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Churches get in the driver’s seat with reliable alternative

Budget guidelines for uses buses determine the affordability and options available to church leaders.

By Rob Wade

Churches are growing. Their various ministries have planned trips and the current means of transportation are insufficient and in dire need of replacement. Committees meet and decide that it is time to buy a bus that will satisfy the needs of their churches. However, the slow pace of the economy, fewer jobs and less job security has had a direct effect on the budget of many churches.

I often hear church leaders say, “We need to buy a bus, but given the current conditions, we have had to focus our budget in other directions. What should we do?”

Looking at the cost of a brand new bus which includes taxes, yearly maintenance, insurance and fuel, it may seem that the amount of money the church has budgeted for a new bus barely scratches the surface. However, a quality used bus will meet the needs of the congregation without causing a serious deficit in your overall budget. Following a few simple guidelines will insure that your church will find what it needs.

Build your bus budget, but be realistic. It is important to establish a budget for your bus. If you have not set budget guidelines for a bus, then the other leaders in the church will be unaware of a bus’s affordability. A used bus can be perfect example of the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”

Buses costing $15,000 or less do exist, but you may end up spending more money long-term in costly repairs. Not only have you spent what little budget that you did have on a bus, but now the church is spending more money trying to keep it operational. A dream has turned into a nightmare with a broken air conditioner and an oil leak.

If the church has $20,000 to spend on a bus, set realistic expectations on “how much bus” you expect to get for that amount. A two-year-old bus with less than 10,000 miles and numerous options for that dollar amount is unrealistic. However, a 10-year-old, 25-passenger bus with 65,000 miles or more is possible. The higher you set your budget the more opportunities are available.

Budgeting for a bus can serve several purposes. First, it will tell you what the church can spend. Second, it can give you an idea of how much more fundraising work will be needed. Third, it will indicate how much flexibility will be necessary toward the purchase.

Be aware of the church’s bus needs. As with purchasing a new bus, being aware of what the church will need is very important. However, when the purchasing power of a church is reduced, the difference between features that are necessary and items that are optional becomes more apparent.

Many questions should be asked. How many passengers do you want to transport? Who will be the primary users of the bus? Does the church have drivers with commercial licenses? Will you be taking overnight trips and need luggage space? Will you need wheelchair access? Do you have a preference of gasoline vs. diesel? Are there certain things that your bus must have: seatbelts, seat recliners, PA system, entertainment system and overhead storage?

The more you know about the church’s ideal bus ahead of time, the less time the search will take. Have the bus committee create separate lists of what they believe the church needs in the bus. As a group, decide which items are “needs” and which items are “wants.” Use this as a guideline and you will know when a bus is right or not for the church.

Create a partnership with a bus expert. It seems that every bus/transportation committee has a member who “knows someone who knows someone” in the used car business. While advice from this individual may be well-intended, it is important to take this expertise with a grain of salt. Purchasing a used bus is nothing like purchasing a used car.

Instead, invite the assistance of a bus dealer to your committee. A bus dealer wants your business. A great bus dealer will answer all your questions, provide you with an education, recommend alternatives and make sure your church is getting everything it requires. Share your church’s needs and how much you are willing to spend.

If you were building an addition to your church, you would want someone on that committee who is an industry expert. Why wouldn’t you do the same when it came to the transportation of your congregation?

Get to know the bus. Once you have found a used bus that  meets all the needs of the church and fits within the budget, you must not rush the decision to buy. On the other hand, be aware that time is not as much on your side as it was when you were first looking.

There are some key questions to ask, depending on the source of the bus. If buying from a private seller, have they kept good records? Have they been happy with the bus? If so, why are they selling it? Have they noticed any problems? Is it going to be due for any service?

If buying from a dealer, where did the bus come from? Does everything work properly? If not, will they factor the cost of repairs into the price of the bus? Have they inspected it? Have they performed any maintenance while it was in their possession? Are they aware of any upcoming maintenance necessary? Is there any warranty still available on any part of the bus? Is there an extended warranty available?

Your church may have a mechanic in the congregation. Don’t be afraid to bring them along and get their professional opinion on the overall condition of the bus. A sure warning sign of a potential problem with the bus is a seller objecting to an outside inspection.

Be swift. Although the committee has taken its time to make it this far, the final decision to purchase must not drag out. A private seller with no association to your church will sell to the first buyer with the best offer. Likewise, a bus dealer will give you some time to decide, as long as you have supplied some form of upfront payment to hold the bus, but even that time can be limited to no more than a week.

Your church’s ideal used bus might also be a perfect match with another church; and it is important to remember that you may not be the only church the dealer is assisting.

With careful planning, research and realistic expectations, you will find that the perfect used bus is out there. Although it may not have a “new bus smell,” you are certain not to make a mistake and buy something that stinks.

Rob Wade is a bus consultant for Huntleigh Bus Atlanta, Atlanta, GA. [www.huntleighbus.com]

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