Drive a School Bus for the First Time
I was pretty nervous about buying and driving a school bus for the first time.
This was even after I drove a 25′ Uhaul full of all of my possessions back from California to Wisconsin (straight through the Rocky Mountains Vegas through Utah to Denver Route) after quitting my job at Apple just a few months before buying a school bus to convert.
Something about the bus seemed different. Maybe it was all the windows, the open space behind the driver and not a truck cab, and the air brakes that got to my head.
In all reality, when you drive a school bus for the first time you’ll quickly realize it is actually not that bad if you know what you are doing…
But, that is why you are reading this article, right? You feel like you might not know what you are doing.
Well, if you can drive a car, you can drive a school bus, too!
There are a few things to know that will make your experience easier and some things to watch out for, too! I’ll go over as much as I can detail out to make sure you are comfortable driving a skoolie home, with or without air breaks, no matter what size skoolie you decide to buy.
Drive a School Bus Like a Train of 3 Cars
The easiest way for you to understand what driving a skoolie is like is thinking about having 3 cars lined up, hooked up together, and your in the first car pulling the other 2 cars behind you.
Turn to sharp, the cars behind you hit the curb. Wait too long to press on the breaks, you probably won’t stop in time.
That’s pretty much the summary driving a bus for the first time.
Most people have stories of ramping up a curb or having to jam hard on the breaks to stop in-time at a stop sign. My goal is to not have you be one in this group.
Go wide around your turns, but not too wide to cut into on-coming traffic. Be more cautious and slower when breaking until you learn how the breaks in your skoolie work.
Driving a School Bus with Air Breaks
Air brakes are not the brakes you should be scared of to drive with. They are in most situations better than having disk brakes like you have on your car.
Think about this for a second – why would school bus manufacturers go through all the trouble of installing air brakes on a vehicle designed to transfer 30-50 kids around at any given time? Safety.
Without going technical, air brakes have the power to break faster and harder than hydraulic disk breaks.
I am almost 100% positive you will experience this the first time you drive a school bus with air breaks.
For some reason, whether it is that you were paying attention to something else or had to brake fast because you were in a panic (like me), you will experience the shocking power of air brakes. When you press too hard on the pedal, your entire body will jerk forward, along with anything else that was not fully secured down. The bus’s speed will dramatically come down, if not to a complete halt.
The safest way to test this is to simply get the bus rolling a few miles per hour (that slow roll without having to press the gas pedal) then firmly press the breaks. I do this by accident sometimes when at stop signs and I realize the bus is creeping forward, so I slam the pedal to stop and the bus goes rocking!
Over time, you will get to know your bus and drive it without thinking – just like you drive a car or ride a bike. It will become second nature. At one point in time, you most likely had a similar nervousness about riding a bike or driving your first car, yet you got over that by learning and gaining experience. The same goes for driving a school bus with air brakes!
Driving a Skoolie for the First Time
After you build you skoolie and add a ton of weight (maybe a few tons), the driving experience will change.
The heavier the vehicle, the longer it will take to smoothly come to a stop.
Depending on how you built your skoolie, the weight balance could be off a bit. In extreme situations, this could feel like your skoolie is pulling to one side. This is because your bus is literally leaning to one side, which could cause your skoolie to pull. However, the more common case is the slight lean of the bus could cause you to counter-steer the bus’s lean, resulting in you to pulling the bus against the lean.
Finally, the bus will become more top-heavy, especially if you add a bunch of shenanigans up onto the roof. This will cause turns to feel like you are really leaning and even make you feel like you are swaying as you go straight down a road. Go into turns slowly until you re-learn how the bus acts in different situations. If you feel like the bus is swaying consistently, even on straightaways, try reducing your speed.
You’ll be one of the larger vehicles on the road and ALOT of people will want to stare at your skoolie anyway wondering what it is, so cruise slow and steady if that’s what the skoolie wants!
Get Ready to Have All Eyes on You!
When it comes to hitting some open road and going to different destinations, get ready to have many people staring and stretching their necks to check out what you are driving.
It’s awesome seeing the sights along a nice drive, but the people watching of the people gawking at you is just as good!
From people stopping mid-chew as they are eating to kids stopping on the side of the road to stare as you drive by, even cops stretching their necks to get a good look at you driving your land yatch, you will be a sight to see for the many who have not experienced seeing a completed school bus conversion cruising down the road.
Thumbs up, comments on your Instagram, honks, waves, or the hard stare in confusion – it all adds to the fun of the journey once you hit the road!