Buying a Bus

By Stephanie Weiss

State laws vary – here’s what you should know.

Ensuring safe transportation to and from church ministry activities can be a vital aspect of ministry. Churches often use bus ministry services as an effective outreach tool in neighboring communities. Churches and ministries frequently purchase old or slightly used school buses to fulfill transportation needs. A church should consider both the physical condition of the bus and the legal requirements for conversion when purchasing a school bus for use as a church bus.

Common Requirements

Because each state has slightly different requirements for converting old school buses into church buses, you should contact a locally licensed attorney to help guide you through the process in your state. Some common examples of these requirements are:

– Repainting the bus to a color other than “school bus” yellow;

– Removing or disabling the stop arm;

– Removing or disabling the flashing lights;

– Placing the organization’s name clearly on the bus;

– Registering the bus as a passenger vehicle with the state;

– Removing or covering the words “school bus” or “stop.”

By enacting requirements like the ones listed, states are attempting to alleviate any confusion that might occur on the roadways were a church bus to look like a school bus. Specific rules apply to vehicles that share the road with school buses, and states want to make sure it is clear which bus is a school bus and which is not. Some of these requirements may differ for churches that use the buses to transport students in connection with a school or daycare. The church should check their specific state requirements for any differences.

Painting the Bus

Many states require old school buses to be painted when they are used for new purposes. A church in a state with this requirement should select a color of paint that does not conflict with the yellow its particular state uses for school buses.

The Stop Arm

The stop arm most likely will need to be either removed or disabled by the ministry converting the bus. In states with this requirement, it may be best to remove the stop arm in order to avoid any confusion. The state may have a specific requirement for how to disable the stop arm, and also may clarify whether the arm needs to be removed completely or only partially.

Flashing lights

Similar to the requirements regarding stop arms, some states ask that the flashing lights on the school bus either be removed completely or disabled. The flashing lights allow school buses to notify passing traffic that there are students on board. These lights may be placed in many locations, so churches in states with this requirement need to be thorough when removing or disabling flashing lights.

The Organization’s Name

Your state may require the church to put its name on the new church bus. Special registration requirements (discussed next) also require the church to put its name where it’s easily viewable.


Once the bus is successfully converted physically, it may need special registration. Some states require passenger buses to register as a private motor carrier. If so, the church will need to comply with the state’s motor carrier laws. States might also require a special license plate for a bus, and some states allow certain privileges if the bus is owned by a nonprofit organization.

Covering old labels

If your state requires the church to cover any markings, this will normally entail covering the places where the bus says “school bus.” It might also include any old identification or registration numbers on the bus and the word “stop” if the stop arm is allowed to remain. This requirement is easily met if the state requires the bus to be painted a new color.

Finding State-specific Regulations

Church bus conversions are governed by laws that are different in each state. The church could contact people in any of the following offices for their state-specific requirements:

– The State Department of Transportation;

– The local Bureau of Motor Vehicles;

– The Department of Education.

The websites for each of these departments should provide contact information for the appropriate people. The church could also check with their local school system or a neighboring church that uses buses in ministry. As noted before, churches should consult a local attorney to help guide them through the various state-specific laws or regulations involving school bus conversion.
Stephanie Weiss is a writer with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.

The article “Buying a Bus” written by Stephanie Weiss was excerpted from Christianity Today, Inc/ Your Church Magazine, July 2009.