealership needs to fill out.
Step 7: Drive your bus to the inspection station (the one I went to was in Fort Worth and was an hour’s drive away).
Bring all of your registration paperwork with you! A State Trooper or LEO will enter your bus and match the VIN numbers on the bus with your paperwork. They will then go off and print the form needed by the TXDMV.
Step 8: Get your bus appraised.
I’d find a big dealership with room for you to move around or has a lot where you don’t have to actually pull into the dealership. This step sets the value the tax office will use for your sales tax.
Step 9: Make another appointment with the TXDMV.
Bring all of your paperwork. If it all looks good to them they will take it and print out a letter of approval for the local tax office. This allows the local tax office to change the registration from Commercial/School Bus to Private Bus. This letter cost $25.
Step 9a: Get a “Bonded Title”
If your bus was like mine and did not have an out-of-state title, they will require you to get a “bonded title.” This means for the next 3 years, if another person has a claim to your bus, they can attempt to take it from you (like a lost lienholder or something). For 3 years you will have a bonded title and then it goes away and is replaced with a full title.
Step 9b: Pay the Bondsman
You will have to go to take all of your paperwork, plus the new letter from the TXDMV to a bondsman, and pay for a bond. My bond was $300.
Step 9c: Once you get your bond, you have a max of 30 days to register your bus!!
Otherwise, you will have to start the whole process over and get another bond.
Step 10: Go back to the local tax office and give them the mountain of paperwork you acquired!
They will charge you for registration, sales tax, and other fees. I was out around $600. Once I paid for everything, they gave me my registration sticker and my new Private Bus plates.
The next step is to get Motorhome/RV plates. But, you can’t do that until you have made the actual conversion. They will require pics of the whole process and new inspections.
What was your Texas DFW skoolie insurance process AND what kind of RV policy did you need?
We are currently insured through Good Sam. Our insurance coverage is liability only. As we complete our build, the insurance company will add more coverage. I applied for insurance prior to driving the bus off the lot. Unfortunately, they were not able to approve our insurance prior to us having to pick up the bus.
So, we did the only rational thing…
Do you live in your Skoolie full-time?
I’m building it right now & planning to live in it full-time!
What’s one piece of wisdom you’d like to give people who are considering converting a school bus into a Skoolie that you wish you knew before you got started?
If you are going to build the bus right, you need a lot more time and money than you think. Also, have a game plan for your build!! I cannot stress that enough! You do not want to get a project completed just to realize you should have completed another project first.
What do you think your superpower has been throughout your Skoolie build?
My ability learn a new skill. I did not have any construction skills prior to this build. Now I have them all! Lol!
You can follow Joseph & Jennifer here:
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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