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Six Tips to Guide You in the Bus Selection Process
By: Mark Matthews

Here are six simple suggestions for guidance to churches beginning the bus purchasing experience.

1. Define your needs.
What and who will be riding on your new bus? This may sound fundamental; however, if you do not do this, you may be exposing your church to extreme liability.

For example, will you be using this bus on a daily basis to transport school-age children to and from school and school-related activities? If so, this is considered fixed route service; most states require the use of an approved Multi Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB). Some states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, require a certified school bus.

Will you be transporting seniors, and, if so, will the vehicle need to be equipped with a wheelchair lift?

What kind of trips will the vehicle be used for? Extended journeys will require more creature comforts than short shopping excursions or field trips.

How many passengers will you be carrying? Keep in mind that once you get over 25 passengers, the chassis platform graduates to a much heavier configuration and the cost rises exponentially.

If you only plan a small number of trips annually with a larger passenger load, you might be dollars ahead to charter a vehicle for those few occasions. Keep in mind that luggage can also be transported in a pull-along trailer, which are very inexpensive.

2. Work with a reputable dealer that can be there to service the vehicle.
Anybody can sell a bus on the Internet. Everybody cannot provide service out of their region. A reputable dealer in your state can alleviate a lot of headaches.

Make sure your dealer is able to provide service to all of the body components and make them explain how. You must realize that a bus body is made up of many components, with air conditioning being the most critical. Do not believe anyone that tells you their bus is fail-safe.

3. Diesel or gas?
Determine how long you intend to keep the vehicle and try as best you can to estimate the mileage you will be putting on the bus.

Your committee members that come in with truck and bus experience will most likely suggest diesel. It is true that diesels will outlast gasoline engines. However, there has to be a cost benefit analysis performed.

A diesel engine will cost easily $5,000 more than a gas engine. A diesel will get on average 1.5 miles per gallon more than a gas engine in that same vehicle. You have your estimated mileage; you have the cost of the diesel engine. Do the math and see how long it will take to repay that investment.

4. Shop dealer inventories.
You always have the option to order what you need; however, you may find more at a lower price on a dealerís lot. Options that you may have desired but eliminated from consideration may be available on a dealer stock unit or demo at a lower cost.

5. Do not be afraid of last yearís model.
All stock buses carry delayed start warranty coverage. This means the new vehicle warranty starts the day you buy it, not the day it was built.

6. Finally, keep your purchasing committee small and an odd number of members.
Too often, committees become deadlocked and unnecessary conflicts arise. Give your committee the authority to investigate, negotiate, and put forth to the pastor and congregation a single choice that has been thoroughly vetted.

Mark Matthews has been a bus dealer for 32 years. His family business, Matthews Buses, was founded in 1967.

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