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Old 05-22-2016, 02:46 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Already overwhelmed. Need help narrowing it down!

Ok so I'm positive newbies have posted exactly what I'm going to say before and I'm sure if I scrolled through on my phone for another five days I might find it but I'd likely still have questions so this is going to just be MY "help I'm confused" thread for when I can't find something and keywords aren't helping!

That being said. First thing is first.

I was anticipating our research process taking the next year because my husband is always so scared of change HOWEVER...we have a tax amendment coming this summer and he has told me "start looking and when we find it well jump on it and just take it from there" (I cannot begin to tell you how crazy that sounded to me coming from him!)

Here is my problem.

THERE ARE SO MANY BUSES! How do I know what will work for my family without ever having one? How do I know what size diesel is a good size or good model? What will tow a minivan or CRV on a dolly with ease? All this reading and the numbers are starting to blend together as I read them. We have 4 kids total (only 2 full time so makeshift beds with the sofas and such are just fine) so some decent length is a must for adequate space, then I am 5'11 and hubby is 6'3 so it needs to be tall enough to not cause back/neck problems. We are planning to possibly raise the roof someday but not immediately. Also my family is in Washington state, lots of hills...so I'm not sure about a flat nose...but I like the idea of less heat while driving and quiet while driving would be nice too. However we'll be in it full time so storage is essential too.
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Old 05-22-2016, 04:43 PM   #2
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I drive a 2003 Thomas HDX transit-style rear engine. Inside, it's 96" wide and about 35' long. I'm 74" tall and I have plenty of overhead clearance IN THE MIDDLE. Naturally, at the edges, it does tend to compress. Raising the roof isn't really a necessity. I have a through-basement for both storage and liquid tanks (fresh & grey). I recently obtained a composting toilet, so no black water tank. Inside the passenger compartment (mine's rated at 84 passenger), you'll find approximately 1400 lbs of excess seating. Once those are removed, you only have the four wheel arches and the two cabin heater units.

I've carpeted/linoleumed(?) the floor and had to have a custom bedframe made to accommodate my full-sized mattress. I just got a 15.5 cu ft fridge that fits nicely in the middle (which is my combination bath/kitchen). The rear is the Master Bedroom, which leaves the front as either a bunkroom or a convertible living room.

Most buses will handle towing a minivan or CRV without even breaking a sweat. I live in Montana and I drove my bus back from Kankakee, IL to Billings at 65 mph, averaging 7.5 mpg.

Engine choices? Personal preference. Mine has a Cat C7, a dog of a motor and one that requires Caterpillar parts exclusively. I'd prefer either a Cummins or a Detroit. The Allison tranny that is in mine is a beauty, shifting quite well.

When I got my bus, all 6 tires on the ground were almost new. Truck tires are VERY expensive, so this, in the end, came out well. The batteries may need replacement sometime in the future, but not right now.

Where I finally got parked has shore power, so the inside can run comfortably on a 30a circuit, although I'd recommend a 50a system. My cook-top is an induction cooker. I've already survived a Montana winter in this beastie, but I would like to be just a skosh warmer when I get out of bed. I'm looking at a Russian hydronic heater (about $900) that'll run off the onboard diesel tank at 0.7 gph. But, who needs heat in the summer?

I got my bus through Midwest Transit for $8K. They specialize in school buses and activity buses. They're there to answer any questions, too.
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Old 05-22-2016, 05:24 PM   #3
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I found this one today 2 hours away, he said he likes our story and would let it go for $3800...opinions please?

https://macon.craigslist.org/bar/5550603760.html
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Old 05-22-2016, 05:28 PM   #4
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Don't worry, we all start in the same spot you are. My wife and I found it incredibly helpful to actually make 2 lists: 1 with all of our questions, and 1 with all of the things we knew we wanted in our future bus.

Every chance we got, we would research one of our questions. Every answer seemed to add to both lists, but eventually we developed an understanding of school buses that makes most people think we're crazy. We're still uninformed compared to many here on the forums, but we read daily and continue to learn. Now when we're out and see buses, we'll make comments like 'ah that probably has xyz engine' or 'look at all that headroom!' Other passengers with us just give us strange looks (or eye rolls if they're around us too much).

Don't be afraid to ask questions, and just keep reading. It really does get easier. It feels like a scrambled mess at first, but your understanding will build daily.

You'll know when you are ready to make an informed purchase.
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Old 05-22-2016, 08:07 PM   #5
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What CaptSquid said...
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Old 05-22-2016, 08:11 PM   #6
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That's a nice looking bus and a favored engine. Do you know the transmission?

That seems like a pretty good deal if you want a dognose, but you're looking for storage and floor space. You get both with a pusher. FEs don't usually have the under storage but some do, plus you didn't want to listen to the engine or deal with heat in the front. They usually have big engines and hopefully a better transmission than most of us are stuck with. A lot of us have the Allison 545, which is perfectly adequate if you take good care of it and stuff. It tends to kind of free wheel on the downhills, almost feels like coasting in neutral.
I think you're on the right track. What you described needing is most commonly in a pusher. Good engine choice even on that dognose which appears to have low miles and really not a bad price. I don't think that one fits your needs. You'll have multiple opinions here soon.
Good luck.
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Old 05-22-2016, 08:45 PM   #7
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If towing a vehicle will be on your list, I would pass on that bus. It probably has an AT545 trans. I would want a Cummins 8.3 or International DT466 engine. I would want a MT643 or MD3060 trans. If you get a bus with an AT545 trans and tow, you will work it to death. Some may offer different opinions especially if it is what they own. Have you ever seen a bumper sticker that says, "BALD IS BEAUTIFUL?" The driver is probably bald and stuck with his chrome dome. I shave my head because I choose to not because I'm trying to cover up my lack of hair. YMMV!
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:01 PM   #8
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There is no one bus that will work for everyone.

In order to narrow your search you need to determine which style of bus you want.

The Type 'C' conventional bus is the most common bus out there. As a consequence, with supply and demand the way it is, there is a large supply and low demand for them. In other words, they are going to cost less than any other bus of the same size.

The Type 'D' transit bus is the most expensive bus out there. There are a lot of reasons for the premium price with most of the reasons due to the fact premium options are built into most of them. Most Type 'D' buses will have a large, if not the largest engine available at the time the bus was made. Large engines are hooked to large transmissions. In order to stop they usually have larger brakes as well. Most also were built with 12" windows which means the bus will have the high headroom option.

In actual cubic volume the Type 'D' will have the most. But there are some Type 'C' buses that have nearly as much cubic volume.

So you need to decide what style of bus you want.

Once you decide what style you want you need to decide how you are going to use your bus. If you plan on doing a lot of highway work then you really want to hold out for the bus with the big HP and highway gears. Retrofitting an old bus with faster gears and more HP is costly and usually disappointing in the results. But if you are going to just be taking the occasional trip within a few hours of home then a top speed of 55-60 MPH is not that big of a deal.

If you are going to spend a lot of time on the highways then you really want the big engine. My engines of choice are the DT466/530, or the Cummins 8.3L/ISC, or the Cummins ISL. Cat and Mercedes-Benz made a lot of engines that found their way into school buses. IMHO the Cat and M-B engines are best left to someone else unless you can get a absolutely smoking hot deal on a bus with a Cat or M-B engine. I once drove an IC RE with the 315 HP DT530 in it. I have no idea how fast it would go but it would do 60 MPH in 4th gear. I have also driven more than a few IHC conventional buses that had a top speed of 47 MPH.

Since you are in WA state you are lucky that almost any bus that has been built since the mid-90's have had engines with enough HP to get up and down hills and have no problem going 60 MPH. The extra content the state of WA requires in a WA spe'c bus makes the WA spe'c bus cost, on average for a full size 13-row bus, about $15K more than the same bus in OR. You benefit from the extra content because in the used market it doesn't make that much difference to the price of a used bus.

Both Harlows in Auburn and NW Bus in Federal Way have some nice affordable buses in stock right now.
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:06 PM   #9
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin97396 View Post
That's a nice looking bus and a favored engine. Do you know the transmission?

That seems like a pretty good deal if you want a dognose, but you're looking for storage and floor space. You get both with a pusher. FEs don't usually have the under storage but some do, plus you didn't want to listen to the engine or deal with heat in the front. They usually have big engines and hopefully a better transmission than most of us are stuck with. A lot of us have the Allison 545, which is perfectly adequate if you take good care of it and stuff. It tends to kind of free wheel on the downhills, almost feels like coasting in neutral.
I think you're on the right track. What you described needing is most commonly in a pusher. Good engine choice even on that dognose which appears to have low miles and really not a bad price. I don't think that one fits your needs. You'll have multiple opinions here soon.
Good luck.
I think having the noise reduction and less heat is less important to us than having clearance so we don't high center is an important aspect, we were just talking about building a cargo rack on top as well for added storage. So that eliminates that issue as well. My only concern now is towing a car 😓 I'm going to call the guy back tomorrow and ask what transmission it has.
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:11 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crazycal View Post
If towing a vehicle will be on your list, I would pass on that bus. It probably has an AT545 trans. I would want a Cummins 8.3 or International DT466 engine. I would want a MT643 or MD3060 trans. If you get a bus with an AT545 trans and tow, you will work it to death. Some may offer different opinions especially if it is what they own. Have you ever seen a bumper sticker that says, "BALD IS BEAUTIFUL?" The driver is probably bald and stuck with his chrome dome. I shave my head because I choose to not because I'm trying to cover up my lack of hair. YMMV!
I agree with you about the Cummins...that was honestly my ideal but not my "set in stone" choice. I'm going to find out what the trans is tomorrow and I'll let you know. If it is one of the preferred trans you mentioned, is the engine ok to handle what were dishing? Or would you even still suggest passing it up for a Cummins? It's almost the end of the school year so im sure there will be a lot of buses becoming available here soon I just don't know if I'm going to find one in this good of shape and it makes me nervous to risk it when we want to get started on renovations ASAP! 😓
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:15 PM   #11
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Join Date: May 2016
Location: Augusta Georgia
Posts: 63
Year: 2000
Engine: DT530
Rated Cap: 84
Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
There is no one bus that will work for everyone.

In order to narrow your search you need to determine which style of bus you want.

The Type 'C' conventional bus is the most common bus out there. As a consequence, with supply and demand the way it is, there is a large supply and low demand for them. In other words, they are going to cost less than any other bus of the same size.

The Type 'D' transit bus is the most expensive bus out there. There are a lot of reasons for the premium price with most of the reasons due to the fact premium options are built into most of them. Most Type 'D' buses will have a large, if not the largest engine available at the time the bus was made. Large engines are hooked to large transmissions. In order to stop they usually have larger brakes as well. Most also were built with 12" windows which means the bus will have the high headroom option.

In actual cubic volume the Type 'D' will have the most. But there are some Type 'C' buses that have nearly as much cubic volume.

So you need to decide what style of bus you want.

Once you decide what style you want you need to decide how you are going to use your bus. If you plan on doing a lot of highway work then you really want to hold out for the bus with the big HP and highway gears. Retrofitting an old bus with faster gears and more HP is costly and usually disappointing in the results. But if you are going to just be taking the occasional trip within a few hours of home then a top speed of 55-60 MPH is not that big of a deal.

If you are going to spend a lot of time on the highways then you really want the big engine. My engines of choice are the DT466/530, or the Cummins 8.3L/ISC, or the Cummins ISL. Cat and Mercedes-Benz made a lot of engines that found their way into school buses. IMHO the Cat and M-B engines are best left to someone else unless you can get a absolutely smoking hot deal on a bus with a Cat or M-B engine. I once drove an IC RE with the 315 HP DT530 in it. I have no idea how fast it would go but it would do 60 MPH in 4th gear. I have also driven more than a few IHC conventional buses that had a top speed of 47 MPH.

Since you are in WA state you are lucky that almost any bus that has been built since the mid-90's have had engines with enough HP to get up and down hills and have no problem going 60 MPH. The extra content the state of WA requires in a WA spe'c bus makes the WA spe'c bus cost, on average for a full size 13-row bus, about $15K more than the same bus in OR. You benefit from the extra content because in the used market it doesn't make that much difference to the price of a used bus.

Both Harlows in Auburn and NW Bus in Federal Way have some nice affordable buses in stock right now.
We're actually in Georgia. But will be traveling all over the country, we have family in Seattle, Monterey California, Maryland, Michigan and the carolinas. We really want to take it all over.
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:22 PM   #12
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I really doubt they put either of the 2 transmissions I mentioned behind a 7.3. You're in GA. I always see buses being auctioned off in your state or a neighboring state. Hold out for the right bus even is you have to pay 1-2000 more. $3800 isn't a steal if you ask me. For 3-5k, you can find an 8.3.
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:26 PM   #13
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Buy one of our western buses. Colorado seems to be a favorite for mountain type buses without the rust issues. Oregon, Washington and Idaho are also usually pretty good but primarily flat land buses. Driving around as much as you're indicating it would be nice to have the automatic chains for climbing mountain passes.
Interesting to hear that you are concerned with ground clearance. A mountain dweller?
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:42 PM   #14
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The 1996 bus that is in the link you posted looks like a pretty nice bus.

You can tell it has the high headroom option--notice the top of the windows do not line up with the top of the driver's window and there is a bump up in the roof just above the driver's head.

Since it has a T444E it most probably does have the AT545 transmission. Although it might have the MT643 since it does have the high headroom and at least one skirt mounted luggage compartment.

If there is no rust, no real parking lot rash, and it starts and runs well this bus might work for you.

Just be aware that the T444E is not going to be a powerhouse. If you end up towing a car behind you it is going to slow you down on the hills pretty significantly.

It sounds as if he wants $4K for it. The asking price is about what a dealer would ask for a bus like that.
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Old 05-22-2016, 09:54 PM   #15
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I looked at that ad a few times myself. The T444 is a decent engine, the turbo will give it some needed Oomph but probably not as much as a DT466. Not sure the tranny on it. It would do OK towing a vehicle on relatively flat ground, but maybe not so much in the hills. Same holds for the common 5.9 Cummins. The larger Cummins or DT466 will pull hills much better (especially since you aren't hauling 50+ kids in it), both are relatively easy to find parts for and tend to be very durable engines. I have long believed a DT466 and most (larger) Cummins engines will easily go a million miles if taken care of.
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Old 05-22-2016, 10:02 PM   #16
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There is a "dealer" of sorts who posts in the Atlanta Craigslist regularly, I spoke with him on the phone and he indicated he had several IH buses he was willing to part with for the 3500-4000 range. Since I live not far away, feel free to message me if you would like me to go with to check out his inventory.
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Old 05-22-2016, 10:58 PM   #17
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I just thought of something else. If you are going to use a tow bar instead of a trailer, you will rip your toad to shreds with a rear overhang that long.
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Old 05-22-2016, 11:24 PM   #18
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Good suggestions so far. Yes, everyone seems to like their particular bus. Some of the guys that have posted have much experience in the school bus industry so you can trust what's been posted so far.

Lots of hills doesn't make a difference between flat nose or dognose. What really matters is engine/transmission. That's been covered well in prior posts.

My take: you don't want the type of bus listed on the CL ad. You've mentioned a couple of times about the heat and noise. The dognose type has the most heat in the drivers position because you're sitting a few inches in from the window and they just don't get the airflow transit style (flat nose) buses get. Noise wise they are quieter than front engine flat nose buses. You said that noise and heat is fairly minor, but if you know the difference it's not minor!

My favorite: Always a rear engine (RE) bus. Quiet and the least heat. Did I say quiet? Yes, MUCH quieter. And many of them have air ride in the back. Some shy away from them because they think the turning radius makes them less maneuverable. However, once you get used to it the maneuverability is a very minor thing. A RE bus travels well for long distance.

You talk about "SO Many buses!!" Yes, but not really. Here's a condensed list of RE buses, leaving out older (pre 199 buses to keep it as simple as possible:

International (Amtran) RE300: These are the big 81 passenger 40' buses with DT466E (or very rare DT530) engines and 3060 transmissions. Heavy duty chassis, air ride in back, high headroom. It's what I own and I love it. Great engine (cheapest parts that are widely available, good power) and transmission. The shorter version of these buses usually has the 444 engine which is a good engine but not the power you need for long trips.

Blue Bird: All American or TC2000. The All American is heavier duty than the TC but the engines/trans choices overlap. The big Cummins engines will have the same Allison 3060 transmission as the International. The Cummins also has the cheapest parts that are readily available. Great engine. They sometimes have air ride in the back but not always. Usually has the high headroom but not always.

Thomas: The newer ones have the cool looking front end like CaptSquid's avatar picture. Good bus but they seem to vary more with either a Cat engine or Cummins engines. Thomas for a while was owned by Mercedes so sometimes you'll see one with an expensive to maintain Mercedes engine in it. Basically, if you find a big Thomas with a Cummins engine (and the same 3060 trans) you're good to go. Also, they seem to vary with equipment more than Blue Bird or International. Some have air ride front and back, some regular spring suspension, some high headroom, some not.

There's more variation with the dognose buses but I think for your traveling purposes with 4 children an RE transit style is what you're looking for.
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Old 05-23-2016, 09:46 AM   #19
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Well for my two cents... I'm buying my 2002 Thomas HDX rear engine from Midwest Transit in Whitestown IN because it's right down the street and a good price. Yes it's only a 5.9 Cummins but I'm not in a hurry to get up hills and there's not a lot of hills in Indiana! If you want another option for Western buses, check out AAA bus sales in Phoenix. No prices on their website but very helpful when you call and plenty of clean (rust-free), big engine-d buses from $5k and up.
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Old 05-23-2016, 12:05 PM   #20
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Join Date: May 2016
Location: Augusta Georgia
Posts: 63
Year: 2000
Engine: DT530
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojiewoojie View Post
International (Amtran) RE300: These are the big 81 passenger 40' buses with DT466E (or very rare DT530) engines and 3060 transmissions. Heavy duty chassis, air ride in back, high headroom. It's what I own and I love it. Great engine (cheapest parts that are widely available, good power) and transmission. The shorter version of these buses usually has the 444 engine which is a good engine but not the power you need for long trips.
I had seen a few of those ones and really liked them but not the price. I just found this one and called, they're asking $7800, $2000 down (which I can do) we just have 45 days to pick it up and pay the rest in full. It has a md3060 trans and the DT530 engine...not sure how hubby will react to it being all the way in Phoenix though...that's a long drive with a new bus haha

What do you think?

10392 - aaabussales.com
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