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To Buy New or to Buy Used
By: Chris Clark

Over the years, churches, along with their transportation and finance committees, have always wrestled with the same age0old question when it comes to purchasing a church bus for the congregation, and every year we hear the same two opinions: “Absolutely, it’s definitely better to buy new” or “Absolutely, it’s definitely better to buy used.”

Well, everybody relax, take a deep breath, and get those long, drawn out committee meeting debates out of your head, because the question of whether to buy a new or used church bus is about to be answered. It can make great sense to do either!

Now, I know right now you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Wow, that was an enlightening answer,” but the truth of the matter is that the answer to this question is going to be dependent on several different variables for each individual congregation.

In this article, it’s my goal to point out some additional thoughts on both and offer some additional insight from our more than 40 years in the bus sales industry to help you better choose what church bus option fits your congregation the best…and why.

The  first option for the transportation committee, in most churches, is always going to be to purchase a new bus for the same reason that it would also be our first choice, as members as well….because it’s new.  It would be a brand new bus that was built just for the church, you would pick out the exact options yourselves, everything would be covered under warranty for the first few years, and it would even smell like a new bus on the inside. 

This would be a done deal with no discussion 100 percent of the time if it weren’t for the finance committees we appoint to overlook each financial transaction, and to make sure that we not only keep the lights on in the sanctuary next month, but that we are also being good stewards of our money in the process. So, this sometimes forces us to look at alternate options, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all.

One possibility, staying with the idea of a new bus purchase, may be to look at a lease/finance option offered by the seller, or even your local bank. Over the past few years, we have found that leasing, even though it can sometimes have a bad reputation tied to it in the automobile industry, can be a great option for a church because of the following reasons: 

1. It is a fixed cost that can also be written off as an operating expense, that the church can budget for each month without having to worry about unexpected high-dollar maintenance costs such as Air Conditioning, Engine, Transmission, and Body Structure repairs, because all of this would be covered under warranty the entire length of the lease, depending on the term.

2. The lease payments are going to be considerably lower each month than your finance payment would be, due to the fact that churches typically take excellent care of their buses, and put very low mileage on them, as well, which means we are going to be able to keep a higher than normal residual on the bus itself, making your monthly payment as low as possible. 

3. Church members, especially the seniors, enjoy having the peace of mind with a new church bus to ride in and, because of that, will plan more activities and more trips, local and long distance, knowing that they will always be in a new bus every 3-5 years without the fear of breaking down, or having an A/C issue half way through their trip to Florida in the middle of the summer.

Another option, and probably the initial reaction to most committees when a lower budget comes into play, is to find a good used church bus to fit the church’s needs. 

This is a great idea, and one I’m always in favor of, but there’s always that one problem…finding that “good used” church bus that’s out there.  Finding a good used bus can be extremely tough, but sometimes may be the direct result of our own expectations on what a “good used” church bus really is. 

A lot of churches and committees will start looking for a used bus the same way they search for a used car when it comes time to buy one.

The problem is that you will soon find out the number of used buses that are only 2-5 years old, with 40,000 or less miles, in excellent shape, look brand new, have all the maintenance records on them, and are half the price of a new one, are more or less non-existent, but that’s all right. 

The reason it’s all right is because we are not searching for a used a car for personal use; we are searching for a used church bus that is going to be used in a completely different way, and the vehicle itself is a completely different animal. 

A church bus, whether you buy new, or used, is typically only going to be used a few times per month and, in most cases, is only going to have approximately 4,000-6,000 miles put on the bus each year. 

So, with that in mind, when you find a used bus that’s a few years old, that’s in good shape with 75,000-90,000 miles on it, and truly is half the price of a new one, keep in mind that 10 years down the road, that bus is only going to have an additional 40,000-60,000 miles on engines that are intentionally built to be 200,000+ mile engines. 

The key to purchasing a “good used” bus is not necessarily the year and the miles, although that helps, but is really how well has the bus been taken care of by the previous owner, and if the setup fits the church’s needs for what they are needing to use it for. 

If you can find one that fits those two main criteria, my advice is to start discussing it quickly, because the chances of the “good used” buses being out there for long are not very likely.

I hope this article helps present a few new options to consider when discussing the upcoming transportation needs for the church. 

Chris Clark is commercial sales manager for Transportation South, which has been providing church buses across the United States since 1971, www.thebuscenter.com.

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