10 Things to Know Before Buying a New Shuttle Bus
1. Commercial Driver’s License
A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required for any vehicle that carries more that 15 passengers including the driver, or has a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of more that 26,000 lbs., or has air brakes. Most shuttle or minibuses used for church, nursing home, airport shuttle, or rural transit applications will not exceed the 26,000 lb. GVWR or have air brakes. They can, however, easily have capacity for more than 15 passengers including the driver. And if so, a CDL is required. Be sure to check you local regulations for any state issues that may affect your program as well.
2. Popular Chassis
New Mini or Shuttle Buses are typically built on the Ford E series cutaway chassis and are used for most requirements of up to 25 passengers. The Ford E-350 with its 12,500 lb. GVWR and will handle up to 15 passengers or 12 & 2 in a wheelchair application. While the E-450 has a GVWR of 14,500 lbs. which can handle up to 25 passengers fully seated or 16 & 2 in a wheelchair application. Similar sized chassis are also available from GM. For larger requirements the Ford F-550 will handle up to 33 passengers and the F-650 will handle up to 45 passengers. These vehicles have GVWRs of 19,500# and 26,000# respectively. International and Freightliner also make chassis in these GVWR ranges as well.
3. Bus Bodies
Bus bodies are constructed of either welded steel or fiberglass. It is to your advantage to learn the differences in body construction, durability, and safety. Not all buses are designed, engineered, and built the same. Others rely on representations from testing that is as much as 20 years old even though their designs and overall construction have long since changed. While no one knowingly produces a bus that is unsafe, you need to select the one that provides you with the most protection if things go wrong.
4. Gasoline or Diesel
All GM G-series and Ford E-series are readily available with gasoline engines. Ford has discontinued the diesel in the E-series. GM does offer the Duramax diesel in their chassis, but be ready to pay a substantial premium for the diesel. The Ford F-550 is available in both gasoline & diesel, while the larger chassis, Ford F-650, International, and Freightliner, diesels are the only thing available. CNG and propane conversions are also available.
5. The Appropriate Air Conditioning and Heat
All buses can be ordered with the air conditioning and heating system to fit your location’s climate. The heater needed in Wisconsin is unnecessary in Las Vegas. Likewise, the air conditioning that functions well in Seattle will not hold up in Miami. Be sure that your AC and heat fit your needs. The larger the air conditioning, the greater the price, thus having a big influence in the final pricing of your bus. Be sure that your sales representative explains what AC they are quoting and its appropriateness to you climate. Additionally, as your air conditioner load goes up on your bus, be sure that the Alternator gets upgraded, as well. Hot days, high humidity, and slow engine speeds mean that your standard Alternator cannot keep your bus running properly.
Because of the added electrical of dual compressor air conditioning systems, wheel chair lifts, audio/visual systems, and prolonged idling, Ford now offers an optional 225 Amp alternator. This is an upgrade from the standard 165 Amp offering.
6. Chassis Sizing
The Ford E-350 can easily handle up to 15 passengers plus rear luggage. The Ford E-450 can handle a maximum capacity of 25 passengers plus driver. Moving up to the GM 5500 chassis and you can handle up to 33 passengers with the 19,500 lb. version and up to 45 passengers with the 26,000 lb. chassis. On new buses, each manufacturer must certify that the bus that they are building meets federal standards for weight and axle loads. Again, if one manufacturer says that they can do something that several others cannot, beware of those claims.
7. Financing Your Purchase
Your bus purchase is financeable, either through conventional bank financing or through leasing, over several years, depending upon your credit worthiness. Cash vs. finance vs. leasing all depends on your usage. If you accumulate high mileage every year (over 50,000 miles), a cash purchase or short term (12 – 24 month) bank finance is appropriate. For medium usage of a bus in the 15 to 30,000 mile range annually, traditional financing over 48 to 60 months is in order. But if you do not accumulate a lot of miles, leasing may be your best bet, especially if you can work out a buy back of your bus at the end of the lease.
8. Options, Options, Options
Your bus can be ordered with all types of options too so that your bus fits your needs, budget, and image. Some popular items include:
- high back seats
- side sliders for more seat room
- retractable seat belts
- overhead luggage
- reading lights
- upgraded upholstery, even leather seats
- upholstered walls & ceiling
- non skid flooring
- rear luggage compartments
- convertible luggage compartments
- TVs with DVD players
- cup holders
- magazine pockets
- tray tables
- additional arm rests
- some buses can be built with co-pilot seats
- graphics and paint
- satellite TV and radio
- and even wireless internet service can be built in
9. Buses vs. 15 Passenger Vans
Buses are safer than 15 passenger vans. Buses are built to meet federal roll over standards not required of vans. Dual rear wheels on buses also improve stability. Brakes, axles, and other suspension components are bigger on buses than on vans. A Ford E-350 extended body 15 passenger van has a 9100 lb. GVWR, while the same chassis used in a shuttle bus has a capacity of 12,500 lbs. From a comfort standpoint, buses offer stand up interior height, easy to enter doors, and wide aisles. Vans offer none of these comforts.
10. Deliveries & Warranties
Due to the size of the vehicle, buses are typically driven to their destination by third party drive-away companies. These drive-away companies charge by the mile and hire professional drivers to deliver your vehicle. They are fully insured and licensed for the type of vehicle that you are purchasing. Delivery time will vary depending on driver scheduling and availability. All vehicle warranties begin on the date of and with the mileage on the vehicle at the time of delivery. There are various warranties involved with your vehicle – the chassis and driveline, the air conditioning system, the wheel chair lift (if so equipped), the bus body, the alternator, to name a few. Each component has its own warranty and procedures. Each component requires registration thereof. You may have a new vehicle, but if your dealer does not register it for you, you may find out that you do not have a valid or current warranty. A reputable dealer will be able to explain all of the aspects of your vehicle warranty and will pre-register your vehicle on your behalf. Extended Warranties are available to help your budget, peace of mind, and provide you with continued service for years to come.