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Ten Things You Should Know About Purchasing a Church Vehicle
By: Bob Anderson

Most pastors spent many years in school studying theology, Biblical literature, counseling and a number of other topics that equip them to be effective ministers of the Gospel. But, very few pastors are equipped to make an informed decision about the transportation needs of their congregation. Here are 10 things you need to know.

1. In most states, a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is not required to operate any vehicle that seats 15 or fewer people (including the driver) and weighs less than 16,000 pounds. Have you tried getting 15 adults into your 15-passenger van lately? They don't fit! However, most bus distributors carry a vehicle that features 14 individual seats plus a driver.

The convenience of not needing a CDL licensed driver for a 15-passenger bus is definitely something that should be considered when trying to determine what size vehicle to purchase.

2. The National Transportation Safety Board has declared that 15-passenger vans are extremely unsafe, and they recommend that mini-buses be used instead. There have been more than 1,500 deaths involving these vans in the past 10 years. In fact, these vehicles are so unsafe that in many states it is illegal for a car dealership to sell a 15-passenger van to a school or church.

Many distributors can provide you with Web sites and printed information that can help educate your congregation about the dangers of 15-passenger vans.

3. These should be considered minimum safety requirements: dual rear wheels and steel cage construction. Dual rear wheels mean that there are four tires on the rear axle, which creates great stability. Be sure that there are steel beams placed every few feet in the side walls and in the roof creating a steel cage for the passenger. The side walls should be welded to the roof and floor, not riveted.

Also, seat belts are not usually a standard feature with most bus distributors. This is definitely something you should consider adding if they are not provided as standard equipment.

4. If a distributor does not have what you are looking for in stock, it will usually take 90-120 days to receive something that has to be ordered. Some distributors make a big deal about being able to order a bus "the way you want it." However, all distributors can do that. Tell them exactly what you need and ask if they have it in stock. If they don't (and you don't want to wait), look around and see if someone has the vehicle that meets your specifications ready for immediate delivery.

5. Most buses come equipped with the same standard features as a family car. Power steering, power brakes, cruise control, tilt wheel and a stereo system are all typically standard features on most church buses. There is also a long list of options that are available: electric entrance door, upgraded cloth, reclining seats, overhead parcel bins with reading lights and much more. Many distributors also have the ability to add customized graphics to your bus at little or no extra cost.

6. The most common chassis warranty is 3 years/36,000 miles. Service work on the chassis can usually be performed at a local car dealership (same model). Ask the distributor about their policy for "non-chassis" related issues.

Since the service of your vehicle is an important issue, you want to be sure that the distributor has its own service area. One question you might consider asking is, "Do you have the parts I might need in stock, or will they have to be ordered?"

Distance really isn't an issue. Some distributors are equipped to service your bus no matter how far your church is located from their site.

7. Front and rear air conditioning is usually a standard feature. However, in 15-passenger buses with dual compressors, the second compressor is usually not covered under the chassis warranty. The only people who can do warranty work on the second compressor is the company that installed it. I recommend 15-passenger units with a second "condenser" (skirt mounted) and not a second "compressor." This is covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

8. Answers to your questions are often just a phone call away. Use a toll-free number and ask for the sales manager, parts manager, service manager or warranty manager. Ask for an information packet that provides pictures, specs and other pertinent information about the types of vehicles the distributor carries. Don't be afraid to ask questions!

9. There is no universal pricing with buses. There is often a significant difference from one distributor to the next for the same product (both new and used). Shop around! Find a distributor that will partner with you in the faithful stewardship of His resources.

10. There are many styles and sizes of buses. Help the salesperson understand what types of ministries a bus purchase would facilitate. Tell them the age of the people who would use a bus the most. Will this be used for a school? Day care? Youth ministry? Senior adult trips? Do you have individuals who might need a wheelchair lift?

Explain what features are most important to your congregation. Let them know what type of budget you are working with. Explain your concerns and ask as many questions as needed to help determine the best possible bus for your specific situation.

You probably never attended a college class entitled Bus Purchasing 101. But, hopefully, now you are better equipped to purchase a bus that meets the needs of your congregation.

Bob Anderson is national sales manager for ChurchBus.com.

Product Showcase

CL 100 from DaimlerChrysler
Quality, durability, safety and comfort - Everything you want from a church bus and more. The popular CL 100 , from DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses, is a perfect match for versatile church transportation needs. With comfortable seating for up to 24 passengers, the CL 100 offers wide aisles and high-visibility windows that make any trip more enjoyable. Available in a variety of floor plans, lengths, entry door configurations and wheelchair lift options, the CL 100 can be customized to meet specialized applications. Best of all, the CL 100 offers Smart Choice packages specifically designed for churches. This package groups features, styles and floor plans that best meet the needs of ministry transportation, including forward-facing seats with grab handles and seat belts, interior overhead luggage racks and a shuttle-style electric opening entrance door. The CL 100 is built with quality construction that features a protective steel body cage and wrapped in aluminum for added strength, passenger safety and long-lasting good looks.

Spirit I from Federal Coach
The 158-inch Spirit I bus from Federal Coach is the right size mini-bus for most churches wanting to move out of the 15-passenger vans. The Spirit I allows churches the ability to keep all of the same drivers due to the fact this bus doesn't require a CDL license like most larger buses. It also eliminates the need to pull a trailer due to large luggage space in the rear of this bus. The Spirit I is built with a full-body steel cage for maximum passenger safety. The Spirit series offers a wide array of options, from bathrooms to denominational seating fabric. A congregation can have their bus built with all the amenities they desire. Federal Coach meets or exceeds all MVSS, and they are QVM-certified with Ford Motor Company.  Federal Coach manufactures buses that seat up to 36 passengers. With all of this in mind, Federal Coach will build your congregation the safest, most durable mini-bus in the marketplace today.

Collins Multi Function School Activity Bus
The Collins Multi Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB) is a safe alternative to 15-passenger vans. A welded steel cage structure with all-steel interior/exterior body panels provides a tough, impact-resistant body. Steel rubrails at floor, seat and window levels strengthen side walls. Rubrails wrap around and reinforce the rear corner of the bus. Heavy-gage steel "Crash Rails" are integrated within the wall structure. Passenger seats frames mount to the floor, and a continuous wall seat rail runs the entire length of the wall. The Collins MFSAB is offered in a variety of models, floor plans and seating options and provides peace of mind in knowing you are giving your parishioners the safest ride possible.

Turtle Top Odyssey XL
Turtle Top has been manufacturing quality vehicles for the transportation industry since 1962. A family-owned company currently enjoying the fourth generation in management, Turtle Top's product line includes five bus models-Terra Transit, Odyssey, Odyssey XL, VanTERRA and TerraTransport-built on Ford and GM cutaway chassis. The new Odyssey XL, with seating for up to 37 passengers, offers the same creative design, quality workmanship, safety features and passenger comfort found in Turtle Top's entire product line. Built on GM's C5500 Series Medium Duty chassis, the Odyssey XL is available with either the Duramax Diesel 6600 or the Vortec 8100 MD Gasoline V8 engine, both with Allison 5-speed Transmissions. Available options for all Turtle Top buses include para-transit equipment, A/C packages, overhead and rear storage, audio/video packages, custom exterior graphics and much more.

Girardin MB-MBC Series
Girardin Minibus manufactures both school and commercial buses. Their oval-body designs offer greater convenience and interior space. The MB-MBC series features the new Futura body, built to offer value-added advantages such as reduced maintenance costs, safety and overall durability. With a varied range of capacities and floor plans available, built on both Ford or GM chassis, the Futura-equipped MB-MBC series offers you the flexibility and quality you've come to expect from one North America's last family-owned small bus manufacturers.

Champion Crusader
Beauty is more than skin deep when it comes to Crusader from Champion Bus. A bus designed and built like this stands first in line for comfort and durability. No wonder Crusader leads the way for short transit needs. And no wonder Champion is the preferred bus vendor for North America 's leading hotels and shuttle operations. Take a close-up look at Crusader. For low-cost applications and long-run durability, you won't find another bus that measures up. Champion Bus is one of North America 's largest manufacturers of small and mid-size transit, tour, shuttle and para-transit buses. Like all Champion models, the Crusader is engineered utilizing steel-cage construction; in this case, 1-1/2-inch-square carbon steel, steel roof bows and steel "C"-channel floor crossmembers. Champion provides its customers with a five-year, 75,000-mile structure warranty. The Champion Crusader is built tough from the inside out.

Easy On from Glaval Bus
The Easy On from Glaval Bus, with its "steel-safe" construction is built on a Workhorse LF 72 custom chassis in models for up to 30 passengers. You get superior structural integrity and a quiet, comfortable ride featuring a 9-inch ground-to-floor entry height with a power in-step ramp, roof-top air conditioning, electric doors and much more. The Easy On low-floor bus "lets freedom reign.freedom from steps, freedom from lifts," allowing people to board safely with ease. The bus will be Altoona tested for 10 years/350,000 miles. Glaval Bus manufactures Primetime, Universal, Titan, Concorde, GLF Easy On and Apollo ranging from 21 feet to 38 feet in length for up to 45 passengers, ALTOONA-TESTED and a five-year/100,000 mile limited warranty.

Carpenter's Van Replacement Vehicles
Carpenter Bus Sales is putting heavy emphasis on a suitable "van replacement vehicle" that satisfies insurance and safety requirements and gives much more comfort than a van. Their new van replacement Web site (www.churchvanreplacement.com) reflects that commitment. All of their models, like Glaval's Universal (shown), include dual rear wheels, low first step, center aisle, high-back recliners with side sliders for more hip room, front and rear A/C and heat, and high head room. The average cost for a well-equipped 15-passenger bus is $38,000 to $42,000, or $44,000 to $47,000 with added rear luggage compartment. Selling buses since 1953, Carpenter Bus Sales has made the needs of churches and ministries its priority and has become the nation's No. 1 church bus dealer.

Coach & Equipment Mfg.
In building buses since 1948, Coach & Equipment has learned that church organizations require of their buses the following. First, safety, above all. Since Coach & Equipment started as a school bus manufacturer, their attention to safety is manifested in their strong, steel-roll cage skeleton and high-strength, low-alloy steel floor construction. Second, the bus must be durable and economical to operate. Their buses are road worthy, inexpensive to operate and Altoona tested. Third, a vehicle must have ample space. Every bus they make provides easy access for passengers with ample storage space for carry-ons. Even their little Metrolite with the footprint of a van has upright access and substantial head and shoulder room-the kind of comfort available in full-size vehicles. They offer 60 sizes and configurations with seating for up to 38 passengers to meet all transportation needs. Finally, the ride should be quiet. They have spent years building buses for the commercial market with insulated, tightly laminated panels to ensure the most quiet and comfortable ride on the market.

Bus Group
Bus Group is a leading supplier of church and commercial buses throughout the United States due to a caring, interactive approach with each customer. Bus Group conducts comprehensive needs assessment with each client to determine the product best suited for their transportation needs. Multiple products from seven leading bus manufacturers, ranging from small buses to motor coaches, are then reviewed to insure that customers always get the best product for their unique application and the best value for their investment. Bus Group is also concerned with customers after the sale and offers on-site service with on-hand parts to insure prompt customer care. An extensive inventory of both new and late model pre-owned buses at three locations guarantees a wide selection of buses available for immediate delivery. Special church purchase and lease packages are available on all makes and models.

Corbeil Kidette
Corbeil has announced that SafeGuard Bus Seat with upgrade options will be a standard feature in all 2005 Kidette model buses. The SafeGuard Bus Seat, manufactured by IMMI, is installed as the standard seat with lap belts in the new models. The seat can easily be upgraded to include lap-shoulder belts and additional LATCH attachment points at a dealer location. Currently, adding both lap and shoulder belts requires the customer to order this option with the bus, if not, adding this feature after delivery would require replacement of the seats and possibly re-certification of the vehicle. Purchasing a Corbeil with the upgradeable seat feature will no longer require seat replacements and vehicle recertification when adding IMMI seat upgrades after delivery. Also available as an add-on feature is the SafeGuard STAR, Student Transportation Add-on Restraint. This add-on restraint utilizes cam wrap technology with a fine-point restraint and a flexible base to securely restrain children weighing 25 to 65 pounds. This feature is important to churches and child care facilities that are required by law to transport children under 40 pounds in height and weight-appropriate restraints. The Kidette model exceeds all of the requirements for a Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB) and comes standard with many features most manufacturers consider optional.

Western Bus Sales
Western Bus Sales School and Commercial Sales Departments are pleased to offer the most innovative products on the market today to assist you with your transportation needs. They carry every size and type of bus available, from small mini-size school buses to large 84 passenger transit school buses, and from ADA accessible minivans all the way up to the Express Coach, Blue Bird's Luxury Motorcoach. They have a veteran Sales Support staff with more than 25 years of transportation experience, who can assist you with bus specifications, delivery timeframes and licensing information. Western Bus Sales also inventories a full line of high-quality used school and commercial buses for immediate delivery.

Master's Transportation
Master's Transportation can supply all of your transportation needs with a variety of vans, shuttles and buses. They also provide custom paint and lettering, as well as delivery of your vehicle. Their primary objective is to provide top-quality buses for churches and their ministries. Their goal is to "Provide excellence in transportation" by furnishing you with the finest in new vehicles or the highest-quality used buses vans and shuttles available anywhere in the country.

Illinois Bus & Van
Illinois Bus & Van - Sales & Service (IBS) offers new and used buses for sale and lease. IBS provides transportation vehicles for churches, hotels, tour and charter companies, and for handicap-accessible requirements. IBS services the vehicles they sell with on-site ASE certified mechanics and body shop technicians. They also offer vehicle graphics design and installation and an extensive parts inventory.

Midwest Transit
Replace your non-conforming 15 passenger van with something safe, reliable, affordable and comfortable. Much of the life-changing ministry provided by the local church takes place beyond the four walls of the sanctuary. This often requires a decision about the type of transportation that will be used for these valuable ministries. Midwest Transit made a commitment to support churches, their schools and their ministries more than 25 years ago. They have been fulfilling it every day since, with dedicated transportation consultants whose mission is to deliver reliable and affordable transportation equipment for their bus ministries. They took that commitment to a new level by starting a new division of Midwest Transit Equipment, Inc. called ChurchBus.com, whose sole focus is to deliver safe, reliable, comfortable and affordable transportation equipment to churches. Let us help by "meeting your transportation needs, so you can focus on ministry."

First Student
First Student's pre-owned school buses set the standard for safety, comfort and reliability. Each and every bus has been regularly serviced under the industry's leading preventative maintenance program, and specifications exceed many state's minimum requirements. Their buses are thoroughly inspected before they are sold. Checkpoints include power train (engine, drive train, transmission), tires and brakes, instrument panel and lights and body and interior.

StarTrans Senator
The StarTrans Senator series has a spirit of design that meets the strict demands of the most aggressive users. Strong fiberglass reinforced panel (FRP) sidewalls eliminate exterior noise and are extremely strong and durable for the most demanding road conditions. The interior surface features stain and scratch resistant properties that are a welcome relief from routine cleaning and maintenance. Encased in a steel cage for optimal safety, the StarTrans represents a solid value. Every weld and composite is individually inspected to assure adherence to strict safety regulations and high standards.

Transportation Solutions from Comm-Trans
Comm-Trans has been creating custom transportation solutions for churches since 1974. Their products include a full line of vehicles to meet individual passenger and price needs of each property, ranging from eight to 35 passengers with specific emphases on safety, styling and quality at competitive prices. Comm-Trans takes pride in its consultative approach to their customers' unique transportation needs by providing guidance and product support to clients during the purchasing process and throughout the ownership of the vehicle. Their turnkey service includes vehicle graphics, extended warranties and delivery.  Building relationships and trust are their keys to providing customers with the best products in the industry. Their attention to service and communication is unmatched. Comm-Trans vehicles are among the best in comfort, safety and style.

Ameritrans Bus from TMC Group
The new Ameritrans 220 mini bus is designed for churches, hotels and other markets that want to move up to a mini bus instead of a van. The Ameritrans 220 is only available on a Ford E350 Chassis. Ameritrans buses are designed with generous leg and head room, and with large windows for comfortable viewing. Every bus is built to meet the customer's specific requirements and can be outfitted to suit a variety of business and personal needs or tastes. Constructed for safety and longevity, Ameritrans buses are made with an all-steel wall, ceiling and floor frame. The aluminum body sports a fiberglass front and rear cap, fiberglass roof and full body paint. Custom-built buses and limo buses are available.

Transportation South, Inc.
As one of the country's leading bus distributors, Transportation South represents many of the most reputable manufacturers in the bus business, including T homas Built Buses (a division of Freightliner and Daimler/Chrysler), Champion Bus, Collins, Supreme Startrans, Starcraft and Turtle Top. They can also customize a vehicle through their specialty department. With a variety of manufacturers and various body lengths (18 feet to 40 feet), they can also customize a vehicle to meet any floor plan through their specialty department.

Freedman Seating Company 3-Point Seats
Freedman Seating Company has introduced the 3PT, its new line of integrated 3-point passenger seats. Every 3PT comes with a lap and shoulder belt built into the seat. Customers have their choice of high back or mid/hi with grab rail for head and neck support. Also available are flips seats and foldaway seats. Designed, tested and built to meet all applicable FMVS standards including 210, the 3PT can be ordered with crs-225 hooks.

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