There are numbers being thrown around for how much a school bus conversion cost to build is without anyone really taking the time to go into the details.
In this article, we are going to dive deep into our skoolie build cost. We of course went beyond our original skoolie budget of $25,000. We listened to some of those random range estimate of $10,000 – $30,000 for a skoolie conversion cost and just went for it – without taking the time to properly plan and trying to detail out a budget to follow.
Going over budget is common with school bus conversions which can most often be a result of poor planning (like we did). Because of many people not properly planning, you might be able to find a sweet deal on a gutted school bus or partially converted skoolies on our Skoolie Livin Classifieds being sold by someone who bit off a bit financially a bit more than they can chew.
Beyond going over our DIY school bus conversion cost to build, we are going to dive into why we ended up going over-budget and how you can reduce the cost of a school bus conversion project you may be planning or already working on.
School Bus Conversion - Cost
Throughout this article you will see black boxes with a heading like the one above, followed by the number. This number is the total cost for a school bus conversion that we paid for this particular item.
In the sections below the headings, we dive into the general range of costs as well as some additional information on our conversion or that we have gathered from friends who have completed their skoolie conversions, too.
How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost
The average school bus conversion cost for appliances, equipment, tools, and raw materials is around $20,000 to $30,000. This does not include the cost of the bus. Hiring professionals to do electricity, plumbing, welding, or any other skilled labor will increase the overall skoolie cost significantly. Recycling materials and items can reduce the overall cost.
School Bus Conversion Cost: $28,593
I just ragged on all of those people putting ranges out there, but the range is mostly based on the size of bus you purchase. A full-size school bus conversion cost will be much higher than a short school bus conversion cost.
We converted a 9 window mid-sized school bus and our total skoolie build cost came out to $28,593, including the bus and maintenance.
I hesitate to share this number because a skoolie is almost never complete. Sarah and I are always changing things up, adding in features to make our skoolie more functional and optimized. We’ll dive into some of these updates we have made since calling our skoolie “done.” (At least done enough to travel.)
Right now, I want to break down the cost of our school bus conversion into the main buckets every DIY skoolie budget will need to account for.
School Bus Cost: $4,000
How much should a school bus cost?
A used school bus costs anywhere from $4,000 to $30,000, depending on the make, model, year, mileage, and overall condition. Typically, people doing a DIY school bus conversion are on a budget and pay between $4,000 to $7,500 with the expectation that they will need to do maintenance before traveling.
School Buses Less Than $4,000
A school bus less than $4,000 is probably not worth looking at, since it will require a good amount of preventative maintenance since it will be either old, have high mileage, a body and chassis that is rusted out, needs some type of major mechanical repiar, or all of the above.
School Buses for Sale From $4,000 to $10,000
If you are mechanically inclined and/or resourceful enough to find someone who can help do some maintenance on the bus, then you can find some decent school buses priced at $4,000 – $10,000.
You should plan on doing some maintenance such as an oil change, coolant flush, and a full inspection of the suspension and brakes just to make sure there are no issues. There should not really be any need for a major overhaul or repair to the engine or transmission.
We definitely lucked out with our skoolie, as it was mechanically sound, low mileage, and completely rust free for only $4,000.
School Buses for Sale from $10,000 to $30,000+
If you are looking for a safe bet with a much smaller chance of running into major mechanical issues, you can expect to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 – or more.
However, if you find yourself in the second group of non-technical or lacking the network to find someone you know (or someone you know who knows a guy) to work on your bus, I would highly encourage you to think about building a van conversion or a tiny house.
A skoolie has it’s benefits of more space than a van conversion with the ability to more easily travel than a tiny house on a trailer. However, converting the school bus is only half the battle. Maintaining the bus is the other half. You almost have to be able to do basic maintenance on your own or risk being stranded someday.
School Bus Maintenance Cost: $2,934.58
Skoolie annual maintenance cost is around $2,000 per year. This includes an oil change, fuel filters, a coolant flush, and one semi-major repair. However, if the transmission or engine breaks down, this can easily add an additional $5,000 or more to that cost for the year.
School Bus Oil Change Cost
A school bus engine oil filter costs around $25 and oil can range from $100 to $150, depending on the type of oil purchased and the number of liters of oil required for the engine.
Fuel Filter & Coolant Filter Costs
Our bus has two fuel filters, an actual fuel filter and then a water separator filter, which together cost $55.13.
- WIX Filters – 33403 Heavy Duty Spin-On Fuel Filter
- WIX Filters – 33611 Heavy Duty Spin On Fuel Water Separator
The coolant filter was $23.41.
School Bus Air Intake Filter Cost
I highly recommend going with a K&N filter, as it is a one-time purchase and you can clean it every 5,000 miles. The air filter is the most frequent maintenance item you will need to keep up with on a school bus, aside from checking tire pressures ideally every time you stop for a few days or more. The filter cost $213.14 for our engine.
School Bus Tire Costs
School bus tires will cost anywhere from $2,000 to 3,000 and can last 10 or more years with proper maintenance, depending on average annual mileage driven.
Tires are one of the most expensive regular maintenance items you will encounter unless you are lucky enough to find a bus at a decent price that recently had new tires installed.
We, fortunately, have someone in our family who works in the heavy-duty, commercial tire industry that was able to get us a full set of 6 tires with installation for $1,600. It’s all about networking to save money!
The good news is that school bus tires can easily last 10+ years with proper maintenance.
School Bus Starter Battery Cost
School bus starter batteries are very large, heavy-duty batteries that cost anywhere from $300 to $500 each and generally should be changed every 5 years.
The original batteries that were in our school bus were 8 years old. Over the first winter we had our bus, the engine had a very rough time starting. With them being 8 years old and them not even being able to store enough juice to turn the engine over, I knew we had to get new batteries before our first trip.
We bought two new X2 Power Premium AGM 31T batteries for our skoolie for $758.08 total.
Skoolie Appliances: $719
The main skoolie appliances are the fridge and range, with the total skoolie appliance cost totaling anywhere from $200 to $2,000.
Skoolie Fridge Cost
We decided to buy a standard apartment sized fridge from Home Depot, which is a 10.1 cu ft Magic Chef that cost $389. This is a 120v fridge, which did increase our power requirements, but can always be upgraded later for a more expensive option, such as the New Dometic 12v 10.1 cu ft RV fridge or even their New Dometic Propane 10.1 cu ft RV fridge.
Another option to save on space is the 12v chest fridge, which you will have to sacrifice fridge space. However, a chest fridge can benefit from much less power usage, more space inside your skoolie, and a potential lower upfront cost depending on the unit purchased.
See our Best Skoolie Fridge Options article to see the best and most commonly used skoolie fridge options.
Skoolie Range / Stove Cost
We decided to buy a scratch and dent Dometic propane range off eBay for $330.
Skoolie Electrical: $6,756
Skoolie electrical cost will be the largest cost for most school bus conversions, sometimes costing more than the school bus cost, ranging from $900 to $8,000. Considerations such as on-grid and off-grid technology, battery type, battery bank capacity, whether or not solar power will be installed, and the items being powered will all determine the total cost of the skoolie electrical system.
Our Current Skoolie Electrical Costs
- Solar Panels, Charger, & Breaker System: $2,699
- 2x Gel Batteries (400 Ah Capacity): $900
- Entertainment & Office Electronics: $752
- Main Inverter (3000W): $296
- Camera System: $125
- Shore Battery Charger: $117
- Backup Inverter (1000W): $85
- Other – Wire, 110v Breaker System, Fuses, etc.: $1,782
Skoolie Heating Cost: $2,116
Skoolie heat cost can be from $0 to $2,000 or more, depending on the climate conditions you may expect where you will live or travel to in the school bus conversion. Skoolies in Canada or states such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania may need to have several heating options, while skoolies in Florida may never need heat.
Our Current Skoolie Heating Cost
- Cubic Mini Wood Stove: $920
- Suburban RV Propane Furnace: $390
- Diesel Heater: $158
- Other – Pipe, Diesel Fuel Tank, etc: $806
See the Best Skoolie Heat Options article to see why we ended up with 3 different heat sources.
Skoolie Air Conditioning Cost: $250
Skoolie air conditioning cost will range from $0 to $900 and will be a required item in some locations due to extreme heat. An RV vent fan can be adequate in more mild climates, which costs $170 to $400.
It is important to note that electrical costs will increase significantly to support running a skoolie air conditioner when off-grid.
Our Current Skoolie Air Conditioning Cost
- 400W Window Air Conditioner: Free
- Fantastic Vent Fan: $250
Skoolie Plumbing Cost: $2,488
Our Current Skoolie Plumbing Cost
- Nature’s Head Toilet: $910
- 11 Stage RO Water Filtration System: $270
- 100 Gallon Fresh Water Tank: $270
- On-Demand Propane Water Heater: $210
- 1 Year Water Filters for RO System: $157
- 31 Gallon Grey Water Tank: $123
- 18 Gallon Grey Water Tank: $79
- Shurflo Water Pump: $78
- Other – Fittings, pipe, etc.: $390
Other Skoolie Build Cost: $7,056
Paint & Stain: $1,949
- Exterior Truck Bed Liner Paint: $1,280
- Interior, Elastomeric Roof, & Other Paint Items: $669