My Bus Has Plates Because The Vermont DMV Is Secretly America’s DMV

Illustration for article titled My Bus Has Plates Because The Vermont DMV Is Secretly America’s DMV
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

My partner recently gave me a school bus as an early birthday present. Together we are going to build it into an RV. One of the biggest challenges facing so-called skoolie builds is getting the whole rig legal. Many states present a bunch of red tape to cut through, but there is one state that makes it easy. They’ll even mail your new plates to your current address. Yes, Vermont will register almost anything, even without a title.

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I’ve long wanted a sort of camper but didn’t want one of the flimsy ones built by the lowest bidder. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the best camper for me will be one I build myself using a full-size school bus. I could have a mobile motorcycle garage in the back, living space up front and a nightclub’s worth of speakers. I could do whatever I wanted and not have to worry about hidden water leaks rotting out wooden floors and luan walls. There is, however, one huge problem with a full-size school bus: classification.

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Yes, I removed that dangling exhaust pipe.
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

In many states, school buses present challenges to drivers with a standard license. They generally come with too many seats for a standard license, and even if you remove the seats, the vehicle itself is likely to be too heavy for a standard license. This is the case in Illinois, where I live.

So what do you do? One route is upgrading your license to the proper weight class. The other route is converting the bus title and registration to a Recreational Vehicle. (If you opt for the second plan, it’s advisable to seek out training aimed at preparing you to safely operate a vehicle that is ... in some notable ways, different from your average passenger car. — ED.)

Depending on your state, this can be easier said than done. Simply doing a search for “school bus RV requirements” will give you a headache in no time. Here in Illinois, buses converted to RVs must have at least four of the following six features:

1) A cooking facility with an on-board fuel source;
2) A gas or electric refrigerator;
3) A toilet with exterior evacuation;
4) A heating or air conditioning system with an on-board power or fuel source separate from the vehicle engine;
5) A potable water supply system that includes at least a sink, a faucet, and a water tank with an exterior service supply connection;
6) A 110-125 volt electric power supply.

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In addition to the above, the bus must also be a color other than yellow. After that is done, you can schedule an appointment for an officer of the Illinois Secretary of State to inspect your work. Illinois gives you only 20 days after a vehicle purchase to bring the title to the DMV and change the registration into your own name. In most cases, this means you’ll have to register your skoolie project as a bus before you later register the bus again as an RV.

As you can see, this is shaping up to be quite the headache just to get valid plates for your project. But what if you could skip all the bureaucracy, get good plates and be able to complete your project at your own pace? This is where Vermont saves the day.

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As of now, Vermont offers an amazingly easy way to register many vehicles. Once you register your vehicle “in” Vermont, the DMV will mail your new plates and registration to wherever you are in the United States. The registration will be in your name with whatever your home address is. This isn’t even a secret. Many vintage car and motorcycle owners have been using the Vermont DMV for years.

Title Breakdown

Vermont doesn’t title vehicles that are more than 15 calendar years old. Per the state’s site, this means that in 2020, Vermont is titling only vehicles that are from 2006 and newer. Normally a car registered “in” Vermont will get a registration and a title. If that vehicle is older than 15 model years, it will get just a registration. That registration is proof of ownership and functions as the title as well.

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I’ve used Vermont’s registration process to make old motorcycles legal again. I have even used the process to make an old Toyota Camry rally car legal again.

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Photo: Mercedes Streeter
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All you do is fill out some forms, write a check, send it out, then wait a month. You will have shiny new plates in the mail and a legal vehicle to play with.

The Process

My bus came with a title, classified as a bus. My first step in fixing that was the all-important Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application (VD-119). This form isn’t much different from any other title application. I filled it out with the information found on my bus title. To classify my bus as an RV, all I had to do is enter a registration type of 19 for Motor Home. There are no inspections and no convoluted processes. I just marked it as a Motor Home.

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Tax is either 6 percent of purchase price (minimum $500) or 6 of NADA value. As buses typically don’t have a NADA value, I calculated 6% of $1,150, just to be safe.

If you’re registering a vehicle with a title and want a Vermont title back, send the original title. If you just want the registration, send a copy of the title. If you’re registering a vehicle without a title, you want to include a bill of sale and a VIN verification, which you can get from an insurance company or the police. Wrap up those documents in an envelope with a check for your fees then send it off to Vermont.

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A month later you should receive a thick envelope in the mail. Inside you’ll find your plates and the approved registration application. Go ahead and slap that plate right onto your vehicle.

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Photo: Mercedes Streeter
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The registration itself should come a couple weeks later. If you registered a vehicle without a title, congratulations, your Vermont registration now counts as a title. Take that to your local DMV and they should give you a new title.

In my case, I can now drive my school bus around without worrying about classification issues. And now that my bus is legal I can finally get started on minor repairs and ultimately, our crazy camper build.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Loves all vehicles! Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, Suzuki Every, AmTran Bus, VW Jetta TDI (x2), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Triumph Tiger, Genuine Stella...

DISCUSSION

beachbumberry
BeachBumBerry

YESS!!! The Vermont Loophole! We just went through the process of getting our bus registered in The Peoples Republic of Texas (where you are only free to own guns and pollute... everything else is regulated to the point of stupidity) who are in the middle of changing registration processes. They made the old processes obsolete without coming up with a replacement which left the Tax Assessors in the position to make up their own mind on whether to send off registration documentation. (Un)luckily for us, our assessors office is filled with idiots, so I had to take a trip to the DMV regional office an hour away to get permission to register. I even had all the documentation they wanted, they just had to tell the tax assessor to file the paperwork. It was a huge nightmare and we were about 2 days from sending our stuff to Vermont. Once the title is a motorhome title, its pretty easy to register in Texas.

On another note, my wife and I are looking forward to seeing yalls build! We had a ton of fun with ours and just took it on our first long trip to the beach for thanksgiving. We documented the whole build at https://www.instagram.com/berryskoolie/