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Old 10-31-2017, 09:58 PM   #1
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My thoughts at the present moment... what do you say?

So I've been looking at buses for two months, in round numbers. In September, I "lurked" on a local auction for some (northeast Ohio) buses that a local school district was selling. The auction company that handled that auction had just finished another auction for a different district's vehicles (including some buses). The buses were full-size Thomas front-engine flat nose, 2002-2004 models, Cummins 5.9 engines with either AT545 or AD2000 transmissions. I didn't "pull the trigger" because I didn't know enough about the market at the time, and also I thought that there would be more auctions upcoming. (The guy from the auction company said that they were in talks with the Ohio Council of Schools, or whatever it was, to handle vehicle dispositions for a lot of districts. He made it seem like they'd be bringing a lot more auctions online in the next week or so.) Well, that never happened. This company hasn't done a bus auction since September and now here it is almost November.

I haven't found any other auction companies nearby which dispose of buses, apart from 422sales (about 1 1/2 hours away... not terrible). What I find on GovDeals and Public Surplus disappoints me. Craigslist isn't much better - I found at least three of the buses that had been sold at that local auction in September re-listed on Craigslist for much higher prices. (I have indeed been tempted to e-mail the seller and be like "look, I know what you paid for that bus at auction, and there's no way that anyone else who knew that would give you that much profit on the sale". But I know that that won't sway those who seek to profiteer.)

I often wonder - there are LOTS of school districts around here. (I called my local bus yard and found that they had two buses they were offloading. They looked decent but they weren't high-headroom models, so I had to pass.) What do they all do when they offload buses? Do I really have to call each district and ask "hey, y'all got any retired buses you want to sell?"

I learned when I went to the local yard that districts can trade buses in at dealerships for new buses. I guess that isn't surprising. The mechanic offered the buses to me for the same price he'd get on trade, so it was a good deal ($2,000 for a full size bus with DT466E, under 180,000 miles and under 10,000 hours, one with AT545 and the other with 5-speed manual)... but is that why I don't see these buses on the market?

I had hoped to get something before the weather turned really bad, because I'd like to have at least some sort of "traveling rig" ready for when the weather turns good. I didn't realize that the market was going to dry up after September. I look all around for buses with that magical Cummins 8.3 engine, but a nationwide Craigslist search only turned up like five listings. These things seem to be unicorns. I keep thinking "I don't want a T444E because of the problems I had with the one in my RV and the fact that these problems seem to be endemic to this engine, not to mention how people claim it's underpowered". I also figure that I'm supposed to stay away from an AT545, but that seems to narrow the (already narrow) field quite a bit.

I want a mid-sized (~8 window) high headroom bus with less than 175,000 miles (the less the better), less than 10,000 engine hours, with a good engine and transmission combination (I'd like to try a Cummins, even if it's the 5.9, just because it's the one I haven't had yet... but with the good things people have been saying about the DT466E, I'd try that one too). I'd take a larger bus over a smaller one if I had to go either way to get the other stuff I want, but I see no need for a 15-window model. Maneuverability would be a big issue given what I intend to do with the bus, so I have to weigh that against what else I'd get in a larger bus that I really want. Underbody storage would be nice, and there'd be a lot of extra credit for a bus with pass-through storage compartments, but that isn't absolutely necessary. Really, my "absolutes" are: good engine and transmission, not too big / not too small, high headroom, relatively low miles / hours so that I can figure on it having a good amount of life left, not a rust bucket, in good overall condition needing no work at the present moment nor tires in the near future. (I hate those ads that say "CHECK ENGINE LIGHT IS ON". They wouldn't be selling the bus without fixing the problem if it were a cheap fix... and the last thing I need is an expensive fix on my "new" bus.)

Is this a unicorn that I'm looking for? Am I just looking in the wrong places, hence why I'm coming up with nothing? If I sound frustrated, it's because I am....
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Old 10-31-2017, 10:34 PM   #2
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You aren't looking for a unicorn, but it helps to understand how buses are bought.

In the main, School Districts are very price sensitive. Most have annual budgets, but still rely on Bond Issues for bigger than normal replacement programs. Our district is the 5th biggest in the state and replaces 5 to 8 buses per year. We have a new bond issue to both replace and expand the fleet this year, but still every capital purchase has to be approved by the board.

So they are looking for best value for the job they want doing. Regular route buses, even the big ones, can be pushed along by a T444 and AT545, so expect to find them in droves.

Cummins 8.3 is a premium engine and it's expensive, as are the MD3060 transmissions. They are only going into buses that need the power. Activity buses, band buses, sports team buses that carry heavy loads and travel the highways. Likewise with lockers. If they don't need them, they don't get them. If they have to carry kit hampers and instruments, they get them.

If you do find one of these, the mileages are likely to be on the lower side, and as the buses have been used for more distance work, they are in better shape. Diesel engines don't like to be labored, or run too cool. These buses also sell for the most money.

You are not likely to find an 8.3 in a shorter bus. I'm not saying you won't, but they don't need the power normally, so they don't get it. You will never find an AT545 behind an 8.3, it can't handle the torque.

In a 3/4 length bus, there isn't much wrong with the T444 if it's in good condition.

The venerable DT466 seems to be spread across the range, from short bus to 40 footer. If it tuned for under 210 hp it may well be partnered with an AT545. If it's developing over 210 hp it will have some other Allison, and they are all okay.

So any and every district will have a whole range available depending on what they bought them for ... and many they are selling will have sat around being used as spare buses for a while.

The vast majority of buses are auctioned. In some states that is a legal requirement. It is done this way so that the board can face the electorate and tell us that they got the best price. Side deals are illegal in some places, and frowned upon in many others. That said, they don't all go to the big auction houses. There are hundreds of auctions around the country, and many of them carry a few school buses.

Also, many districts lease buses. MidWest Transit is one of the biggest players, and most of their sales are "off-lease", especially for the newer buses. They have a very large inventory, and pretty good pricing for a dealership. They are concentrated in the MidWest, so some of them might need checking for rust. Our district buys buses. Mostly new, some secondhand, all conventional. We have no transit buses but some very nice brand new Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2s. Buses are disposed of by closed bids, direct to the district, in July ... yet another method of disposal.

If I were looking to buy from a dealer, I'd go to AAAbussales in Arizona. Plenty of choice, decent prices, a good reputation for honest trading, and rust-free buses with big engines and good transmissions.

Otherwise, keep scouring the auctions. I can currently see two for sale almost the same as you describe, maybe without the high roof ... and the prices so far are still under $2000. That might change.

You wait ages for a bus, then two or three come along at the same time.
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Old 10-31-2017, 10:39 PM   #3
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Chevrolet 1992 Bluebird

That one is a long way but good price. MT643 and I think DT466.

Have you tried Midwest transit?
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Old 10-31-2017, 11:20 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
Regular route buses, even the big ones, can be pushed along by a T444 and AT545, so expect to find them in droves.
Okay, maybe I would bend on the engine and trans. Can you, or anyone else, give me a good reason to avoid the T444E and AT545? I seem to see widely differing opinions about them. The T444E has that annoying camshaft position sensor problem - I had to deal with it myself. (Did they ever fix that, by a certain model year?) Other than that, I found it to be an adequate engine in my RV (which weighed 14,000 pounds or so). Acceptable power and economy, mated to the Ford E4OD transmission.

I don't like the notion of the fuel economy loss in the non-lockup AT545, but if it were a bad transmission, why would school districts buy it? If the idea is to save money, a cheap transmission that'd be a maintenance nightmare would be a worse investment than a better transmission that'd last longer.

Our plan for the bus is to use it for long trips, so there'd be a lot of highway driving... but not always. When we had the RV, we rarely put it up over 55 mph and it only hit 65 once by accident when I wasn't watching the speedometer. I don't feel the need to go flying down the highway in a vehicle that big which can't avoid road hazards the way a smaller vehicle could. I'd take an AT545 if it were known to be bulletproof and cheap to repair / replace compared to other ostensibly "better" alternatives. I'd avoid it if it were more negative than positive (as in, really bad fuel economy, maintenance nightmare, expensive to overhaul or replace, etc).

Some say the T444E is a dog, others say it'll run for a million miles. I don't really care if it's low on power, because as I said before, I don't intend to drive fast. I'd take a low-power bulletproof engine any day over a high-power maintenance nightmare. I have never owned a truly fast car, though every car I've ever owned was always able to go as fast as I needed it to go.

The mechanic at my local yard seemed to have been there for a while and he said "I'll only buy DT466E engines"... and he was right... every bus in that yard had a DT466E. (It's easy to tell on those International 3800's!)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
The vast majority of buses are auctioned. In some states that is a legal requirement.
Which states have this as a legal requirement? (If you don't know, can you tell me how I could find out? Is it as simple as a Google search? Annoyingly enough, what ought to be a simple search often turns out to be anything but.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
It is done this way so that the board can face the electorate and tell us that they got the best price.
Oh really?

I mean no disrespect to you, but from my angle, I don't see that. For example: The auction I referenced in my original post saw several Thomas full-size buses go for less than $2,000 with buyer's premium. The buyers then turned around and resold them, or at least relisted them. (I think that at least one bus has sold, if not two.) If someone would buy the bus from a reseller for $3,000 - $4,000 or whatever it was, then how could it be said that the district got the best price it could have gotten by selling the buses at auction?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
There are hundreds of auctions around the country, and many of them carry a few school buses.
Do I seriously have to hunt and peck around the internet to find them? Because I've been doing that, and I haven't come up with much. Seems that every search I do, no matter what area of the country I select, yields GovDeals, Public Surplus, and a bunch of dealers... even when I specifically search for "auction". (Admittedly, the auction company I referenced in my original post doesn't come up in many searches. I wouldn't have known about it had I not seen some of the buses from the auction posted on Craigslist.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
If I were looking to buy from a dealer, I'd go to AAAbussales in Arizona. Plenty of choice, decent prices, a good reputation for honest trading, and rust-free buses with big engines and good transmissions.
Yeah, I checked them out... but I wasn't thrilled with what I found. And of course my mentality is "well THEY got those buses at auction for cheaper prices... why can't I do the same thing?".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
Otherwise, keep scouring the auctions. I can currently see two for sale almost the same as you describe, maybe without the high roof ... and the prices so far are still under $2000. That might change.

You wait ages for a bus, then two or three come along at the same time.
That's what I've been doing. I've found a couple of nifty-looking buses... but that ain't much to show for hours of hunting. I have been thinking that I may have erred in not pouncing on one of the buses that was sold at that local auction... I know that they had underbody storage (not pass-through), Cummins 5.9, and at least one had the AD2000... mileage was quite low though hours were around 10,000 each... some rust... but, man, less than $2,000... had I known then what I know now, I would have bought one. May I change my tune in the future and think "man, I'm glad I waited for THIS bus!".... yeah, maybe. I'm not a patient guy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigskypc50 View Post
Chevrolet 1992 Bluebird

That one is a long way but good price. MT643 and I think DT466.

Have you tried Midwest transit?
I liked the look of that '92 Bluebird. I e-mailed them to ask about the headroom. Interesting that they look like a dealer but their prices don't seem to be common dealer prices... I guess I'll have to figure it out for myself. If only they weren't so far away.... but.... I'll do what I have to do to get the right bus.

Haven't tried Midwest Transit, but that's because they're a dealer. I'd rather get something from an auction so I don't have to pay dealer markup. I don't have much money.
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Old 10-31-2017, 11:36 PM   #5
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So there is nothing wrong with the T444. It has a very similar B50 as the others.

The problems arise when it is asked to work too hard because it's hauling too much weight. Diesels dislike over-heating.

The DT466 has only one weakness that I know of ... over-heating. Its strength is its weakness (apart from a few oil leakes). Solid block engines tolerate heat better ... the CATs and the V8 Navistars like the T444. However, the DT466 can be rebuilt without removing it, so if it does (rarely) have a major problem, it's cheaper and easier to fix.

There is another issue with ALL school buses. They don't run enough, or run at operating temps long enough. It's much more common for a school bus to need a rebuild than a comparable medium truck that runs 10 hours a day. So checking as much as you can is wise.

You don't understand the mentality of school boards. They are not used bus dealers. If it can be shown that the bus was openly and publicly offered for sale, and went to the highest bidder, they are satisfied. Dealers add value to their stock. We can argue about how much, but school boards are not concerned with any of that.

Some of your questions I can't answer, and I won't BS you. AAAbussales, by the way, will negotiate but you are correct. You can do just as well as them, but auctions are always a bit of a risk and they are not for everyone.
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Old 11-01-2017, 04:43 AM   #6
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Two months isn't long in bus time.
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Old 11-01-2017, 06:35 AM   #7
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a tale of 2 busses - my 2 busses.. one is a DT-360 (a mechanical little brother to the DT-466) and a T-444E..

both were originally AT545s.. the 444E is now an allison 1000 (youve probably seen my build on this)..

my DT-360 is a reman at 185 HP.. in a bus that is GVWR 27500 and my 444E is 190 HP in a bus that is GVWR 17500.. both busses are geared differently.. prior to my upgrade.. the 444E would top speed about 77 MPH, and my DT360 top speeds about 68 MPH.. heavier bus slightly lower gearing..

my DT360 when I first got it, liked to run a little warm at above 60 MPH, till I changed its fan clutch.. now I can top speed it out at 65-68 and while i dont like driving it with the engine maxxed.. she never runs hot.. ever..

my 444E when it had its AT545.. running over about 60 MPH in 90 degree heat it would get hot.. I changed the fan clutch.. it helped but it still heated up over time.. to 215-218.. I put in a high output fan and an electric clutch, new water pump, better coolant, boiled the radiator.. better yet.. drove it across florida "hell" (rt 4 between orlando and tampa in early june.. road temp near 100).. I could run 65 fan roaring like a jet engine.. and it hit 217 once...

replaced the transmission with a double overdrive 1000 (similar if you bougth a bus with a 2000.. only youd have 5 speeds). issue solved.. driving across florida hell in july I saw 205, fan quieter because engine slower.. climbing big hills? no issues now.. I saw 210 once running flat out up the virginia mountain on I77 in 90 degree heat.. foot to the floor A/C basting..

is it fast? well it goes 65 (and it did before the trans swap).. and it slows down on the hills but im still passing the truckers in droves on the uphills..

what about the DT360? the DT360 is in a heavier bus so natrually slows down on the hills.. im usually in the trucker lane with it.. but it just chugs along.. the 466 is a great upgrade from a 360 in a big bus..

the takeway? the 444E is an awesome engine around town and on road trips in a short bus... I havent had any internal engine issues and ive put what? 17000 miles on it now since I got it a year ago.. it has 161,000 on it now.. a few drops of oil on the ground overnight.. couple dime-sized spots.. no biggie to me.. if it gets worse Ill fix it or if I have to rebuild it then id fix that.. otherwise i just drive it..

to me the 444E is not a torque monster at low speeds or with a heavier load.. while its been put in a ton of big busses it is underpowered getting a big load moving... if you buy a 444E in a full size bus make sure you have an overdrive lockup transmission and gears to support it running at under 2200 RPM at your desired highway speed. a nsvistar dealer can tell you what rear gears and design tire size a bus was made if you have the VIN for it.. so when you see a bus snag the VIN, call a dealer and talk..

you can spot an overdrive transmission in a bus by getting a pic of the shifter... if the shfter is electronic pushbutton you have a 3000 series (MD-3060). if your shifter has 'R-N-D-3-2-1' you have a non overdrive transmission. if it has 'R-N-D-4-2-1' you have an overdrive transmission..

the DT-466 is no doubt a better engine for heavy-load hill climbing and long road trips, however many people know this and the prices are higher.. exporters buy them and send them to south america.. bus dealers snag them and mark them up.. skoolies come here, read about them and bid them up on auctions,

attitude change?? remember also the mindset - we arent haulin freight for $$ by the mile, or roadtripping for the americas greatest race.. slow-down and enjoy the scenery.. ive always been a marathon roadtripper - run 75-80 and run it all at once.. 1100 miles in a day? easy!.. till i got my busses.. now I drive the DT360 at 55-60 and the redbus at never above 65.. in fact I programmed its computer so i cant set the cruise above 65.. (thiugh I can drive the bus at 75).. so now i actually see the places I go through... I threw away the notion of making a trip in one day.. I have met so many neat people, stopped along roads ive travelled many times and seen things I never knew existed.. its been incredible to say the least what has happened since i started driving the busses on my many trips...

-Christopher
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Old 11-01-2017, 10:06 AM   #8
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Christopher - You may get a kick out of modifying buses but I'm really not that type. I don't have sufficient money nor sufficient time to modify a vehicle. (Heck - I've had my '72 Caddy for 1 1/2 years now and I still haven't found time enough to work on it. The dashboard has been in pieces for over a year.) So when I look at a bus, I don't look at it and see the mechanical possibilities in the future - I look at it and think "this is the way it will always be for me". So, once an AT545, always an AT545. Once a T444E, always a T444E.

(Let's consider this. Would I save fuel by getting the AT545 swapped to a "better" transmission? Yes, but it'd amortize over a long time because I wouldn't be able to do that job myself. I'd have to have a shop do it, it'd take a lot of very expensive time, and then it's a question of "How many otherwise trouble-free miles do I have to put on this new transmission in order to make up the installation and purchase cost in fuel savings?" - if it'd be something like 50,000 miles or more, the swap wouldn't be worth it to me. I don't see us doing even close to 10,000 miles per year in our bus, at least right now.)

I do intend to "enjoy the scenery", as it were. You really don't see anything at 70 miles per hour. I wouldn't even automatically write off a bus that was governed at 55 mph... though I'd feel better having one that could at least hit 65 if I needed to get somewhere fast due to an on-road emergency. (It happened once when I had the RV. I had forgotten to put a show on my calendar and I had to race to the facility when they called me.) I just don't want a lot of mechanical problems. When my RV with T444E blew its camshaft position sensor, the engine wouldn't run. That's a big deal. If that happened on the road, I'd have to get a really expensive heavy-duty tow to the nearest heavy-duty vehicle repair shop and it would cost a fortune to make that repair when all involved costs are added up. Really, I want a bus that is going to be mechanically sound, as much as possible. I want that more than I want one that isn't rusty. What I intend to do with the bus I get is not all that fancy. If the bus eventually rusts out or becomes a complete mechanical failure to the point where it'd be cheaper to buy another bus than to fix the one I have, I should be able to remove everything I installed within one day, and install it in my next bus in two days. I don't intend to make it a quasi-palatial Class A. It needs to get me where I want to or have to go, when I want to or have to get there. If it can't do that, nothing else really matters.
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Old 11-01-2017, 05:38 PM   #9
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FYI there are a number of ~10 window flat front buses on Phoenix Craigslist currently. A bunch are 5.9L cummins, at least one is a DT466. There are some cheaper private party ones on there too. Most are from Canyon Bus, one of the local dealers that tends to put their older buses on CL. Newer ones are usually on their website, more targeted toward selling back to schools I imagine. It's a hike, but we do tend to have some nice clean / dry buses down here, usually very little rust.

I was just over at AAA this afternoon picking up parts, seems like most of the shorter TC2000s they had are gone. They do have this one on their website, vantage lookup says its a 77" headroom.
10572 - aaabussales.com
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This International from Canyon looks pretty nice, get getting up their in price:
https://phoenix.craigslist.org/cph/c...367267218.html

Unfortunately I think you are stuck in the reality of bus buying. If it's a desirable configuration and its easy to find the price will be high or it will probably already be sold. To get a desirable bus in good condition at a bargain price you generally have to keep digging until you get lucky.
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Old 11-01-2017, 06:00 PM   #10
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I realize most people arent going to mod the heck out of their bus.. I also get wanting the most reliable rig possible.. a CPS sensor fail, sucks but falls under the repairable on the road category... a busted camshaft or dropped lifter.. .then yeah you are done..

the reality is these are old schoo busses.. any of them can break down at any time.. nearly every drivetrain has its achille's heel.. 444E's its the CPS and maybe the HPOP, VT-365's its the EGR cooler, 5.9 cummins its the tappet cover.. and early ISB's its the killer dowel pin, DT-466E's its getting them hot.. once and done many times.. that applies to any of the DT series navistars mechanical to electronic.. Mercdes its oil consumption andextreme repair expense, Cats (electronic ones) suffer similar fate to a 444E.. and parts are not as redily available..

theres a definite difference in the way school systems treat their busses.. florida and georgia but the crap out of them typically .. we've seen several forum members buy georgia busses and never make it home.. Ohio busses may get rusty but they tend to run great..

im with you on minimal conversion and if you blow a bus up you get a new one and move the conversion over..

just be prepared(not to be confused with scared) to break down in any bus you have... chsnces are you get many miles and trips out of a well maintained bus without issues.. ive run a ton of miles on both my busses...
-Christopher
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