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Old 03-18-2014, 01:30 PM   #1
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Advice

Hello,

We are a newbie family learning as much as possible about converting a short bus into a camper skoolie, no plumbing or electrical needed. We are looking into lots of local family trips and maybe one large cross country trip (from MA to WY). We are really new and just starting out with a huge learning curve so be kind please.

We have been looking at some short buses and have a few options and would love some advice from the pros.

2002 Chevy G3500 Mileage 116,000--$3,800
2000 International 19 Pass. School Bus 240,000 miles - $2900
2005 Chevy Mid Bus Seats 28 122,000 miles - $4000

All automatic.

Which makes are best?
How many miles can you get out of a bus (life span)?
Is a cross-country trek really feasible or should we focus on local?
Are there any details that should make us run? rust?

Any other advice would be fabulous, we have spent hours reading posts and advice and have already learned so much but we feel like it is a drop in the bucket. Excited but timid.
Thanks very much.
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Old 03-18-2014, 04:17 PM   #2
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Re: Advice

Sounds like you want a movable steel tent. That should be easily done.

You don't mention whether your three choices are diesels or gas engines, although the International almost certainly is a diesel. A well maintained diesel will go 300,000 - 500,000 miles while a gas engine is doing well to last 200,000 miles. Rust can be an issue especially in the northern states, but more important is the service history of the vehicle (school districts usually do a decent job), and the condition of the tires and brakes. Replacing either will cost north of a grand each. A well maintained bus usually costs you more up front but may be cheaper down the road, especially if you don't do your own repairs. If you're willing to get greasy and fix stuff yourself (or know someone who can help you for a six pack) often a bus with issues is a bargain. If not, get the one in the best shape. In any case, plan to do the "100,000 mile service" which means replacing all fluids and filters and belts.

Look for:

The reputation of the engine and trans (some are just badly designed)
A copy of the service log (big plus)
Fluid leaks - oil, trans, coolant, brake lines, steering pump
Tires with good tread, even wear and no cracks in the sidewall rubber
Newish brakes with a high, firm pedal and no pulsation at the pedal
Rusted areas
Trans fluid that's pink and doesn't smell burned
Working air conditioning and heat
Roof leaks (seems that most schoolie windows leak)
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Old 03-18-2014, 05:53 PM   #3
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Re: Advice

IMO get a full size bus for less money, and much better engine choices.

Nat
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Old 03-19-2014, 07:57 AM   #4
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Re: Advice

Roach711, thank you so much for the amazing advice. Steel tent...sounds like a good name.

We had read that everyone seemed to prefer diesel but we weren't sure why. Now, we are definitely seeking out a diesel. We would like to have our mini-skoolie for a long time. We have been looking for school district buses as well but with not much luck. Do you just call up a bus company? I called a few and they sort of brushed me off.

As for the "reputation of the engine and trans (some are just badly designed)" are there one or two we should avoid? How would we learn about the reputation? Just reading and talking to people?

How bad is rust? We are in MA so we have seen so many with rust already and avoided most. Are even a few quarter sized spots too problematic?

We are all about getting greasy and learning so that won't be a problem, although we do have a lot to learn. This is going to be a long-term family project.

nat_ster, we are a bit timid about a full size bus. We are still learning and think it would be too much for our needs. Although I will say the floor plans and ideas are amazing.

Thanks again, we really appreciate your time and advice.
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Old 03-19-2014, 12:10 PM   #5
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Re: Advice

Diesels last way longer, pull better and get better fuel mileage than gassers. They're also more expensive to maintain and diesel fuel is more expensive so there are trade offs. An oil change for a gas engine may take 6 quarts but a diesel may be several times that. Same for trans fluid and coolant. Some diesels require special additives in the oil and coolant. They can get ornery in really cold weather (fuel gells in the tank). One advantage with the Ford and Chevy engines is that parts and service are available at any local dealer or parts counter. For a short bus that's not towing anything, isn't heavily loaded and isn't on the road much (most RVs are parked most of their lives) a big gas engine would do fine.

As engines go, the Ford Powerstroke 7.3l diesels are well regarded while the newer 6.0l engines are called "6 leakers" for their habit of leaky head gaskets. Cummins diesels seem to be desirable but the Chevy Duramax has gotten some flack here lately. Nat_ster doesn't like them, I know. My bus has the 7.3l so I researched it pretty well. As for the others I'm just going on hearsay so don't take my word as gospel. As far as researching for yourself goes, there's an internet forum for just about anything you can imagine. Google "duramax forum" and you'll get enough info to keep you occupied for a while.

Body rust is a mind-over-matter thing. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Rusted out wheel wells will let water into your living area so they need to be fixed. At least one shuttle bus owner here had to replace some rotted out body supports.

Parking your bus can be an issue in some towns and neighborhoods. Zoning restrictions and home owner associations can give you a lot of grief so check before you bring baby home. We had to extend our driveway back behind our house to avoid a nasty letter from the city zoning folks.

Finding a bus is often all about where you live. School districts appear to sell theirs off in the summer months. City transit authorities refresh their shuttle bus fleets periodically but those buses tend to be pretty well wrung out, at least in the Detroit area. Craig's List and eBay are good sources. http://www.govbids.com auctions off government surplus stuff (that's where I found ours).

Many states require you to paint over the "school bus yellow." Even if your state doesn't require the change other states may give you a hassle while driving through.

I believe all states require that certain equipment be installed before re-titling your bus as a motorhome. The list usually includes permanent sleeping quarters, cooking and toilet facilities. Some states will let you sign an affidavit attesting to the changes (Michigan is one) while others want to see your changes with their own eyes first. If receipts are required and you don't have them you can make your own on the computer.

Once your title reads "motorhome" you can get cheaper insurance through National General (formerly GMAC). They'll usually only sell you liability coverage.

I think that about covers the basics.
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Old 03-19-2014, 12:45 PM   #6
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Re: Advice

Roach is spot on.

You can also get full size buses as little as 29 feet. A 29 foot flat nose will turn sharper than any pickup truck on the road, due to axle placement.

A full size bus will never be overloaded, tires last forever, ect

As far a the Duramax, there was never a mechanical version. I don't like any of the newer diesels with electronics, including the Cummins. Also the Duramax is the only aluminum blocked V8 diesel. All others are inline 6 like the big rigs. Inline 6 have around half the internal moving parts, and naturally develop lots of low end torque to get a big vehicle moving. Without a automatic transmission, the Duramax would need to be revved slipping the hell out of the clutch just to get the bus rolling, due to the torque curve being too high in the RPM band.

My favorites are the p-7100 pumped 5.9, 8.3 Cummins, and the DT366, DT466. The P-7100 injection pumped engines require no electricity to run. If a bomb or the sun throws a EMP, your bus will still start by rolling it down a hill. They are also much nicer to work on, and rewire as none of the stock wiring harness is needed. I convert mine over to all mechanical gauges, and throw the factory harness in the scrap wire bin.

Diesels work just fine without a bunch of unnecessary computers and crap. However they would not meet emissions and won't make the change on the fly power that the modern world likes.

IMO full size buses are easier to work on like most MDT's. Nothing is cramped up like in a light duty truck chassis.

Nat
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Old 03-19-2014, 08:48 PM   #7
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Re: Advice

computers on engines aren't so bad, you just have to understand how they work, you can also pull codes with out having a code reader . you simply just have to have a better understanding , its not that hard to.
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Old 03-19-2014, 08:55 PM   #8
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Re: Advice

Quote:
Originally Posted by gbstewart
computers on engines aren't so bad, you just have to understand how they work, you can also pull codes with out having a code reader . you simply just have to have a better understanding , its not that hard to.
gbstewart
True, I like the computerized system in my little gas Honda.

I guess I just got spoiled not needing one on my diesels.

Nat
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:58 AM   #9
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Re: Advice

Nat_ster,

All modern engines are computerized, and we'll run out of the old ones eventually. Also, the powerstrokes and the t444s are V8s as well, as well as some of the CAT engines, though GM may have the only aluminum block. I have to defend the Duramaxes: where my dad works, they've 4 or 5 of them that are over 300,000k miles, with quite a few more around the 200k mark. I've driven a few, they're pretty peppy for diesels, as well as a joy to tow with. And while most of those are in 3/4 ton or 1 ton trucks, the Chevy 4500 and 6500 do pretty well, also. It's not a huge fleet, but they've had none require any major work and no premature failures. Most of those engines see significant time pulling bobcats(i.e. daily), with the bigger trucks pulling up to 12-15 tons pretty regularly. They're maintained extremely well, so that probably helps.

Granted, interchangeability with the rest of the fleet is the only reason I'd put one of those in a 40' pusher, but they're pretty good engines in my eyes--I wouldn't use a powerstroke or the cummins 5.9 for that duty either, they're just too small IMO. I wouldn't hesitate to get a smaller bus with one, tough.

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Old 03-28-2014, 03:55 PM   #10
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Re: Advice

Thank you all for the advice. Our heads are swimming with options and excitement. This project is truly addicting. We appreciate all the input and hopefully we will have a bus soon.
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