A Bus Makes A Mighty Fine Motorhome

When you are looking for a motorhome to live in, there is something rather compelling about converting a spacious old bus or coach. If you look around on Gumtree.com.au, there are buses galore 40 foot long or more for around $10k fresh off the fleet or DIY converted busses by other people from as little as $35k. That's a heck of a lot of motorhome real estate for not a lot of money.

At the time of writing one of the best value buys from an Australian motorhome manufacturer suitable for full time living on the road would be a circa 2007 Winnebago Alpine (slide out model before the Winnebago Longreach) for around $140k in reasonable condition. That's still incredible value when you consider the lifestyle you get and the low cost of living but when it comes to bang for buck and custom options, a bus is a low-cost proposition - particularly if you plan to fit it out yourself.

Bus Motorhome Pros

One of the big things that put a bus motorhome on so many people's lists is the low upfront cost but that is not the only reason people are drawn to buses and coaches. These are the top 10 reasons I love buses.

  1. Cheap to buy a bus
  2. Huge living space (compared to say... a van)
  3. You can MOVE it!
  4. Comfortable on the road
  5. Lots of light from windows
  6. Reasonable maintenance
  7. Easy to DIY
  8. Spectacular when done right
  9. King or queen of the highway
  10. Ok, I only thought of 9 but you can put a 10th reason in the comments below if you like.

Bus Motorhome Cons

Now I don't want to paint a picture that a bus is a bed of roses without any weeds or thorns... there are a few downsides to bus motorhome conversions and ownership that you will definitely want to consider.

  1. Can be cheap but somehow often end up costing more than you think
  2. Tricky to find parking near attractions / tourist destinations
  3. Poor ventilation in many modern buses with fixed windows without spending $$$
  4. If you have any mechanical problems it could mean major $$$ (to be fair, this is any vehicle these days)
  5. Can be an overwhelming project (hint - wait for retirement)
  6. Absolutely sh*** if done wrong
  7. Choose the wrong bus and you are stuck doing 85kph top speed (fine for some)
  8. Can you think of any more?

Building a Cheap Bus Motorhome

Despite some potential downside of bus ownership and conversion, you would be hard-pressed to find a cheaper way to get a spacious roof over your head. Provided you have an inexpensive place to park your bus you are in business! If cheap accommodation is all you are after, it matters not if the bus even runs. You can have it towed into position and you have a novel and instant granny flat. I rented out my last motorhome on AirBnB for up to $200 dollars per night in my backyard and everyone who stayed, loved the experience (possibly they loved the free beer I put in the refrigerator as insurance against complaints but I digress) ..At the no-budget end of town, throw out the old bus seats and simply fit out the interior with household furniture! People are always throwing / giving away great furniture on the side of the road in Australia's main cities. Used furniture is also virtually given away at garage sales, Thrift shops and freecycle sites around the internet.

Aside from the effort of removing the chairs from your new bus and disposing of them (you get quite a pile), it's pretty easy to get a totally liveable space for under 10k. Sure… this approach runs the risk of looking a bit like squatters camp on wheels but it is certainly a cheap and completely liveable setup - albeit in simplistic terms.

The fact is if all you want is a bed and a lounge room, a bus is probably more room that you need. A caravan would do it but a bus - well, you can make an entire house from a bus!

Tiny House Vs Bus Motorhome

Over in NZ and the USA, there is a lot of excitement and talk about 'tiny houses'. You know the scene... you buy an old car trailer or caravan chassis (matches?) and then frame it up just like a grown-up cubby house and build yourself a little house on wheels. Don't get me wrong, I love those cute little spaces BUT unless you have (a) building skills and (b) access to free lumber,  you will spend more money on creating a liveable tiny house than you can potentially get away with making a bus into a liveable space......potentially.

An old bus already has walls, roof, floor and windows in place. With the seats pulled out, a bus is a long sunny room ready for furniture and all kinds of lizard lounging.

'What's that you say? The sun is too hot?' 

Park under a shady tree and reorientate your vehicle for optimal 'eco' positioning.

'Weather too cold?' 

Well if you build your 'home' in a bus, you have a 'motorhome'. Simply drive it to a warmer climate or reorientate your vehicle for optimal 'eco' positioning. You can also relocate in search of a location that is less rainy, less noisy, less 'industrial area for the third night this week HONEY' etc... whatever location your heart desires is out there.

Even if you make the rookie mistake of buying an ex-council bus from an auction (what do you mean you didn't realise the diff would limit you to a top speed of 85kph), it's not the end of the world. Take the slow road and relax. Travel as much as you care to each day - i.e how long can you put up with the roar of a large diesel engine.

A quick Google search for 'coach motorhome' or 'bus motorhome' and you will quickly discover there are many MANY options. While it would be dreamy to think you could just pick any one and everything will work out fine THAT is a road to pain and ruin. Choosing your 'why' before you attempt to pick a bus will help you to narrow down your options rather delightfully.  So... WHAT do you want a bus for? Here are are a few options.  

1. Cheap accommodation for a single person or younger couple while saving for a house deposit.

2. Granny flat / lettable space (AirBNB, Student Accommodation etc) for revenue in your backyard

3. Something you intend to drive regularly from place to place touring Australia in reasonable comfort and potentially 'off the grid'

4. A replacement home - no expense spared - jaw-dropping, gobsmacking behemoth that will be the envy of all who see it.

Re that last point, if you want someone to build you a bus, I can highly recommend my friends Nicole and Lyle Harris from Majestic Motorhomes. If you would like to drop them a line, simply fill in the form below.

Ask the coach motorhome experts...

Need advice about building a custom bus or coach motorhome? Ask Nicole and Lyle from the Majestic Motorhomes team.

About the author

Paddy McCann

Over the years, I’ve owned six motorhomes, two Caravans and three campervans so you could say I am a bit of an RV enthusiast. Chat with you soon in the comments area below. PaddyMac