Bus Conversion: Finding the bus

Photo: Wikimedia
Even before we built the Robbiebago caravan, Rob wanted to convert a bus into a motor home so I suppose it was inevitable. I wondered how can we go better than what we have got already in the Robbiebago caravan. We have 2 slide outs that accommodate 2 swivel recliner chairs in one and a full 3 seater household lounge that the 2 end seats also recline in the other. My kitchen bench is higher than normal allowing so much storage area underneath it, whilst making it easier on my back. I have a convection microwave, sink/cook top combination, 2 king single beds with proper spring mattresses, separate shower and toilet, wardrobe, hooded BBQ, etc etc. There’s only 1 or 2 things I can honestly say I want better, and that is a larger fridge and a compressor fridge at that and maybe we could have had more power points in different places.

Our requirements were fairly straightforward.

The first step is lots of talking, questions, answers, and lists. Talking to other motor home owners was an easy first step we could do as we travelled on the road.
  1. 7m long - so that it could fit into regular parking spaces in town
  2. Wide body - for the extra room it offers
  3. A manual - so we can put in swivel captain chair
  4. Engine up the back - better use of space as we'll place the bed over it.
  5. High internally - Rob is 6’4”  and needs the head room
  6. Cheap but in reasonable condition - we wanted to pay as little as possible - hopefully no more than $25,000 - $35,000

Our short list

This narrowed the search to basically a Hino Rainbow, a Hino Liesse or a Mitsubishi's Fuso. So begins the searching of classifieds, websites and magazines for the appropriate vehicle. We couldn't locate any bus at the prices we were hoping for. I know there are plenty of other buses to choose from out there especially in the narrower width and these were cheaper. We decided that if we were going to be spending so much time in the motor home then the extra width would make all the difference. The Hino Rainbow seems to check most of our boxes.

Where do we find a bus?

Looking for a second hand bus can be pretty frustrating at times. There are a number of different ways to conduct your search. I guess the best way is probably a combination of them all. Here's some of what we did Internet to get an understanding of availability and the price of used buses.
  1. Considered organizing an import directly ourselves. It certainly is an option for some people but at the end of the day, we just weren’t confident of dealing with the Australian red tape that would be required. We just weren't game to do it that way.
  2. Use any contacts we have: The brother in law of Rob’s cousin deals with buying & selling buses including 2nd hand ones. We gave him a call but he deals with full size buses and coaches. He said he will keep his eye out for us.
  3. We checked out the Internet, especially private ads on e-bay & gumtree for buses and motor homes in all sorts of conditions. 
  4. A motor home trading magazine gave us some ideas and choices that out ‘there’.
  5. Check out club and monthly magazines: ‘The Wanderer’ Australia’s largest RV club magazine and other monthly magazines in this field. These magazines also gave us some indication of companies that dealt in buses and their conversions.
  6. Visit Motor home traders and conversion specialists: Since we were heading south pass Brisbane and the Gold Coast, we thought we would concentrate our efforts to here at least as a starting point. So we decided to camp for 3 days in Boonah Showground and unhitch the caravan and use this as a base to search Ipswich, Logan and the Gold Coast. We had a shortlist of 4 places in these areas. 


 Visited Motor home traders and conversion specialists

  1. We found an importer based in the Ipswich country with prices in the mid $40'sK. We went there first, they had some buses that looked pretty good in print but when we get there it is a backyard operation. That was OK, everyone has to start off somewhere and this is where he lives. There was probably 8-10 buses there, only 2 Rainbows and a Liesse. The fellow was unkempt and pointed us down the back and left us alone so we took some measurements and did some sketches of possible floor plans. The buses were in very poor condition and some were even sitting in a swampy area – no wonder they were rusty. We were very disappointed in what was on offer and that the photos did not match the reality. He told us of his partner having some better models and he had just moved about half an hour away. Oh well, as we are in the area, we decided we may as well check him out.
  2. What a difference, it is like chalk and cheese. This 2nd fellow trading under a company name, company#1, was also set up again in a back yard, but this yard was well kept and dry. He was very helpful and knowledgeable. After accompanying us to the various buses and exchange of information, he asked if we wanted him to hang around. He left us alone at our request to do our plans & calculations and told us where to find him. Rob and I wandered around with our note pad and tape measure and talked about what could or could not be done. One major thing we learnt here was that we could drop the floor. This guy was very helpful and through him we learnt a lot more about the various models of Rainbows and we were able to narrow it down even further. He also told us he would help with getting a blue plate and the compliances when the time came. He also offered to help source various components such as the fridge, windows etc at ‘cost’ price. I liked this man and could see ourselves buying from him, the bus that best suited our needs here, was OK but we still had more to see. We’ll see what else is around.
  3. Next stop was company#2 near Logan. They have a very neat and tidy showroom with their workshop across the road. The salesman was busy on the phone and took a long time to come out however we were welcome to look at the fitted out motor homes that were completed & for sale there. None were the Hino Rainbows but we looked around at their fit outs, especially at the bathrooms as Rob desires to have a bigger shower cubicle in the next vehicle. My theory is that we are only in it for 5 minutes once a day, so what! I much rather have the room in the kitchen or the living area. Still by actually hopping in & out of these, we learnt what we didn’t want. The salesman still hadn’t turned up when we were finished , then he approached us as we were leaving. They didn’t have many buses and we got the impression that they weren’t really interested in a sale unless they could do the whole shebang.
  4. We still had 2 more places to visit but we were starting to run out of day. Company#3 was the next geographically and this is where we met the owner. We had to meet him at his home as being Friday afternoon, the workshop was closing early for the weekend. There were 6 buses at his place, 1 in particular we liked straight away. The owner was very professional and extraordinarily helpful. Much of what he said confirmed what we had learnt from #2. He also taught us how to recognize a genuine Import certificate and what to look out for when buying a bus. They do conversions on these buses themselves as well as sell the buses direct to people like ourselves. The wider body buses seem to be consistently demanding around $20,000 more. To sweeten the deal, the owner offered us 6 new tyres, a new motor home door (a compliance requirement for motor homes), full service including new air filters etc. He also took us for a drive in the bus around the place. They were willing to give us cost prices on anything on our wish list, stoves, fridges etc. They would also personally take us to the transport body to get the final registration and compliance requirements at the end of the fit outs. We couldn’t fault their offer, and the condition of this bus was the best by a country mile. It also had relatively lower kilometres. We are very tempted in spite of the much, much higher initial price.
  5. We ran out of time to visit the other company on our list, company#4 who also imported the buses regularly. We decided to head back to the Robbiebago and take the weekend to decide if we like the Rainbow at company#3 enough to part with a lot more money than we first anticipated.

We were quite worn out from all the travelling and brain overload. We decided to wait a little while & continue to look around. Our decision was based more on finances. We knew from our experience in building the caravan that we are unable to purchase the various components at a decent price.


 A decision at last!

Rob went & bought a new trading magazine & approached a private advertiser who had a Fuso for less than half the price of the Hinos we had preferred. It was still available but.... it was all the way over on the other side of Australia. We decided to quickly head home. Within 36 hours of arriving home, Rob was on the first of 2 planes and flew over to see if it was even half decent. He bought the bus there and then and started to drive it home.  3,200km in 5 days. He pushed himself and the bus.


We have purposely left the names of the companies off the blog, however we are willing to pass them on privately if you contact us by email.


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  3. Hey guys, I am seriously considering buying a bus and converting it to motorhome as you have done and am finding your blog very useful! I would appreciate knowing which were the companies you referred to in this post, as I live in Brisbane and they are almost certainly ones I will come across.
    My email is dyani@littledeercreations.com

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