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Old 03-26-2015, 07:39 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Posts: 25
Smile Ready to get skooled - NY Area - need advice/references

Hey there, my name is Jeff, just joined the forum a few weeks ago. My fiance and I are ready to start our skoolie adventure.

We know nothing about school buses, but will stop at nothing to make it happen. We want to do our first tour next summer in it, hopefully 6 months, cross-country. So that gives us roughly one year to purchase and convert the bus.

Our goals:
-A comfortable and livable bus home - ie. stove, washing machine, shower, toilet, bed etc.

- As large as possible living space/flex space we will use as a mobile showroom for my fiance's bohemian bridal business.

-Sustainable (as possible) design so probably go diesel so we could go veggie down the road or during conversion.

-Aesthetically pleasing and functional as micro-showroom/home- we are going to be using it at first for a promotional vehicle to do "pop-up" shops across the country for my fiance's company. So it will need to be super cool looking. Thinking of doing a "woodie" rendition of the skoolie.

What i would be ever grateful for advice/references on:

1. NY Area school bus expert - I don't know where to start when selecting the right bus to purchase and start pouring our heart and soul into . Just want to make sure we start with some good bones. If anyone has any local school bus/diesel mechanics that are trustworthy or they themselves know how to select a great bus to purchase, i am sure we could work something out to make it worth it for both of us ;) ie. I will pay someone to help me.

2. RV/Mobile Home Systems Expert - Looking for someone to work together to design the systems, electrical, plumbing, insulation, space management. want a rock solid design that fits our needs before we start the build-out/order any parts. If anyone just has great references for this that would be awesome, and i guess they dont really even need to be in NY, could be done over phone/internet. Would be awesome to find someone that has lots of experience with sustainable mobile home system design, or has done it themselves and would help someone else out for a fee.


Any advice at this point would help. Thank you thank you thank you.
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Old 03-26-2015, 07:45 PM   #2
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Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the journey.
There are lots of nice folks on here from all over the country and even some across the ocean. You may even get by without paying a "bus expert". I'd imagine thats uber expensive in "NY Dollars". ;)
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Old 04-02-2015, 03:22 PM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
Location: Brooklyn, NY
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Well maybe I posted this in the wrong section. I am going to start looking at buses this weekend.

EastCoastCB could you provide any advice?

just in general, is there any "no nos" to look out for in terms of engine/transmission/manufacturers? I definitely want a full-size and plan to put a lot into it, so I just really want to make sure I get really good bones, any good advice?

For example this one: School bus

Just want to make sure its worth me going out there and looking at it. I noticed its an automatic transmission...which is really nice so others could help drive that dont know how to drive stick, but is there any major downside to that?

Thanks for anything you can help me with
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Old 04-02-2015, 09:22 PM   #4
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It's not that you posted in the wrong area, it's just that you wanted responses from the NYC metro area. There have been a handful of skoolies from there over the years, but not a lot. If you think the Bronx is "out there" from Brooklyn, I'm about 180 miles past the Bronx. It's about a 4-hour drive to Brooklyn each way at midnight, and add about 60-90 minutes for traffic in the daytime. If I'm working on Long Island through Friday, I try to hit the Whitestone or Throgg's neck by 3:00 PM for a shot at the Thruway before 5:00.

And Hex is in Buffalo, probably 8 hours each way. Some of the skoolies in southern Connecticut are probably closest to you.

About the bus:
Most buses are automatics nowadays, it is rare to find a stick. Many older buses appear to have the AT545 transmission, which has no lock-up in cruise. The torque converter is always slipping a little bit, cutting highway fuel mileage some. That doesn't mean its a no-no, but if you can find the rare older bus with a lock-up automatic transmission, it will save fuel. Check out this thread. Newer automatic transmissions probably do have lock-up in them.

I'm no diesel expert, but the 444 is in a lot of buses. It is not the most desired engine, but appears to be the most common for that age. I am assuming it is the 444E with electronic fuel injection. A lot of folks want older buses from the early 1990s or before in order to get mechanical injection. Electronic probably saves fuel, but mechanical is less complicated and may be easier to work on. And those older buses have seen more years of Northeast winter salt.

Most people who have used air brakes want them on their buses, but hydraulic brakes are familiar and require no special license endorsement.

Tires are expensive. If they are many years old, they could fail even with good tread. Try to find a guide to read the date codes on the sidewalls. The bus you linked to is only 10 years old, so you are probably OK for a while even if the tires are the original ones.

Other than that, use your sense. If something appears off, walk away or figure it into a discounted price. Only you can determine if the price is good for your budget. Some skoolies get a deal via auction on a bus right from a public school system, others pay twice as much in a private sale, and maybe 3-4 times as much from a dealer, who may or may not offer some kind of warrantee.

Good luck!
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Old 04-03-2015, 12:26 AM   #5
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The ideal motor if your wanting to travel the country is the 8.3L Cummins followed by the DT466 International. They both have the size and power to propel a full size school bus down the road at freeway speed with ease. You will also want a turbo charged engine as they produce the same horsepower up to 10,000 foot altitude and get better fuel mileage than Naturally Aspirated engines. If you can you also want to get a 5 speed transmission (Allison 643 or MD3060) because they have overdrive
high gears (less RPM for given speed) and lock-up converters. Both the above motors are considered million mile motors. These items would be the Cadillac of drive trains to consider.Good luck on your quest.
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Old 04-03-2015, 07:26 AM   #6
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Awesome advice, thank you.

In terms of sourcing the bus, are there resources where I can get information on the auctions or a list of sellers in my area? In other words, wheres the best place to be looking for my bus?

Also in terms of electronic injection or not, if I went non-electronic, how does this effect me in terms of registration in NY or CA for example with stringent emissions requirements? Or am I an exception because its a "RV" of sorts?

Thanks again
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Old 04-03-2015, 02:17 PM   #7
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I would not have a electronically injected diesel engine in a bus if you gave it to me.

I work part time in a bus shop. The wiring is a mess in every one of them. We have special tools to help us find shorts and power leaks. Without them, over half of our newer buses would be grounded.

I have seen it all. Screws into wires, panels sharp edges cutting wires, mice eat the wires, ect.

It's one thing to have a turn signal not working. That you can live with. When the engine wont start, that sucks.

Nat
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Old 04-03-2015, 06:12 PM   #8
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Thanks Nat, I have heard similar stories from diesel truck owners, saying their new fleets they were forced to buy to meet california's new requirements are down half the time because of problems with the EFIs. I am going to make it a goal not to buy an EFI engine.

Does anyone know if buying a non-EFI creates problems with emissions in certain states?
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Old 04-04-2015, 12:36 AM   #9
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emissions

If you're in one of those states with out of state license plates they have
no jurisdiction over you and will not haul you into an emission inspection,
it would be problematic to say the least. If you were moving to a state with
emission standards and were applying for an in state registration then they
could make things difficult. I wouldn't worry about emissions otherwise as
the Bus your driving may fall under a grandfathered statute. HTH
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Old 04-04-2015, 06:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Redbear View Post
. . . A lot of folks want older buses from the early 1990s or before in order to get mechanical injection. . . .
If you want mechanical injection, you have got to stop looking at 2005's, and go back another 10+ years. This will save you on the purchase price, but your miscellaneous maintenance costs will go up.

A few years ago, I ran into a local guy I know who is a driver for a school district. He did complain about some "pushers" his district bought with early electronic controls, but I don't know if that applied to "dog-nosed" buses as well.

But every bus you see hauling children to school today has some type of "E" engine. Even if there are buses in the shop, there are tens of thousands more out on the road every day.

I would love a DT466 with a 9-speed stick when I get a bus. But the motor or transmission is only one part of the whole package. I would not walk away from an otherwise perfect post-1995 bus just for the fuel injection.
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Old 04-04-2015, 03:56 PM   #11
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The number one thing to be on the look out is rust.

No matter how inexpensive a bus is, if it has rust it will be a money pit.

The most expensive part of a bus and the hardest to change is the power package. Purchasing a bus with a good engine, a good transmission, and gearing to fit your purposes will cost you much less in the long run than to change stuff out once you purchase your bus.

Unless you plan on getting on the road right away, if the choice is between buses with good tires or bad with everything else being equal go with the one with better rubber. But don't decide on any particular bus based on the rubber. In most cases RV's will have the tires die of old age before they wear out. Good rubber is a plus but should not be a deal breaker.

Don't limit your search to just the NE. There are a lot of buses in the NE but you may find the "perfect" bus for you somewhere else. Traveling some distance for your "perfect" bus may cost you less in the long run.

If you really do not want any electronics you will need to be looking at 1995 and older. 1996 saw some electronics and by 1997 almost everything became electronically controlled.

If there is anything I can do to help, even if it is just to discuss what type of bus would be best you are more than welcome to contact me.

Good luck and happy trails.
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Old 04-05-2015, 09:14 AM   #12
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Thanks Cowlitz that is good advice.

What do you think about the big "avoid electronic" push?
I hear so many mixed messages about the EFI systems.

Is it really that bad or is are there just certain years/models where they were more unreliable? I know in the motorcycle crowd, many guys dont like the EFI systems mainly because they don't like working on computers if they are not working right. Same time ive heard horror stories about the newest california diesel trucks with the advanced emission control. Hard to believe that 20 years of school buses should be "avoided".

From what I have been hearing, the International 466 seems like the engine to get. I was thinking of looking for the DT466 in particular, but are there certain years of the 466E that are good? Hopefully someone can shine some light on this for me.

Thanks again
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Old 04-05-2015, 11:27 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ozthemost View Post
Thanks Cowlitz that is good advice.

What do you think about the big "avoid electronic" push?
I hear so many mixed messages about the EFI systems.

Is it really that bad or is are there just certain years/models where they were more unreliable? I know in the motorcycle crowd, many guys dont like the EFI systems mainly because they don't like working on computers if they are not working right. Same time ive heard horror stories about the newest california diesel trucks with the advanced emission control. Hard to believe that 20 years of school buses should be "avoided".

From what I have been hearing, the International 466 seems like the engine to get. I was thinking of looking for the DT466 in particular, but are there certain years of the 466E that are good? Hopefully someone can shine some light on this for me.

Thanks again
If you can afford to pay a shop to fix your bus, get one with a computer.

If you have to be able to fix it with just basic tools yourself, get a fully mechanical bus.

Nat
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Old 04-05-2015, 10:09 PM   #14
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Good advise Nat. Clint will tackle or try to tackle any vehicle no matter the size & shape; but he is completely over working on my Nissan pickup. Nothing and I mean nothing is as it appears when you get a computer thrown in the mix.
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Old 04-06-2015, 08:43 AM   #15
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Quote:
What do you think about the big "avoid electronic" push?
Are electronics good? Yes and no.

I've been working on and earning a living working on cars for over 50 years. When I started, unless the engine was physically broke, it wasn't all that hard to get it running with a few inexpensive parts. A service call often just involved adjusting the points, you could "eyeball" it, checking the choke for operation and putting in every other spark plug in firing order. Pretty much everything was able to be taken apart and fixed. A tune up was 10,000 miles or once a year.
First on the scene was electronic ignition, I always worked in independent shops, we didn't have the "factory" test equipment, nor did we have a spare module sitting on the shelf to plug in to see if that fixed the problem. The modules were expensive and unreliable. Many people carried a "spare" module with them. If we did buy something and it didn't fix the problem, it came back off. The factory dealer wouldn't take it back because it was "used", the customer was NOT charged for a part he didn't need.
Next were the many forms of fuel injection, which in my opinion were a huge leap forward. They were kind of "electronic" but relied mostly on air flow and temperature sensors. There wasn't an ECU for the whole engine.Things were getting harder to diagnose, service manuals were hard to get and expensive. Test equipment pretty much was a fuel pressure gauge and a VOM. There was no internet or hot line to call. The parts, though, were getting more and more expensive and less and less repairable.

By this time we had pretty much quit going out on service calls. If it didn't start we called a wrecker.

Todays engines, both gas and diesel, for the most part, last longer, get better mileage, have more horsepower, and are more reliable. When I started out, an engine with 100,000 miles was pretty rare. When everything works right, and for the most part it does, everything is wonderful. When something goes wrong, even the most sophisticated test equipment can't find all that much. It can tell you the general area to look. A good mechanic uses that info to start testing, but there is still a lot of testing that needs to be done, and that gets expensive.

Independent shops are getting pretty rare, just because the cost of information and equipment is too expensive. There are also less and less dealers around. My little town used to have three GM,two Ford and a Dodge dealer. Now, there is just one GM.

I work on my own vehicles, they are both mechanical diesels. My wife has a late model SUV with all the buttons. I fix the mechanical stuff, if and when the electronics go bad we'll probably just buy a different car.
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Old 04-06-2015, 10:44 AM   #16
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Gotcha, that helps explain a lot. Thank you.

You were saying that the electronic engines will typically run longer, I am assuming this is because overall efficiency and closely controlled combustion that doesn't over-stress the engine.

So, if I were looking at two identical buses, one with a DT466 and the other was a 466E, are there specific mileage and maintenance markers I can look for to make sure proper maintenance was done on each?
What is the expected lifetime in miles of a DT vs the E? How many is too many? When should I expect to have to rebuild one?

This is going to help a lot when I start to actually have to pick my pony, there are so many variables that I am sure its maintenance and overall hours on the road will have a significant effect on its future cost for me. I just dont know exactly what to to look for.

I've also been recommended to aim for these 5 speed transmissions:
Allison 643 or MD3060

Do all the bus experts in here agree?

Thanks!
Jeff
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Old 04-06-2015, 10:59 AM   #17
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The 643 is only a four speed and no od.
But I'd rather have it since it doesnt have a computer.
My all mechanical DT466 has a quarter million miles on it and runs as good as new. NO smoke ever. Shifts smoother than my pickup truck too.
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Old 04-06-2015, 02:33 PM   #18
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Somewhereintheusa laid it out pretty clearly.

1995 was the changeover year for most school buses and electronics.

Starting in 1996 the E engines started to show up.

About the same time the Allison World Transmissions started to show up as well.

By the time a school bus gets to the point where it is sold or traded in most of the bugs will have been worked out of the electronics except for that one garage queen that no one can get to run correctly.

In my experience I would look at either type without any reservations.

One caveat would be if you intend to run on WVO or bio-blends of more than 10%. Most of the "E" engines do not like anything except for 100% dino #2 or 100% dino #1 in the winter. Anything more than 10% bio-blends can be a problem for them.

I drove one of the many buses that was involved with the mess in LA, AR, and TX after Katrina and Rita. The older buses that had 2-cycle Detroit Diesels didn't care what sort of fuel we burned. All of the newer electronically controlled 4-cycle diesels really did not like the milspec fuel we had to use. It was more like Jet A or Kerosene and the "E" engines really didn't like it.

It gets back to what I have always said about purchasing a bus, there is no perfect bus out there. You need to find that one bus that meets most of your needs at a price that you can update or change what you don't like at an affordable price.

I have come across so very oddly spe'c'ed buses over the years. Not too long ago I was in a 40' Thomas Saf-T-Liner RE with a Cat 3126 250 HP engine that hit the redline at 61 MPH. I am sure that if you could have gotten into the transmission programming and released the 6th gear you would have then have been able to cruise very nicely at highway speed.

But if it had been an older bus with a Cat 3208 and MT643 you would have been stuck with a top speed of 61 MPH with only one real alternative to up the highway speed. And that would have been to swap out the rear gears for some more highway friendly gearing.

Everything in buses is a trade off. If you understand what use a particular bus was purchased to do you can then better understand the way in which the bus was spe'c'ed.

Good luck and happy trails.
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Old 05-07-2015, 11:38 AM   #19
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Posts: 25
Thank you for the wisdom Cowlitz

I think I found a couple great prospects for buses, but now I am stuck, I am new to New York area and have no idea where to take this thing.

I need to find some sort of yard within 45 minutes of Brooklyn that I can park it/work on it. Hopefully its at somewhere that can help me convert it. I really have no idea where to start. I am also super nervous about bringing it into the city with all the tight corners. Also I dont have the commercial license so I need to get it registered as an RV before I can drive it myself.

Does ANYONE know ANYONE that might have somewhere to take my bus to get it converted. I am open to paying and helping work on it, just need the right "partner" to work on it with that has a space to park it and the tools needed to custom fab some metalwork and woodwork needed to finish it out and in the NYC area so I could commute out there often enough to help work on it.
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Old 05-07-2015, 12:05 PM   #20
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Year: 1991
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner
Engine: RE Cummins 5.9
Quote:
Originally Posted by ozthemost View Post
Thank you for the wisdom Cowlitz

I think I found a couple great prospects for buses, but now I am stuck, I am new to New York area and have no idea where to take this thing.

I need to find some sort of yard within 45 minutes of Brooklyn that I can park it/work on it. Hopefully its at somewhere that can help me convert it. I really have no idea where to start. I am also super nervous about bringing it into the city with all the tight corners. Also I dont have the commercial license so I need to get it registered as an RV before I can drive it myself.

Does ANYONE know ANYONE that might have somewhere to take my bus to get it converted. I am open to paying and helping work on it, just need the right "partner" to work on it with that has a space to park it and the tools needed to custom fab some metalwork and woodwork needed to finish it out and in the NYC area so I could commute out there often enough to help work on it.
I found a place via Craigslist. Was under storage I think. Best going with independent owners of lots Imo, less questions.
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