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How to Convert a Short Bus into an RV Home on Wheels

How to Convert a Short Bus into an RV Home on Wheels

We’ve seen a pretty massive trend of renovating old school buses and transit busses. While many choose to use full-size buses, there’s something special about a short bus conversion. You can do some pretty epic and remarkable things in such a tiny space. 

So let’s walk through how people convert a short bus into an RV home on wheels. Let’s get started.

What Is a Short Bus Conversion? 

A short bus conversion uses a 20 to 25-ft bus instead of the more common 35-ft model. Expert DIYers typically gut the inside to start with a blank canvas. This allows them to customize their short bus conversion to their unique needs.

Having the freedom to customize allows builders extra seating space, counter space, or whatever matters most to them. They can even design their short bus for off-grid living with solar panels. Plus, a bus conversion can help get you into some pretty epic boondocking spots.

Short Bus Conversion Build with Bathroom @gypsy_frenchie

What Is the Best Short Bus to Convert?

One of the best short buses to convert is the Thomas MinoTour Ford E-450. Many choose this model for its maneuverability, excellent gas mileage, and drivability. You can create the space to fit your needs and live comfortably.

When selecting a  short bus for conversion, you’ll want to factor in the age of the bus and its overall condition. The older a vehicle gets, the more likely it will experience failures and have imperfections in the body. While you may get a great deal when purchasing your short bus, it can become a money pit if you have to replace all parts or do significant body or mechanical work.

Short buses lined up.
Turn an old school bus into a stunning home on wheels.

What to Know Before Buying a Bus?

Before you fork over a wad of cash to a seller, you need to know a few essential things. This information will help you make an informed decision and avoid unnecessary expenses during your conversion.

Most importantly, consider the overall condition. You want to take note of any rust or evidence of leaks. 

Since you will be renovating the interior the most important thing to look at is the driveline. Your going to want to check all the joints and suspension components as well as the engine. It is possible to do oil analysis and try to get an idea of engine health but that’s not always accurate. Maintenance records can tell you a lot about a vehicle if it has it. Sometimes fleet vehicles like a bus will have lifelong records.

You should always test drive any vehicle before purchasing it. Look for signs of engine or transmission issues. 

Difficulties changing gears or grinding gears are sure signs of a major problem. If you don’t know how to spot an issue, bring a friend who can.

Keep in mind that these busses used in fleet services are typically operated harshly and in driving conditions that wear them out. If you want a reliable vehicle you may need to do some overhaul of the driveline components.

Pro Tip: Need some renovation inspiration? Check out these 5 Best Minivan Camper Conversions That Will Blow Your Mind.

Interior of bus RV
Converting a short bus into an RV isn’t easy, but is worth it in the end!

How Do You Convert a Short Bus into an RV?

The real fun begins once you get your bus home. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your short bus conversion.

short bus RV conversion

Gut and Prep Interior

People used these buses to haul passengers from one location to another. So you’ll likely have plenty of seats to remove. The easiest way to do this is to use a grinder or other tool to cut the bolts. This will save you a lot of time.

You’ll likely need to install hundreds of feet of wiring as a part of your conversion. This also means you may have to remove hundreds of feet of insufficient or unnecessary wiring from your short bus. 

gutted interior

Don’t get carried away with cutting and removing wiring, though; it can cause substantial issues later in your conversion journey. Make sure you know what the circuit are installed for before removing them.

Next, you’ll need to figure out how to remove your short bus’s walls, ceilings, and flooring. While you have these spaces open, address any areas that need additional insulation. You want to stay comfortable while in your short bus, and you may regret skimping on this step later. 

Preparing the floor, ceiling, walls, and windows can prevent issues while using your RV. Use a wire brush to remove any rust and clean the area. You should also take the time to caulk around windows and fill any gaps that could let moisture and outside air into your RV.

Plumbing

You may get frustrated by an RV’s plumbing system, especially if you don’t do it correctly. You’ll want a plan for your septic system before you start cutting or installing anything during your conversion. 

RV plumming

Running water lines, drain pipes, and holding tanks may force you to redesign where you place walls or other items around your bus.

Your plumbing solution should include a plan for how you’ll use the restroom and showering. Some conversions use composting toilets and outdoor showers to minimize the need for storing wastewater. 

Plumbing, an essential system in your bus, can pose a challenge. If you don’t know how it works, you must do your research or hire someone to help. Leaks in an RV can do a lot of damage behind walls and other inconvenient locations.

Blue bus conversion parked in driveway with flowers
Bus renovations can range from $15,000 to over $25,000.

Electrical

Another essential system in your bus is the electrical system. This is how you’ll power and charge all of the appliances and electronics in your RV. Many bus conversions use solar power and large battery banks to help reduce their dependence on a power source.

Working with your conversion’s electrical system can be incredibly dangerous. You want to avoid any chance of electrocuting yourself and minimize the risk of a faulty wiring job that could cause a fire. 

You may want to leave this portion up to the professionals, especially if you don’t know the unique wiring of buses and RVs.

Bus Electrical Solar

Insulation

You’ll likely want to beef up the insulation in your bus during your conversion. You typically have two options for insulation: spray foam or the typical pink foam sheets commonly seen in residential homes. Avoid skimping on insulation as it improves the quality and efficiency of your RV experience. It aids in hot and cold weather too.

If you plan to live in your RV, then you’ll likely want to spend the extra money to do the best possible job. You want to limit the cold air that gets in during the winter and keep the cold air in your bus in the summer.

Furniture

Since you have removed all the original seats, you need to build seating into your layout. You’ll typically see bus conversions with furniture built into the design. Consider benches and seating that convert into a bed. Any way to save space and maximize sleeping space can really improve your conversion.

You want to have enough seating for how you plan to use your bus. If you’ll host several friends in your bus, you’ll want to ensure you put in an appropriate amount of seating. They’ll likely not enjoy standing the entire time.

How Much Does It Cost to Convert a Short Bus?

The costs of converting a school bus can vary greatly. However, the average cost of a short bus conversion can cost anywhere from $15,000 to over $25,000. 

This largely depends on how much of an investment you make the bus, how much work it needs, and if you’ll hire a professional for any job.

Those who do most of the work themselves can save quite a bit of money. However, those looking to have most of the work done for them or by professionals will likely pay well more than $25,000 for their conversion.

Woman running next to bus RV conversion
Short bus conversions can make great RV campers for all of your fun adventures!

Do You Need a CDL to Drive a School Bus?

You typically do not need a Commercial Driver’s License to drive a school bus. A CDL is for commercial driving purposes, which recreational camping is not. 

So as long as you only drive your bus for personal use, you won’t need a special license or endorsement on your driver’s license.

Pro Tip: Keep your toes toasty in your new conversion by adding heated floors. Find out Can You Put a Heated Floor in an RV?

Do Short Bus Conversions Make Good RV Campers?

Short bus conversions can make great RV campers. Because they often get well-used, you can find a good deal on them. 

However, you’ll also have to factor in that a short bus can have minimal storage space. Creating a rig that meets your storage needs may take a bit of creativity and DIY skills.

Many love that short bus conversions provide practically unlimited layout options. You can design your conversion to best meet your needs. However, customizing, decorating, and maintaining a bus conversion can get expensive if you let it.

Short Bus Tour | Epic School Bus Conversion Built In Under 30 Days!

Is a Short Bus Conversion Right for You?

A short bus conversion can add a bit of fun and excitement to your adventures. You can grow your DIY skills and create a space that best meets your needs. 

However, a short bus conversion isn’t right for everyone. The process can become incredibly frustrating and stressful. You may come across times where you’ll question yourself and wonder what you were thinking, but it’s all a part of the journey. 

Would you consider doing a short bus conversion? Drop a comment below!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
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