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Old 06-06-2017, 04:08 PM   #1
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Utter beginner looking for bus reccomendations.

Hello! My boyfriend and I recently started looking into making our own home in a repurposed school bus. Slight problem... we don't actually know all that much about buses to begin with. I figured I would slide on in here, and maybe get a little help as well as inspiration. My first real hurdle is what buses to even look at. My boyfriend is super tall, 6'4", so I know we need a raised roof. I would also prefer it to be a longer model, just because we have two pets and space will be important. [ and if it could tow a vehicle, that would be amazing... but not a deal breaker if it can't. ] Do you guys have any advice or recommendations for me? I started drawing out a floor plan, but then I realized: until I know the actual dimensions of the bus, what I plan might not even fit!
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Old 06-06-2017, 06:25 PM   #2
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Welcome

The group here is good at figuring out what kind of bus fits you. We'll do our best to keep you away from trouble.

Are you making a live-in bus or are you making a weekend camper? Front engine, rear engine or dognose bus? Do you have an engine/transmission preference? Probably most important, do you have a place where you can park a 40' long bus while you're working on it without the neighbors causing problems?

It's always good to have new people in the group. Not that it's necessary, but what type of skills are you two bringing to your build? You don't have to have build skills but it helps. There's enough examples and photographs here to get you through anything you might want to do. You'll find an excess of opinions too.

There are some buses with enough headroom for your boyfriend to avoid hitting his head without a roof raise, but they don't come along that often. I like your enthusiasm so far. When were you thinking of getting a bus?
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Old 06-06-2017, 06:26 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by teamakesitbetter View Post
Hello! My boyfriend and I recently started looking into making our own home in a repurposed school bus. Slight problem... we don't actually know all that much about buses to begin with. I figured I would slide on in here, and maybe get a little help as well as inspiration. My first real hurdle is what buses to even look at. My boyfriend is super tall, 6'4", so I know we need a raised roof. I would also prefer it to be a longer model, just because we have two pets and space will be important. [ and if it could tow a vehicle, that would be amazing... but not a deal breaker if it can't. ] Do you guys have any advice or recommendations for me? I started drawing out a floor plan, but then I realized: until I know the actual dimensions of the bus, what I plan might not even fit!
Well, for headroom, you really only have 3 options.

1. Live with the original roof height and lower your head to walk around. Obviously not a desirable option for your situation, and the bus *WILL* begin to feel cramped.
2. Find a bus with a 78" roof peak. Somewhat common in buses with wheelchair lifts, but can sometimes be found in buses without. Even this may result in him bumping the ceiling toward the walls ...
3. Do a roof raise. This opens up your options considerably. It will cost a bit to do this and raise the vehicle's center of gravity.

If I were to do a roof raise, I would remove the windows, weld in 4 nuts toward the ends, and use threaded rod (and extra nuts) to raise each end a few turns at a time. This also serves to hold everything more or less in place while you do all the necessary welding to the side posts. Personally I would consider raising my entire roof, but raising a section is an equally acceptable for those so inclined. I would re-install the windows at what would be their new height and fill in under them with sheetmetal, but keeping them at the original height and adding metal above them is equally fine ... or using all metal and eliminating the windows completely, or any combination thereof.

I have an '87 IH/Carpenter full length bus and I believe I measured just short of 32' behind the driver's seat (it has a hood). The so-called "flat front" buses will have somewhere around 35-36' behind the driver's seat. The IH chassis with either the T444 (same as 7.3 and often referred to as such) or the DT466 (7.6L) are pretty popular choices and parts are widely available for them.

You'll find hydraulic brakes and air brakes. The former work just like the ones in your car, just on a larger scale. There is a small pump that gives power assist when the engine is off. Not really necessary for a 3000 pound car, but it becomes another matter in a 20,000 pound bus. Air brakes are generally considered to have better stopping power, more resistant to brake fade (caused by excessive heat when descending a steep hill), easier parts availability, and much more powerful parking brakes. They aren't "harder" to drive than hydraulic brakes, just different and take some getting used to. The air-parking brakes will not release until there's 40-60 pounds of air in the system (and even at those low pressures they may drag), hence why there's an alarm if the system drops below that threshold.

Most full size, diesel powered buses should have the ability to tow a vehicle. Depending on the vehicle being towed will determine how it needs to be towed. I have a '98 Suburban 2WD and it can be flat-towed (on its own 4 wheels, with no dolly or trailer) as long as I disconnect the driveshaft and leave the steering unlocked. It can also be dolly-towed if I put the rear (drive) wheels on the dolly (the steering needs to be locked straight if I do this). Trailer towing works for virtually anything. Many vehicles these days are front wheel drive, so I would recommend dolly towing those (put the front wheels on the dolly), as disconnecting the drive train is difficult at best. Flat towing is acceptable for a small handful of vehicles, check your owner's manual to be sure and see what needs to be done in order to do so.

Let's see. Did I forget anything?
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Old 06-06-2017, 06:51 PM   #4
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Oh yes, I did forget something. Listings that say "Blue Bird Bus" or "Thomas Bus" are terribly unhelpful. Why? Because BlueBird, Thomas (and others) don't build engines, transmissions, brakes, suspensions, and the other guts. They only build the bodywork. So when you try to replace a fan belt, no one is going to have a listing for a "1999 Thomas Bus Fan Belt", they will need to know the manufacturer and model of engine it has. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to this, I'm just making a point here.) You'll often see listings such as Ford/BlueBird or IH/Thomas or Navistar/Carpenter (Navistar and IH are the same company, it was a corporate reorganization due to financial troubles quite some years ago). Ford, IH/Navistar, and GMC/Chevy are probably the most common chassis suppliers over the years.

If you plan to do much driving, and from what I gather in your first post, you want a full size bus, you'll probably want to avoid gas-burner engines. They don't have the longevity and more importantly the fuel economy of a diesel. For IH, you'll find the old 6.9 and 9.0L engines made up to 1987 are getting hard to find parts for, but otherwise decent engines. The 7.3/T444 and DT series engines are good choices with good parts availability. The DT466 will have better hill climbing than the 7.3/T444, especially in a full size bus. The 6.0, built after around 2004, used in both Ford and IH builds had a bad reputation and is quite costly to rebuild. Its deficiencies can be overcome, but it involves major engine work and does not come cheap. Ford used Detroit engines over the years (among others), the Detroit 8.2 was decent at best. GM owned Detroit Diesel and Allison for ages, these brands being introduced so they could sell engines to otherwise competing companies. Old buses may have the 6V and 8V series diesel engines. These were widely used in transit and motorcoach style buses, it was *VERY* common for these engines to rack up millions of miles in over-the-road service. One of these engines is said to be able to run a bus up a 7% grade at 75+ rather easily. Some buses also run Cat engines. An old version is the 3208 Cat - I worked for a fellow that had 2 of these in box trucks and they weren't terribly reliable for him. That's not to say they're bad engines, though. Only that he didn't have much luck with them. More commonly you'll see 3116 and 3126 Cat engines in school buses, and I believe the primary difference is that the former are mechanically injected, and the latter are electronically controlled. Parts are not as widely available, typically only from Cat dealers, and often at a premium price.

One subject not really touched on is transmissions. By far, probably the most common school bus transmission is the old Allison AT545. While this trans serves well in school bus roles, it is not a so-called "lock-up" transmission and it does not have overdrive. In a bus with a low-geared rear-end, it will limit your top speed greatly. Negotiating long, steep hills, and the fact it lacks lockup, it will get hot. Heat kills transmissions faster than anything else, so you'll want to be mindful of that. Most other transmissions you'll commonly find at least have the lockup feature. It sort of feels like an extra "gear" when on the road.
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Old 06-06-2017, 06:57 PM   #5
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Above all else, look under *ANY* prospective bus for rust. Under and around the rear-wheel-wells, where these meet the walls ... basically any place you can poke your head or camera, look for rust. Light surface rust can be removed and treated without much difficulty, but you want to avoid heavy rust like it's cancer ... which is one reason it's often referred to as such.
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Old 06-06-2017, 10:22 PM   #6
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Another thing to consider is WHERE to buy the bus. Most people can and do buy buses off craigslist from private sellers, but there's a lot of unknowns.

The best places in my opinion are auction sites like Public Surplus and Govdeals. These sites are places where you can bid on and purchase vehicles directly from the school districts that owned and operated them. In most cases the buses have seen regular maintanance and were taken care of.

If you're willing to travel, some states are better than others for buying auction buses. Anywhere near a major port will see massively inflated prices due to exporters. Exporters generally only go for certain kinds of buses so if you're into shorties or WC buses you will have little bidding competition.
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Old 06-06-2017, 10:47 PM   #7
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I saw quite a number of buses in LA (NOT Los Angeles!) which were fairly low, all seemed to be listed as "Flood damage" but I saw no evidence in the photos that they had been submerged. Possibly an easy fix? Does anyone know the story on these? (I'm not interested in any as they all appear to be full length buses and I can't fit one in my driveway).
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Old 06-06-2017, 11:08 PM   #8
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We've talked about those flood damage buses in the past. There just isn't enough information for those of us that live far away. Also like you, our driveways are already full. I'm being careful not to become a bus hoarder.
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Old 06-07-2017, 05:08 AM   #9
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How many does one need for it to be considered hoarding?
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Old 06-07-2017, 10:05 AM   #10
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How many does one need for it to be considered hoarding?

x + 3y will give you the allowable number.

X is the number of road-worthy and registered buses you have.

Y is the number of non-road-worthy buses you own which have been worked on in the last month.

This allows two parts buses for each project bus. But if you go more than a month without working on a project, it (along with its two parts buses) begins counting towards hoarder status.

So you're good! You can buy two more with no worries!

Hope that helps.
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