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Old 05-07-2010, 08:20 PM   #1
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Year: 1997
Coachwork: Thomas Built
Chassis: International
Engine: t444
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Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Hello. Just signed up, so I'm new here.
I just bought a 1997 Thomas Built Vista. (pause for laughter....hey, it seems solid and it was cheap)
It has a t444e.
How does one decipher the VIN on this vehicle to find out the specs as far as trans, rear end, etc.?
Here is the engine tag:

Here is the tag inside with a VIN and a body serial number:

Here is a pic of the engine from inside. Forgive my ignorance, but is that a turbo?

It wasn't listed as having one....
Anyway, it's a decomissioned school bus, so its servicing is up to date.
However, it needs to be reprogrammed because it is speed limited and I'm hoping I can do something about the off the line performance. (I know, it's not a Corvette, but currently it feels like I'm launching an aircraft carrier)
I am fortunate to know mechanics and fabricators, but none of them knows the specifics of a bus.
So, what do you folks think? How do I find more info about this bus so that I can improve its performance?
Thanks in advance for your help!

Oh, here's the outside of the bus:
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Old 05-07-2010, 08:31 PM   #2
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Welcome to the board. What you have in the picture is most definately a turbo.
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Old 05-07-2010, 10:04 PM   #3
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Hello there-
In response to your wanting to decipher the VIN... on my Thomas, they assign a VIN to their work, which is different from the VIN on the chassis (in my case, a Ford). The VIN given by Ford on my bus is on a spec plate on the passenger side firewall- not sure if it's in the same place on your International, but that's the one you want to find, I believe. Good luck, and hope that helps.
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Old 05-08-2010, 03:39 AM   #4
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t444e? Good engine

The t444e means turbo 444 cubic inches displacement and electronic.. AKA da Ford power stroke. With a computer supplement, called a piggy back, all the engine parameters can be changed. There are no free rides some for any gain there is some payment to be made. The local Ford shop can make some changes
and work on the piggy back. Also most modern shops have the tools and experience to make that engine really perform and make serious horsepower.
I do not know all there is to know about power strokes, but the single best add on is a good intercooler. Just about every 1996 and newer powerstroke has an intercooler. For every 100 degrees of incoming pressure temperature reduction..... there is a net gain of about 10-11 horsepower. The turbo discharge side
makes about 950 - 1250 degress. The trick is to reduce the temps down to the 550-700 degrees. Performance is excellent. My Int bus has the old IDI 7.3
But the rules for turbos is the same. For better fuel milage, the turbo, the computer, and the rear gears can be modified and the Allison can be reprogrammed
to meet your needs. I want a Caterpiller that makes about 650 horsepower. Wait, that may not be enough power. Frank in Idaho
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Old 05-08-2010, 10:27 PM   #5
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

All that the VIN will tell you on an International is model, engine, and brakes.
1HV (International)
BD (3600 chassis)
AB (T444E)
K (haven't seen K before - usually P for hydraulic, N for air on full-size buses, M for short wheelbase).

Transmission is probably an Allison AT545, which is a non-lockup 4-speed. It's a decent transmission for that size bus.

Rear end options varied. If you can find an International truck dealer, they should be able to get you a copy of the lineset ticket with all the chassis specs.
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Old 05-14-2010, 09:40 AM   #6
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Thanks for your responses!
This is what is great about the internet.
I do happen to have an International dealer nearby. They were a bit surly on the phone at first, but once I assured them I wasn't trying to make a fire breathing hotrod, they warmed up a bit. According to them, top end road speed is something that they may or may not be able to address via the computer, or even mechanically for that matter. Other truck mechanics in the area talk about "turning down (or up) revs" "limiters" and "governors". When asking the International dealer, I'm getting responses like "I don't know what you (or they) are talking about" and "I don't know....maybe we can, maybe we can't. I wouldn't know". I thought maybe one guy there was having a bad day, but apparently they ALL respond that way.
If they are a dealer and service center, how can they not know? I'm not asking for a guarantee, I'm only asking, in theory, can it be done? Why dodge the question? Other mechanics, and I mean 7-8 other places, are saying they could do it IF they had the scanner or software or whatever....which they don't. And this issue only addresses the top end speed. According to International, there are no parameters to be adjusted up or down regarding low end performance.
Please understand, I'm not asking for a tire shredding super-tune, I only ask because the bus seller (who buys and sells the buses for the county) said that it had been "detuned", and that was a programming issue.
So I guess what I'm asking is: Are all of these other mechanics wrong? What's with the evasive cloak and dagger secrecy responses from the dealer? (the one guy did say they've been sued...)
I'm out of breath from all that typing..... What do you folks think?

Thanks again for your help!
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Old 05-14-2010, 01:16 PM   #7
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Likely they are trying to avoid the potential liability involved if something "goes wrong" with the "tweak" causing mechanical or personal damage occurs as a result of something related to the "tweak" they performed.

There may also be laws/regulations pertaining to such adjustments. As an example:

I am a factory certified small engine & outdoor power equipment mechanic. If someone brings me a piece of equipment that has ANY safety features broken, modified, disabled or otherwise outside of the manufacturer's specifications, I am required BY LAW to bring all safety features back into compliance prior to performing any repairs or returning the unit back to the customer in operating condition UNLESS the customer has signed a release of liability statement acknowledging the condition of the safety feature(s) when the unit was brought in, and the customer is declining bringing the unit back into spec. I must then permanently maintain files for those signed statements to release me of any liability.

I don't know your proximity to the person you purchased the bus from is, but if he knows what was done, could he not reverse it? That, or make some friends with the local School District Bus Barn or local mechanics and through humbled patience, see if they might shed some light as to the re-tune, or why you may be getting "the runaround" from the places you've contacted.
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Old 05-14-2010, 02:41 PM   #8
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Thanks for the quick response, Griff!
I live in SE Michigan and I bought the bus near Columbus OH.
I did speak to someone in a school bus garage (only one so far) he's one of the people who mentioned "turning up the revs" but said that is was likely that only International could do it. International essentially says "I don't know what that means".
At this point, If I assume that it was brought DOWN in performance, why can't it be back brought back UP to factory spec?
The seller (4 hrs away...and maybe full of...you know...) says that they change it on the computer, and International does it. In looking at my own pic posted above, it does say on the valve cover sticker that some things are non-adjustable.
I completely understand the liability issue for them. Right now the bus is at a local Kenworth dealer which also works on other makes. They offered to check it for free and told me that they could get into the computer, but couldn't change the parameters. It's an International thing.
It looks like I'm going to have to pay the International dealer at least $105 for them to even look at it and tell me yes or no.
If that's the only way to find out, I guess that's what I'll do.
I will say that all of the local mechanics, even International in the end, were very helpful in answering my novice questions about diesels. I am confident that this will have a positive outcome, even if it costs me more than what I expected (what does?)

Okay, I'm done rambling for now.
I promise, when I become a veteran skoolie I will help out the new people.
Thanks for your input so far!
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Old 05-14-2010, 08:07 PM   #9
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Those engines have their top speed electronically limited two ways: Road speed governor, and engine speed governor. Road speed is customer-programmable, meaning it can be adjusted with the handheld computer or laptop software many school district, bus company, and independent truck garages have. Engine speed is more sensitive, it's usually set at a "safe" level to avoid any possibility of engine damage but can be turned up a little without a huge risk. However, doing so may void the warranty on buses new enough to have one, and would open up a shop to liability if there's any engine damage.

Turning up the road speed won't do anything in the low-end performance, but might get you cruising faster on the highway if your RPMs aren't already topped out. Don't pay $105 or whatever the dealer charges to have that done - just keep asking around to find someone with that diagnostic computer for customer-programmable features.

Turning up the RPMs won't give you much in the lower end either, but you'll get a little more out of each gear.

The only other thing I can think of is that I've heard some engines are electronically detuned to a lower horsepower rating. If that's the case, it can be turned back up by the dealer, but a 175HP engine will never be a hot rod without some of the aftermarket modifications mentioned above.
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Old 05-15-2010, 09:29 AM   #10
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Re: Specs and tweaking a t444e?

Well, the clouds parted, and the light of knowledge finally hit my (balding) head.
It's kind of like asking the family doctor to give you steroids. Can he? Yep. Should he? Probably not.
I understand why these folks are skittish. It's for MY own good too. A mechanic's Hippocratic Oath.

You'll shoot yer eye out, kid.
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