Can You Turn a School Bus into a Toy Hauler?

Have an old school bus parked in your backyard and wonder if you can use it to haul stuff? Toy haulers are expensive so it seems like a decent way to safe money.

yellow school bus seen from back on highway

Toy haulers are a dime a dozen, but they aren’t exactly the most dazzling and innovative way to haul your four-wheelers or mud rides around in. If there is one thing that is big enough to convert into a toy hauler, it's a school bus. But is something like that doable? They make for good RVs but hauling another vehicle around is a different story.

You can certainly turn a bus into a toy hauler, but you have to get pretty creative about it since you probably want to park something more sizeable than a dirt bike in the back. There are school bus toy haulers that are capable of hauling two jeeps inside, so it depends on how far you want to take it.

A school bus doesn’t just have to be a toy hauler either. A large school bus is capable of hauling something as large as a Jeep while also serving as a small RV. There is plenty of room for creativity.

Is converting a school bus into a toy hauler complicated?

inside of a school bus

If you want to convert a school bus into a toy hauler, you’re in for some work. It is complicated, and you need to have at least some general mechanic knowledge, a good deal of metalworking experience, and at least a beginner’s background in engineering.

Stripping the bus

There are things you have to worry about that don’t even involve cramming a vehicle into the back of your bus. The interior needs to be stripped of the seats and, in some cases, many of the windows. The windows will have to come if you plan on expanding the rear area of the bus.

A lot of school buses have their seats bolted to the floor with non-captive nuts, which means that you will have to have a friend underneath and yourself above to remove each seat. This is further complicated because some forward seat bolts are inaccessible. After all, the transmission will be in the way. Fun stuff.

All or at least half of the windows will have to be removed, depending on your design plans. Have fun with all the caulk because you will not believe how much caulk goes into a bus window. You’ll also need to take out the stainless steel and aluminum panels throughout the interior.

Cutting off the back end

You may not need to do this. It just depends on what you are planning on parking in the back. If you plan on parking a pair of four-wheelers in the rear of the school bus, you won’t need to remove too much.

While the roof has old-school rivets that require a grinder and some slow, grueling work. However, removing the back where the rear door is located is much easier and it's the only thing you need to remove if you are parking something smaller than a vehicle back there.

Removing the back panels and the door requires a ton of unscrewing. Everything back there is held in by bolts that are easy enough to remove, but there are just about 40 billion of them, or at least it will seem that way.

If you are removing the rear framework entirely, you’ll need to remove all of the paneling along with cutting through and removing the entire framework. What you will end up with is a school bus that looks like its back half has been turned into a flatbed truck.

Adding support braces

Down below the bus, you will notice that the vast majority of the frame is rectangular and rather simple. It runs straight back and is directly centered. That’s good news for adding structural braces, especially if you want to park a vehicle up there.

Most examples of school bus to toy hauler conversions have a series of 45° angled steel support bracers running from the central framework to the deck underneath the bus, like a large, steel rib cage.

Obviously, you’ll either need some welding experience or know someone who can weld the steel together below the bus.

Additional options

If you want more head space, you’ll need to cut through all of the vertical framework, raise the roof with a hydraulic lift, and weld new metal studs into the new gaps. Aesthetically speaking, you probably don’t want your bus to continue to look like a school bus.

That means removing a ton of original paneling on the exterior and interior and replacing it with some of your own stuff.

Different types of conversions

converting a school bus into a skoolie

There are four ways to go about converting a school bus into a toy hauler. The first is to simply remove the rear panels and the door, cut out the frame, and install a much larger door.

The second method is covered above, and it seems to be the most popular option. It's definitely the far more expensive and labor-intensive option, but it catches the most social media love by a mile.  

If you’re not looking to spend a fortune or park a vehicle in the back of your school bus, you won’t need to go with the second method. The third way is to install a lift on the back of the bus. A school bus is more than capable of handling some heavy-duty lifts back there. You’ll be able to carry motorcycles, dirt bikes, and small four-wheelers with ease.

The fourth method is to install a rear deck on the back of the school bus. It works similar to the lift except there’s no lift and no hydraulics. All but the last method will require some add-on ramps that are either transported with you or installed as a part of the package, ready to slide out from the interior.

What are the pros and cons of converting a school bus into a toy hauler?

There’s no getting around the fact that you are going to spend some money to do a conversion. Sure, you can go with just adding a ramp or a hydraulic lift on the back, but you’re still talking about essentially converting the remainder of the school bus into an RV.

So we can’t consider that to be a “con” or a drawback because you should know exactly what you’re getting into.

Pros Cons
High level of durability You have to do a ton of remodeling
Diesel engines have a lot more longevity than gasoline engines Dimensions are limited
You have a wide range of creativity to work with Its difficult to insure
Camper and a toy hauler combined Can be expensive to maintain

We should address the third con because its one of the more irritating issues when dealing with a school bus conversion. Insurance is already a highly irritating thing to deal with when it comes to your vehicle, and it only gets more complicated with a bus conversion.

Getting insurance coverage for a toy hauler that was converted over from a school bus is going to require inspections and most likely, a few certifications. Even then, they may not go for it. An insurance company is under no obligation to grant you insurance coverage and a hauler conversion is an iffy proposition even on the best of days.

They can also be expensive to maintain. The engine in a typical school bus is a diesel engine, known for its longevity. However, nothing else on a school bus is known for the same. In fact, if you purchase a used school bus, there’s a good chance that it's on its second transmission already.

While you get a ton of durability in a model that has been improved through federal regulations since World War 2, you may end up removing much of that structural integrity to refashion your bus into a hauler. It depends on the level of changes you have in mind.

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Is converting a school bus into a toy hauler worth it?

The answer to that question lies with the buyer. If you’re willing to take a chance on a used school bus and put in the cash and effort, then sure, it's probably more than worth it. Unfortunately, what often happens is the exact opposite.

People get enamored by the idea of an entirely DIY project that they can completely call their own. It sounds great on paper. The reality is much harsher. There is the amount of manual labor that has to go into it. You need to have experience in multiple skilled trades to do heavy conversions.

Ultimately, it will probably cost a lot more money than you expect as well. A lot of times, school bus projects end up sitting in the backyard, corroded and overrun with weeds.

Final thoughts

If you have your mind set on converting a school bus into a toy hauler and you have the skills or knowledge to get it done, then you can certainly convert a school bus. The only thing you have to determine is how far you want to go with it and what you want to haul around.