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Old 02-27-2019, 10:51 PM   #1
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NC School System buses - experience?

NC School System has a large selection of buses for sale. Can anyone provide first hand feedback on their experience looking at them or buying them? Want to know what shape they’re typically in and if they’re worth the selling price. Thanks.
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Old 02-27-2019, 11:31 PM   #2
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Some rust issues. Worth the selling price? What are they selling for?
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Old 02-27-2019, 11:55 PM   #3
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Keep in mind that NC has had a buttload of heavy rains, this year. Just saying....
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Old 02-28-2019, 01:33 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by dgorila1 View Post
NC School System has a large selection of buses for sale. Can anyone provide first hand feedback on their experience looking at them or buying them? Want to know what shape they’re typically in and if they’re worth the selling price. Thanks.
To clarify first, this is through the official NC department of education bus surplus sales at North Carolina School Bus Surplus System



I had a wonderful experience. The site is horrible and hasn't been updated since around 2000, but the filters work great. I printed out specific buses I wanted to look at, usually 3-5 per county/area. Put each into it's own folder and labeled it after the county, then took small day trips to multiple counties.

Each county is different, some had great facilities, while others looked much less managed. Most facilities were adequate or better, there was only one in Hendersonville IIRC that made me second guess them.

Every single county gave me test drives on whichever bus I wanted, and usually it was more than just one. I didn't get to drive except for two cases (pretty sure I wasn't supposed to, same driver for both that pulled over and swapped seats with me).

The people are generally friendly, wait times are nearly non existent (maybe I was just lucky), and they have all the information you'll need for maintenance logs. Likely you'll get an email, most of what I saw was digital and that's how I got mine.



Now on to the buses. So, the majority of them (well, every single one for sale) had the darn AT545 in it. They said unless it's an activity bus, it will usually have the 545 and even then it won't rule it out. Even the mountain counties were running 545's.

Another thing is the speed. Luckily most of the ones I was interested in (TC2000, 3600, 3800, SAF-T-LINER) were not limited by rear end gearing but by the computer, which they can disable. My rear end is 5.38 which appearently is a common gearing for NC buses. Every bus I test drove and inquired about had the same general specs - DT466 with a 545 running nearly the same RPM at X speed. The ones that weren't a DT466 were the SAF-T-LINERS with a CAT.


The rust is what sold me on the bus, or rather, lack thereof. Even the mountain buses lacked much rust, although I didn't go all the way into Appalachia. The one I got in Union doesn't have any visible rust on the undercarriage or nearly anywhere except a few areas near the engine block.


Price ranges between $2500 and $3500, which is usually fair. I say usually because NC apparently goes by a universal spreadsheet of which buses are to be sold at which cost based on the age and type - not condition. Union had a TC2000 for $4000 that didn't start, blew blue smoke out the exhaust when jumped, and had a host of other issues that required it to be towed out. Listed as running, no issues, at $4000, but on the lot that simply wasn't true.

This does mean you'll be better off knowing what to look for to find a good running bus, but also I was told up front at every lot with a problem bus that it wasn't listed appropriately and I shouldn't buy it. The guys there aren't making a buck of the sale directly, and seemed very upfront about any potential issues. Everything from bad transmissions to broken parts to faulty engines were pointed out, and we simply moved on to the next bus.


I had my local school district check it out a few weeks ago, they said it was a great deal for the price. Brake air compressor needs a change and the cab heater has a bit of a coolant leak, but otherwise in great shape for the price. Had brand new tires put on it a month before they retired it, no idea who did that but I give my thanks to them. Speaking of price, bring money orders in $1000 increments max, plus one for the remaining amount under $1000 (for totals such as $2500). I never asked or suggested it even once to get a discount, but they gave me one anyways (by letting me keep one of the money orders owed).


Now, I may be looking at around $1500 to $3000 if I get everything repaired at my local truck shop with their parts. If I were to do it myself, I'd be looking at between $50 to $500, all depending on the cost of a decent used engine air compressor. Coolant leaks can be fixed free with parts on hand. Maybe a few extra hundred if I have too much oil in my air dryer.

Now, to give you an upper hand, and a piece of advice I was given by users on here but failed to heed, was to buy a ScanGauge. Little 2 line LCD thing that plugs into your vehicles computers dash port, and displays all kinds of data. Speed, temperatures, it's basically 4 extra gauges. It also shows error codes. You could get a OBD equivialnt reader for the bus for around the same price, or get a scangauge and be able to read the codes, and once you buy a bus you'll have extra gauges (or accurate gauges for comparison against faulty dash gauges). Would have been wonderful in my searches instead of trying to count those darn engine diagnostic light patterns and beeps.

They cannot sell what is not listed. The people at the lots you'll be working with have no control over what prices are listed and which vehicles are for sale, although as I stated earlier they may be able to give a discount. Always ask them for their opinions, and make sure to listen if they advise against a certain bus on their lot. Know what smoke could come from where and what each color/smell means. Learn about the DT466 and DT444, maybe the CAT if you are looking for a rear end pusher. Know what parts you'll want working great, and which parts you'll be ripping off anyways. Specifics will be based on which engine/drivetrain/bus type you personally want, so I won't list them all here (and since I only know about the DT466 since that's the one I have).

Keep everything you rip out of the bus and check the selling price on it. I threw away (literally, in the garbage) around $1000 of video equipment, seats, and electrical components. Only later did I discover that many of these items fetch a decent price, some more, some less. A few hundred from seats if you take them to your local scrappy, up to $500 if you luck out and get the guardian system with the cameras in a NC bus. $100 for just the cameras on a good day, and likely only to someone looking to replace them in a school bus. From the hardware I pulled out, the guardian did have GPS but no CDMA/GSM capabilities. Butt whacker and stop sign arm assembly also fetch a decent price $100 or more.

They don't have a large amount of short buses for sale unfortunately. And while they had a few activity buses running a great drivetrain combo and lovely storage space underside, they were not for sale. I did not see a single school bus (yellow, not white activity) on the lots or for sale that had underbelly storage.

As for leaks with the massive amounts of rain, they were actually pretty darn good. Two days I went looking it was raining quite a lot (to the point we used an umbrella, not light misting). The only buses that had issues with leaking were the Vistas (like the one I bought, and turns out it was the center of the three yellow navigation lights on the top front of the bus). The only ones that had water damage were the ones that had a broken window that couldn't close. Only one of these was bad, there was visible standing water in the entire bus almost. The others just had rain getting in from the door being partially cracked open. This was one of the ones they told me to pass on. MY bus has only the front window leaks, and Vistas are notorious for that anyways so a design problem, not upkeep issue. I did know to inspect the top hatches for leaks, and much to my surprise I didn't see any sign on most. A few had spots where water was or had leaked in a small amount, but negligible. Still advisable to pull these out and replace them anyways, but you absolutely don't want any water damage. Luckily for you, we have 5 days of rain coming up, so narrowing down potential buses won't be hard. Easy to spot those leaks and recent water issues.
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Old 02-28-2019, 04:59 AM   #5
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Rust and SLOW are the two things to watch for if looking at a bus from NC.
Not all are rusty, but almost all are slow. Slow as in limited to 45mph or so.
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Old 02-28-2019, 10:59 AM   #6
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Rust and SLOW are the two things to watch for if looking at a bus from NC.
Not all are rusty, but almost all are slow. Slow as in limited to 45mph or so.
Most are locked to 45mph, but every district I checked could remove that (Union where I finally bought mine did, took them 15 minutes and a test drive to confirm). Rear end gearing without speed lock puts them around 55-60mph.
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Old 02-28-2019, 11:28 AM   #7
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Great info Geminus! Sucks that they use the least desired tranny/engine combo but it's all about economics from their standpoint. I wonder if they get a discount because the Thomas factory is in NC?
The set pricing is good, and it's great that the employees at the bus yards are so helpful and informative.
I agree, the website needs some serious updating but it works for searching. Guess it's not high on the Info System Depts list of projects for the state.
All great info, thanks!
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Old 02-28-2019, 05:06 PM   #8
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Most are locked to 45mph, but every district I checked could remove that (Union where I finally bought mine did, took them 15 minutes and a test drive to confirm). Rear end gearing without speed lock puts them around 55-60mph.
They gear em pretty low unless they're trip buses.
The two other NC bus owners I know have been stuck at 45 and 49 mph. I know you like to go slow but for the rest of us thats painfully slow and dowright dangerous in some types of traffic. Like Atlanta!
I'm not trying to knock NC, but gearing changes are pretty standard for most of us who would buy one with the intent of using it like a motorhome.
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Old 02-28-2019, 07:36 PM   #9
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For the all mechanical,non computerized busses they limited the speed buy rear end gearing and low horsepower engines.
Good at experience at my local bus barn also but I wasn't a part of this forum at the time.
So I didn't know what questions to ask or what to look for?
Long story short the bus I had picked was brought in for inspection before sell in the bus mechanics shop and failed so they sold the reps. I sent there the 4000$ bus for the same price as the 2800$ bus I wanted.
Full maintenance records from the day it was even a thought.
Build sheet requirements from the county all the way to the factory and complete wiring diagrams from the chassis build sheet to the Thomas body build.
Even every monthly maintenance record including fluid analysis.
It wasn't the one I wanted but maintenance wise right now I am slacking on how well they took care of it but then again it doesn't move everyday in my hands.
8.2 Detroit you need to stay away from
At 545 really depends on your driving conditions? It is still used in heavy duty equipment just not at high speeds.
Rear end gearing for my all mechanical no computer bus is 6.50 for the bus to maintain a whole whopping 49-mph. That is standard for a coastal route bus.
The computer ran busses have more leeway in the computer controls if you can get a reprogram.
But for me trying to use the no computer cause I don't know them and keep it simple stupid (KISS)method?
My options are to be happy at 49?
Change tires and rims to get me to 55?
Tranny change that won't increase anything in the rear end gear ratio?
Motor and tranny change because the rear end will turn whatever they are telling it to.
Sorry?
My NC bus down on the beach area had No issues but speed.
For my all mechanical bus I have decisions to make that cost$ As far as powertrain but when you buy a computerized bus you need to replace the PCM,TCM,ECM and many others? Hopefully not? But each one can cost as much as what you have in your skoolie.
Not trying to scare you away from one or the other.
Diesels are a different breed from gas engines.
Computer controlled is its own seperate breed to meet EPA regulations and each state specs there computer controlled busses for there regulations?
Gotta shut up now? My Work is calling
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