Home Life on the Road Bus Projects

Negotiating with Our Bus

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’!

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33 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Chris & Cherie,

    We have been contemplating getting a bus and selling our 32′ trailer, but are still a bit unsure as we have allot to learn about the costs of living this lifestyle. We recently ran across your blog while searching for a bus and I must say, all of your information has been nothing but a huge help in setting some guidelines and providing us with some excellent tips.

    We look forward to reading more of your adventures! Is there a certain forum you visit or would recommend for us to gin more knowledge about buses? We have so many questions that it feels like we are swimming in split pea soup.


    • Hi guys.. and welcome to being bus nuts!

      The two forums we’ve found most useful for general bus information are:


      And depending on what brand of bus you’re looking for, there are lots of forums out there that are more geared towards being user groups. (Such as Flxible, GM, etc.)

      If you’ve not stumbled across our search advice post yet.. here it is:

      Lots of resources posted there.

      As well as our bus conversion links page:

      Keep tuned as well.. we have a post planned about our costs for our first 6 months of bus ownership. Don’t know when we’ll actually get it posted tho.

      Best wishes!
      – Cherie

      • Thanks Cherie,

        I should have mentioned in my last reply that I had visited the links you had provided, found them useful, but was looking for other forums or areas to search for bus information.

        I joined escapees, found allot of good info there and will be joining the other bus forums. We already have a trailer…..long story and are now considering the bus route as we will be doing this full time in the future.

        We look forward to your 6 month expense report 😉

        Mike and Lori

  2. “Big Blue” is simple and easy to remember… also a reference to the computer that beat Kasparov back in the late 90’s… And since the two of you are techies… well, just a thought.

  3. Maybe I’m behind the curve on the name, ( I’m slowly reading through all your posts) but being married to an Arizona pioneer’s decedent from Nogales, I would think a good name would be “Grey Eagle”, the name of my wife’s great-grandfather Thomas Gardner’s horse. From the Gardner Canyon ranch, to Nogales and Tucson, and fighting Cochise Grey Eagle was a reliable, fast and well known horse.

    • Sounds like that would be a great name for your own mobile substrate 🙂 In that bus world, that would be highly confusing – as one of the other major brands of bus conversions is Eagle.

      We’ll allow the bus to let us know what name she is to us.

  4. wow! Once again, congratulations and thanks for the great story! Hearing all that now did not make it look easy as it first seemed. You two sure did plenty of legwork and sweat equity on this. I should have known about the tires being bad, but hey, my guess of 9,000 wasn’t that off the mark.
    The rig I just bought last week also needs new tires before I seriously start traveling far, according to the mechanic that looked at it…
    I am so happy for you, though! What a find and I am sure the pleasure of driving that old gal will cover up most of the quirks it may show along the way.


  5. I have to admit I would have supported going with polished aluminum wheels, but those sparkling white wheels actually give the bus a more authentic look.

    Now you need to create a way for your followers to post sightings of the Nomadic on your blog.

    • Thanks Linda.

      Sean & Louise have been on speed dial for a while now, just cuz they’re awesome friends that way. We’re so super thankful to them for sharing their expertise.

  6. You both are full of surprises. While I have no interest in a bus myself I appreciated the passion, research, story and writing. Sharing cost details so openly may be beyond the comfort zone of most (certainly me) but I’m sure so many appreciate it and that’s great. You seem to have a healthy attitude about fuel economy and expectations too so I expect you to go far – literally and otherwise. Speaking of fuel economy, I cannot believe your Tundra was lucky to get 12 mpg. Mine never did that poorly towing. My 02’s EPA rating is 17 highway which I have exceeded with the Scamp in tow! Maybe your karma will flip and you’ll enjoy upside with your bus as a reward for TLC efforts. Then again your annual mileage budget isn’t astronomical IIRC so not a big deal in the big picture. Also surprising how much that Oliver appreciated. You have surfed so tall waves of fortune indeed. Quick – buy a lottery ticket while your luck is still hot! LOL

    • Haha… thanks 🙂 We’ll leave our good fortunes up to the whims of serendipity. Never had much luck when trying to buy it.

      Did you tow with a Tundra as well? We got 16-18 when not towing on ours (which was the EPA rating), but 11-13 when towing. This seemed to be the norm when we did our research before deciding on it.

      • Yeah. My 02 4WD V8 Tundra is EPA rated 14/17 but I get 18/22 solo and 15-18 towing two different Scamps (16′ and 19′ models). Of course I drive like a putz. A ScanGauge helps me optimize fuel economy. Wicked cool tech tool! Requires OBD-II so probably not vintage bus friendly though. (frown) But you value style and that’s cool. (grin)

      • I had been on the verge of buying a ScanGuage to work on optimizing our Tundra driving. It is great to have that sort of real-time instrumentation available.

        Unfortunately, our 50 year old engine has no digital interface whatsoever. All we get is tach and temperature on the dash.

        If we had a more modern engine, there are some very cool digital dash products we could use… Maybe even turn an iPad into a glass cockpit!

  7. The bus is looking better all the time. Your research and effort seems to have paid off handsomely. Bet of luck with your new adventure. Oh, for the name, how about Blue-Sky. It has multiple meanings, and there are several songs of that name by some pretty cool groups.

    • Thanks.. we are very happy with the results of our efforts.

      Hmmm… Blue-Sky. Might be a bit confusing for us, as we’ll likely be going with Blue-Sky solar controllers 😀

  8. I was only close in the sense I knew it was less than $15,000, but I am even surprised at the deal you got. That is fantastic. Just need some tuneup work on the genset, and/or it’s radiator. In addition, I would recommend having the big radiator for the Detroit Diesel checked out thoroughly. Have to be careful on engine temps…if you get to, or over 250 degrees you can damage the engine. These babies do not like to run that hot. Some coaches with these power plants have an automatic shutdown that will force you to stop if it gets too hot. Looks like you must have a side mounted radiator, but they can run into the $4,000 range to replace, or recore.

    • Thanks for the tips on the radiators, Clarke. Our next stop is hopefully to spend some time with Clifford to help us go over everything. Our first trip was from Yuma to Lake Havasu City (about 150 miles), and she held steady at 190 degrees.

  9. Really Sweet deal, even with the new tires. Taxi Bus looks really spiffy all cleaned up and with his new shoes. Can’t wait to see all the upgrades and changes you both plan to make. Hope you put it all online for us all to read and enjoy.
    Take care, be safe, have fun and may the road hold you all tight and continue to take you to your dreams.

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