How and When to Buy a Used Bus

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Buying a bus for your residents, hotel guests, sports team or club is a big investment. You need to find a vehicle of the right size, at the right price and in your area. If you don’t have a large budget, you may wince at the cost of purchasing your own bus. Fortunately, Gregory Poole Bus Sales doesn’t just sell new Blue Bird buses, we also have a lot of used Blue Bird buses for sale as well. When economy is essential, a used bus is your solution.

Read on to learn how to buy the right bus for your needs and budget.

Consider Why You Want to Buy a Used Bus — And How You’ll Use It

Most buyers already know the purpose of the bus they want to buy. They aren’t just looking for used buses for sale — they specifically look to buy a used school bus or buy an activity or church bus. Although you may already have a specific bus type in mind before you begin your search, it is always a good idea to sit down and write out a checklist of the carriage features of the bus you need. Take into consideration:

  • Capacity — What is the number of people the bus will be required to carry on each journey?
  • Expansion — Determine whether the capacity will always be the same, or whether you may need a bigger bus soon.
  • Comfort — Long trips require air conditioning in the bus for passenger comfort.
  • Fuel-efficiency — Match the engine capacity for the type of trips you will regularly make, such as urban drive or long-distance.
  • Accessibility — If your passengers are older or limited in mobility, you will need a mechanism for wheelchair access.
  • Durability — Will you be driving along poorly-made country roads or just around a well-maintained residential area?

Your checklist should enable you to hone-in on whether you need a school, church or activity bus. Although you may be tempted by a good price to go for a larger school bus, remember the fuel costs of a larger vehicle and stick to a smaller activity micro bus if you will never actually need the greater capacity.

Look for Used Buses for Sale in Your Area

The Internet is a great tool for finding bargains. However, the big hitters on the Web, such as eBay and Amazon, cover the whole country. Searches for products on those big sites will return lists and lists of used buses for sale, but most of them will be located a long way away or even abroad.

You may find a dealership through a Web search and see some great prices, but if that lot is in California, and you are over on the East Coast, the shipping costs alone will make that bargain an expensive mistake. Bear in mind that you will need to go out and see the bus before you buy it. The wider you cast your search area, the more driving you will need to do in order to inspect all the potential buses.

Keep your checklist on hand and narrow your search. If you are specifically in the market for a used school bus and you live in North Carolina, filter out all other options. Tell yourself that you are looking for used school buses for sale in North Carolina rather than just looking for a used bus of any type, anywhere. It’s great to have lots of options, but the flood of alternatives a Web search will return can be time-consuming and fruitless if they pack out your list with buses that you are never seriously going to consider.

Buy Used Buses From Dealerships, Not Individuals

With any purchase, you have greater guarantees of legality when you buy from a retailer than if you buy from a private individual. Con artists operate out of rented premises and may forge documentation, weld pieces of stolen vehicles together or simply deliver a different bus to the one you thought you were buying. If you buy a used bus and later find it was stolen, the likelihood is that the guy you bought it off won’t be around for you to sue him.

Buying from a dealership gives you greater peace of mind because that company has assets, employees and legal responsibilities to uphold in order to remain in business. Reputation management also means that any dealer is more likely to get all the documentation on a used bus verified before it is put up for resale.

Carefully Inspect the Used Bus

For most people, price is a key factor when buying a vehicle. However, a low price is a false economy if the bus is old and badly maintained. Maintenance and repair of cheap vehicles can more than double the cost of running your own transport. As with any purchase, you need to get a bus in the best possible condition, but at the price you can afford. No matter how eager you are to get the lowest price possible, check the following features for your purchase before you commit:

Choose the right-size engine; don’t over-buy. Some will advise you to buy the biggest engine you can afford. However, big engines guzzle gas. If in doubt, over-estimate engine power, but don’t maximize it.

Don’t value the age of a bus. Instead, prioritize the number of miles it has.

These are easy to spot. If you take your bus out for a test drive, you will see stains on the ground under its regular parking space. If the dealer brings the bus out to you, keep them talking after you get back to give any leaks time to drip. When they drive the bus back to its regular spot, you can check the ground where it was temporarily parked for stains.

A reputable dealer will have the title and service records on file. If you look through the service history and see the same repairs repeated regularly, back away. Also, vehicles without a verifiable service record present a risk.

Look over the paint job for scratches, dents and rust. Your bus may have been re-sprayed — that isn’t a problem as long as there is a smooth, rust-free, sealed finish to the metalwork.

Get a mechanical inspection from an engineer or mechanic you know and trust, or who has been recommended to you.

Any reputable dealership should make sure the tires are in a roadworthy condition. Worn treads are a telltale sign that the dealer cuts corners and hasn’t presented the vehicle in its best condition.

Get a Warranty When You Buy a Used Bus

A dealership warranty takes a lot of the stress out of buying a used bus. Most used vehicle warranties are short, but extendible. Check whether the dealership is willing to offer a service and maintenance contract.

Get the specific price for a five-year agreement on servicing your bus. If a dealership is confident that the bus is in good operating order, the annual costs of their service contract should be reasonable. If they quote you a very high price for the service contract, they know the bus is a money pit. Walk away.

Remember, you are the customer. Until you hand over the money, you have all the power. The salesman will tell you anything to get you to buy, but the dealership is only legally liable for any deception if they write those promises down. Get any claims the salesman makes into writing and get the boss of the dealership to sign it. This is as good as a warranty — if the vehicle fails to live up to their written promises, they are legally obliged to compensate you.

Bundle together the purchase agreement and the service contract. This removes any chance of the dealership from slipping out of its obligations — the seller and the servicing company can’t blame each other for any defects in the future if they are the same company.

Take Into Account Preventative Maintenance

Whether you have one bus or a fleet, you can’t afford for them to be out of action when you need them most. Scheduling regular maintenance checks for your bus eradicates any surprises. If you build a service relationship with the dealership you buy your bus from, you pretty much have any surprises ironed out. Get a contract that includes a replacement rental in case of critical failure. Any dealer committed financially to your continued operability is going to do everything possible to prevent your bus from breaking down.

Guaranteed performance is more valuable than flawless paint finish or low mileage. If your dealer is prepared to become an ongoing partner in the maintenance of your bus, you have an even stronger guarantee of road worthiness, and that is worth paying a little more for.

The Right Time to Buy a Used Bus

The question of when to buy your bus is a tricky subject. Private commerce is a matter of negotiation, which is driven by supply and demand. In the used bus market, the behavior of fleet operators has a much bigger influence on price than the weather.

There is no high or low season for bus sales. Transport companies have to replace retired buses at any time of the year, so there is no guarantee that you will get a better deal in the spring than you would in the winter. The only seasonal factor that could influence the timing of your bus purchase is the opinion of your mechanic on whether your existing bus can make it through the winter.

Keeping a good relationship with a maintenance mechanic is a good idea so that you can get a feel for when your existing bus is coming towards the end of its serviceable life. A sudden event may drop the price of a replacement bus. If you are warned that your current bus only has a few months left, you are better equipped to spring on any opportunity that might arise. It is better to have a period to make a purchase than to be forced into an instant purchase by a bus break down.

Similarly, if your requirements for a bus arise from a new enterprise, chances are you will have a period of time before you actually need to buy a used bus. So, for example, if you are building a new hotel, keep your eye open for bus deals throughout the construction period rather than waiting until the hotel is completed and being forced to buy on the spot.

Wait for a Better Price, If You Can

Don’t take the prices at your first enquiry as permanent. Give the salesperson at each dealership your contact details and tell them to call you when the prices come down. You probably won’t even get back to your base before the phone starts ringing.

All dealerships have periodic blow-out sales. A sudden event might oversupply the used bus market and force down the price. For example, in the case of transit buses, carbon emission legislation in the state of California forced all metropolitan bus services to replace their polluting fleet with new buses. This caused a sudden and unexpected glut of such buses on the used lots of California. Keep an eye on the local news for any state legislation that might dump a whole bunch of used buses on the market overnight — that will force the price down, and you will get the best bargain.

Consider Financing

Imagine you find the bus that is exactly right for your organization, it checks out, and the paperwork is all in order, but you just don’t have enough to buy it. You may find buses within your budget, but they would cost a lot in repairs. Others may be affordable, but don’t fit your list of requirements. Financing is a way to bridge funding gaps.

Some used bus dealerships offer financing, and you can combine the purchase agreement with a loan, a service agreement and a buy-back guarantee. That would structure your bus purchase to be more like a lease. Remember, your accountant will thank you for buying on finance because it makes her job of amortization of the bus cost a lot easier.

Have an Action Plan

When you buy a used bus, bear in mind that the cheapest option isn’t always a bargain. Follow these key tips to make sure you know how and when to buy:

  • Stick to your local area.
  • Research bus manufacturers and focus on reliable makes and models.
  • Give the bus-buying project a period of time.
  • Assess your needs and only consider buses that match them.
  • Only buy from a reputable dealership.
  • Bind a service and maintenance agreement into the sales contract.
  • Make the salesperson write down all promises and get the dealer to sign the statement.
  • Ask for financing, even if you have cash.
  • Make a visual inspection for damage and check the ground for stains.
  • Get the bus checked by a mechanic.
  • Maintain your bus to extend its operating lifespan and be aware when it is approaching replacement.
  • Watch out for sudden events that cause over-supply and bring prices down.


Buying a bus involves a heavy investment — that can be daunting, but also a lot of fun. Hopefully, your used bus will last your organization a decade, and it will become a trusty friend. Take your time and stick with dealers you can trust.

If you live in North Carolina, you are in luck. Gregory Poole Bus Sales has a used bus division. We have been in business for 70 years, providing companies and organizations with reliable transportation that works with their budgets. As a full-service used bus seller, we offer financing on used buses and have a spares and maintenance division.

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Gregory Poole is your authorized Cat® equipment dealer in Eastern North Carolina. We are a one-stop shop for all your local heavy equipment and bus needs.