Introduction: How to Buy an Ex-Ambulance

Picture of How to Buy an Ex-Ambulance

You may ask... WHY buy an ambulance? Well, many people actually buy former ambulances... and it isn't to go around faking being an emergency vehicle (highly illegal by the way).

My reason was simple. I have always wanted to do a road trip across Canada and the United States. The initial idea was to buy a Volkswagen "hippie" bus, but that dream was soon diminished after seeing how pricey the good quality ones are... not to mention trying to find spare parts if something breaks down. So I started looking elsewhere; various online buy and sell websites, the typical ones anyway. Then I was told that federal, provincial, and even municipal governments sell surplus or asset vehicles all the time, sometimes to update their fleet (the best reason) or to get rid of partially destroyed or costly repair vehicles (not so great). I was looking for cargo vans initially, when I stumbled upon some ambulances and curiousity got the best of me. Upon looking at one of these I realized... Electrical is all pretty much done for me... They are sturdy machines... Have been maintained usually every 5,000km... and they still have enough life in them to last fairly long (here in Canada the general rule is they get rid of ambulances after 10 years of service).

And so the search was on! Read on to find out how to maybe snag one of your own... :)

Step 1: Start Searching!

Picture of Start Searching!

First step is to start searching government auction websites. I had my sights on places in Canada. Here are three right away to start looking at:


Not in Canada? Not to worry! The first link has a worldwide as well as a U.S. option (although most you'll find will be in the states).

Another option is to look for government auctions near you. This is great because you might be able to get a website that is for your province, state, county or country. Another option is to actually call the government body or look through local newspapers, as governments will sometimes put advertisements of surplus sales. These usually occur in the spring or fall seasons.

Step 2: Read the WHOLE Description!

Picture of Read the WHOLE Description!

All ambulances are not created equal! You'll find that some auction websites will actually give you a lot more information than others. For example, the website usually gives you everything wrong (at least that they know about). Be weary of websites that don't say anything. Your best bet, if you live near the auction lot, to go and see it in person. If you have any mechanically inclined friends, now is the time to invite them ambulance-hunting.

In my experience, I was lucky enough to get a vehicle near my hometown that had everything included, as it was one that was being sold by a College Paramedic program... they use them for driving class and scenarios. Not bad!

Step 3: Strategize Your Bids

Picture of Strategize Your Bids

This can be broken down in a couple of steps.

  1. Look for the terms and conditions on the website for bids. Websites like have a firm deadline, and someone can outbid you with an automatic bid if you try and bid in the last minute. You'll be left scrambling in the last 30 seconds trying to refresh and set a higher price, only to be disappointed (speaking from experience)! You can also set a maximum price you are willing to spend, which sometimes is a nice feature. Some websites (like have an auto-extension of 3 minutes if there is a bid in the last 3 minutes. This prevents last minute bidding, and gives an equal opportunity... so long as you are watching the bid. Other websites like won't show the highest bid at all, and you are stuck with just submitting a price you are willing to spend, hoping that you are the top bidder. NOTE: Make sure you read all the terms! Sometimes if you are bidding for something in another country there are distinct rules, as these are usually government auctions. Buyer beware!
  2. Bid according to the terms. In the auction for the ambulance I was looking at, I had the 3 minute extension, and sure enough, someone had an automatic bid waiting to outbid me. Lucky for me though, they had a maximum they were willing to spend and probably weren't watching the last moments.
  3. Don't overinflate the price! This goes for all auction sites, no matter the terms. There is absolutely no reason to bid weeks in advance of the deadline, unless you are going somewhere remote without internet access... and you won't be there for the end. Be patient, eye on the prize, and keep refreshing!

Step 4: Win the Auction!

Picture of Win the Auction!

Congratulations! By now, you've hopefully snagged an ex-ambulance. The adrenaline is probably still pumping, so take a few moments and jump for joy, dance, and let it all out. If you didn't win, be patient, and look for another! I'm in the school of "everything happens for a reason", so maybe that one just wasn't right for you.

The steps after you've won vary by website, but usually they require payment through the website, signing the appropriate paperwork and getting your insurance and registration in order.

If you're like me, maybe you bought one that was further away. In that case, you can either try transporting it through UShip (companies and contractors alike can bid for your shipment), or search Facebook for some rideshare groups in your region. I was lucky enough to get someone who wanted to drive to Yukon and had the time, and I made an agreement to buy their return flight for them and gas costs... it was certainly cheaper than a transport truck! If you are finding someone, make sure to establish an agreement, much like a rental agreement, and suit it to your needs. You should also probably get there license details and maybe a driver's abstract. Buyer Beware!

There are also websites like that find drivers for you and act like a third party if you don't want to deal with the time and effort of finding a driver.


legamin (author)2017-08-28

really? You're deny yourself a camper that stores the whole house, easily converts to cooking/fridge/etc and rides like a Cadillac all because of a few dbs? Go find a $60,000 comparable Mercedes converts-van and try to avoid all the places where fatal accidents have happened on the roads you drive on....(not as uncommon as you might think!) the highway we take into town (35 miles) sustains about 8 per year. I've not yet been flagged down by a frantic ghost looking for directions.

I respect everyone's beliefs. But this is clearly written for the adventurous at heart, the risk takers and those with spare time to travel.

Sar002 (author)legamin2017-08-29

I actually like the idea, but modern ambulances typically ride like a lightly loaded medium duty cargo truck. (Which is basically what they are.) The old hearse style ambulances rode like a Cadillac, because Cadillac built them. ;-)

legamin (author)Sar0022017-08-30

I like this idea a lot. My own ideas lead me to get a 5 ton military flat bed on which I put a 16 foot cargo container for storage like a cool giant walk-in closet. Behind that I've connected a 40' low heavy flatbed missile transport trailer that supports up to 20 tons. A 5kW diesel generator on the back powering a converted 30' cargo container with windows and fold out porch and awning. It's every bit as nice as our older Dutchman trailer but the ride is not as nice as my pickup and the full ready to go rig gets about 2-4 mpg with a max speed of 50 mph flat out or 8-15mph over steeper passes. On the plus side, with 10 wheel drive it goes anywhere anytime especially on hunting and fishing trips in remote locations....
...or for the Zombie Apocolypse?....

legamin (author)Sar0022017-08-30

I like this idea a lot. My own ideas lead me to get a 5 ton military flat bed on which I put a 16 foot cargo container for storage like a cool giant walk-in closet. Behind that I've connected a 40' low heavy flatbed missile transport trailer that supports up to 20 tons. A 5kW diesel generator on the back powering a converted 30' cargo container with windows and fold out porch and awning. It's every bit as nice as our older Dutchman trailer but the ride is not as nice as my pickup and the full ready to go rig gets about 2-4 mpg with a max speed of 50 mph flat out or 8-15mph over steeper passes. On the plus side, with 10 wheel drive it goes anywhere anytime especially on hunting and fishing trips in remote locations....
...or for the Zombie Apocolypse?....

PhilippZ5 (author)legamin2017-08-30

>go find a [years wage worth of car] mercedes.

uhm, how about no? how about an ambulance is actually a smart and cool idea?

legamin (author)PhilippZ52017-08-30

Clearly you miss sarcasm. Please read my comment again in which I agree exactly with you. My comment suggests that this is a project for the adventurist. It is chic winnabego for the Cadillac of road tents.

DocR (author)2016-09-06

It's just amazing what you see on instructables. Frankly, for making a campeerized van an ambulans really wouldn;''t be my first choice. I'd rather go with a wholesale food truck, especially one with a crisper such as for keeping fruit or veggies, or even milk, fresh. There's your air conditioner all set up already . Plus, there's plenty of standing room without worrying about being overheight. Thee boxes tend to be as wide as practicable without excessive overhang.

However, I did myself consider all these options, and in the end just bought myself a used trailer (an RV would also have been an option)The reason is cost. By the time you've made all the modifications it would have proven more expensive than a purpose builkt one.

However, if you have lots of ORIGINAL ideas to implement in your project then you'll probably be happy with a conversion process. Purpose built ones don't allow much room for further modification. My dad did, but he was brilliant in how he did it, by removing unneccesary items like built in beds and built in tables, essentially making it into a , maybe now, not so portable, unit, as nothing is bolted down, but with reclining chairs ands office componerntrs in one bedroom and a normal bed in the other, and french (sliding) doors as well, it's just like home!

buck2217 (author)DocR2016-09-07

I had an Irish friend who used to walk around with a large pane of glass behind his ears, we called him Paddy O'Doors (badumm tiss!)

TxMike (author)buck22172017-08-30

I had an Irish Uncle that would spend all day in the garden area of the local tea house. So much so, he became a regular fixture. Hence, his nickname became Paddy O'Furniture!.......<crickets>.......

buck2217 (author)TxMike2017-08-30

Groan, Pick a window - you're leaving!!! ;-)

Doc Holliday (author)DocR2017-06-18

Got pix of your Da's work?

Starlyte (author)DocR2016-09-06

There are still lots of conversions you can get into on campers, like PV and thermal solar water heaters, sound and other electronic gadgets, at least that's what I intend doing to the one I'm seeing tomorrow. I could come up with more, given time... Why are sliding doors French? I'm not although I live here, but you talk sliding doors and you're Martian!

DocR (author)Starlyte2016-09-06

My Goodness! However in the world did you know I was Martian? ;-)
Re: french doors - I dunno.. They just all called them that. When I was working for a local renovator, he'd say "be careful with those french doors" or "help me with these french doors" whenever referring to those sliding glass patio doors. I don't think there's actually more of them in france, or the instructions are only in french - OK, scratch that last one. I live in Canada where sometimes products from Quebec reakly ARE only in french. That happens lots as a kind of "protest" for not recognizing Quebec as the most important province in Canada. heck, in the world.. naw, heck the universe! ;-)
But hey, it's a lot easier saying "go get those french doors", than "go get those sliding 6 foot square clear glass patio doors"

KayjayUK (author)DocR2016-09-07

French doors, also called French windows are less durable than normal doors. They usually have more glass in them and are generally found opening out from a living area into the garden. Incidentally you will find them hinged as well as sliding, the hinged variety are quite popular here in England, I settled here after emigrating from Mars.

Mark 42 (author)KayjayUK2016-09-13

We used to only call the hinged ones "French Doors"

kuma.rhyu (author)DocR2016-09-10

The refrigeration on a refer cube van is a poor AC system choice DocR, however the insulation would make the cube a nice starting point. The biggest problem would be the aluminum interior skin which leaves black marks on everything and getting rid of the smell. One other consideration; these cubes are often resold and put on new chassis frames, so if the price is reasonable, the value may not be. As a refrigeration tech, I would chose a retired rental moving cube truck or an ambulance first.

wambs8 (author)DocR2016-09-06

I think the best and cheapest idea would be to get a slide in camper for a pick-up truck used off of Craigslist. For about 3000.00 you can get a nice one, fully equipped....even with a shower. You can park it at the camp ground and run around with the pickup. Your going to spend allot of money refurbishing that exambulance for camping.

michael_click (author)wambs82016-09-08

I think the slide-in idea is a good one, but you are limited by the pick-up. As has been said before, an ambulance is basically s box truck. They have the engine, suspension, braking system for heaver loads.

Rater than starting with an ambulance and stripping it down to a box van, why not start there? All the U-drive-it rental companies have these for sale. You probably won't get a bargain there though. The is too much competition from guys trying to start their own moving businesses.

If you do get one of these vehicles, the fit-out doesn't need to be permanent. You could build separate slide-in units customized for different purposes. On could be for your construction business. Another could be for RV/camping. Still another could be fitted for remote ham operations. The slide-in units could be stored in the backyard and used for their purposes, eben without being installed in the truck.

Having removable units would be handy if you ever needed to sell or replace the truck body as well. You wouldn't lose all your custom fit-out work. Just find a new, compatible truck and you are ready to go!

MaggieF15 (author)DocR2016-09-07

Great thoughts. I immediately thought food truck lol

BL14 (author)2016-09-06

I wouldn't want to sleep in a vehicle where who knows how many people have died in.

jw-vargas (author)BL142017-08-28

But yet you sleep in hotel beds? think back to all the rockers who've died of overdoses -- Janis, Morrison, Hendrix, et al.

MichaelH60 (author)jw-vargas2017-08-30

Nope! These were very HIGH (PUN INTENDED) dollar folk who stayed in big money, swank places that I could not afford to stay in! I'm more the Motel 6 type. I prefer staying only where the average old man died while doing a prostitute in the bed!!

Squash (author)BL142016-09-07

People rarely die in ambulances. Paramedics keep people alive until they arrive at the hospital and can get more attention. Yes, things happen but it's rare they pass in the ambulances.

noahspurrier (author)Squash2017-08-28

I'm OK if fewer than 50 people have died in the room I plan to sleep in, but if 50 people or more have died in there then it will creep me out and I can't sleep. This is why I can't sleep in hospitals. How do you determine how many people have died in the ambulance you plan sleep in? Do they cut a notch in the steering wheel or something? Maybe they paint a skull and cross-bones X on the side of the ambulance or something like it.

michael_click (author)Squash2016-09-08

People die in ambulances all the time. They just aren't officially "dead" pronounced do by a doctor. Where do you think the term DOA comes from?

I had an uncle who drove an ambulace. He was called to an accident site where the victim had been decapitated. He transported the remains to the hospital rather than wait on someone from the morgue to show up. Miraculously, the victim wasn't "dead" until the doctor certified him as being so. The victim's official time of death was several hours after the time of the accident.

Squash (author)michael_click2016-09-08

DOA is used by police, fire and medical on scenes of homicides and accidents all the time. That acronym doesn't necessarily come from an ambulance crew showing up at the hospital with a dead body.

Squash (author)michael_click2016-09-08

So I guess the paramedics I know are just really good at their jobs. Around here, ambulances don't transport the dead. They won't even do a facility transport if they don't think the patient will make it. They are required to stop on the side of the road if the patient passes which is very rare.

The funeral home/morgue would pick up bodies. Paramedics can't render aid to a person who is already dead and rendering aid is their job. Maybe transportation of body parts was in your uncle's job description but not for any of the paramedics I know. Anyway...I was talking to BL14 and trying to calm their idea of ambulances. Your response is not positive or helpful...conditions of this website.

RobF10 (author)Squash2016-09-08

"Paramedics keep people alive until they arrive at the hospital and can get more attention."

You make it sound as though paramedics are somehow magical and people will only die once handed over to less competent individuals such as consultants and surgeons. People rarely die in ambulances because they will likely spend less than 15 mins inside one. Folks rarely die in elevators but I wouldn't enter one to escape a fire simply on that knowledge. :D

ngadhno (author)BL142017-08-28

I don't buy coffee at Starbucks because once a man died in a Starbucks shop.

Doc Holliday (author)BL142017-06-18

Have you considered hotel rooms, homes, parks; and of course cars?

Oh, and human/animal waste and all other pollutants you're currently in-taking?

No matter, you're not producing any of these, and live in a sterile bubble.

jwzumwalt (author)BL142016-09-08

Maybe a better way of looking at it, is you are sleeping where a lot of people woke from death :) (I'm an ex firefighter)

AlanS60 (author)BL142016-09-06

Then you might want to consider a Hearse. You can be sure no one has died in a Hearse. They are already dead before they are a passenger.

Nic2412W (author)AlanS602016-09-07

Ok, at least one person has died in a Hearse crash before. Then, the Hearse is spirited away, refurbished, and sold on the list of craig. That must have happened at least once.

01BMW325xiT (author)AlanS602016-09-07

Haha I was thinking a hearse.

Starlyte (author)AlanS602016-09-06

This is getting funnier and funnier... :D

chris.gaines.71 (author)BL142016-09-06

Yet you live on Earth where many millions have died!

porschef (author)BL142016-09-06

You are a tender soul, aren't you?

craft-and-crochet (author)2017-08-28

Great instructable! I want one! :D

meswanson (author)2017-06-22

I can't believe the number of total non constructive comments. All I see are a bunch of whiners afraid of ghosts. So you think it's creepy, fine this does help the instructable one bit.

jw-vargas (author)meswanson2017-08-28

@meswanson: "I can't believe the number of total non constructive comments"

* * * * *

Oh, hell yes!! The "people die here; no, they die there" is total nonsense and has nothing to do with buying a surplused out former ambulance.

It would be okay, I guess, but you'd have to do a bunch of body work getting rid of the emergency lights. And inside, you'd have a major remodelling. So, in my mind at least, you'd have to buy it cheap, to offset the costs of inside/outside retro fits.
JeffreyM13 (author)2017-08-28

This is good information. The Ambulance should carry a good load.The transformation to camper would not be a problem. Would even make a good work tuck.

mardeehill (author)2017-01-05

Great idea! I'll have to ask my son's brother-n-law who is a EMS here in Florida what they do. I went to your page to see if you have pictures of the remodel of the inside and I was so disappointed. Well, if your working on it I hope you take pictures along the way. You should add updates if you are.

boatmakertoo (author)2017-01-02

What a great idea. Some of my retired friends have spent small fortunes on RVs that are never completely satisfactory. Seems that adapting an ambulance will lead to a better result. I have a friend who bought hearses. When first married he and his wife were told that because of a missing ovary they would be infertile. Seven children later they found a used hearse was a cheap and satisfactory family car. Different vehicle, same principle. Think about a larger box.

Epimethius (author)2016-09-15

The ambulance has great merit, a type of vehicle I never considered. Many, many good ideas about conversions to campers. But back to ambulances - there are so many available! A search for "ambulance for sale" returned many commercial sites. They rarely come up in auto auctions but that is another possibility. If you find it and it fits your budget and abilities, nifty! Besides, there is a certain cachet driving a big white truck with orange stripes - sorta like Ghostbusters.

lolcatman22 (author)Epimethius2016-09-18

when there's something strange.

and your camping in a wood

who you gonna call


NathanE16 (author)lolcatman222017-01-01

*Slaps forehead*

Please stop.


lolcatman22 (author)NathanE162017-01-02


Prof. A. Z. O_Trope (author)2017-01-01

Be sure to repaint and refit to make it OBVIOUS the vehicle is NOT a working ambulance. Ambulances are prime targets for thieves who assume there will be saleable drugs inside. Great 'ible, though!

Also - make certain to remove(or replace) the emergency lights! Some areas have laws that restrict the use and mounting of these to certified or licensed organizations/ officials. Without such permits/licenses the driver and/or owner may be liable for fine, fees, and possible jail time.

The easiest way is to just remove/replace all strobe functions with normal fixtures. Many units do not even require much work - all the has to be removed is a central light controller unit, and then some rewiring work may be required(if you wish to have the lights functioning. If having the lights work isn't your thing, then all you have to do is remove the switches to operate the lights.

kd8bxp (author)2017-01-01

A lot of what you say can be applied to just about any Government auction (Read the terms, go look at the stuff if you can, and there are pack-n-ship places that can ship most items). Something I found when I bought my 2009 CVPI last year, was to look at Craigslist too, at least in the area some small police/fire/ems stations don't want to pay the govdeals fees, and list on Craigslist typical for less than you can buy at auction. I was able to go and look at the car, and being a small department talk to both the cop that drove it, and the maintenance guy who maintained it. Made a deal that day, and (after some government red tape) was able to walk out with the car the same day I saw it on Craigslist.

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