Our last post left you off with us making an offer on a vintage bus in Yuma, AZ that we nicknamed ‘Taxi Bus’. After our contingent offer was accepted, the next morning we made the trip from Lake Havasu City (where we’ve been basing out of while staying with dear friends) back down to Yuma.
Our contingencies were:
- Seeing the generator start-up (it hadn’t been started in a while, but it was apparently “just needing a new starter battery” to do so)
- Confirming the air conditioners worked (because if they didn’t, living in the bus from day one while in Arizona in June would be … challenging)
- A test drive to confirm the bus shifted properly and held all the proper pressures and temperatures
When the seller accepted our offer, he made it clear that he would not come down any further based on our contingencies – it was a take it or leave it deal.
We arrived on Tuesday morning with a trunk full of borrowed tools (thank you Andrew & Wayne!!), a fully charged starter battery and a pocket full of cash.
We were still holding train tickets for Wednesday evening to move on to see other buses.
Step 1: The Generator & A/C
First step, was the 1988 Onan 7.5KW diesel generator. Hooking up the battery we brought yielded absolutely zilch, but our stand-by phone-a-friend bus consultant, Sean Welsh of OurOdyssey, helped us diagnose the problem. It turned out that one of the breakers on the control panel was dead, and we were able to construct a makeshift replacement bypass out of electrical parts Andrew had sent us down with.
With electricity now correctly flowing where it needed to be, Sean walked us through manually feeding diesel into the engine.
Va-room!! A big cloud of dust spurted out, and the generator was running! We flipped on the air conditioners inside to confirm cool air and then took a break from working in the 108 degree heat.
And then the generator sputtered off, with coolant boiling over.
Nevertheless, we called the test a success – the generator does work, it’ll just need to some further maintenance to get back to being fully operational. But most importantly, the air conditioners worked when plugged in, and that was good enough for our immediate needs.
Step 2: Test Drive
Next step was the test drive, which we were anticipating should be the easy part – the engine was idling super smoothly during our initial look a couple days earlier.
The seller starter her up, and there was very little smoke and no troubles. “Purring like a kitten”, as they say.
But then before the air suspension could finish airing up – the engine sputtered out. A couple more tries, and she just wouldn’t start. Our best guess was that we were out of fuel, but with the storage lot the bus was at closing momentarily, we didn’t have time to further diagnose or do anything about it.
We made the decision to get a hotel room for the night, research what it takes to prime a diesel engine, and to try again in the morning. Both the seller and us lugged jerry cans of diesel and poured it into the tank. And then we spent a couple hours, with Sean on the phone again guiding us, learning to feed diesel into the fuel filters to prime the engine.
All the while the Arizona heat is climbing to 110 as the afternoon progresses.
Around 2pm, there was much rejoicing when the engine at last started smoothly and roared back to life!
We did our test drive on the way to the nearest filling station, added 20 more gallons of diesel to avoid any risk of running out, and then declaring our tests a success, we proceeded to the Motor Vehicle Department to do a title search and get a temporary tag on the bus.
With all contingencies cleared, we completed the transaction!
We now owned a bus!?!? And not only did we own it in paper, we owned it in sweat equity. We freaking primed our own engine!!
How Much Did We Pay?
We’ve been taking a poll on Facebook and on this blog – asking folks how much they think we paid for our bus. We’ve now had over 40 replies, with a range of $6850 to $11,000,000,000. We’ll toss out the high one, because that’s just silly. The average (realistic) price guessed is $18,000.
Here’s the original ad from Craigslist:
Asking price – $12,000.
Which, if you look at the range of buses on our list – this was the lowest priced bus we had under consideration (Bus’Osaurus & Scripture Bus were both actually listed higher when we found them.). But given the condition of Taxi bus – including the drastic immediate need for new tires & wheels – this was actually an extremely fair price. Especially when considering the quality of the interior wood work and layout. And had the bus been more cleaned up, instead of heavily oxidized on the exterior and incredibly dusty on the interior, we’re confident it could have fetched this price or higher – particularly if the seller was willing to wait and market more smartly.
But… since the current owner had bought the bus at auction a year before and it was now summer in Yuma – he was anxious to get the bus sold.
No matter what the price, this bus would be a gamble Given that we knew we’d need to immediately replace not just the tires, but the split-rim wheels, and considering all the unknowns without access to prior owners to consult with – we decided to make a low offer and see what happened.
Our Offer: $8,000
After some brief consideration, it was accepted without negotiation.
Yup, we bought a fantastic fully functional bus for less than 1/5 what we sold our Oliver for. And Facebook follower Renee Roberts wins, with a guess of $8150.
We’re gonna pat ourselves on the back and say we got one heck of a deal!
Now.. before you rush out to buy one yourself…
So, I now suspect there are at least some readers who are thinking
‘Wow!! That’s cheap – I’ll go get me one too!!’
Before you get all excited and think that vintage bus living is a cheap housing & travel solution, consider the realities of this venture.
First of all, we have a few grand invested in our search between Amtrak tickets, rental cars, hotels and more. Not to mention hundreds of hours of research to learn enough to know when we walked into this bus that it had potential.
And, one of our first tasks with this bus was replacing all 6 tires and wheels. The cost of that? $4500.
Plus consider the days of research to find the *right* tires for our needs. (For anyone curious, we decided to go from 22.5 to 24.5 tires to better match the RPMs of the automatic transmission to hopefully improve fuel economy and speed. We went with Toyo M610 11R24.5-G drive tires and Toyo m137 1R24.5-G steer tires, mounted on six steel wheel rims.) We were stuck in Yuma a week longer than we anticipated awaiting a tire shop that could get everything we needed, as we discovered one of the inner tires was shredded and completely unsafe to drive any distance on.
And this will be a normal scenario for us. Future repairs on the engine will be costly and slow to get parts and help. We’re putting aside a couple dozen grand for anticipated neartime repairs down the road as part of our operating budget. All of these are expenses that are unlikely to ever be re-cooped when we sell.
And fuel economy? We’ve been told to be happy if we get 7 mpg with this set up. Not great, but we are moving a mansion (to us) after all. And considering our old Tundra pulling the Oliver was lucky to get 12 mpg – we’re not considering this is a huge hit. Besides, we anticipate our overall fuel budget will go DOWN, as the point of more space is to slow the pace of travel and be parked for longer periods of time. For now we’ll be using bicycles and/or rental cars to get around locally. And once we get comfortable driving the bus, we’ll possibly be looking for a high fuel economy car we can flat-tow behind.
And let’s not even talk about all of the systems upgrades we’ll be doing. This baby will be decked with lots of geeky upgrades.
We fully expect that by this time next year, we could easily have many times the purchase price of the bus poured in as it becomes OUR technomadic home on wheels.
Back in Lake Havasu City
At any rate – after over a week in Yuma awaiting tires, we have new shoes on the bus and got a detailing to remove the worst of the oxidation. We’ve also spiffed up the interior quite nicely, and have been working on bringing all house systems back online.
She’s looking pretty!
We had a successful maiden voyage back up to Lake Havasu City, where we got a surprise rendezvous with dear friends and fellow bus nuts – Ben & Karen of Creative Cruiser! We’ve been having much fun geeking out on our respective vintage bus projects, keeping cool in the 125+ dry heat and catching up. What a wonderful way to celebrate our new home.
Now… to figure out what to name ‘Taxi Bus’!