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Hello everyone!! Are you nervous about painting your school bus or shuttle bus? We were too, but it is much easier than it may seem. It is definitely a time commitment though, so get ready!
When we first purchased our shuttle bus last summer, it looked horrible. I mean, we were very excited and thought it was beautiful, but looking back at photos it was disgusting. No wonder our parents were worried!
Here is our bus when we got it:
Here it is today:
Originally, we had no plans on painting the exterior. As we converted our home and put many hours into it, we decided that she DESERVED a fresh coat of paint to complement the interior.
And so began another project…
Today, we are going to show you how to paint a school bus or shuttle bus for less than $100. Of course, your price may vary depending on location, size of bus, colors wanted, etc. Overall you can give your vehicle a nice looking paint job for cheap if you put in the time.
Time is key. The process is tedious and will take several days. Be ready for frustration, detail, and patience, but do not quit! It is absolutely worth it in the end.
*Note: The content in this article is our opinion and is not professional advice. We are not responsible for any damages to your vehicle or injuries that may occur. Use caution and be safe.
Step No. 1: Assess Your Bus
It is important to look over your vehicle before beginning any big exterior or interior project. You should check for:
- Difficult areas to access
- WASP NESTS
- Dirty spots
As a prelude to the painting preparation, this is extremely important. An initial assessment will let you know how many materials you will need, how much you need to fix before painting (e.g. dents and rust), and areas that will need special attention.
Every vehicle is different, so make sure you use common sense while assessing your bus 🙂
Step No. 2: Gather Materials
Isn’t it fun spending money? 😉 Don’t worry, this will be worth it. We used Rust-Oleum paint for our bus and rolled it on. Many people use a spray gun, in which case the paint will need to be thinned. For this guide though, we are focusing on the roll-on method as it is easier and cheaper for people without proper vehicle painting experience.
Here is what we purchased from Lowes to do a dual-color (blue/white) paint job to match the original:
- Vehicle Bondo for dents and rust*
- 1 gallon Rust-Oleum Royal Blue
- 1 gallon Rust-Oleum Gloss White (7792)
- Foam Paint Rollers (6-Pack)*
- Foam Brushes for smaller areas*
- 120-grit sandpaper
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Blue painter’s tape
- Rubber gloves
- Safety glasses
- Rags, rags, rags!
*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Step No. 3: Prep the Bus (Important!)
This easily the most tedious and annoying part of the painting process. Here is what you need to do FIRST!
- Sand the entire bus with 120-grit sandpaper. This scratches the old paint surface which will allow the new paint to dry better
- Clean the entire surface with rubbing alcohol or paint thinner
- Bondo any unwanted dents/rust and sand down to surface level
- Clean the bus AGAIN! We don’t want any dirt stuck under the new paint that will allow for easier chipping
Next, you need to prep the bus:
- Remove or cover safety lights with plastic.
- Cover the windows with plastic/tape
- Tape around the bumpers, wheels, door handles, mirrors, etc.
- Tape any color changes (e.g. blue to white, white to blue) depending on which color you will start with. We did light to dark.
- Go over the painting process in your head. It is better to think the process through before making silly mistakes. Write it down if necessary!
Step No. 4: Paint the Bus
Now the fun part! After all of that work, it is time to get dirty. Start with your lighter color first if doing multiple colors.
Begin by rolling the paint on all of the large surface areas. Be wary of air bubbles that may get trapped under the paint from the roller.
If air bubbles do occur, go over them lightly with a dry roller to pop and smoothen the paint.
Use a small foam brush to go around any small/detailed areas on the bus, especially near the front doors, lights, etc.
If you are doing a second color, WAIT until the first has dried. It is much easier to fix mistakes when your paint isn’t blending together.
After your first layers have dried for AT LEAST 8 HOURS, you may consider a second coat.
To begin our second coat, we sanded the first coat with a finer 220-grit sandpaper. After that, we cleaned the entire bus with rubbing alcohol and started the process again.
Once you are done, you may proceed to the oh-so-satisfying action of removing the tape and plastic.
- Be patient and work carefully. It is easier and quicker to do things the correct way than trying to correct mistakes
- Get help! Painting takes so long. Between the 2 of us, the whole process took 3 days.
- Don’t worry if it is not perfect. You are likely not a professional auto-body worker! We certainly weren’t!
We considered adding a glossy finish to the bus after painting but never got around to it. As of today, the bus has survived one Montana winter and one rainy Oregon spring. Even without the finishing coat, the paint STILL looks fairly fresh and new.
Remember that the entire painting process is long, frustrating, and annoying. Just work hard, think positively, and know that it will turn out great!
If you have any questions about this article or other school bus conversion topics, let us know! We are always willing to personally help each and every one of you. We want to share the freedom and happiness of bus-life.
As always, BE WELL! 🙂
Riley & Cece