Join Date: Mar 2020
Yes, its rusty. Take an ice pick (actually a heavy awl is better) with you next time you look at it and poke really hard into the frame where it looks flaky and especially into those braces that run above and perpendicular to the frame and hold up the floor. Also probe and inspect carefully where the brake lines are attached to the frame. That is usually where they rust out and fail. Spring pockets, too, and where water/slush/mud accumulates.
If you can pierce through the frame or any brackets or braces, or the holes where the brake line brackets attached are rusted away, flaking or enlarged, then I wouldn't buy the bus. Period. This one looks to have both rusted braces and a bad floor in spots, which I could maybe weld and patch up, but for a couple of nice kids like you who aren't able to repair much yourselves at first, it will cost too much in repairs to sort out this kind of rust than the bus is probably worth, and it will probably never get done. The question for you is does this (hopefully early stage) rusty bus have enough life left in it to suit your purposes? A rust-free example would ultimately be cheaper even if it cost $2k more to buy than something with a rusted frame, braces or bad floor, but so what, this bus is here now, so consider it fully.
If the rust is not terminal and you can treat it and live with it (there's a lot folded into that- see below) then everything else would have to be operating perfectly, including the tires, for me to pay $2k for it. Perfect means it starts and runs perfectly, shifts and drives perfectly, steers and stops perfectly, and the tires are less than 8 years old and undamaged with good enough tread. Tall order, perhaps, but those things I mention could easily cost you $1000+USD EACH to sort out on this or any shortie. This $2k rusty bus with needs on 2 or 4 of the above suddenly doesn't seem like such a good deal compared with a cream puff from the sunbelt with everything perfect and zero rust for $7500.
Given that, and that life is short and I've had rust get in my eyes too many times for too many decades, I wouldn't touch this bus, but I'm a grizzled old man and frankly a bus like this needs people like you- if you can live with its problems and are down for the experience. So let's say the frame rust is OK and the bus has just one or no obvious problems- but how would you know? Any way you can have the bus checked out? Lets' assume you're lucky and can get it as above- I would budget at $2k perfect with all good tires, minus $100 for each bad tire and -$500 for each problem, depending on how $eriou$ it is. Transmission or longblock problems would stop me from making ANY offer.
If you have a place to park it and work on it for free, and IF you are fine with it always being a scruffy disposable build (because the rust will kill it eventually) this is a neat opportunity to learn and fix everything that goes wrong on a rusty old shorty. You will buy cool new tools cheaply, get smart about junkyard fixes and used parts. You'll be making stuff from Craig's List and the Dollar Store work and really doing your own thing, and learning how just how resourceful you can (and want to) be, while gaining skills and a building a network of people who can guide you further up to speed on the bus life. This is a great strategy for young people trying to find out if the program is right for them.
If you were my kids I'd say go for it- Do it on the cheap, learn a ton, and consider the ENTIRE expense as tuition for skoolie school. If the bus emerges from the experience at all, and on top of that is somehow worth more than the cost of junking it, consider that a bonus and testament to your growing skills, and move on to the next one, which you will choose and build differently for sure. I would also tell you not to spend more than $1500 on it. Seriously.
On the other hand, if you're persnickety about exactly how you need that first build to turn out, and don't want to get dirty under this bus as much as you want to buy curtains for it at IKEA, then this bus may be too far into the deep end of the pond for you. Get a perfect chassis from a dealer that has actually been gone through (with receipts, and the mechanic or sales tech SHOWING YOU what was replaced, that its perfect now, why the bus is worth more than any other on the lot, etc.) and don't be afraid to pay top dollar. I would go to $7500 for a pristine example that needed nothing, especially if it had a Vortec 8100 motor. If you just want to decorate the bus, and you want to keep it a long time, starting with a pristine bus is the only way I would go if I were you. Remember that I'm old, jaded and don't need new skills or adventures in cutaway skoolie repair to decide if I like van life. You get to make your own decisions and way.
So, perhaps you are both ready to get your hands (ears and necks) dirty and take on this forlorn rusty little bus that found you. It needs people like that, but for everything to work out well those people (you) need to have correct expectations, and realistic goals for the project that are in alignment with what this bus needs and has to offer. Could work out great, and to be honest, almost every one of us old know-it-all geezers has one or more vehicles just like this in our past- they make you better at the hobby, especially if you're disciplined about solving problems without throwing (too much) money at them.
All that for just two cents. Hope it helps...