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Old 04-10-2019, 09:45 PM   #1
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Question Bus buying butterflies

Hello everyone! I'm excited to be posting our first thread. This site, and all of your thoughts, are so helpful.

My partner and I are searching for our first bus. After much hunting, researching and price comparisons, we found a bus just 40 minutes away and I'd love to share with you all the specs (as I know them) and get any feedback about it.

For context, we have the pre-purchase butterflies. But not like the pleasant butterflies you get when you're going to meet your crush in a meadow on a sunny day. Like pokey, uncomfortable butterflies. Not sure if we're nervous for legitimate reasons, or simply because it's a big transition.

Here we go: We found a bus on the Facebook marketplace just north of us (we're in Madison, WI). It's being sold by a guy who likes to collect and fix up large vehicles. He bought it, and a few other buses, from a nearby school district - they were used for daycare. We drove it around, decided it was too small (and had some serious rust underneath) and thanked him.

The seller said he had another bus that was larger, if we wanted to try that one out, and that he hadn't posted it yet (oooohhh secret bus... intriguing...). So we drove it around and we really liked the size and the vibe.

One concern is the brakes-- they seemed a bit weak. Also, there was definitely rust, but we live in Wisconsin so that's expected. Lastly, the miles were so low we literally don't believe it... like we're suspicious.

The bus is a 1996 Chevy Vandura 3500 HD. 5.7 Gas Motor

(I can't seem to find any other specs online so I think I'll have to call Thomas with the VIN number? Thoughts on this welcome)

The odometer reads 57,XXX I can't remember exactly what it said. While the Certificate of Title that the seller sent me says "598" under the Odometer Reading section... which totally confused us and I can't seem to effectively google any explanations. According to Wisconsin DOT the odometer readings is supposed to be recorded exactly, not cut off after 3 digits. Our seller bought the bus in January... so couldn't have put the miles on himself.

Price: $3500

So we were smitten and confused. Great mileage and price combo. Yet what the heck? Why is this odometer thing so fishy?

We asked if we could come back and take it to a mechanic. He said "No" because he didn't want to risk us getting into an accident, as the bus is not insured. That made some sense to us... but we had just been driving the bus around and there's a mechanic quite close to his house (that doesn't have great reviews but it's there).

So we talked it over and today we told him "No thank you" as we want to take any bus we purchase to a mechanic. He wrote back that if we wanted to we could take it to that same autoshop (with the bad reviews) right near his house.

Then we got suspicious again, like what if he knows the people there and they're not going to give us an honest inspection?

Anyway, perhaps it's paranoia? Or perhaps we're actually being scammed?

Your feedback would be so much appreciated!
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Old 04-10-2019, 10:10 PM   #2
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It probably had 598 miles on it when the original title was printed.
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Old 04-10-2019, 10:26 PM   #3
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Ohhh I see. I thought they would update it with the re-title but maybe not. Thanks for your response!
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Old 04-10-2019, 10:41 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mamafestation View Post
Hello everyone! I'm excited to be posting our first thread. This site, and all of your thoughts, are so helpful.

My partner and I are searching for our first bus. After much hunting, researching and price comparisons, we found a bus just 40 minutes away and I'd love to share with you all the specs (as I know them) and get any feedback about it.

For context, we have the pre-purchase butterflies. But not like the pleasant butterflies you get when you're going to meet your crush in a meadow on a sunny day. Like pokey, uncomfortable butterflies. Not sure if we're nervous for legitimate reasons, or simply because it's a big transition.

Here we go: We found a bus on the Facebook marketplace just north of us (we're in Madison, WI). It's being sold by a guy who likes to collect and fix up large vehicles. He bought it, and a few other buses, from a nearby school district - they were used for daycare. We drove it around, decided it was too small (and had some serious rust underneath) and thanked him.

The seller said he had another bus that was larger, if we wanted to try that one out, and that he hadn't posted it yet (oooohhh secret bus... intriguing...). So we drove it around and we really liked the size and the vibe.

One concern is the brakes-- they seemed a bit weak. Also, there was definitely rust, but we live in Wisconsin so that's expected. Lastly, the miles were so low we literally don't believe it... like we're suspicious.

The bus is a 1996 Chevy Vandura 3500 HD. 5.7 Gas Motor

(I can't seem to find any other specs online so I think I'll have to call Thomas with the VIN number? Thoughts on this welcome)

The odometer reads 57,XXX I can't remember exactly what it said. While the Certificate of Title that the seller sent me says "598" under the Odometer Reading section... which totally confused us and I can't seem to effectively google any explanations. According to Wisconsin DOT the odometer readings is supposed to be recorded exactly, not cut off after 3 digits. Our seller bought the bus in January... so couldn't have put the miles on himself.

Price: $3500

So we were smitten and confused. Great mileage and price combo. Yet what the heck? Why is this odometer thing so fishy?

We asked if we could come back and take it to a mechanic. He said "No" because he didn't want to risk us getting into an accident, as the bus is not insured. That made some sense to us... but we had just been driving the bus around and there's a mechanic quite close to his house (that doesn't have great reviews but it's there).

So we talked it over and today we told him "No thank you" as we want to take any bus we purchase to a mechanic. He wrote back that if we wanted to we could take it to that same autoshop (with the bad reviews) right near his house.

Then we got suspicious again, like what if he knows the people there and they're not going to give us an honest inspection?

Anyway, perhaps it's paranoia? Or perhaps we're actually being scammed?

Your feedback would be so much appreciated!
Take it to the shop and don't say anything about the guy who is selling it. Ask them to check over the bus and give you an estimate FOR THEM TO DO THE WORK on any potential issues. See how loyal they are to the seller when they think if they say everything is okay, they get no paying work out of it. Then take all the issues they want to fix back to the seller for negotiation.
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Old 04-11-2019, 09:19 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by o1marc View Post
Take it to the shop and don't say anything about the guy who is selling it. Ask them to check over the bus and give you an estimate FOR THEM TO DO THE WORK on any potential issues. See how loyal they are to the seller when they think if they say everything is okay, they get no paying work out of it. Then take all the issues they want to fix back to the seller for negotiation.
This is genius!! I think you just figured out our next step: thank you!!
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Old 04-11-2019, 10:03 AM   #6
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As motors from GM in the mid 90's go, the vortec 5.7l is your best option in that type of vehicle....that being said, it is nothing special, if you don't care about rust, look for something from 2003+ with a 6.0l vortec, this is a whole new engine architecture, the engine will likely last twice as long, deliver 25% more mpg, and offer 50% more power.

I would take a 150k mile 6.0l bus over a 60k mile 5.7l bus.

As for the seller saying no to the mechanic inspection, as someone who goes through lots of vehicles, I stopped saying yes to this request after I realized people who need an inspection typically know nothing about vehicles (which is fine), have no means of repairing any issues themselves, and are easily spooked by the write-up they get from a mechanic who is incentivized to come up with lots of issues to both cover their own liability, and to potentially get the repair work.

General guidelines for all vehicles over 100k miles
Small leaks are normal......big leaks are bad (grimmy vs. wet)
Noises are bad (i.e. something needs to be repaired)
Shaking is bad (i.e. something needs to be repaired)
wandering steering wheel is bad (see above)
Surface rust is fine, scaling, i.e. big flakes you can pick off is bad.
If you have holes in body panels you will likely need brake lines somewhere in the near future.
Maintenance records are good, but not a guarantee a catastrophic failure won't happen 2 miles down the road.

Steering and brakes are always my highest concern.....if I can't stop and steer, I don't care how good the engine runs, or how clean the body is.
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Old 04-11-2019, 10:31 AM   #7
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Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shelby987 View Post
As motors from GM in the mid 90's go, the vortec 5.7l is your best option in that type of vehicle....that being said, it is nothing special, if you don't care about rust, look for something from 2003+ with a 6.0l vortec, this is a whole new engine architecture, the engine will likely last twice as long, deliver 25% more mpg, and offer 50% more power.

I would take a 150k mile 6.0l bus over a 60k mile 5.7l bus.

As for the seller saying no to the mechanic inspection, as someone who goes through lots of vehicles, I stopped saying yes to this request after I realized people who need an inspection typically know nothing about vehicles (which is fine), have no means of repairing any issues themselves, and are easily spooked by the write-up they get from a mechanic who is incentivized to come up with lots of issues to both cover their own liability, and to potentially get the repair work.

General guidelines for all vehicles over 100k miles
Small leaks are normal......big leaks are bad (grimmy vs. wet)
Noises are bad (i.e. something needs to be repaired)
Shaking is bad (i.e. something needs to be repaired)
wandering steering wheel is bad (see above)
Surface rust is fine, scaling, i.e. big flakes you can pick off is bad.
If you have holes in body panels you will likely need brake lines somewhere in the near future.
Maintenance records are good, but not a guarantee a catastrophic failure won't happen 2 miles down the road.

Steering and brakes are always my highest concern.....if I can't stop and steer, I don't care how good the engine runs, or how clean the body is.
Ohh thank you for this thorough response. I see I see... The brakes were weak, like I could feel them sort of pulsing when I would press on them. I could stop, but it took some extra pressure. The rust was almost entirely underneath and it appeared surface, like no holes we could see.

Perhaps, though, we should look elsewhere, because of course we want something with lots of life and if the 6.0 is a better bet for that, than we're willing to wait. Lots to ponder, thank you!!
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Old 04-11-2019, 11:03 AM   #8
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Are you set on a cutaway? And are you set on it being a gas engine? Gas cutaways are better as you go newer, where diesel powered sweet spot is still the 90s and very early 2000s. They sold a bazillion GM and Ford cutaways with diesel power.

Beyond the engine choice, know that cutaways are pretty low value price-wise, if you're spending $3500 it better be an incredible bus with awesome rare features. A 1996 cutaway with a 5.7 in it for $3500 better come with a bag with $2000 in it on the dashboard. if you're set on a cutaway, that's great news because you can find a good bus for a bargain... but you will find plenty of folks here who spend half that asking price on a "real" bus (medium duty chassis and drivetrain vs a van with a body kit).
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Old 04-11-2019, 12:06 PM   #9
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Just to elaborate on the above text, if you do like the cutaway (van front / bus rear). The Ford diesel up until 2003 is good (7.3l powerstroke), after that it became the 6.0l diesel and it has quite a few issues, the GM version (6.2l/6.5l) is junk, I would not recommend it for someone who doesn't work on their own equipment, to make that engine reliable you are looking at a minimum of $3k in parts alone.

For a novice looking at "light duty" buses, I would stay with gas....a gas engine can be serviced anywhere and parts can be purchased at any local autoparts place. In my experience, a gas engine is more forgiving of poor maintenance than a diesel, and there is no additional maintenance learning curve....but opinions vary.
To recap:
Ford 7.3l diesel Great
Ford 6.0l diesel bad
Ford 5.4l gas junk
GM 6.0l gas Great
GM 5.7l gas ok
GM 6.2l / 6.5l diesel (turbo or not) junk
GM 6.6l duramax Great (don't be fooled by people calling a 2003 and older a "duramax....if it doesn't say Duramax on the engine, and have a fender badge that says "duramax / allison transmission"....it is a 6.2/6.5 often called detroitdiesel.

These are generalizations based on buying an affordable vehicle and it's likelyhood to not cost more to fix then buy. Most of the issues can be worked around, but after you spend that money, you will never recoup it at resale time and for the added cost you could have started with a great alternative listed above.
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Old 04-11-2019, 12:32 PM   #10
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Mostly agree with your list, but honestly the GM 6.2/6.5 were good reliable engines. People dog on them because they weren't particularly exciting. A boring engine is a good engine when you're hoping to go half a million miles.

Beyond that, any mechanic shop that has ever seen a Ford F350 won't flinch when they see a cutaway with a Powerstroke 7.3. The whole mechanic familiarity of gas engines thing is mostly a myth outside of weird places like California. I sure wouldn't trade half of my MPG and half of my engine longevity for it!
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