Thinking of investing in a school bus?

Friday, May 2, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray: I, along with about 20 friends, am determined to go to the Burning Man festival in Nevada this summer. We would like to purchase or rent a school bus capable of making the round trip from Seattle. Is this feasible? Where should we go to find an affordable school bus? If the bus is not used for commercial purposes, do we still need a special license to drive it? Are we running a HUGE risk of breaking down, with no mechanic for miles, in the middle of the desert? How can we resell the thing after we buy it? Thanks. Raz

Tom: Bad idea, Raz. First of all, most states -- including Washington -- require you to have a commercial license to drive a school bus. But more importantly, school buses are among the least-safe vehicles on the road.

Ray: They're designed for slow-speed, short, local trips with lots of stops and starts. They steer terribly, brake terribly, corner terribly, and most of them don't have seat belts. Not to mention air conditioning!

Tom: So, as romantic as that idea might seem, I'd suggest one of two alternative approaches. The first would be to go in two 15-passenger vans. While they're not the safest vehicles either, they are a huge step up from school buses. They require no special license, they have basic safety equipment, and they handle somewhat more like cars than like trucks.

Ray: Plus, they offer two other great advantages. One is that when certain people start to hate each other, they can travel in separate vans for a while, until they make new enemies.

Tom: And second, when one of the vans breaks down, the other can always go for help.

Ray: The other option, which I like even better, is to charter a bus. If you call around and negotiate a bit, for a few hundred dollars per person you can get a bus that will take you there, wait for you and then bring you back. And the buses you charter are plush compared with a van or school bus, with airplane-style reclining seats, a sound system and even TV monitors

Tom: Plus, they come with two things that 15-passenger vans don't have. One, a professional driver. So you guys can sit back and enjoy the trip, and not worry about being awake enough or clear-headed enough to drive.

Ray: And the other key feature is a bathroom, which shouldn't be underestimated when 20 people are crossing three or four states. Have a safe trip, Raz.


Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63701. "Car Talk" can be heard at 9 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays on KRCU 90.9 FM -- Southeast Public Radio.

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