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Old 09-24-2016, 11:21 PM   #1
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Join Date: Sep 2016
Posts: 5
New member from AZ Thomas bus ?'s

I have been talking about doing a bus conversion for years. My wife and I want to hit the road in a rig of some sort in 18 months or so. I have found a 2002 Thomas conventional looking school bus for sale. I need some help on deciding it's value for conversion rather quickly. The owner used it in lieu of renting a uhaul for a cross country move. It has no seats. It has a cat motor and allison tranny. I have not seen it yet, but hopefully will in the morning. So......

Is this a good platform for a build?
I assume it is rear engine,right?
Any idea of ceiling height?
Can a small trailer ( tools etc) be pulled behind one?
Will it cruise at a decent freeway speed?
Guesstimate of mileage?
I have a million questions, but first I need to decide whether or not to pick this one before before it is gone. It is driveable and ready for the highwayear. I think I can get it for 2000. Please, give me some feedback to help me decide. Maybe some pros/cons would help. Thanks a bunch, and if not this one, I will certainly have one soon and hope to be a big contributor to this site during its build. Tom
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Old 09-25-2016, 01:22 AM   #2
oricha1984's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Central Florida
Posts: 116
Year: 2000
Chassis: Ford E450
Engine: 7.3 L
I'm new here and I'm a noob.

Maybe take it to a local shop and have it inspect it.

I tried to buy under 150k miles for my short bus.
2000k seems like okay price.
I've seen lots of pictures of buses pulling trailer/other cars, so I would assume yes.
Fuel estimate might be 8-10? Idk.
Engine: I think people prefer cummins?...

Anyhow, those are just ideas I've read here and there. Like I said, I'm a noob.

Others here will guide you better than me.
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Old 09-25-2016, 07:25 AM   #3
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Columbus Ohio
Posts: 2,586
Year: 1991
Coachwork: Carpenter
Chassis: International S3800
Engine: DT360
Rated Cap: 7 Row Handicap
alot dependa on what kind of travel you plan on..

there are a lot of different allison transmissions..

if you are planning on running in the mountains an allison AT545 is not the best fit.. an MT643 or 2000 series is much better.. (ask the seller to take a picof the trans tag, it should be on the side of the transmission.

the cat motor.. im assuming its a Cat-3126 in that year?

Cat motors are good and reliable, however they are pricey to fix if it does break,..

the International DT-466 (most later than 1995 are computer controlled and called DT-466E) is a good reliable, powerful engine thast was used in a ton of busses and also in a lot of straight box trucks.. repairs are not nearly as expensive and its commonplace enough that most diesel shops can work on it, parts are everywhere..

a T444E engine is very similar to the Ford Powerstrok 7.3 that was used up until 03 or so... its reliable, and since a version of it was in a lot of ford trucks, parts are reasonable for it.. however it doesnt have the raw power that a DT-466 or a cat has..

as for the bus you are looking at, id get the the actual engine type and trans type, and price and people here can tell you if its a decent deal or not.. and others can tell you more about the experiences with a Cat motor as far as reliability and costs are concerned..

like anything alot of a vehicle's condition and reliability depends on how it was treated from new.

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Old 09-25-2016, 05:59 PM   #4
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Due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not see the bus! The seller is going to take some photos of tranny and engine so I can post here.

Here is the only pics i have right now:

I will post more when i get them. I do not want to purchase if the engine tranny combo is not good for highway driving and reliability. The bus supposedly has 175k miles on it.
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Old 09-25-2016, 06:07 PM   #5
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Location: Katy, TX
Posts: 758
Year: 1989
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner ER
Engine: 3208 CAT/MT643 tranny
Rated Cap: 87
Pics are broken. Would SOMEONE on this site PLEASE fix the issue with the pics being such a PAIN to load/view??????????????

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Old 09-25-2016, 06:10 PM   #6
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Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Central Florida
Posts: 116
Year: 2000
Chassis: Ford E450
Engine: 7.3 L
No problem seeing pics here.

Bus looks good from that outside pic.

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Old 09-25-2016, 06:33 PM   #7
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This is not a rear engine,correct? I assume that front nose is hiding the motor,right?
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Old 09-27-2016, 09:26 PM   #8
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: Hendersonville, TN
Posts: 28
Year: 1997
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: 1T8
Engine: Cummins 5.9
Rated Cap: Dunno, big though.. Hauls
Welcome, and yes, that is a Conventional, or Dog Nose bus. The engine is in the front with a tilt forward hood. Looks nice. The Cat engine looks clean and fresh. I prefer a COE, or flat nose bus. Oh hey, I moght be moving to AZ this winter, might have to hook up. Nice bus you might get there...
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Old 09-28-2016, 02:45 AM   #9
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Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Winlcok, WA
Posts: 904
In 2002 Thomas made a pretty good bus body. If there is not rust issues it should serve you well for a lot of years.

If it is a conventional chassis Type 'C' bus it most likely has a Freightliner chassis. If it is a transit type FE or RE Type 'D' bus it will have a Thomas chassis. Both chassis are well built and made out of off the shelf parts that can be found at any Freightliner dealer, NAPA/CARQUEST/OReillys, or any other heavy truck/tractor parts outlet.

I, like a lot of others, do NOT like Cat engines. It isn't that Cat engines are not any good. Cat engines actually are pretty good engines. The problem is that when something does need fixing it usually requires a trip to the Cat dealer or authorized Cat repair shop. There is a reason why it is called Caterpillar gold.

Most Thomas buses in 2002 had at least 74" of headroom. Unless they were ordered with the 12" window option that raised the headroom to 78" in the center of the bus.

As far as towing anything is concerned, attaching a trailer hitch to the rear of the bus and running wiring to pull a trailer is not going to be a problem. Regardless of the type of bus, Thomas buses have frame rails that go all the way to the back of the bus. Which makes installing a hitch that won't fall off or break the bus fairly simple. The problem is the Cat 3126 is not a big HP engine. The highest HP ratings were generally 250 HP with the most common version in the 190-235 HP range. With any of those HP ratings you are NOT going to fly up any hill. Add a trailer on behind and you will be spending a lot of time going up hills with your foot to the floor watching every other vehicle passing you.

The gear ratio in the rear end and the top gearing in the transmission will determine how well your bus climbs hills and how comfortable your bus will be cruising down the highway. If your bus has 190-210 HP you are going to struggle to cruise at 65 MPH. If your bus has 215-250 HP you won't struggle as much but you still will not be flying up any hills. The limiting factor more than just about anything else, and it is particularly a problem for the RE buses, will be the cooling system. The bigger the HP the larger the cooling system will need to be. Most never have any problems with 190-210 HP but the others will get warm on a hot day on a steep grade.

Most school buses that spend most of their life on to/from routes average over their life about 10,000 miles per year. School buses that spend a lot of time going on extra trips could have double or triple those kind of miles depending on where the bus saw service.

Regardless of the power package, the type of bus, or how beat up the bus might be the most important thing to be aware of is rust. You do not want to deal with rust. You can easily spend 2x-10x the purchase price in repairing rust damage. And once the tin worm has started to attack a piece of equipment it is really hard to eradicate it.

Do NOT choose a particular bus because it has good tires on it. Unless you plan to put it out on the road almost immediately, most bus tires will die of old age before they come close to wearing out. More times than not a bus purchased with a good set of tires will require a new set before the conversion is done. If the choice between two buses priced the same that are virtually identical choose the one that has a good set of rubber. Just don't spend extra $$$ for a good set of rubber.

Do NOT fall in love with a particular bus. Emotions can get in the way of making a good decision. If a particular bus gets sold or wasn't just right for you, don't despair. There are literally thousands of used buses for sale every day with other ones coming up for sale every week. Be patient and the right bus for you will come up for sale eventually.

Good luck and happy trails to you.
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Old 09-28-2016, 08:28 AM   #10
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Join Date: Sep 2016
Posts: 5
Great info

Thanks so much for the replies, especially cowlitzcoach who took the time to include so much info. I think the Thomas is not going to have enough headroom for me. I am 6'3" and do not want to raise the roof. My wife and I are convinced we want to convert a bus though, as we have the time,the tools,and a huge garage to work in over this winter. I will keep you posted, and will probably ask more questions,specifically about engine tranny combos. Here is one that caught my eye last night, but seems really really long.....

1997 Blue Bird All American RE 84 Passenger School Bus For Sale
Inventory: 10448
Condition: Used
Year: 1997
Make: Blue Bird
Model: All American RE
VIN: 1BABMB7A6VF073878
Mileage: 175,482mi
Capacity: 84 Passengers
Engine: 8.3L Cummins Diesel
Position: Rear Engine
Transmission: Allison MT643 Automatic
Brakes: Air
Int Color: Brown
GVWR: 36,200
GAWR Front: 13,200
Front Tires: 11R22.5
GAWR Rear: 23,000
Rear Tire: 11R22.5
Options: Tint, Street Side Emergency Door, AMFM
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