What Is A Skoolie
If you are a fan of camping, RVing, or even traveling, you may have heard of the term, Skoolie.
What is a skoolie?
The quick and easy answer is this. A skoolie is a retired school bus that has been converted into a motor home RV.
As popular as owning, living, and traveling in a skoolie is these days, this is not such a new idea. Skoolies have been around for a very long time. Looking back about fifty years, school bus conversions gained a lot of attention and popularity back in the 1960s.
In fact, a very popular television show depicted a family living and traveling on a converted school bus. You may have heard of or even seen the old television show, The Partridge Family. That show was loosely based on a real family musical group who traveled and lived out of an old retired school bus.
There are many reasons for the popularity of owning and living in a skoolie. In this blog post, we are going to take an in-depth look at what a skoolie is and why they are gaining so much traction in the RV world.
Are Skoolies Safe?
One of the biggest attractions and benefits of living and traveling in a skoolie is how safe they are. It’s not just the solid and safe construction of how well built these vehicles, but how safe an individual and family feel while living inside of the skoolie.
One of the ways a skoolie made us feel so safe is that they sit so high up off the ground. Most school buses offer 3-4 steps just to get up into the skoolie. This is going to be approximately 4-5 feet above ground level.
This gives the individual or family members living inside of the skoolie a distinct advantage of being removed from ground-level animals and people.
If the skoolie is involved in an accident, this height is a huge benefit for the safety of the individuals inside. Most vehicles that come into contact with a school bus are going to do so under the floor level.
Camping in National or State parks and forests, a skoolie is much less likely to be broken into by animals. I have seen some premanufactured motorhomes and travel trailers torn into shreds by a bear trying to get to the food smells inside an RV.
The construction of a manufactured RV pales in comparison to that of a school bus. I have worked in the RV repair industry and toured RV manufacturing facilities and seen firsthand the construction and quality of materials. Most RVs are nothing more than a cheaply built mobile home on wheels.
So, is a skoolie safe to live and travel in? It is arguably the safest type of recreational vehicle to travel and live in by far.
Why Did We Choose A Skoolie?
When we first started considering the idea of living tiny, we went through all of the options. We first thought about building and living in a tiny house. A skoolie was nowhere on the horizon in our minds.
We decided quickly we didn’t like the idea of being geographically anchored to one area. Besides the codes and ordinances on tiny house living was getting more and more strict by the day.
We then considered purchasing an R and traveling full-time so we could adventure and see as much of the world as possible while our age and health could sustain the rigors of full-time traveling.
Again, we quickly dismissed the notion of purchasing a traditional RV due to the high cost of a quality RV and we did not want a “mortgage” on an RV. What we felt we could afford was not of quality materials and workmanship to our standards.
We then came upon the idea of a converted school bus. The term skoolie was not a word in our vocabulary. I had never heard of the word skoolie.
In fact, when the idea was first introduced to me, I was against the idea. Some people believe a skoolie is something people live in by circumstance rather than a choice.
As we became more and more educated on the world of skoolie living the idea became more and more attractive. The more Tiny House Festivals we went to, the more individuals we met who were already living and traveling in their converted school buses.
We were convinced that a skoolie was the right vehicle for us to achieve our dreams and desires of living and traveling full-time on the road as nomads. All we had to do then, was decide what type and size of skoolie we were going to purchase and build.
What To Consider When Purchasing a Skoolie
There are five main criteria that most people look to when considering a skoolie.
Price is the first and logical consideration when purchasing a skoolie. What your budget is will dictate the age, condition, and type of bus your ultimately purchase. As the skoolie trend gains popularity, the prices of retired school buses are on the rise.
Back in 2018, we purchased a 2004 Thomas diesel pusher with a Mercedes engine and Allison transmission for $4,500. This bus had brand-new tires and was in excellent mechanical and body condition.
I have friends who have purchased similar buses and paid over $10,000 for their buses. The average cost of bus we purchased in 2018 today is selling for an average price of $7,500.
Everything comes down to two things:
Supply and Demand
As the skoolie community grows, the number of busses available decreases and thus, this is driving the prices of busses up.
The better you are at negotiating a good deal for yourself, the less money you will spend on a better bus.
For example, Our skoolie was listed for $5,000. I was able to get the owner to reduce the price to $4,500, throw in new tires and also add in mirrors to replace the two that were cracked.
The new tires alone added a value of over $1,500.
So, if you find a bus that you are in love with but the price is a little high for your budget, try negotiating the price down to your comfort level.
The Size of a Skoolie
This is a personal preference as much of a practical choice. The are a few things to consider when purchasing a skoolie and considering what size skoolie is best for you.
The first and most important consideration is the inside height of the bus. Most buses come in a standard 72” height from floor to ceiling. Once the insulation is added to the floor and ceiling, the interior height drops to below 6’ feet in most conversions.
If you are less than 6’ feet, this is likely not an issue for you. Your guests may have to duck when visiting you, but you should be alright.
If you are 6’ feet or taller, there is another option on skoolies. Many busses come with an interior height of 6’6”, or 78” inches. Even after adding additional floor and ceiling insulation you still have an interior height of approximately 6’2” or 74” inches.
The other important factor regarding the size of your school is overall length. This is important for a few reasons.
1. The Length of Your Skoolie
Length will dictate where you will be able to park and visit while traveling and adventuring. Namely, state and National Parks. National Parks have length restrictions in most of their parks.
98% of National Park campgrounds will accommodate RV lengths of up to 19’
90% of National Park campgrounds will accommodate RV lengths of up to 25’
75% of National Park campgrounds will accommodate RV lengths of up to 35’
50% of National Park campgrounds will accommodate RV lengths of over 37’
2. Ease of Operating and Driving
If you are wanting to build out a 40’ skoolie, please be sure to practice driving it in a safe area before venturing out into the live world. Driving a long school bus is much different than driving an auto, van, or pick-up truck.
You have to consider your tail swing, pull and drag when operating a skoolie.
When making a right or left-hand turn, you have to consider and accommodate the “swing” area of the bus to clear obstacles. This includes curbing all the way up to the rooftop height. Generally speaking, you have to “swing” out farther to the left or right, depending on which way you are turning, to avoid hitting objects with the rear sides of your skoolie.
The drag or pull of a larger vehicle is significantly stronger than that of a normal-sized vehicle. Even with the proper alignment of your tires, the pull or drag can be very dangerous on low or short-shouldered roads.
The bottom line is when it comes to skoolie size, purchase a skoolie that fits your needs and desires. There are plenty of buses out there to choose from, so be picky and get the best one for your experience and adventures.
Age and Condition
Typically speaking, the newer a vehicle is the better condition it is in. This does not hold much water when it comes to buying a skoolie.
Retired school buses are generally maintained very well by the municipalities from which they served. That being said, not all buses are maintained as well across the board.
Most diesel engines can easily handle 500,000 miles or more. If your busses engine is properly maintained, then age should not be a factor.
Be sure to do your due diligence before exchanging cash for the title.
Designing Your Own Skoolie
Another major draw to owning a skoolie is that you can design your own layout. The thing with an RV is that the floorplan is already designed. Sure, there are a few variances to the floorplans, but it is an already laid out design.
With a skoolie, you can design the floorplan as custom as you wish. You can have the bedroom or just the bed as large as you want and in any section of the bus. If you do not want a dinette, then don’t build one.
We have been in over a hundred skoolies and none are identical to another. From color to materials and of course, the layout of the floorplan. They are all unique and different.
Take a look at this blog post we wrote on Skoolie Floorplans.
Right along with designing your own custom floorplan, and building your own skoolie, you can make it an RV or Off-Grid skoolie, or even both.
When we designed the layout of our bus a few years ago, we designed it so that we could easily and comfortably stay in an RV park with full hookups. If no hookups were available, we could be completely off-grid.
Learn more about having an off-grid skoolie here.
Is it Possible to Purchase a Finished Skoolie?
The short answer to this question is most definitely, Yes! Looking at this question a little deeper requires more thought.
Purchasing a skoolie that has already been built out by someone else is going to be much more expensive. Within the last year, skoolies have become increasingly popular. This has caused their prices to increase significantly.
When looking online at Skoolies For Sale, you can quickly understand that the cost of a built-out skoolie is very expensive. Most built-out skoolies I have seen for sale go for $40k to $90k.
I recently saw a skoolie for sale on a popular website that sells tiny homes. It was listed for $89,000. Now, I don’t know what it actually sold for, but there is always a buyer for any price.
That is not surprising in itself. What is so surprising is that we have been inside that skoolie and know the workmanship and materials of how it was built. We were amazed at the asking price.
Be prepared to spend a minimum of $20,000 for a very modest DIY skoolie. If you are wanting an off-grid skoolie equipped with a generator and a solar setup, then be prepared to spend well over $35,000 for a DIY conversion.
How To Find a Finished Skoolie For Sale?
There are plenty of places to find a skoolie that has already been built. When we were looking to purchase our first skoolie, we searched Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist.
You can always contact a Tiny Home Builder like Tiny Starry Builds. They are a unique skoolie conversion company in that they will travel to your location and convert your school bus on-site.
We ended up finding our bus at a salvage yard in upstate Virginia. It was by chance we found it through a different bus for sale on eBay.
If you are looking for a finished skoolie and do not want to do as much leg work, you can utilize the services of several companies who broker a skoolie sale for you.
One of those companies is Tiny House Listings. This is actually who we used to help us sell our skoolie, Caroline last year. For the buyer, it costs you nothing to use their services, plus you get some added benefits from purchasing through them.
They will vet the openers of the school bus and assist with all of the paperwork. There is, however, no warranty or guarantee of the condition or reliability of the skoolie That is something you must do on your own.
Skoolie.homes is another company that will broker a deal between a privately owned skoolie and potential buyers. They also will broker deals for skoolies that have not yet been built out either.
Regardless of where you plan on buying your skoolie, be sure to read Top 11 Things To Consider Before You Buy A Skoolie.
Do I Need a CDL to Drive A Skoolie?
This is one of the most common questions people have asked us before purchasing a skoolie. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion regarding this subject.
Many people think that because it was once used as a commercial vehicle they need a CDL to operate one. Some people claim that if the skoolie has air brakes, then a CDL is needed before you can lawfully drive it.
The quick answer here is….maybe.
The best way to ensure you are abiding by your state and local laws is to check with your state DMV regarding vehicles over a certain weight that is not registered as an RV,
With that being said, one of the first things you are going to want to do after you have purchased your skoolie is to get it registered and titled as a motorhome. There are a couple of reasons why you will want to do this first thing.
- Your insurance will go down significantly. When your skoolies title changes from a commercial bus to a motorhome, the insurance rates drop by hundreds of dollars typically.
- Since a motorhome or RV is considered a privately owned vehicle, it is no different, legally, than driving a personal vehicle when it comes to driver’s license requirements.
Again, it is prudent and best to check with your local and state DMV for clarification.
How Many MPGs Does a Skoolie Get?
Another concern for potential skoolie owners is the cost of fuel. Most school buses run on diesel fuel. This is a good thing too! Diesel-fueled engines will get you a much better bang for your buck when it comes to MPG.
Just like with a car or pickup truck, there are many factors that will determine your MPG. Not only the size of your skoolie, but the engine and transmission combination will dictate how efficiently your bus runs.
Remember, the higher the RPMs run on your skoolie, the less fuel efficiency you are getting. That is why it is important and so popular to either have the rear differential gear ratio change or to have the 6th gear on your transmission unlocked.
If you have any questions about those last two items, reach out to us. We will be happy to explain them in more detail. For the purposes of this blog though, it gets a little technical and deep.
Another thing to consider when determining what your MPG will be is how long or heavy the bus is. When adding plywood, generators, solar equipment, 100-gallon water tanks, and all of the other things that go into a skoolie build, the weight adds up fast.
The heavier your skoolie is, the less MPG you are going to get.
There are a few obvious, but not so obvious things to consider when trying to get the best MPG possible on your skoolie.
- The cleanliness and quality of diesel fuel you are feeding your bus will dictate how efficiently your engine operates.
- How often do you change your oil and transmission fluid? We recommend you change your oil and oil filters no more than 5000 miles or after three months. Whichever comes sooner.
- Keep your tire pressure regulated for the weight of your skoolie. Low tire pressure in your tires is not only bad for your MPG, but it is also not safe.
- Drag. How much stuff you have attached to the outside or roof of your bus will create drag and wind resistance. This can dramatically affect your MPG. Try to keep your skoolie as aerodynamic as it was originally designed for.
Until Tesla comes out with a long-range electric bus, remind yourself that MPG is relative to the size and weight of the tiny house on wheels you have decided to scoot around the country in.
If you are getting anywhere from 8-10 MPG, consider yourself doing very well! Otherwise, the average, again, depending on the size and weight of your vehicle, is somewhere around 6-8MPG.
Is Driving A Skoolie Easy?
One of the reasons people decide not to purchase a skoolie is they are afraid and intimidated to drive one.
We have to admit, we were a little bit nervous about driving our skoolie for the first time. Not only had we not driven a vehicle of this size before, but we had never driven a flat-nosed vehicle before.
Driving a dog-nosed skoolie is really no different than driving a large pick-up truck or a U-Haul type of truck. It is big, and it is heavy. But, it drives no differently.
Driving a flat-nosed skoolie is quite a bit different than driving any other vehicle we have driven before. With the flat-nose skoolie, the driver’s seat and steering are in front of or ahead of the front wheels.
This creates a new dynamic for driving and turning.
With both the dog-nose and the flat-nose skoolie there are a few things to be mindful of when driving.
- Tail swing. Even if you are driving a short skoolie, it is imperative that you understand the swing of the rear end of the bus when making a left or right-hand turn. You must “swing” the bus out a little more on the front end to clear any obstacles on the opposite side of your skoolie.
- Weight and stopping distance. Regardless of air or hydraulic brakes on your skoolie, stopping a fully built-out and loaded bus is going to be greater than stopping your Toyota Prius.
When driving our 32’ flat nose skoolie, there was never a time I felt I could drive with only one hand on the steering wheel. I was very mindful of the power and responsibility of driving such a large vehicle.
Driving down the highway at 70mph with a hamburger in one hand and a soda between your legs is not something you want to do in a skoolie. In fact, you shouldn’t do that with any vehicle you are driving I suppose.
It is a very wise idea to practice driving in a parking lot or low-key and less busy roads before heading out on the highway or driving around city traffic.
Just like with anything, the more you do it, the easier and more comfortable it becomes.
Can I Drive, Park, or Camp My Skoolie Anywhere
You can Park or drive your skoolie anywhere it will take you. That does not mean, however, you should.
We mentioned above that National parks have length restrictions on RVs and buses. Check with your county and state parks for the state you are in for similar restrictions.
We have heard horror stories from friends and acquaintances of ours who have driven the skoolie places they shouldn’t.
Before you drive your skoolie out onto the beach to get some epic Instagram pics of you on your deck, be sure that not only is it legal, but be aware of how hard the sand is packed and what the low and high tides schedule is.
Many people have had their skoolie get stuck in the sand. This makes for a very expensive tow. That is, to save your tiny house from being destroyed by the rising saltwater.
Before heading down some gravel or dirt road to find the ultimate off-grid spot on some BLM, be sure to scout ahead and ensure the road is not only passable but there is a place for you to turn the bus around. Backing your skoolie up a few miles on a bumpy and sketchy dirt road makes for a very stressful time.
As with anything that has to do with you and your skoolie, use some practical and common sense before doing anything skoolie-related.
Your skoolie is a big responsibility to you and your family, but to others around you as well. It is a worthy investment, so treat it as your would your most precious items.
Above all else, enjoy this time in your life when you were bold and courageous enough to step out on faith and a dream. Embrace the life you have chosen for yourself by living and traveling in an old converted school bus.
A skoolie can unlock so much about yourself you never knew existed.