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Old 01-18-2018, 03:12 PM   #1
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Air brakes or hydraulic brakes?

I'm going down the rabbit hole on the different aspects of what we need in a bus. Right now I'm researching brakes. We are looking to get an 30' or under bus with about 20-22 feet living space. In this range I see some that have air brakes but mostly hydraulic brakes. I don't know the pros and cons of these, especially if we don't want a full sized bus. Can anyone help me? BTW, I live in CA so there is a drivers license issue that is the biggest concern pre and post conversion that I need to figure out too (see below).

1. Is one better than the other?
2. Are air brakes hard to maintain?
3. Is there a learning curve to air brakes or are they just plain difficult?
4. Longevity of both?
5. Cost to maintain both?
6. Anything else to consider?

I'm in California so by law before the RV conversion or "housecar" designation any air brake vehicle needs a commercial drivers license (by all my research that I have done on the CA governments website). But, my biggest concern is once it is considered a "housecar" by CA standards if I will still need a commercial license or just an endorsement on my basic class C license. Anyone in CA know this or figured out how to deal with this issue? The guy that owns a bus lot we are looking at a few buses says that a commercial license is needed regardless of "housecar" designation. He also said I would not be able to test drive one or drive it off of one of the lots we are looking at for buses without one.
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Old 01-18-2018, 05:01 PM   #2
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Air brakes are safer for our skoolie purposes. There's lots of discussion on this but we always seem to come to the same conclusion.

As far as I know you do not need a CDL or endorsement to drive a bus for personal use. If you're getting paid or compensated in any way you would need to deal with the dmv.
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Old 01-18-2018, 05:09 PM   #3
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Air brakes are safer for our skoolie purposes. There's lots of discussion on this but we always seem to come to the same conclusion.

As far as I know you do not need a CDL or endorsement to drive a bus for personal use. If you're getting paid or compensated in any way you would need to deal with the dmv.
Correct on both counts.

Especially, you do not need any kind of CDL to drive either a private bus or RV, in any state. If your DMV tells you otherwise, they are wrong unless you are driving for hire or reward.

What you might need is a Non-Commercial Class B (Class A with a trailer over 10 000 lb). You might also need an Air-Brake Endorsement in some states.

Each state differs, so you'll have to check, and some call their Class A and B by different letters.
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Old 01-18-2018, 05:20 PM   #4
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We have several members in CALI that should chime in to answer the specific's for you.
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Old 01-18-2018, 05:39 PM   #5
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As a member with hydraulic brakes on my short bus, I've never felt like they were underpowered or otherwise insufficient. I might be less excited about them on a full size bus, but I've been up and down mountains in triple digits and under falling snow and had to use panic stop levels of braking power on a few occasions... and my brakes kick ass.
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Old 01-18-2018, 05:44 PM   #6
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As a member with hydraulic brakes on my short bus, I've never felt like they were underpowered or otherwise insufficient. I might be less excited about them on a full size bus, but I've been up and down mountains in triple digits and under falling snow and had to use panic stop levels of braking power on a few occasions... and my brakes kick ass.
Hydraulic brakes are faster acting and have more "feel" than air-brakes.

Air-brakes are just as powerful, and have the fail-to-safe feature that is the decider for many. It matters that you learn how to check and operate them correctly.
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Old 01-18-2018, 08:33 PM   #7
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As a member with hydraulic brakes on my short bus, I've never felt like they were underpowered or otherwise insufficient. I might be less excited about them on a full size bus, but I've been up and down mountains in triple digits and under falling snow and had to use panic stop levels of braking power on a few occasions... and my brakes kick ass.
hydraulic brakes kick ass. Until they don't anymore.
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Old 01-18-2018, 08:56 PM   #8
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I've had both in the past. The hydraulic brakes work fine, but given the choice I'll stick with air. They make more sense. It's a well thought out design. I purposely avoid anything with hydraulic brakes now.
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Old 01-18-2018, 09:34 PM   #9
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In CA you can drive a non-commercial (i.e. not for hire) bus or truck on a Class C as long as its GVWR does not exceed 26,000 lbs. It makes no difference if it's registered as an Auto (as my bus presently is) or anything else non-commercial. Only when you exceed 26,000 GVWR do you need a non-commercial Class B, or if it is longer than 40 feet OAL regardless of weight. A "Housecar" of any weight is exempt from the non-commercial Class B requirement, as long as it's not over 40 ft. However, for it to be registered as a Housecar will require it to be painted anything except NSBY, and for it to be permanently converted with a loo/cooking/heating/sleeping/etc facilities in it. Only if you are driving it for hire do you fall under federal CDL regulations; if not, only the state, not the feds, dictates the regulations.

Many DMV employees are not completely familiar with the regs, so it's best to print out the pertinent sections of the CVC and show them to whoever is wrong. A few days ago I was discussing this exact subject with the CHP terminal inspector who inspects our few remaining school buses at work, and he confirmed what I explained here. It also sounds like the bus's seller is completely confused about the whole Commercial thing. All that matters is how you will use it, not what it was originally built for - will you use it for commerce or not? It really isn't that difficult!

Where are you in CA?

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Old 01-19-2018, 12:54 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Marisa View Post
I'm in California so by law before the RV conversion or "housecar" designation any air brake vehicle needs a commercial drivers license (by all my research that I have done on the CA governments website). But, my biggest concern is once it is considered a "housecar" by CA standards if I will still need a commercial license or just an endorsement on my basic class C license. Anyone in CA know this or figured out how to deal with this issue? The guy that owns a bus lot we are looking at a few buses says that a commercial license is needed regardless of "housecar" designation. He also said I would not be able to test drive one or drive it off of one of the lots we are looking at for buses without one.
I'm limited in knowing the actual rules but I do can say that I have a 40' bus with air brakes and a normal drivers licence, not a cdl. I did notice that they were not experienced in buses being converted when the clerk wanted to charge me close to 800 dollars to register every year. I used the term housecar at that moment and explained that I have no intention to ever drive it commercially. She spoke to her boss and then charged me, I forgot, maybe 240 or so. Then I brought in bus, they gave me 2 months to bring it in. I fixed it nicer a while and brought it in. They looked at length to make sure it was less than 40'. They looked at vin number. He looks in back and made some nonchalant comment about ok so it's an rv now. It didn't look ready but I had the fridge and kitchen counter in. That was all. It was registered in CA 12/2017. Oh and it didn't even get inspected because it's a 92 and old enough to be exempt. The inspection they did do was, I think, solely because I needed vin inspected because the title was lost. Not sure if they even would have looked at it physically if I had title.

Good luck with it.
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