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Old 02-11-2009, 10:07 PM   #1
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Going to look at buses on Friday

I've gotten in touch with a place up in Idaho that has some buses for sale. I have almost no details about the buses, but I've been a bit bored lately, so a trip up to look at the inventory should be an interesting diversion. With 400 miles of driving each way, I might be regretting this by the time I get back.

I can at least prove that there were a lot of buses there some time recently; here is a picture of the place:


This is my checklist of things to find out about each bus that I look at:
  • model, year, style, length[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • mileage[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • model of engine[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • model of transmission[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • engine or trans rebuilt at some point?[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • maintenance history of bus available?[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • air brakes or hydraulic[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • condition of tires[/*:m:km5by7tq]
  • amount of rust[/*:m:km5by7tq]
Is there anything else that I should add to this list?

How do I determine the model of transmission that a bus has? Will there be a plaque somewhere, or do I have to look at the transmission and try to determine visually what kind it is? I don't even know what a transmission looks like or where exactly to find it.
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Old 02-11-2009, 11:30 PM   #2
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

The transmission is under the bus between the engine block and the driveshaft. You can see photos in the thread Elliot linked to. There were posts about where to find a metal tag, but I don't remember where. Bring a flashlight.

Quote:
Re: best trans for dt466

Postby Elliot Naess on Fri Nov 07, 2008 1:45 am

Don't even think about using an AT545 with a DT466. Specs here: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1824&p=12668#p12668

An other advantage of the MT643 is the protection against excessive temperature. The biggest generator of heat in an automatic tranny is torque converter slippage. The MT643 eliminates slippage at all times in 4th, and part of the time in 3rd. Thus less heat.

Given my druthers, I'd certainly take a stick shift, and I love the 13-speeds in some of the big trucks at work. But admittedly, a stick shift is not for everyone. I don't know about prices, but there should be a lot of late-model 9-speeds and 10-speeds out there in the big-truck wrecking yards. The Volvos use a hydraulic clutch linkage.

An other option ought to be the medium duty stick shifts that come with such engines as the DT-466 in medium trucks. Six speeds? Seven speeds? Anybody?
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Old 02-11-2009, 11:47 PM   #3
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Perfect, thanks! I'll have to either study those differences well, or else print out the pictures and bring them with me. Remembering to bring a flashlight is a great tip as well, though in a pinch I could always use the one I keep in the car for emergencies.

It looks like the temperature in Melba, ID is just barely getting above freezing during the day, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of half melted snow on the ground. That should make crawling around under a bus "fun". Hopefully the guy selling the buses will know which transmission each one has.
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:45 PM   #4
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Thanks for the advice everyone.

To be clear, even if I find a bus I like tomorrow, I'm not planning on buying it the same day. Since I'm not very familiar with vehicle mechanics, I'd plan on having the bus inspected before I hand over any money. I would also have to arrange for insurance and a place to store it before I can take it home.
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Old 02-13-2009, 11:27 PM   #5
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Well, this was a bit of a disappointment. Quick summary: bus I looked at has a good engine, transmission, tires, and is in good condition. However, it's a bit shorter than I was looking for, and the owner's asking price is three times what it's worth.

I drove up to the place in Idaho today to look at the buses. It turns out that these are retired fire crew buses. I don't know if that's good or bad in general, but it would save me having to remove the school bus signs and painting it can wait a while.

The guy showing me the bus is the one who maintained them when they were in use for ferrying firemen around, so he knows well the entire maintenance history of the buses. He says that they were very well maintained, and while that is what you'd expect a seller to say, I tend to believe him.

It was about mid 20s in temperature there today, which wouldn't be too bad, except that there was also wind blowing somewhere between 20 and 30mph. It was very cold, and I didn't want to stay out in that long, so I didn't do much in the way of inspecting the buses. I just looked at one bus instead of several, and didn't go through my whole checklist.

The bus I looked at was one from a set of 3 similar buses. They are flat nosed front engine buses, model years 1988 or 1989. The guy showing the bus to me said a couple times that they are 40', but I don't think that's correct. There are 12 windows, which would imply to me that there is 29 or 30 feet behind the driver's seat, for a total length of 35' or less.

These have Cummins 5.9 engines and MT643 transmissions. The rear axle gear ratio is 4.33, which I think is a fairly good ratio for driving on the highway, right? The particular bus I looked at had 157,000 miles on the odometer. The tires look to be in really good shape. There's even a spare tire and wheel on board the bus (though the spare looks a lot more worn). There's almost no rust on the bus; just a tiny bit of surface rust on the underside.

These buses have been sitting for a couple of years. The battery in the one I looked at was dead, so a fresh battery was fetched. The bus took a few tries to start (maybe about 6?), and I was told that this was because of the cold. Does this seem reasonable for a bus that's been sitting awhile and is in mid-20s weather?

The bus started with a brief cloud of black smoke, which dissipated rapidly. After that the exhaust looked pretty clean. Reasonable if the bus has been sitting a while, right?

Unfortunately, it only ran for a couple of minutes before the engine died -- out of fuel! They must have emptied the tank at some point, so only the dregs were left. I was disappointed that I was not able to try driving the bus, or even see it move. A favorable test drive will of course be required before I offer to buy a bus.

Up to this point, everything seemed pretty favorable. The only issue is that the buses are a few feet shorter than I really wanted, but everything else looked so good that I was willing to overlook that. The biggest surprise came when I inquired as to the asking price: $7500! That's about 3 times what I would estimate the bus is worth, based on the auctions I've been watching recently.

I'm thinking of making an offer: $2250 for the bus as is (contingent upon favorable test drive and more through inspection), or $2750 if they can do a couple of additional things for me, including installing a trailer hitch so I can tow my car home, and giving me some bus driving lessons. I kind of doubt that they will accept an offer which is 1/3 of the current price, though. Does it sound reasonable to everyone here, though?

Here are pictures of the bus:









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Old 02-14-2009, 12:15 AM   #6
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday


I would say you have everything correct.

That huge asking price can safely be called a Fishing Expedition. If you decide you can use this bus, be polite but business-like and be prepared to show him some sale prices on similar buses.
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Old 02-14-2009, 03:00 PM   #7
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Well, I made an offer, but was told "no deal" immediately. No counter offer or anything. The seller said that he can get $4500 for just the engine alone (Cummins 5.9). So I guess this is just a case of someone who thinks the bus is worth far more than it is.
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Old 02-14-2009, 03:26 PM   #8
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

The spare tire rack is pretty cool. Ask where the jack and lug-wrench is.
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Old 02-14-2009, 04:27 PM   #9
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday


It is indeed possible to get more money for the parts than for the entire bus. The problem is all the labor and tools and so forth, and then marketing and transporting all these individual parts, including that giant hulk of scrap metal of a body. Many wrecking yards make a good living doing this sort of thing. Not so easy if you are not set up for it.
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Old 02-15-2009, 01:41 AM   #10
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

A 4.33 axle and 10R22.5 tires means 60MPH is about 2100RPM--certainly fine for the 5.9 Cummins. Figure a top end of about 65, maybe 70. That does look like a 40' BB (it's a 72-passenger), probably a TC2000. But yeah...$7K is way, way beyond insane.

That bus is in pretty good shape, but DAMN is it filthy!
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Old 02-15-2009, 02:04 AM   #11
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday


Well, it is academic now, but since I have a 40 foot'er, I can update everybody to the effect that this bus was around 35 feet long. A 40 has two more rows for 84 kids.
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Old 02-16-2009, 03:25 PM   #12
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Well, maybe it's for the best that this deal did not work out. I have a much better prospect now.

This is the bus that I'm now considering:
1997 with 98000 miles
flat nose, front engine, looks to be about 35' in length
Cummins 5.9, MT643

The best part? The asking price is only $2500.

The bus is actually all the way across the country on the east coast. It has a bit of rust, but probably not enough to be significant. I'll take a closer look when I go to inspect it. The location is not as much of a problem as it might seem: it's only a few hundred miles from where my parents live. I could stay with them for a few weeks to work on the bus, before driving it across the country.

The bus was originally listed as a Thomas Crown bus, but when I talked to the seller on the phone he said that was a mistake and it's actually a Crown Sparta bus. I'm having trouble finding anything about this model of bus. I assume that it has nothing to do with the famously durable Crown buses, since they went out of business in 1991 (according to Wikipedia.)
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Old 02-16-2009, 07:30 PM   #13
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Quote:
Originally Posted by vanguy67
It's probably a Crown Spartan. No connection to the California Crowns though. Name was bought by Carpenter and the bus is built on a Spartan chassis. The Spartan chassis rides pretty good in my experience.
I bet you're right. I probably just misheard what he said.

One thing I forgot to mention, it does have a small leak in the exhaust. I'm told that this is no big deal to fix. Does that sound accurate?

I've lived in upstate NY most of my life, so exhaust systems rusting out and having to be replaced is a pretty normal occurrence to me. I don't know if that is the case with this bus though, because I've seen a picture of the underside of the bus (albeit an awfully small picture), and the rust really doesn't look very bad at all. How else can the exhaust system develop a leak other than rusting through?

Obviously I'll take a good look at the bus before I buy it. I don't want to end up with a vehicle that is falling apart on me. I'm thinking that 12 years old and less than 100,000 miles are a good sign, though.
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Old 02-16-2009, 09:53 PM   #14
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday


Such a new bus, the price seems alarmingly low. Could be something seriously wrong with it.

Of course, don't tell him the price is too low, but probe gently about all the various components.

The seriousness of an exhaust leak depends on where it is. Tail pipe, no big deal. Between cylinder head and manifold, or manifold and turbo -- big deal.

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Old 02-16-2009, 10:22 PM   #15
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

I think the price is low, because this is a place that doesn't usually deal in buses. Their inventory consists mostly of large trucks and construction equipment. The guy I talked to on the phone said he noticed it sitting unused by a school, and inquired about buying it from them just because he buys anything he sees for sale (I'm guessing this means anything at an unusually good price.) This is in fact the only school bus that they have.

I'm encouraged by the fact that he told me about the exhaust leak and that there is some rust around the back door. Also, he agreed to hold it for a couple of weeks for me, and refused to take a deposit that I offered. These don't seem like the actions of a dishonest person, though I do of course need to be cautious.
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Old 02-16-2009, 10:39 PM   #16
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday


See if you can telephone the school bus mechanic who maintained it, or the Transportation Manager.
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Old 02-16-2009, 11:00 PM   #17
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

BEWARE that bus could be a RUST BUCKET. I have seen them from that area before on Ebay and they were totally rusted. sportyrick.
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Old 03-08-2009, 11:34 PM   #18
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

It took a couple of weeks, but I finally went to look at the second bus on Thursday last week. Vermont is a long way from Utah.

Unlike the first bus I looked at, this one was all ready to be taken out for a test drive. I couldn't drive it on the street without the proper license, but I got to go for a ride in the bus. We went up and down some steep hills, tested that it shifts smoothly into and out of all gears, etc. I got to drive it around the parking lot a little bit. I'm going to need a lot of practice before I'm confident controlling something this large.

The bus started right up in the 20 degree weather, though it did look like it had been run earlier that day, and it has a block heater which was plugged in.

I found the person showing me the bus to be quite helpful. He's a mechanic, and basically showed me everything he would look for if he was buying the bus. Looking for oil leaks, testing for blow back, looking for oil in the coolant, etc. I'm fairly certain that he was being sincere and not just putting on a show for a potential buyer. The engine and transmission both seem to be pretty solid.

I forgot to find out what the rear axle ratio is, so I'm not sure how well this will do on the highway.

Good points:
  • Cummins 5.9 and MT643 in good condition[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • 1997 bus with less than 100,000 miles[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • Tires appear to be in good shape[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • Has a Webasto heater installed which may be useful if it can run while the engine is off[/*:m:303d6mrc]

Bad points:
  • There is some rust on the bus (underside, on steps, on back of bus)[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • Exhaust pipe is broken near the rear tires[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • Accelerator and brake pedals stick a bit. I'm told that this is just from sitting, and will clear up with use.[/*:m:303d6mrc]
  • Voltage meter on panel doesn't work[/*:m:303d6mrc]

Picture of the bus:


Details:






Here's the broken exhaust pipe:


Pictures of the rust:







I decided to go ahead and buy the bus for $2500. It seems to be a pretty good deal overall, though there are some areas that need attention. You're welcome to tell me what a horrible mistake I made if you disagree.

I'm going to pay to have the bus delivered. It's temporarily going to stay at my Uncle's farm in NY, which is about 35 miles from where I'm currently staying with my parents. My current plan is to learn how everything on the bus works, get it fixed up, and do the minimum required to get it registered as a motorhome. No major work at this point. NY would not be my first choice of a state to register this in, with high taxes and onerous requirements. This is outweighed by having a place to work and people around who can help with a project like this.

I'll be heading back to Utah in about a month, staying there 2 months, then probably going back to NY for some undefined period of time. I'm not sure yet if I'll take the bus with me to Utah, or leave it in NY for the time being. It probably depends on how much I have done with it, and how confident I am in operating it. The hardest part of getting this registered is probably the NY requirement that it must be painted non-yellow within 15 days, which would be really tough to do if I want to leave in early April. It's not going to be warm enough for painting outside until perhaps June.

Here are some more pictures. They have nothing at all to do with the bus, and are just pictures taken while returning from Vermont. It's a rather bleak landscape this time of year.


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Old 03-09-2009, 08:32 PM   #19
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

Well, I'm glad that I decided to pay to have the bus delivered. The driver delivering it got 40 miles down the road, then discovered that the alternator is stuck on full output. He figures there's a bad voltage regulator. The bus is going back to the shop that I bought it from; they're well equipped to fix the alternator. I'll have to reschedule the delivery.

I wonder now if the bad voltage gauge should have been a red flag. I figured it for just a bad gauge, but maybe someone more experienced would have realized the implications.
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Old 03-12-2009, 10:45 PM   #20
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Re: Going to look at buses on Friday

The alternator in my bus is reportedly repaired now. They replaced the voltage regulator and the brushes, and are charging me an entire $45 for the repair. I didn't know that anyone repaired alternators any more; I thought that they were just replaced as a unit. Needless to say, I'm fairly pleased with the place that sold me the bus, and happy that I decided to have it delivered.

Unfortunately, the soonest day that fit both my schedule and the driver's is the 18th, so it will be another week before I have the bus. It's looking less and less likely that I'll have it ready for my trip back to Utah in early April.
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