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Old 06-04-2015, 01:28 PM   #1
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Making a toy hauler: what to look for?

I'm buying a bus with the purpose of making a rig to haul my rock-crawling jeep and still have enough room in the front to sleep two.

I've been thinking a budget of around $5000 for the bus will suffice.

My main concerns are in this order:

1) Reliability
2) Hauling ability
3) Highway speed ability

I know a bus will never be cruising along at 70mph hauling a jeep around, but I'd like to do 55 comfortably. I'll be doing 2-4 hour highway trips with it.

What kind of busses should I look for or avoid? Rear engine won't work because there'll be a jeep parked back there lol. Is there a database of bus-build info that will tell me what rear end/trans is in what bus based off a VIN or serial #?
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Old 06-04-2015, 03:51 PM   #2
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If you get an international chassis they have a pretty good data base
on what was installed in the bus from the factory. Blue Bird is so so on
their stuff. With a 8.3L Cummins and an overdrive transmission 70
on the freeway towing your Jeep should be no problem.
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Old 06-04-2015, 04:03 PM   #3
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Most of the busses in my area are Thomas or Bluebird and have the 3800 T444E. Not sure as to to trans/rears.
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Old 06-04-2015, 04:11 PM   #4
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I second the 8.3 with a MT643 or MD3060 trans.
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Old 06-04-2015, 05:50 PM   #5
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The Blue Birds have a data plate on the front wall near the door which includes such things as axle ratio and engine serial number. I don't remember whether it includes transmission information. You can get a free "owners limited" Quickserve online account with Cummins to look up their engine serial numbers and find engine specs.

Common search terms for "not rear engine" are flat nose, dog nose, front engine, forward engine, forward controls. Any of those might help you find what you're after.

Don't forget to check whether the roof height at the outside edges is sufficient to clear your Jeep's outer corners, or plan on a roof raise.

Will the weight of the Jeep on the tail make it necessary to bob the end, move the axle rearward, park the Jeep farther forward than you wanted, or add ballast ahead of the rear axle so that you keep enough weight on the front axle? Likewise, consider the weight and position of the Jeep to avoid overloading the rear axle. My 1991 Blue Bird (flat nose with Cummins 5.9 in front) weighed about 19,000 pounds empty; IIRC the distribution was something like 12k on the rear and 7k on the front..? Can't remember what its axle ratings were.
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Old 06-04-2015, 05:51 PM   #6
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What kind of bus does the Cummins come in? Never seen one around here.
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Old 06-04-2015, 06:00 PM   #7
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I get the idea that Cummins engines are common in Blue Birds, but I couldn't say whether Blue Bird ever used another engine make, or whether Cummins engines also find their way into other bus brands too. Also seems like CAT is common in the Thomas buses.
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Old 06-04-2015, 07:18 PM   #8
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Blue Bird and Thomas have used Cat and Cummins. Thomas also had the Mercedes-Benz as an option for a few years.

What they got at the factory was pretty much dictated by what the original purchaser wanted.

Today the only engine available in BB, Thomas, and IC Type 'C' buses is the Cummins ISB.

Most of the Type 'D' FE buses with which I have had experience the weight on the axles empty were more weight up front than in the rear. As you loaded weight behind the rear axle it leveraged weight off of the front axle.

One Jeep behind the rear axle won't be enough weight to make that much difference on axle loading.

Just to make sure you don't have a problem the best choice would be for a Type 'C' conventional bus with the service door behind the front axle. They won't have nearly as much rear overhang as most Type 'D' FE buses.

If you decide to go with a Type 'D' FE bus, Ward/AmTran/IC made quite a few FE buses with the T444(E) and DT466 engines.

Just be aware that unless the bus was originally set up to do trips very few school buses will cruise comfortably over 60 MPH. Even if you swap out to different gears the HP and torque of the engine may not be enough to cruise at highway speeds without overheating or getting very high exhaust gas temps.

Good luck and happy trails.
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Old 06-04-2015, 08:24 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post

Just be aware that unless the bus was originally set up to do trips very few school buses will cruise comfortably over 60 MPH. Even if you swap out to different gears the HP and torque of the engine may not be enough to cruise at highway speeds without overheating or getting very high exhaust gas temps.
That's kinda my issue. When looking at busses, how do I know which is set up for what? Most busses in my area are T444E. So, for example, if I'm looking at 10 different T444E busses, how do I know which has the best trans, rear, etc.
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Old 06-04-2015, 08:53 PM   #10
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I vote international dog nose with a DT 466, 6 speed standard trans and air ride.

The DT 466 can make just as much power as the Cummins 8.3.

Far more power upgrades for the DT466 than the Cummins 8.3.

The standard trans will allow you to turn the power up on the DT 466 for better power for hills ect.

Common as hell here.

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Old 06-04-2015, 10:05 PM   #11
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Seems to be all automatics with T444E's here.
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Old 06-05-2015, 12:30 PM   #12
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Most T444(E) engines were mated to the AT540 series transmission. For what it is, the AT540 is a pretty good transmission. It isn't nearly the transmission the MT640 is but it is head and shoulders above a Ford E4OD transmission. Given reasonable care, clean fluid with new filters on a regular basis, and if you don't get it hot the transmission should go 300,000+ miles without any problems.

Maybe one in ten thousand buses of any kind left the factory with a stick shift in the last twenty years.

Most buses with the T444(E) were not trip buses. The engine is a great engine but it isn't a big powerhouse. In school buses the HP was set around 190 HP--enough for to/from but not nearly enough for highway speeds in excess of 60 MPH.

To determine which buses may have been set up for trips you need to look at either the build sheet/line setting ticket or the data plates inside the bus. Many times the data plate will say which rear end ratio the bus has. If the number is 5 or larger it isn't going to go fast. 4.10 will be about 70 MPH at 2,500 RPM's. 4.90 will be about 60 MPH at 2,500 RPM's.

Another clue is if the bus has luggage compartments. Most school buses with luggage compartments tended to be spe'c'ed to do trips at least some of the time if not all of the time.
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Old 06-05-2015, 12:59 PM   #13
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Wow, thanks alot man!
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:42 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
Most T444(E) engines were mated to the AT540 series transmission. For what it is, the AT540 is a pretty good transmission. It isn't nearly the transmission the MT640 is but it is head and shoulders above a Ford E4OD transmission. Given reasonable care, clean fluid with new filters on a regular basis, and if you don't get it hot the transmission should go 300,000+ miles without any problems.

Maybe one in ten thousand buses of any kind left the factory with a stick shift in the last twenty years.

Most buses with the T444(E) were not trip buses. The engine is a great engine but it isn't a big powerhouse. In school buses the HP was set around 190 HP--enough for to/from but not nearly enough for highway speeds in excess of 60 MPH.

To determine which buses may have been set up for trips you need to look at either the build sheet/line setting ticket or the data plates inside the bus. Many times the data plate will say which rear end ratio the bus has. If the number is 5 or larger it isn't going to go fast. 4.10 will be about 70 MPH at 2,500 RPM's. 4.90 will be about 60 MPH at 2,500 RPM's.

Another clue is if the bus has luggage compartments. Most school buses with luggage compartments tended to be spe'c'ed to do trips at least some of the time if not all of the time.


Thanks for posting this!
The project I'm picking up at the end of this month[end of the school year] apparently spent most of its life as a charter bus, it's now a spare. It has a 5.9 cummins which I know nothing about, but my diesel mechanic kid does and will keep it runnin' for me. Hoping it'll do 65-70mph without a problem. Of course there's a trade off....he wants to use it and the ATV.
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Old 06-05-2015, 11:07 PM   #15
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I have to figure out what rear end i have in my BB its a T444E, with AT540, I have put over 25000kms on it over the past 5 years, and it will cruise 60-65-70 all day, but its no power house that's for sure.
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Old 06-06-2015, 10:42 PM   #16
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If you get an international, make sure you do not get the split radiator, does not really have sufficient cooling capacity for running on the highway all day
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Old 06-06-2015, 11:52 PM   #17
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If you get an international, make sure you do not get the split radiator, does not really have sufficient cooling capacity for running on the highway all day
I second that! I have one.....wish I dident.

You really only need 2 of 3 things. 1) a good radiator. 2) a good fan. 3) a good temperature gauge.
Unfortunately internationals came with zero of the three.
I'm going to paint my front clip rustolium "Alumanum" to hopefully keep down on sun heat. I am also going to rig up a water sprayer for my radiator beceause I'm short on $$$

Trying to convert a bus with NO budget is something I'm doing poorly at.
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Old 06-08-2015, 12:40 PM   #18
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I am also going to rig up a water sprayer for my radiator beceause I'm short on $$$
I've been thinking about that for my rear-engine rig. We've been having some overheat trouble, and although I think it might have been my fault for inadequate purging of air from the system, in case the problem continues I've thought about doing this also. Being an RV we'll have a big water tank and a pump on board anyway... Have you gotten very far into figuring out what to use for a valve and spray nozzle?
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Old 06-08-2015, 01:39 PM   #19
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If you do install a mister to cool your radiator down make sure you use distilled water in it.

Using anything except for distilled water runs the real risk of creating deposits on the radiator making it less efficient in cooling.

I have seen a radiator that was almost completely clogged by a covering of calcium that was left when the water evaporated on contact.
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Old 06-08-2015, 04:24 PM   #20
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I've been thinking about that for my rear-engine rig. We've been having some overheat trouble, and although I think it might have been my fault for inadequate purging of air from the system, in case the problem continues I've thought about doing this also. Being an RV we'll have a big water tank and a pump on board anyway... Have you gotten very far into figuring out what to use for a valve and spray nozzle?
I was planning on a garden type sprayer nosle with a small fountain pump I have. I actually got the idea form Mighty Car Mods on YouTube.
I don't want to plum this into my fresh tank, it's a contamination risk.
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