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Old 12-06-2016, 01:43 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: PA for now, CO soon
Posts: 14
Help Choosing a Bus

Hi everyone,

This is a fantastic site with a lot of really knowledgeable people. Could I please have your advice on a bus conversion?

Note: I did search around for a thread that answered some or all of these questions. If one like that exists, I'd appreciate the link!

A Little Background About Me
- I'm a mechanical engineer by trade.
- I have a good amount of experience with plumbing/electricity/carpentry. I'm certainly not a master at anything, but I have enough experience to figure out how to do most things after a little google searching.
- Currently living in Northern NJ / Central PA depending on time of year.

My Current Situation
- I've been working on a homemade RV for about a year, time permitting.
- The RV is built up from a new 2014 Worthington aluminum deckover trailer (~14' x 7.5') with custom fiberglass walls, windows, vent, and a skylight. It's watertight and very lightweight.
- I've built the shell and done almost all of the design work for the utilities and interior, but have not built anything other than the shell yet. I've learned to finish designing before I start building.
- As I've progressed through this project, I've come to realize that 98 sqft and 3000 lb GVRW (including trailer, walls, roof, and everything inside) is just not enough for a full-time house for me. It's mostly the weight that I find limiting. The trailer + walls/roof/windows are ~1400 lb.
- My intention is to sell my tiny house shell, purchase a bus, and build all of the stuff I've designed/bought in the bus.

Budget
- I'd like to spend ~$8,000 for the conversion (most of this stuff is already itemized and documented, and some even bought already, so I'm pretty confident in this number)
- From what I've read on these forums, I'd like to spend $3,000 - $5,000 for just the bus. I could go closer to $10,000 if needed.

What am I looking for in a bus?
- Permanent home for 1-2 people
- Sufficient power to climb mountains (moving to Colorado this summer)
- At least decent gas mileage (>10mpg would be fantastic, but I know that's usually a stretch)
- Stealth camping capable (i.e. not a huge bus)
- At least 18' length of usable interior space
- Storage space underneath (I'm leaning towards a rear engine "pusher")
- Something reliable that I can drive off the lot. I'm ok with spending a little more on a newer/better bus. I don't want to put a lot of time/money into getting/keeping the bus running after purchasing it, at least in the first few years.
- Somewhat off-road capable. I won't be driving over giant boulders in a bus, I know, but something that can handle a muddy non-paved road would be great.

Questions
1. What kind of bus should I look for? How old? How many miles? Tire condition?
2. How much should I expect to spend on just the bus?
3. Where should I look to buy the bus?
4. What should I do before buying a bus? Inspection? Carfax/autotrader or similar?
5. How difficult will it be to insure? I've read everything from impossible to $100 a year with no hassles.
6. Will I need a CDL at any point?
7. (Disregard if this is off-topic - I'm very new here): Is anyone interested in buying my new fiberglass tiny house shell? I can post/send lots of detailed info/pics.

Thanks for your help!
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Old 12-06-2016, 05:32 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lg22woo View Post
Questions
1. What kind of bus should I look for? How old? How many miles? Tire condition?
2. How much should I expect to spend on just the bus?
3. Where should I look to buy the bus?
4. What should I do before buying a bus? Inspection? Carfax/autotrader or similar?
5. How difficult will it be to insure? I've read everything from impossible to $100 a year with no hassles.
6. Will I need a CDL at any point?
7. (Disregard if this is off-topic - I'm very new here): Is anyone interested in buying my new fiberglass tiny house shell? I can post/send lots of detailed info/pics.

Thanks for your help!
1. This is like asking whether to buy Ford, Chevy, or Dodge. I personally prefer a conventional bus with a hood that tilts forward - easier to service the engine, in my opinion. Age and mileage are somewhat less important than actual condition. There are 10 year old buses in very poor condition (cosmetically, electrically, and mechanically), and there are 20 year old buses still in excellent condition. *AVOID RUST* as much as possible. Tire condition is less of an issue and more of a bargaining chip. Tires are easily replaced (if not inexpensively) so an otherwise excellent bus should not be avoided simply because of tires - which, at some point, you'll end up having to replace anyway.
2. This depends on age, mileage, condition, options, and many other factors. Many of us have picked up nice buses from $1500 and up. I would expect to spend around the 3-4K mark if you snag one at an auction, and more if you buy from an individual, and even more if you buy from a dealer.
3. Dealers (most expensive), individuals (less expensive, most of the time) who often advertise on Craiglist and locally, auctions (many of us shop GovDeals or PublicSurplus), and directly from school districts and such (some are required to sell through auction, others can sell to whoever.)
4. I wouldn't mess with Carfax on a bus, especially if buying through an auction or directly from a school district. An inspection is critical. I do my own inspections, but I'm reasonably mechanically inclined. *AVOID RUST*. Check underneath, inside the rear wheel-wells, around the back door, the floor supports, and anywhere else you can look. Check for water in the oil, and oil in the coolant (both are indications of engine problems). If you are considering a bus that is a considerable distance away, you can ask to see if a forum member will go give it an inspection for you.
5. I had no difficulty insuring mine with Progressive Commercial under a "Commercial Vehicle for Private Use" policy, for about $40/month.
6. You shouldn't need a CDL as long as it's titled/registered as an RV. Check your state's laws to be sure (All bets are off if traveling to Canada; you will need Class B and/or Air Brake endorsements if your bus meets these).
7. Thanks for the offer, but I'll pass.
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Old 12-06-2016, 07:30 PM   #3
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And did we mention "AVOID RUST"? No? Definitely avoid rust. This. Is. Key.

Personally I think you should consider a full-sized bus. The shorties are great, but you're living in it. You need space. Really-really.

Personally, I would go with a conventional-style ("doghouse") with a DT466, any late-model Allison trans (the 3060 or the 1000/2000 series are really awesome), and rear-end gears that put you around 2300-2400 ish RPMs at 55-60 mph.

NO RUST. (Did we mention no rust?)

Look for the availability of maintenence records. Busses without a paper trail are always very suspect. Any school district has to keep them, as do any company operating a for-hire or govt-subsidized service. And TALK TO THE GUYS AT THE BUS BARN! Lordy, if you can get them talking, they'll basically tell you which is a lemon (and which ones they loved). Speak little. Listen much.

Just 2 sheckels worth from an unabashed DT466 fan-boy.
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Old 12-06-2016, 08:05 PM   #4
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Location: Richmond Virginia
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Engine: 366 Big block Chevy! :) w/ Stick shift
Welcome! Always validating to see a tiny house convert. I also suspected a tiny house would be too small for me. Love this 35ft GMC. Even have a 10' shop in the back.

By a show of hands; anyone NOT moving to CO soon? lol Most the people i have met who are moving, are moving there. A friend who lived there told me the place is exploding. Not sure i like the sound of that.


Looking forward to seeing pictures.
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Old 12-06-2016, 08:24 PM   #5
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id like to find a place to park out there in the summer. i was hoping to only spend 10 grand but looks like it will be double that maybe triple. all this stuff adds up, im just starting. for a bus look everywhere. price 1000 to 10,000. cat motor parts are pricey. rust sucks, dont buy it.you can go off road, just look out for wet grass. most buses age out of service around 150,000 miles. tires have a date code, week/year, they age out too. its a crap shoot on getting a good bus, could blow up on the way home. good luck
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Old 12-06-2016, 08:42 PM   #6
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Location: EHT New Jersey
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Year: 2003
Coachwork: AmTran
Chassis: International 3000RE
Engine: T444E/AT545
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So, a couple of things. Insurance- Probably have to go with a commercial for private use plan. Progressive RV won't touch us, Foremost won't touch DIY/Semi-Pro conversions (they want a professional conversion). Everyone who recommends NatGen or other agencies, don't/can't/won't insure in NJ. I think AIS does. How do I know this? I also live in NJ (EHT, near Atlantic City).

Secondly, here's the MVC guidelines, straight from the Special Vehicles Manual (from '14, probably hasn't changed much if at all) (Emphasis added):
Quote:
Originally Posted by NJMVC Foreign/Special Vehicles Unit

Bus – Motor Home (RV)
Foreign – Bus – Motor Home Page 1 of 3
Foreign Title Unit (R11/09)
General Information
1) Change vehicle type on Comp System : This Procedure will be followed when the MVC-Foreign Title Unit is notified that a bus was converted to a Recreational Vehicle (RV). The regulations concerning Certificate of ownership for used motor vehicles converted into motor homes is 13:21-20.5. This transaction can be handled through the mail or in-person at the MVC central office in Trenton. If approved, this transaction will be handled in 2 steps:
2) Issue a Replacement title on the Agency V3 System
* Motor Home Vehicle Type = 05 Required Modifications
 Remove most seats from the bus : In order for the bus to be converted to an RV, the customer must make the following modifications to the vehicle:
 Remove emergency lights including the side mounted stop sign
 Repaint the exterior of the vehicle (Cannot remain any shade of yellow)
 Install a permanent bed or sleep sofa
 Install a permanent sink or bar sink (Must be in working order)
 Install a permanent stove or microwave

Bus – Motor Home (RV)
Foreign – Bus – Motor Home Page 2 of 3
Foreign Title Unit (R11/09)
Requirements
• :
Original NJ Title
o If the customer wishes to re-sell the vehicle, they must do so after the conversion, as a separate transaction. must be already in customer’s name as a Bus.
• Color photographs
o Exterior photos must completely/clearly show all 4 sides of the vehicle. of the interior and exterior after the conversion.
o Interior photos must completely/ show the bed, stove/microwave and sink.
• Pencil tracing or photograph clearly showing the complete VIN plate

• $60.00 check or money order payable to: NJMVC.
o If cash is received through the mail, immediately notify a supervisor.
No Cash (mail/ dealers)
o $85.00 is required if title is issued with a lien.
Certified weight slip for the converted motor vehicle.
Procedure
o All work should be date stamped when it is received by mail. If customer is in-person, ask for proper identification. :
o Thoroughly review all documents and forms for completeness.
 Remember to NEVER fill out a customer’s application
o Complete Foreign Title Unit – Checklist
o If any required documents are missing/incomplete or the fee is incorrect/omitted please see the “Reject Procedure”.
Third- Like GC has said "NO RUST", and "Should I go with Ford/GM/MOPAR?". However, I would personally (and I have one) go with a transit style bus. Up to 40 gloriously uninterrupted floor to work with, plus they tend to look more like commercial Class A RVs (stealthier). Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

FE's can be loud. The engine can be difficult to work on, you can't hang anything between the frame rails (Fresh/Gray/Black Water, Propane tanks, plumbing) because of the driveshaft. But you have a curbside front entrance, a large rear emergency exit and possibly a side emergency door.

REs are quieter, and engine access can be easier, and you can hang your tanks between the frame rails. But you lose the rear door and about 3-4 feet of floor space for the doghouse, and there's the potential to get hung up.

Around 10MPG is the best you're going to get. No way around it.

Best bus to find? An activity bus. Already geared for highways, and may have underbelly storage. If not, find one from one of the more rural states.

Where to find such a beast? Look beyond the NE and Rust Belt. Head South and West, young man. Kentucky, Tennessee, inland Deep South- where they don't dump salt by the ton.

As for builder? See the Ford/GM/MOPAR comment. However, International 3000-series pushers have a full size radiator, plenty of fresh air cooling, and two access doors that all pretty much close to full access to the engine.

If I could do my bus (an International 3k series RE) all over again, I'd find one with a DT466 and an Allison MD3060.
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Old 12-06-2016, 09:49 PM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooternj View Post
If I could do my bus (an International 3k series RE) all over again, I'd find one with a DT466 and an Allison MD3060.
What he said, except you want a DT530, if you can find one
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Old 12-07-2016, 07:39 AM   #8
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: PA for now, CO soon
Posts: 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooternj View Post
So, a couple of things. Insurance- Probably have to go with a commercial for private use plan. Progressive RV won't touch us, Foremost won't touch DIY/Semi-Pro conversions (they want a professional conversion). Everyone who recommends NatGen or other agencies, don't/can't/won't insure in NJ. I think AIS does. How do I know this? I also live in NJ (EHT, near Atlantic City).

Secondly, here's the MVC guidelines, straight from the Special Vehicles Manual (from '14, probably hasn't changed much if at all) (Emphasis added):


Third- Like GC has said "NO RUST", and "Should I go with Ford/GM/MOPAR?". However, I would personally (and I have one) go with a transit style bus. Up to 40 gloriously uninterrupted floor to work with, plus they tend to look more like commercial Class A RVs (stealthier). Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

FE's can be loud. The engine can be difficult to work on, you can't hang anything between the frame rails (Fresh/Gray/Black Water, Propane tanks, plumbing) because of the driveshaft. But you have a curbside front entrance, a large rear emergency exit and possibly a side emergency door.

REs are quieter, and engine access can be easier, and you can hang your tanks between the frame rails. But you lose the rear door and about 3-4 feet of floor space for the doghouse, and there's the potential to get hung up.

Around 10MPG is the best you're going to get. No way around it.

Best bus to find? An activity bus. Already geared for highways, and may have underbelly storage. If not, find one from one of the more rural states.

Where to find such a beast? Look beyond the NE and Rust Belt. Head South and West, young man. Kentucky, Tennessee, inland Deep South- where they don't dump salt by the ton.

As for builder? See the Ford/GM/MOPAR comment. However, International 3000-series pushers have a full size radiator, plenty of fresh air cooling, and two access doors that all pretty much close to full access to the engine.

If I could do my bus (an International 3k series RE) all over again, I'd find one with a DT466 and an Allison MD3060.

Wow, thanks for all responses! I'm thinking....Maybe some rust is ok? Just kidding, I got the point.

I'm realizing now that I should have clarified some of my questions more. It seems like my first task is to choose a bus type (school, transit, etc). I like the idea of a school bus because of the simplicity and low initial cost. Then from there choosing a school bus....

How different is an activity bus from a school bus? Should I pursue one of those?

Where do you put your water/propane tanks in front-engine? Is there just less underbelly storage, or none at all? For that matter, how much space are we talking under a rear-engine?

In terms of being able to climb hills without overheating and slowing to a crawl, which engine configuration is best? Any particular engine types? I've heard lots of good things about Cummins 5.9L. I've also heard CAT is expensive to work on in general.

Would it be stupid to try to find a bus close to home, in the NJ-PA region? You mentioned head South and West, but I'm already North and East =}
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Old 12-07-2016, 08:19 AM   #9
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Oh, you'll find buses up there..... but being in the Great Salt Belt, they're a lot more prone to have plenty of rust..... but you might get lucky.
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Old 12-07-2016, 08:20 AM   #10
Bus Crazy
 
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Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: EHT New Jersey
Posts: 1,134
Year: 2003
Coachwork: AmTran
Chassis: International 3000RE
Engine: T444E/AT545
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lg22woo View Post
Wow, thanks for all responses! I'm thinking....Maybe some rust is ok? Just kidding, I got the point.

I'm realizing now that I should have clarified some of my questions more. It seems like my first task is to choose a bus type (school, transit, etc). I like the idea of a school bus because of the simplicity and low initial cost. Then from there choosing a school bus....

How different is an activity bus from a school bus? Should I pursue one of those?

Where do you put your water/propane tanks in front-engine? Is there just less underbelly storage, or none at all? For that matter, how much space are we talking under a rear-engine?

In terms of being able to climb hills without overheating and slowing to a crawl, which engine configuration is best? Any particular engine types? I've heard lots of good things about Cummins 5.9L. I've also heard CAT is expensive to work on in general.

Would it be stupid to try to find a bus close to home, in the NJ-PA region? You mentioned head South and West, but I'm already North and East =}
Transits are also a style of school bus- the flat front buses that some districts and companies have.

On an FE bus, water, propane, and battery bank can be hung on the outside of the frame rails. Some builders also put their fresh water inside, usually in the back to help ballast the bus.

If you look North and East, try to find a bus that's been garage kept. An FE I was looking at, but didn't pull the trigger on, was out of Latham NY, garage kept in the winter. Best bet on to find one of those is through govdeals.com or Publicsurplus.com. Rust is cancer.

Cummins and Navistar plants have the best aftermarket parts availability. CAT is proprietary. Avoid MB engines at all costs- expensive to maintain, expensive with parts, and suck down oil like its water.
5.9 tends to be a little underpowered, so I've heard (I'm sure those owners will chime in on that). They also tend to be mated in pushers to smaller radiators or combination radiator/intercoolers. Regardless of engine, for climbing the Colorado Rockies, you may want to add a secondary misting system to help keep temps cool.

An activity bus is a school bus, just without the warning/caution and stop and crossing arms. Depending on from where, they may already not have seats, or they may have coach/transit style instead of the standard school bus seats.
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