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Old 10-03-2005, 12:19 PM   #1
Skoolie
 
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Checklist to buy a bus?!

OK, does anyone know if there is a 'STICKY' about a bus checklist to follow when buying one of these Golden Wonders? It would cover all of the parts and systems of the bus, and all of the things that should be examined before purchase.

I'll post my ideas to this if anyone's interested, from my viewpoint as a car mechanic and general busybody.
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Old 10-29-2005, 03:39 PM   #2
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Hi:
Brand new member, concidering buying a bus. Should read more before I post, but cannot resist jumping in here with an additional request along the same line: I would like to see a checklist about the models to buy as well. That is, which engines are reliable and which are not, ditto for trannies, and so forth. In short, I want to know EVERYTHING instantly!
Pretty sure I want a diesel and stick shift. I've been driving 18-wheelers for a living for 24 years, but don't know anything about these tiny vehicles! And I probably want a front engine -- a "conventional" in trucker lingo.
There is a Ford B-700 with Ward body for sale in my town. But gasoline engine. I'm guessing that gets 1 or 2 MPG.
The bus would be used for a handfull of outings each year, mostly to Kinetic Sculpture Races. And eventually BM.
What engines and other things should I avoid?
Most cordially,
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Old 10-29-2005, 05:13 PM   #3
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It's a touchy subject......talking about what engines are NOT desirable. It's a good way to get people riled up.

The cummins 5.9 liter is a good example. From everything i've read, and the bus muchanics i've talked to personally, i would try to avoid having this motor in a skoolie. (others will swear it's the best thing since sliced bread) everyone has their own opinion.

I think nearly everyone thinks the legendary DT466 International motor is THE motor to have in a skoolie. It's smaller cousin the DT360 is nearly identical, and gets better fuel economy. The couple of buses i've inspected near here that had the 466 only made 10 hp more than the 360....but the 466 can be "adjusted" to make in the neighborhood of 250hp.

Another common engine family is the Ford/New holland brazilian motors. The 6.6 liter and the 7.8? liter. They are rumored to run forever, get good fuel economy, but are guttless.

I've driven several thousand miles in a 6.6 liter ford, and also in a dt360. Both were 72 pass buses that i converted. The 6.6 got 8.5 mpg almost all the time.....the 360 gets 6.5-7.5. Both allison at545 auto, and ~5.56 rear end.

The 9 liter is another engine that i've heard several people say is a good engine with excellent fuel economy but no guts......other people think this is a terrible motor. Non turbo, huge displacement, and about 150 hp.

I don't know much about the big gassers...but i like diesels myself.

As a general rule, i'd stay away from any motor that comes from the factory in a pickup truck. ie: 7.3 liter Navistar Ford motor later models I believe became the ford powerstroke. The 5.9 liter cummins is another example. This is the diesel option for dodge pickup trucks.

I've yet to see any buses with the GM (isuzu) Duramax diesel....and i have very little expierence with that motor.

It's uncommon to find the big cat motors in a conventional skoolie, but they are probably out there. Same goes for the 6v71 detroit motors. Obviously if an engine does well in a big truck or large commercial bus, it's going to be well suited for a skoolie.

Manual 5 speed or better transmissions are desireable....but getting very difficult to find. Nearly every bus i've seen built after about 1990 has an auto trans. Fewer and fewer school districts are buying buses with manual transmissions. The Allison AT545 is by far the most common. I don't think it's an unreliable transmission, but it's an innefficient transmission becuase it does not lock up in high gear. The Allison MT643? does lock up in high gear, making it much more desirable.

If you live near the west coast, crown buses had an option for a 10 speed transmission. This would be most excellent. These are not conventional buses though......

I'm sure this info will help to make things as clear as mud....
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Old 10-29-2005, 06:10 PM   #4
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Hey that's wondermuss! Thank you!

That's a good start for me. As I read everything on the forum (or try to!) I'll learn more. Do you have any similar thoughts on chassis? Somebody locally told me that rear engined buses tend to be better vehicles, but I want to put a "toy hauler" ramp on the back. And I am used to driving with a hood in front of me. Ford B700 OK?

As for stepping on people's toes with opinions about favorite engines and such... Well, perhaps I should have asked for MOST desirable instead of LEAST! I certainly don't wish to step on anybody's toes. I live to make people smile (see avatar), and will hopefully be able to contribute an occational giggle to this forum. But some facts are facts. Where I work, our Internationals ride like buckboards compared to our Freightliners, and that is a fact. The Super-10 trannies couldn't take the torque of the 3406 Cats, and that's a fact. And people will always have personal preferences -- which is a good thing, since the world would be mighty boring otherwise. At worst, we may occationally "agree to disagree". I'll stop rambling now.

Again thanks, and if you can guide me to any particularly useful post about chosing a bus, it would be much appreciated.

I hope to become a worthy member of this community.

Most cordially,
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Old 10-29-2005, 08:05 PM   #5
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My first bus was a B700. I don't think buses in general ride very nice. Both of my buses are similiar...but i think the ford rode nicer than the international when it came to suspension. Weight makes the biggest difference. Loaded wth 400 gallons of water the bus rides much better than it does empty.

Ron is the guy who got me running on wvo. I know that on at least one occasion while driving in michigan his B700 rode bad enough to brake the mirror on his medicine cabinet. He drives from michigan to florida every winter, and sais michigan has the worse roads of all...so maybe it's not the bus but the roads...

buses with air ride suspension do exists, but i'm not sure how common they were during the era of buses that people like us tend to purchase. I would assume they ride better.

I have never heard anything about favorite chassis from skoolie owners. Body types are more important I think. The least desirable are the carpenters....a bunch of those came from the factory with unsatisfactory welds where the walls connect to the roof. Apparently one of these buses rolled over and pancaked a few years back. A skoolie should be able to tollerate a roll-over with minimal structural damage. ie: it should still look like a bus after it rolls.

I like blue bird bodies, although i have not owned one yet. They seem to be constructed very well. My first bus was a ward, which was built much better than my current Thomas bus. Body manufacturer really isn't important to me. I wouldn't mind having a carpenter if the price was right.
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Old 10-29-2005, 08:18 PM   #6
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Strong is good

Very good. That points me in the right direction. Thanks again!
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Old 10-30-2005, 07:22 PM   #7
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I feel the need to correct an apparent misconception. The Cummins 5.9B engines have been around far longer than they have existed as options for the Dodge trucks. Blue Bird liked them as their small footprint made for a good fit in the doghouse of the All American FE buses. Older mechanically injected Cummins 5.9B engines are probably going to be pretty underpowered for the application. The newer electronic engines are capable of making adequate power, but are typically saddled with that 5 speed automatic.

I would avoid the GM derived diesels like the plague. They don't have the power, or the reliability. While my transit has this, the Cummins 555 engine should probably be avoided. It's another "fragile" engine that will require alot of constant upkeep to keep it on the road, and does not make good power for its displacement. Despite what is downright rediculously low gearing on my Thomas, it won't pull even a modest hill. It'll be even worse when I regear mine to be capable of highway speeds. Of the "small" V8 diesels, the Cat 3208 is the best of the bunch, but is still not anything to write home about, as they are known to mushroom their cylinder walls, which renders them scrap.
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Old 10-30-2005, 09:35 PM   #8
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The 9 liter is another engine that i've heard several people say is a good engine with excellent fuel economy but no guts......other people think this is a terrible motor. Non turbo, huge displacement, and about 150 hp.
The 9 liter IH engine that I have is dyno certified at 180 hp @ 2,800 rpm. I think 180 was the standard configuration, but I might be wrong about that. The 9 (7.3, too, I think) liter also has the advantage that it can be rebuilt "in frame", without pulling the whole engine. I don't recall if the DT series engines are the same way or not...something makes me say they were, but I can't be sure. It's a dubious advantage. If you blew an engine, it'd probably be cheaper to start over with a whole 'nother used bus than to get an engine rebuilt.

I don't have experience with BB bodies to make a comparison between BB and Thomas-built busses; however, I do have a Thomas-built bus and am quite satisfied with it. One advantage that the Thomas-built busses have (IMHO) is that the interior panels are attached with screws instead of rivets, and that makes for easier panel removal (as long as the screws aren't rusted to hell). At least, that's how my '85 bus was constructed. They may have changed it since.

But I don't have the knowledge of BB busses to make a comparison between the two.

IMHO, diesel is the way to go. Arguments about that from all around, but *I* like them.

Definately look for a 5 speed manual. I have a sucky and very old 4 speed automatic, the Allison AT540. It doesn't have a locking torque converter, which automatically (no pun intended) makes it a fuel waster, even compared to more modern automatics. The AT545 is the same way. Later series had locking torque converters, and weren't quite the fuel wasters the other two were.

Check the rear end ratio before you buy, or at least get the bus out on a highway. I didn't. I test drove mine on a small road at the bus depot, and never got above about 40 or so...if I had taken it on the highway, I'd have known that it wouldn't make more than 50 flat out on flat ground -- because it has a 6.5 to 1 rear end ratio! If it had a 4.33 ratio, my theoretical top speed would be closer to 70 -- which means that I could cruise at 60 at far under the 2,800 rpm maximum for the engine, instead of straining the engine constantly to maintain a speed of 50MPH at 2,800 rpm.
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Old 10-31-2005, 01:44 AM   #9
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Rated Cap: 84
This is great info, guys! Keep it coming and I'll be an expert by the end of the week!
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Old 11-03-2005, 10:07 AM   #10
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Putting my auto/motorcycle mechanic experience to the test, this is a basic list I came up with:

Divide the things you check into systems.

One is general electrical;
running, stop, turn, headlights, courtesy lights, clearance lights, dash lights, interior lights. Are they working, burned out, corroded sockets, bad connections/grounds?

Suspension:
tires (condition, fronts NOT recaps, matching diameters/types on rears, wheel types, lug nuts/retainers good, rear springs, front springs, steering linkage, no leaks fron wheel bearings/caps, tires at proper inflation (surprising, but few vehicles I've inspected had proper tire inflation, almos ALWAYS low), steering wheel (look for slop, etc), power steering and drive belt (and check the fluid for leaks, water, levels), shocks, ANYTHING to do with keeping the bus upright.

Brakes: if air, do the brakes lock with pressure off? Is the emergency brake good?
If hydraulic, can you stomp HARD on the pedal and NOT break a line (better to do it when stationary than on the road and moving).
Do you know how to 'cage' an air brake if it fails and you need to move the bus?
Brake fluid (if hydraulic) what is it's condition/level? Color? Smell?

If disc equipped, can you see the condition/thickness of the discs, brake pads? Condition of drums and shoes (you'd have to pull the wheels for this, have a 20 ton jack, blocks for wheels, etc. on hand, and be aware that some lug nuts are WELL over 100 foot-pounds torque.

Drive train:
engine (runs, warms up, if diesel, does it have a high idle setting, check fluids, conditions), tranny (shifts all gears, doesn't lurch when shifting if auto), clutch good if manual, drive shaft/u-joints/shaft supports all good?
Rear end good, no leaks, nor grinding? If two speed rear, both gears good, shifts easily?

Are there maintenance papers on the bus? Original manuals, etc.?

Condition of body, glass, operation of doors and accessories, etc.?
How long since the bus was last driven?

If a Carpenter body, DOES IT HAVE ENOUGH ADEQUATE WELDS?!?!? Some are bad/underwelded. Look down the length of the body; if the welds are failing, the body will look 'wavy'.

ALWAYS take a bus for a test drive under ALL conditions, including highway, hills; and do panic stops on deserted roads to test the brakes and steering.

Rust (or lack of it) is another consideration relating to price and utility.

A full (or nearly so) fuel tank is a good indication that the bus was driven. Empty tanks gain water through condensation, and could rust out. Many have drains.

One haggling tip:
IF I like the bus, and agree to the price, I make the owner an extra offer;
I'll give him an extra $20 to tell me if there is ANYTHING wrong/doesn't like about the bus. If I decide NOT to buy the bus, he still gets the $20.
That way he doesn't lose, and I get a good chance at finding out stuff.

You'd be surprised how often this works......
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