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Old 07-07-2017, 04:59 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Question Thoughts on 2001 5.7 Chevy 350 Vortec short bus?

I've been weighing the pros and cons between the gas and diesel options. From what I've gathered...

Chevy 350 Gasser
  • Great engine, cheap parts, every mechanic can fix it, overall easier to maintain, underpowered and poor MPG in the mountains

Ford 7.3 turbo diesel
  • million mile motor (if taken care of properly), much more expensive to fix, harder to find a mechanic and parts, way more torque which will greatly benefit in the mountains and preserve the life of the bus longer, better MPG

For someone like me, I don't really enjoy working on cars. At all. Maybe the bus would be slightly different because I'll love it so much. I plan on doing a cross-country Canadian tour which will be very mountainous and pass through rural areas. It seems like the Chevy 350 would be the right choice IF something DOES go wrong.

However, it seems as if I went for the 7.3 diesel and it was in good shape and I didn't run into problems on the road, I would be FARRRR better off with the 7.3 diesel.

Any thoughts? There are good deals on both busses in my area right now and I'm eager to pick one up. Thanks!
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Old 07-07-2017, 05:37 PM   #2
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It's no contest for me. With very few exceptions (defective engine designs like the powerstroke 6.0), the diesel is going to be the way to go.

The difference in fuel economy and engine longevity is huge. Lots of people are "scared" of diesels because they've driven gas vehicles their whole lives, and that's to their detriment.

I don't like to work on cars either, so I got a diesel so I don't have to!

BTW - the 7.3 engine (ford powerstroke/navistar T444E) was extremely popular in both versions, you can get most of your parts at autozone, and they're not really any more expensive than any other engine. If you get the IHC version and take your bus to a IHC shop, you're going to pay premium rates, but any auto shop that's ever seen a truck has likely seen the 7.3.
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Old 07-07-2017, 06:05 PM   #3
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how do you feel about 200k miles on the 7.3? I have one in town, I'll go take a look. What should I look out for? I read online about checking the coolant system for those additives which are known to save those engines.

There are actually two different 7.3's. One is a 96 international, the other 7.3 is a 95 transit style e350 (I'm considering the transit because of the headroom, I'm 6'6")

Any reason to disregard the transit style in your opinion? I've read that they aren't as capable off paved roads and are a bit less customizable , however I don't plan to do any serious plumbing work on the bus, if any, and it seems like it gets better MPG and also has a smoother ride.

So many options... I appreciate your help!
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Old 07-07-2017, 06:57 PM   #4
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I'm pretty sure we were having the same conversation on Facebook before you got removed from the group by Steve. Anyway my advice is the same, that is a good bus but is listed for too much money. A lot of these guys are getting comparable buses for half that amount.

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Old 07-07-2017, 07:10 PM   #5
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haha, yep. Power trip Steve. I just discovered that bus only has a 6'1" standing height inside so now I think I'm leaning toward this one. Having to duck 5 inches (before flooring) doesn't sound fun, the roof extension doesn't sound easy either.

This is the transit style. https://wenatchee.craigslist.org/cto/6151038291.html
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Old 07-07-2017, 10:08 PM   #6
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haha power trip Steve.. Didn't know he was the admin when I told him to get off his high horse. Looks like I'll be opting for a 7.3 shuttle bus then! I guess 6'0 is the standard interior height on all these shorties and that won't cut it for me being 6'6".

Thanks for your help! Anything specific to look for when I check out some of these 7.3's? Looks like I have a couple decent ones under $5k in the area.
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Old 07-07-2017, 10:21 PM   #7
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Make sure they start it from cold, make sure it doesn't smoke. Tires are expensive so they're condition matters a lot. Retreads will asplode.

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Old 07-07-2017, 10:24 PM   #8
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I agree diesel is the way to go, it may be a bit more $ upfront and for an oil change and whatnot but engine longevity is well worth it. We have diesel tractors at several of the farms i work at from the 1960s-80s with over 10,000 hrs on them. Fuel efficiency is much better than gas and if a similar diesel can run 10-12+ hour days at full throttle plowing a field just imagine how long it will last in a lower duty service. many diesels are designed to run 350,000mi from the factory.
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Old 07-07-2017, 10:29 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by brokedown View Post
Make sure they start it from cold, make sure it doesn't smoke. Tires are expensive so they're condition matters a lot. Retreads will asplode.

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I have had good luck with retreads on buses i have driven and also 18 wheelers doing heavy farm service off & on highway 100,000 lb load. im sure there are a wide variety of the quality of retreads available but i wouldnt turn away from a bus just because of retreads.
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Old 07-07-2017, 10:33 PM   #10
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Not all retreads are equal, to be sure. If you buy a bus with retreads it's a reasonable expectation that they are ten years old and haven't been above 40mph more than a handful of times. A retread isn't as good as a real tire even if it isn't necessarily bad.

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Old 07-07-2017, 10:36 PM   #11
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haha power trip Steve.. Didn't know he was the admin when I told him to get off his high horse. Looks like I'll be opting for a 7.3 shuttle bus then! I guess 6'0 is the standard interior height on all these shorties and that won't cut it for me being 6'6".

Thanks for your help! Anything specific to look for when I check out some of these 7.3's? Looks like I have a couple decent ones under $5k in the area.
My shorty has at least 6'4" headroom. I can send you a link of one for sale if you're looking for one. They have good tires and are cheap.
The FB group were a bit rude and seemed like a know it all bunch of douchey people. Typical FB stuff. My better half was on there very briefly.
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Old 07-07-2017, 10:39 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by brokedown View Post
Not all retreads are equal, to be sure. If you buy a bus with retreads it's a reasonable expectation that they are ten years old and haven't been above 40mph more than a handful of times. A retread isn't as good as a real tire even if it isn't necessarily bad.

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Definitely virgin tires over retreads if given the choice, I honestly didnt even look at the tires more then tread depth & sidewall condition since the price was right, only $4,500 total for a '97 & '04 Bluebird TCFE 2000 5.9 Cummins 72 pass, hyd brakes, spring ride, 170,000 mi each.
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Old 07-07-2017, 11:30 PM   #13
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My shorty has at least 6'4" headroom. I can send you a link of one for sale if you're looking for one. They have good tires and are cheap.
Yes, please send me that link! What year and model shorty do you have? I could deal with 6'4".
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Old 07-07-2017, 11:53 PM   #14
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As far as other things to check, pull the dipsticks and sniff them, if it smells burnt or not the right color, could need attention. motor oil thats not brown or black is typically not good, transmission fluid thats not red/pink is also a sign to look into. some people bring coolant test strips to check condition of antifreeze, especially important on a wet-sleeve engine, i believe the 7.3 is dry sleeve. Good luck on your bus hunting.
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Old 07-08-2017, 04:45 AM   #15
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I will be the contrarian and advocate for the gasser 5.7L.

I have several reasons why I would prefer that over the 7.3L diesel.

First, the gasser is in a GM chassis. The GM front suspension is very durable and will take a beating and still drive straight. Ford's better idea of Twin-I-Beam suspension was okay when it came out in the early '60's. It utilized the inherent strength of a beam axle with the added benefit of independent front suspension. With the king pins it was okay. But in the early 90's Ford upgraded the Twin-I-Beam suspension and put ball joints on it. That suspension never drives straight. You can take it in and get it lined up and the first bump you it, even if it is just the curb cut leaving the line up shop is enough to knock it off kilter. Which results in shortened tire life and less than wonderful experience herding it down the road. By the way, this is from my experience of running a fleet of mini-buses. Your experience might be different.

Second, as you rightly pointed out, there isn't a town in the country where you won't find someone who can work on a small block Chevy V-8. Replacement parts are available in almost every auto or truck parts supply house across North America.

Third, the GM comes with the 4L80 transmission which is about as bulletproof as you can get in a transmission. The Ford comes with the E4OD, the follow on 4R100, or the current 4R55. IMHO the E4OD is worse than junk, the 4R100 marginally better forward but much worse in reverse, and the 4R55 is adequate. Behind a diesel engine the Ford automatics do not have a long life cycle while the GM transmission behind a small block gas engine will last nearly forever if it is serviced on a regular basis and isn't allowed to get hot.

Fourth, fuel mileage is only one component of the cost of operation. In most locales diesel at the pump is more expensive than gasoline. The newer gas powered buses have greatly improved the fuel efficiency to the point the diesels only get 1-3 MPG better than the gassers. The difference in price just about covers the difference in fuel mileage. And then comes the time to service the engine. The diesel will take a minimum of two fuel filters, an oil filter, and 12-14 quarts of oil--total price in materials somewhere in the neighborhood of $150.00. The gasser will only use one oil filter and only about 6 quarts of oil--total price in materials less than $50.00.

Collins, Blue Bird, and Thomas all make Type A school buses and MultiFunctionSchoolActivityBus on the cut-away chassis. Some are low roof models. But some have a full height service door with full height headroom inside. Full interior height is pretty standard at 74". Most of the MFSAB's are set up as trip buses so they will have the highest headroom, fastest gearing, and some even have some under floor luggage compartments. Most also have dash and coach A/C that works and works well!

So I do not recommend the diesel and strongly recommend the gasser.

Good Luck and Happy Trails to you!
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Old 07-08-2017, 10:00 AM   #16
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So the 7.3 platform he is taking about is not a Ford platform, it's a Thomas Vista/international 3600. Same bus I have, not a cutaway van setup.

Second, regarding mpg, of you pay 10% more for fuel but get more than 10% farther on a gallon, you are ahead. In my experience you get more like 50% + farther on a gallon vs a comparable gas engine.

Third, old changes do cost 3x as much but they also happen at far wider intervals. Spending 150 every 10k miles is better than spending 50 every 3k. And if you do it yourself, I changed mine last month for about $75 for 18 quarts of rotella oil and filter.

On the flip side, the cutaway bus probably has a higher top speed and weighs half as much as the vista, which makes the two vehicles harder to compare. The GM may ultimately get farther on a gallon because it isn't moving 7 tons.



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Old 07-08-2017, 11:05 AM   #17
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ford made crap transmissions.. however there are tons of parts for those transmissions.. (and up-fitter kits to make them bulletproof).

the 7.3 is a great deisel (for a diesel V-... I have a 7.3 diesel and a 5.9 inline 6 diesel.. and in some regards my 5.9 is heavier duty than my 7.3.

the advnatange of a 5.7 is if you blow it all over the freeway you can order a new one from jegs for a few grand, drop it in and go another 150k miles..

you can do the same with a 7.3. but for 10k (fully reman drop in 7.3), the diesel will give you advantage in town and any idling that you do. on the highway a diesel is designed to run and run for hours on end..

I had an old carbed 454 bluebird short bus that I was lucky to get 4-6 MPG out of.. in my current bluebird 7.3 diesel (before my Trans upgrade.. so apples to apples both busses had AT-545's) I got 8-10 MPG.. so double the MPG.. im sure the newer gassers are better.. but so is a newer diesel with an OD trans.. my prelim data is that im now getting 12-13 in my Bluebird with my new transmission (and a 7.3 diesel).

now these are not van cutaways / shuttles like you are looking at.. im just using them as a gasser to diesel comparison..

im personally not a fan of van cutaways for purely the repair aspects.. they are tough ti get to anything to make repairs.. conventional busses are probably the easiest to work on..

as stated.. shuttles and coaches will likely already be air-conditioned where many school busses are not.. alot depends on how much travelling you are doing vs living / being parked etc..

-Christopher
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Old 07-08-2017, 12:10 PM   #18
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Christopher makes some very good points about you really can't compare a medium duty chassis bus to a van/cut-away chassis. Everything on the medium duty is going to be heavier duty.

One of the main reasons why you can't find any newer diesel powered Type 'A' school bus/MFSAB or shuttle buses is because few can justify the $14K option that comes with checking off the diesel box. I had one customer who preferred the GM chassis with the V-8 over the Ford chassis with the V-10 because the V-8 got 1-2 MPG better than the V-10. Which was only 1-2 MPG less than a diesel powered bus. For our purposes it probably is a wash in the used market. But in a fleet where you are going 10K-15K miles per month 1-2 MPG can add up to a healthy piece of change.

I will stand by my original recommendation that if you are looking to purchase a Type 'A' bus/MFSAB or shuttle the GM chassis with a gas engine is a better bet than the Ford regardless of the engine.
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Old 07-08-2017, 01:41 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
I will be the contrarian and advocate for the gasser 5.7L.

I have several reasons why I would prefer that over the 7.3L diesel.

Thanks for your recommendation! The 01 5.7 bluebird I'm interested in has 6'1" standing height according to the guy trying to sell it which isn't worth it to me.

I definitely see both sides to this gas vs diesel debate haha, it makes finding a suitable bus a very indecisive process for me. I guess I just need to find a good condition bus that accommodates my height the best.

EastCoastCB sent me a 01 freightliner cummins 5.9 shorty that looks appealing. He claims the bus he got from the same district has atleast 6'4" standing height. I'm guessing the freightliner with the conventional style is built a bit larger than the vortec 5.7 is, or the craigslist seller doesn't know how to measure. He sounded like a smart guy though.

I've yet to see a cutaway / shuttle style bus with a chevy in it. The only ones within a few hundred miles of me are all the 6.0, 6.8 or 7.3 fords.

10k to replace a 7.3 definitely frightens me
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Old 07-08-2017, 01:49 PM   #20
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im personally not a fan of van cutaways for purely the repair aspects.. they are tough ti get to anything to make repairs.. conventional busses are probably the easiest to work on..

as stated.. shuttles and coaches will likely already be air-conditioned where many school busses are not.. alot depends on how much travelling you are doing vs living / being parked etc..

-Christopher
Noted. I currently live in a 1986 van which is a REAL PIECE OF.... to work on. I already am not the most mechanically inclined. So "hard to get to" for me is a recipe for disaster and punching my bus' windows out in frustration. I plan on being on the move way more than stationary living.

Including eventually driving the bus down to Guatemala, which I would hate to get stranded and not be able to personally fix it or find a mechanic who knows what to do. Luckily there is actually a huge market for school buses down there, they are called Chicken Buses and locals ride them all over the country. I'm unsure whether most of them are gas or diesel, I never rode on one myself. I think diesel though.

Come to think of it, this entire forum would get a kick out of those buses. I have some vidoes I can post, they pimp those things out like you wouldn't believe.
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