What Happens to Buses After Their Useful Life Is Over?

A school bus on the streets of the Bronx, New York city
Andrea Zangrilli / Getty Images

What happens to buses after their useful life is over? Recall that buses are expected to last around 12 years. Obviously, the bus does not disintegrate at that time. The answer is that old transit and school buses are often sold at an auction, and sometimes sold through dealerships. Since there are about 480,000 school buses on the road in the United States and only 67,000 transit buses, a buyer is far more likely to locate a school bus than a transit bus.

Prices of Used Buses

When purchased new, buses can cost anywhere from $300,000 - $600,000. As you would no doubt expect, used buses cost considerably less - but just how much less is shocking. A perusal of buses for bid on eBay shows used transit buses retailing for anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000 (used highway buses are much more expensive). One reason why used buses are so cheap is that they may not meet government regulations (discussed below) and thus cannot be purchased by government agencies. Another reason why they are so cheap is that many of them are just purchased for parts.

While the purchase price of used buses is low, buyers must beware that any used bus is likely to require at least some maintenance work, and bus maintenance is costly. For example, if the bus cannot be driven expect to pay up to $3 per mile to have it towed. Routine maintenance of buses twelve years of old are older can be more than $10,000, and this does not count any parts that need to be replaced.

Quality of Used Buses

Although by the time they are sold buses go through a depreciation equal to 90% or more of their original retail value, it does not mean that they cannot continue to operate. Indeed, riders of the Hollywood Bowl shuttle in Los Angeles will notice that their buses were formerly operated by Metro, and riders of the Goofy lot parking shuttle at Disneyland will note their buses (and drivers) formerly worked for the Orange County Transportation Authority. Government regulations sometimes force transit agencies to dispose of perfectly good vehicles. For example, in the wake of the Americans With Disabilities Act, American transit agencies eliminated non-wheelchair accessible buses from their fleet. In Southern California, due to pollution problems, diesel buses are now verboten. The fact that this leaves CNG buses as the only available type of propulsion may limit regional transit systems but does not concern the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Overall, I would consider buying a used bus similarly to buying a used car formerly used as a rental - you know it has been driven by a lot of people and each one has driven it differently.

Is a Used Bus for Me?

Some used buses are purchased by people who intend to outfit them in a way similar to an RV or a motor home. Indeed, buying a used bus and retrofitting it is probably cheaper than buying a comparably equipped RV. However, before purchasing a bus you must obtain a commercial driver's license, which involves passing a written test, two road tests, and a physical. You should also make sure local regulations allow you to park it at your home, which means only ex-urban and rural residents need to apply. Next, you should know that your bus will only get 2 to 3 miles per gallon fuel economy, which is much worse than the 6 to 14 miles per gallon we would expect with an RV or motor home. Finally, expect to pay a lot more to maintain your bus than you would service your automobile.


In the United States, the disposal of buses at twelve years of age has primarily been due to the fact that transit agencies can receive government funding for replacing buses at that age. Because capital funding is easier to get than operating funding, transit agencies choose to throw away their functioning buses and use capital money to purchase new ones rather than use operating money to maintain their existing ones. This fact means that used transit and school buses are usually good buys, as long as you understand what additional costs may be involved. In other countries, buses are used for much longer so the quality of used buses is likely to be lower.