Preparing for your first drive

Never driven a bus? It can be a little intimidating, but just take it slow! I've got a few tips for you to make it easier.

1. Become familiar with your bus before you drive it. 

Learn where all your light controls are (and make sure all the lights work!). Windshield wipers? Air horn? Parking brake? Know how to operate all of it. 

2. Make sure you know what kind of brakes you have

If you've got hydraulic brakes, they'll operate the same as your car (just on a LOT heavier vehicle, so be careful). If you've got air brakes, make sure you take some time to understand how they work!!! Air brakes have several advantages:

  • The supply of air is unlimited, so the brake system can never run out of its operating fluid, as hydraulic brakes can. Minor leaks do not result in brake failures.

  • Air line couplings are easier to attach and detach than hydraulic lines eliminating the risk of air getting into hydraulic fluid since there is no hydraulic fluid.

  • Air brakes default to ON in the event of system failure.

They've got a few differences from operating hydraulic brakes. 

  • Wait for your air pressure to reach 90psi before releasing the parking brake. To release the brake, set your foot lightly on the service brake, and then push in the parking brake release valve.

  • While driving, keep an eye on the air pressure. It shouldn't drop below 90psi.

  • Drain your air tanks at the end of each day with the release valve or cable.

I'd recommend that you pickup a CDL manual and read the entire section about air brakes, even if you don't plan on getting your CDL.

3. Get in some practice

If you've got a large empty parking lot, that's perfect. Notice how wide your turns have to be. If you're in a transit style bus, take some time to get used to where your front wheels are... you'll start your turns later than you're used to! Be especially careful on right-hand turns, since beginners tend to run over the curb with the rear wheels (hopefully it's just a curb, and not a stop sign or small dog). If you've got a lot of flexibility, it's nice to be able to start your drive really early in the morning, before many people are on the highway. And feel free to just stay in the right lane. No need to do a bunch of passing. 

Photo Credit: Justin McCormick

Photo Credit: Justin McCormick


4. Bring the right supplies

Here's a few basic supplies that you'll want to bring with you on your trip:

  • Water bottle, in easy-reach of driver

  • If you've got someone else following you in a car, bring some 2-way radios. They're easier to use and less distracting to grab and talk into than a cell phone

  • Emergency triangles to set out on the road in case you break down. Link below to the kind I have on my bus.

  • Rags/paper towels and hand cleaner in case you get your hands dirty working on the bus

  • Air pressure gauge

  • Infrared Temp gauge (use it if you've got older tires, and check their temps every time you stop—if you notice one of them going significantly hotter than the others, it might be failing) Link below to the one I purchased for my bus.

  • Extra fuel filters (this can be an easy road-side fix if your bus has been sitting, and has contaminations in the fuel tank)

  • Extra oil (make sure to get the right kind, especially if you've got an old Detroit Diesel 2-stroke!)

  • Flashlight

  • Phone numbers for road-side assistance (if you've got it) and your insurance company

  • Basic tool box with screwdrivers, hammer, vice grips, 1/2" socket set, end wrenches, wire cutters/strippers and some misc electrical connectors and electrical tape. Some zip ties, duct tape and hose clamps might come in handy as well.

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