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Old 07-17-2018, 12:36 AM   #1
Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 25
Question Looking to get started in CA. Need help please!


My husband and I have been dreaming up a skoolie of our own for half a year now. After tons of videos, websites and guides we decided to take the plunge a couple of months back. However, we have had a hard time finding a bus in CA and deciding on a bus in general.

About us, we are professionals in the tech field. My husband has some small experience with mechanical stuff but we would be learning most everything as we go. We are clueless about what the best bus would be but here are some links that show the general size/shape of the bus we are looking for:

We would love to get the bus as close as we can to us as we would need to have it delivered if we ordered from back east. Also, we are looking for a general road trip / camper vehicle and not primarily to live in.

A few things we really need help with to start.
1. Choosing the correct bus/engine/tranny/etc, we know nothing about any of that. We aren't picky and want the best we can get as we would love for this to last as long as it can. We are looking for an auto tranny and are open to just about everything else. We are budgeting around 6K to buy the bus and this is flexible for the perfect bus.

2. Work space is really hard to find. If anyone knows anywhere in/near South bay where we can rent space to work on the bus that would be awesome.

3. Finding a bus in CA has been really hard for us. We find tons back east but none that are in CA that are the shape/size we are looking for. Any help locating a bus near us is appreciated as well!

Finally, would love any tips/advice that anyone would love to share with us. We have been snooping through the forum here and various blogs and would appreciate additional links and to hear from your experience.

Thanks for reading!
- Aileen & Ryan
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Old 07-18-2018, 01:38 PM   #2
Bus Nut
Join Date: May 2018
Location: topeka kansas
Posts: 537
Year: 1954
Coachwork: wayne
Chassis: old f500- new 2005 f-450
Engine: cummins 12 valve
Rated Cap: 20? five rows of 4?
some things to look for.

I would be inclined to say you are intelligent enough to do all, you just dont know enough, yet.

First big buses work better with bigger engines. Kinda like putting 2.5 liter engine in a suburban... engine is stressed to maximum 80 % of the time, = wear out faster. slower accleration sometimes lower top speed.

engines at 8 liters or bigger. The gold standard for automatics are pretty much an allison with 6 speeds and the torque converter lock up in the top couple of gears. This helps keep engine rpm lower, transmission temps lower and that means longer life.You will find that some allisons have the ability for 6 speeds but are software limited to 5 speeds.

Air brakes are probably safer than hydraulic brakes. You need to learn about driving with air brakes.

Learn about other peoples troubles with insurance coverage so you are not blindsided by possible difficulties.

You can not have a yellow painted school bus kind of paint job in california.
plan on painting. You can do a 50/50 paint job, looks good 50 feet away going 50 miles an hour.

Like writing a program, 90% of the lines of code are done in the first 10% of the time. The debug and final touches take 90% of the time.

I advise to opening up to utah, colorado, nevada, arizona. places easy to fly into. colorado is likely to get you big motors and gears in those transmissions. Part of the adventure learning might be good drive a bus close to home..see what it is like. Might scare the crap out of you and would not be good to buy a bus and then find out you wont drive it.

Read lots, go down the rabbit hole, take the five hour internet tours see what there is to see.

good luck, be nice, and eat more ice cream...

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Old 07-18-2018, 07:44 PM   #3
Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 25

We did read about making sure the transmission is an Alison. Good to know that is true.

About the engine, do you mean its better to get a bigger bus because there will be less wear on the engine? We dont want a big bus so wondering what the best size/type of engine would be best for a short bus.

We have read about insurance woes in CA. We are confident that we can find insurance. Thankfully, because so many others have lol. Will definitely research more about that.

My husband drove some larger vehicles in the military. He said he has driven very large things like bradelys and lmtvs. He is confident in being able to drive one but would definitely like to practice lol. The reason we dont want to go to far is mostly a time constraint. We dont have any free days for this year and really dont want to drive straight over a few days just to get the bus home. We are open to having it delivered.

My husband says something just like that. I showed him this post and he said "The last 10% is the 90%." So true.

Thank you very much for your advice!
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Old 07-18-2018, 07:55 PM   #4
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Join Date: Dec 2017
Location: Dawsonville, Ga.
Posts: 5,778
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Genesis
Chassis: International
Engine: DT466/3060
Rated Cap: 77
Originally Posted by aileendc88 View Post

We did read about making sure the transmission is an Alison. Good to know that is true.

Thank you very much for your advice!

Almost every bus out there has an Allison transmission, some are base model (545) and not generally desirable, and the top of the line (3060) with more models in between. They are worlds apart in performance.
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Old 07-18-2018, 10:03 PM   #5
Bus Nut
Join Date: May 2018
Location: topeka kansas
Posts: 537
Year: 1954
Coachwork: wayne
Chassis: old f500- new 2005 f-450
Engine: cummins 12 valve
Rated Cap: 20? five rows of 4?
big engine

I meant, if you get a big bus,make sure it has a big engine.

I think it is likely you will get 6 to 7 liter engines in the buses you are looking at. so..... the moment you find the 8 liter or bigger engines make it high the list to check out.

Several disagree with my choice of the 5.9 cummins for my short bus, but I think I am also willing to spend the money to increase power also. With that comes the willingness to have to redo the engine at 150,000 miles. I am starting with fresh engine and that is not often done in the skoolie world.

Because of emmsisions requirements, quite a few truckers are putting in complete engine refits instead of buying new trucks with the new emmissions controls. The same can be done in a bus. Flat nose front engines are probably the most difficult. Short buses built on frames like international, and freightliners with the noses on them are probably the easiest. Being the California, street rod, car crazy capital of the world... I would thing that finding an expert that would like to put in a big engine in a bus would not be difficult to do. example Bones' 1954¬*Chevy School Bus This is a street rod guy that did a bus.

For us gear heads that do this sort of thing - engine swaps- we dont think it is any big deal. look around lots can be done. If you are well financially, doors you can open with money as far as bus power plants go, are endless.


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Old 07-18-2018, 10:15 PM   #6
Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 25
Oh wow. Did not know that at all. Thanks for sharing, o1marc.

magnakansas thanks for clarifying. We aren't super into mechanical stuff and are more interested in buying a bus that has a lot of life in it rather than worry about have huge work done on it. We are very interested in learning and getting our hands dirty. But not huge level stuff like rebuilding the whole engine kind of thing.

We are willing to pay more for a better bus to build with. Just trying to figure out what that better bus is lol. There are so many combinations and point of views and it's even difficult to just find one we can get. But that is part of the journey.
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Old 07-19-2018, 12:08 AM   #7
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Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 169
Welcome to the School Bus Thang!

I was where you are just a few months ago. I know how exciting and overwhelming all this research can be. Countless times we said to each other "a 20 year old school bus, really?". But we did it. Got a bus and have been working hard on the transformation. It is SO COOL when you get that bus in your possession.

Anyway, thought I could share some of my limited knowledge on finding a bus since its still fresh in my mind.

1. Use this site. Probably the best forum of any I have ever followed. Great people, great information and no drama. Ask away, everyone is helpful here.

2. Dont worry too much about age, mileage, engine, trans just yet. These things are important, but probably not in the order you think they are. First figure out what type of bus you want. How?

3. GO LOOK AT BUSES. Seriously, I wish this was the first thing I did. Its great to research and watch videos, but there is nothing like seeing buses in person to really tune in to what you want. Dont worry about buying it yet, just go look at them. Get inside them and see for yourself:
A conventional bus (the kind with the hood that extends in front like a car). Loud when driving (engine in front of you). Usually, higher clearance (better for off highway/sketchier roads). Can be harder ride.
A transit RE (flat front bus with rear engine). Transit style is like the typical public bus. Rear engine is the most quiet while driving. Transit style is lower to the ground and generally has a smoother ride then conventional.
A transit FE (flat front bus with front engine). Same as the RE but much noisier. Engine is in front but there is no hood. It is right under you while driving. There is also a doghouse shroud as you come up the stairs. But the back is open and has that nice emergency door. Many like to make the back section of FE and Conventional into a "garage".
Check out the handicap buses with the large side door and lift. Experience the space in all the different size buses (usually called out by the rated number of child passengers they can carry e.g. 84 pax).
Really, looking at buses in real life is the only way to get an idea of what you want. It also helps to crystalize all the great advice on this site. Slap your head and say "oh thats what a chair rail is" and "oh thats what 20 year old rubber puke floor smells like".

Best way to see buses, BUS DEALERS.
I am not saying you have to buy from them. Auctions are the cheapest way to go. But, they are in the business of showing you buses and they usually have a good selection. So, go check em out.

I bought my bus from a Dealer in Phoenix, AZ called AAA Bus Sales. Very cool people. Tony and Joe.

Of all the buses I saw, Arizona buses seem to be the cleanest rust wise. But, you dont have to go to Arizona to get one. Dealers all over buy them.

In California there are several dealers I think. Dont let their prices scare you off. Just go look. Try to look at buses PRE 2004.

Here are some California Bus Dealers. I dont know any of them and in no way speak for them. I just looked them up for you.
Creative Bus Sales has a location in Sacramento

A-Z Bus Sales has a location in Sacramento and So Cal. I have heard they seem expensive, but your just looking!

Bus West has a location in California

If you want to take a quick trip on Southwest, book a flight to Phoenix. I visited several dealers down there and they had a lot of clean desert buses to look at.

Canyon State Bus Sales is in Phoenix. I went there and talked to Sara. Very cool lady and they had a bunch of buses.

RWC has several locations and headquarters in AZ

AAA Bus Sales in Phoenix. Where I bought my bus. I like these guys.

I am not saying to buy at a dealer. In my case, I needed to get a bus quickly and the auctions just didnt seem to be coming up in time. I found a bus I liked and paid 7k.

Once you start to get an idea of what you want, post some possible buses on here and ask advice. Everyone here is GREAT and there is a lot of knowledge. Thats when you can really get advice on engines, transmissions, nitty gritty stuff and even price.
I really think its best to decide what type of bus configuration will work for your needs and then figure out what the best example of that type would be.

Good luck and keep us posted.
1999 BLUEBIRD TC 2000 RE CUMMINS 8.3 - MT-643
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Old 07-19-2018, 12:35 AM   #8
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Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: near Christiansburg VA
Posts: 692
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freightliner
Engine: Cummins 5.9
Rated Cap: 44 or 66? 11 rows
San Jose, huh? I grew up in the county between San Jose and Los Gatos (I went to Leigh High School, attended San Jose State, and worked at West Valley Ambulance and San Jose Hospital).

If you haven't found a bus in a month and half, this one will be available for you about 900 miles away in eastern Washington. We bought the bus to use as a moving van. We've removed the seats and painted it, and had a mechanic go over it. In addition to giving it a clean bill of health, he did an oil change, replaced the differential oil, and regreased the U-joints: good stuff to do. Very nearly no rust (the front door half below the window is moth-eaten will need cosmetic work; I saw two or three pinheads of rust on the body, and a nonstructural race of some sort under the bus is unhappy, but nothing on the underside or frame).

  • Already painted (well, poorly: it will keep you from getting intro trouble with the CHP, but I made a number of mistakes in the process and the texture is... creative. Still, I prepped it well, I believe - and it DOES have cool reflective racing stripes.);
  • 2002 with 238K miles or so (you want pre-2004 or so to avoid the emissions control repair pain and expenses);
  • Freightliner build the frame and front end (known for better turning radius, I've been told;
  • Air-ride rear suspension;
  • Air brakes;
  • Thomas did the bus itself (screws instead of rivets makes ceiling removal easier);
  • Maintenance records back to when it was new;
  • 34' conventional (dog-nose);
  • Cummins 5.9 (underpowered, but better miles per gallon. Minor front-seal oil drips)
    [*}Thicker block walls (some Cummins 5.9s had thin-walled blocks which develop cracks);
  • Governed at 60 MPH (may be able to be increased - not sure);
  • Allison 2000 transmission (has overdrive and does the lockup trick for deceleration going down hills);
  • Pink transmission fluid (and no burnt smell);
  • Good tires;
  • Spare included;
  • Road proven (well, assuming we make it across the country);
  • $4400 OBO
We will be about 900 miles away, in Pullman, WA / Moscow, ID. Airports in the area include Pullman, WA (PUW), Lewiston, ID (LWS), and (somewhat further) Spokane, WA (GEG).
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Old 07-19-2018, 11:47 PM   #9
Bus Nut
Join Date: May 2018
Location: topeka kansas
Posts: 537
Year: 1954
Coachwork: wayne
Chassis: old f500- new 2005 f-450
Engine: cummins 12 valve
Rated Cap: 20? five rows of 4?

I think these are all negatives in your case.

So, this has a manual transmission. This might be longer than you are looking for. Smaller engine. would have to paint it. Water colors with a roller from kids art supplies? Wash it off later? all the way in the middle of the u.s.

Does not look rusty at all. No electronics in engine or transmission. Some under body storage. Engine easy to get another 50hp to 100 hp.

Then again there maybe other skoolies bidding on this too!

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Old 07-22-2018, 10:27 AM   #10
Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 25
Sorry for the late replies, just got back from a camping trip.

@fadderall Thanks for the advice! That is pretty simple to follow. We are looking more for a conventional bus as we would like to take it to some places that are a bit off road, nothing crazy though. We have also been to a couple of tiny house festivals/events and seen a ton of bus conversions. It's what finally tipped the scale for us. But that is a good idea to go to dealers and mine them for info. We are familiar with some of those sites but will check the others out. Thanks!

@Dapplecreek Thanks for the note, but we are looking for a smaller bus. That is just too much bus for us lol.

@magnakansas Thanks for the link! That is longer than we are looking for and we would rather not do a manual. But we weren't familiar with that site so will poke around.

We are heading out to meet someone in South San Jose who said we can rent some land to store/work on our bus. Hopefully, it works out so when we get the bus we can get started!

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