So I Bought A Bus... with @urbancitynomads
Names: Randy Pena and Christina Roberson
YouTube: Urban City Nomads
We are Randy and Christina, Randy's son, Sebastian, and our bus, Yarabi- it means "Small Place" in Arawakan! Eventually, we'll have a bus dog too! We are converting a 2007 International bus into our tiny home in the pursuit of financial stability, freedom, and adventures. We are seeking the little joys in the everyday by doing something a little bit crazy! And we're so glad to bring you along with us on this journey and maybe inspire you to follow your own happiness.
What inspired/led you to buy a school bus?
Randy has wanted to live the RV life since before we even met. He brought it up to me toward the end of our lease on our New Jersey apartment. When we calculated that we had spent nearly $20k on rent that year, I agreed to try it for a year to save some money (my opinion has since changed!). A few months later, we were the proud owners of a used RV but unfortunately, three days and 500 miles toward home, the engine seized in the middle of the road in Memphis. We chose not to do a complete engine replacement and instead took the loss. We did some research and discovered we never should have bought a gas engine but we couldn’t afford a diesel RV. We hadn’t even found our way back home before we decided we really wanted to pursue this lifestyle and started saving up again for a skoolie!
Did you have any criteria for what you were looking for in a bus?
We knew we wanted something that was well maintained, with little rust, and low mileage. We were looking for something with an Allison transmission and air brakes (which we didn't end up getting). For a while, we were looking at busses in warmer, milder climates but that would have meant traveling to go pick it up which seemed like a big risk for us after what happened with our RV.
Where/how did you find the bus?
We found our bus on the auction site govdeals.com. We had been looking at different options for months, not yet ready to buy. When we were ready to make the move, Randy found the bus that would soon become ours from a school district in New Jersey. We bid on the bus blindly- we do not recommend this (we were kinda desperate) and we won it, sight unseen! On the day we went to pick her up, as we approached the school district, we noticed the school was located in a very wealthy area of New Jersey, so we assumed she was well maintained. And she was, we actually got all the maintenance records from 2007 to now!
Here's a short clip from the first time we saw our new home: https://www.instagram.com/p/B4lxFPUAU6w/
Did you look at multiple buses before buying the one you did? If so, what stopped you from buying the others?
We looked at a couple of busses listed on Facebook Marketplace but didn’t end up with any of those due to rust and our poor experience buying the RV via Facebook Marketplace.
Did you do research on what to look for in a potential purchase beforehand? What are some good resources that you used?
We did a ton of research by following other skoolie owner builds on YouTube and Instagram, including Navigation Nowhere. There’s also a Skoolie Nation group on Facebook that we communicated with others from the skoolie community, asked questions, got answers and advice from, etc. This is such a helpful and giving community!
When you first saw your bus was there anything that concerned you about it?
Not much! Visually she looked amazing with very little to no rust. The only thing we encountered was having to get the brake lines replaced on our way home because they had broken. Yes, that means we have hydraulic brakes.
Was there anything that excited you about the bus you bought when you first saw it?
We were just excited to start our journey. So excited that we even celebrated the free broom and ice scraper that was left on the bus, haha! We were excited that the body was in good shape, it's only 13 years old and was being replaced by the school district simply because they got another grant for a new bus. And for being 13 years old, she only had 130k miles, which is nothing over the lifetime of a diesel vehicle.
What did you learn during the buying process? What would you do differently if you did it again?
The buying process was easy since it was an auction, we just placed the bid and crossed our fingers. If we had more time between seeing the bus listing and the end of the auction we could have gone to see it in person, but luckily it all worked out! I think we learned to look, look, keep looking and look some more, but at some point, you just have to cross your fingers and take that leap! Do your research first and you'll be prepared when the time comes.
Do you regret getting the bus that you have instead of a different one?
At first, we were very excited to get it all the way home. Then we started reading about the engine, which is the VT365, and based on many people’s opinions we learned of the issues the engine is plagued with. Nonetheless, we consulted with a mechanic who is a friend of Randy’s and we were advised that as long as we upgrade a few parts the engine will be bulletproof. Also, since we’ve bought our bus, we’ve talked about some of the benefits of a flat nose bus over our dog nose, such as more interior square footage and the greater ability to scale hills, etc. Ultimately, our bus is ours. It feels like home already so we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What was the registration process like for you in your state?
We still have it registered as a school bus for now. In Pennsylvania, we have to do the conversion first then we can register it as a motorhome.
Did you drive the bus home? What was it like driving it for the first time?
Randy drove the bus home and I led the way in our car. We actually had to unexpectedly take our bus straight to the shop because it started leaking brake fluid and we had a two-hour drive ahead of us. By the time we got it out of the shop, it was dark. It was a little stressful trying to lead Randy in the bus for the very first time through the local mountain roads we ended up on but we made it and were able to feel a sense of relief that we actually got it back!
Did you need any special licenses or have to jump through any legal hoops?
Not at all- getting a temporary plate to move the bus from New Jersey only took 10 minutes! And since we are not using the bus for commercial purposes we didn’t need a CDL.
How did you insure your school bus and what was the process like?
On the way to pick up our bus (yes, we’re procrastinators), I was calling all the big insurance companies. I called the general phone number for Progressive and was told they don't insure skoolies, which was pretty much the same for all major insurance companies. I did a little more research and called a local agent for Progressive who was able to draft a policy. We ended up getting a commercial policy for now and we will be able to change it to a non-commercial policy when our skoolie has a kitchen, bathroom, etc. I definitely suggest calling local agents first.
Is there anything else you want to share for those that are in the buying process or will be in the future?
My only advice is to do your research, find what type of bus works for YOU, and ignore all the other opinions. The biggest mistake you could make is not buying a skoolie because you’re afraid. Go for it!