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Old 04-07-2024, 12:39 PM   #1
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Location: South-central Pennsylvania
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Chassis: Ford e450 Cutaway Van/Shuttle Bus
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Exclamation How do I handle an unexpectedly significant amount of rust?

Good day everyone! I'm looking for some help, advice, or even just condolences. The prior owner of my short bus made some questionable choices in terms of sealing, followed by me making some questionable decisions on winter storage immediately after purchase, and now I'm working on getting it fixed.

This is my first conversion so if I'm using any incorrect or odd terminology, correct me if you feel like it. I won't be offended, as I'm aware I know almost nothing about the body of a bus.

The seams between the exterior cladding were sealed in the wrong place. There is an aluminum strip that holds the two pieces together, then screws going through that into the body, and then a rubber piece goes over the screw ports. They sealed under the rubber, over the screws and not behind or around the aluminum. This was done on each section of strips - top, middle, & bottom horizontals, front, middle, & back verticals, and all around the handicap door. The screws have all rusted out (half of them broke when I tried to unscrew). They also put unsealed, unpainted expanding foam under the floors at the skirt, likely trying to stop air from coming in, all of which became soaked with water and sat against the steel L channel that connects the walls to the body frame (chassis? The thick, bus supporting steel).

Needless to say, there is water damage inside of the walls of the bus.

My first issue is the exterior panels (cladding?). This was fiberglass panels glued to ¼” plywood. When the plywood became wet, the layers separated and began to fall apart. The layer that was glued to the fiberglass is starting to separate. I was going to strip this off and reglue more thin plywood using the same method, but the fiberglass seems to be losing its integrity. The edges are flaky, where caulk was pulled off the top layer came off, etc. So far, knock on wood, the ceiling is fine. A little old, definitely needs a coating, but no water or separating plywood yet.

Overall, should I reuse or replace the wall fiberglass?
Aside from new fiberglass and sheet metal (already discussed in my first post), are there any other materials I can replace with?
Is there a coating to reseal fiberglass that's deteriorating, or should I just replace the roof too, while I'm at it.

Then, the steel. Thankfully, most of the “big steel” of the main frame of the bus is okay. The major damage is to the bottom 1’ or so of the strut channel of the walls, the L channel that the subfloor sits on and that connects everything to the main frame. There is also a bit of deeper-than-surface rust on the medium gauge I beam just in front of the rear wheel well.

I took a wire brush to some of the sections, and though the pictures make it look way worse than it is, a lot of it really is surface rust above that 1’ line (we aren't discussing above the wheelchair lift door until I can get the lift out).

I do have access to an arc welder and will soon to a MiG welder.

Should I buy new steel and replace the whole strut, patch with new, or patch and brace with scrap?
How important is the type of steel and the gauge on the wall, aside from weight and weight distribution?

Also, is there anything that would be good to do while the bus is pretty much naked? Anything you regret not doing, or that caused you issues later?

If there are any good posts on this that I overlooked, let me know as well. I did my best, but this site is not super mobile friendly.

Thanks for your help, all. I really appreciate it.
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Old 04-08-2024, 12:30 PM   #2
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IMHO nothing on that frame is usable for rebuilding.



You could perhaps use it as a model, but I would never put anything that has degraded that badly back on the road again. The 5th pic down, you can see some flaking of the structural members towards the centerline that indicates the damage has progressed much further than anyone would reasonably like, and TBH, when it's gotten that bad in places like that, EVERYTHING is becomes subject to question. So reuse what you can somewhere else on a new frame.



The other option, if the frame itself is still solid throughout, would be to build a custom-body yourself on top of the frame rails and then you've got all kinds of flexibility as to what you'd like to do. But just remember to keep in mind the weight of everything you put on top, and I would keep a running tally so you've got some idea of what the thing will weigh, and whether or not you will need to upgrade suspension/steering/brakes/drivetrain in order to keep up.


I prefer building with new steel, but if you have access to quality scrap, and you can get enough of it, then generally re-using steel is perfectly fine--especially if you're going to cut and reshape it anyhow. The steel gauge on the sides is really only important when it comes to things like crashes and impacts, as well as if/when you get a leak, how long it takes to wear down/out; so the answer to your question is kind of "not at all until it actually matters", so I would try to use 16 ga or better. Fiberglass is generally reusable provided that it's not cracked or warped. Small cracks can be repaired with resin and some new sheets of glass-mat, but it's a PITA.

Fortunately for you, your rig is at a point where you can literally do anything you want with it, including things like preparing for regular RV windows or better, or closing some off for better insulation.
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Old 04-08-2024, 01:01 PM   #3
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You got a serious decision to make.
Forget about all the historical stories on the bus you got to look forward now.


First decision to make...HOW DEEP DO I WANT TO GO FIXING THIS?
As Albatros indicated, not much good in there.

DECISIONS:
1 )Patch/repair
2) Full out rebuild/replace frame structure
3) Toss this bus to the side and get another.

Me, I like the challenges so I would patch repair as much as possible and keep going, especially if you have a good chassis/drivetrain.

YOU... ???

At this point there is no right or wrong there is just what works for you best right now.

Patch/repair involves removing most all the skin and could get costly, which is why I always look for scrap metal.

Clean it up, weld and paint. But that's my choice/way of doing things.

In the end, it's all about money, how much you got or want to spend.

Rebuilding the frame WILL cost time and money.
The rebild job is doable but with a tall cost!
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Old 04-08-2024, 08:28 PM   #4
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That’s a lot of faith, love and dedication. I’d be picking a different bus. Nostalgia only goes so far.
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Old 04-09-2024, 10:35 AM   #5
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musigenesis had to completely rebuild the floors and floor supports in his bus.. and he rocked it
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Old 04-09-2024, 11:48 AM   #6
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For the fiberglass panels, if they're losing integrity, it might be best to replace them rather than trying to salvage them. As for the steel, if it's just surface rust, patching and bracing with scrap could work. But if it's serious, consider replacing damaged sections using appropriate materials.
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Old 04-09-2024, 12:40 PM   #7
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What kind of mileage does the bus have? How's the engine and drive train?

I'd seriously consider finding another bus; or at a minimum look for a better body to swap in the drive train.

The condition of that body is going to give you a huge amount of work before you even get to start. That level of time, money and work can kill any motivation to move on, and leave you dangerously in the 'my loss is your gain' Craigslist space.
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Old 04-09-2024, 04:53 PM   #8
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Sell the 6.0 if it halfway runs and find a Southern shuttle that's not been destroyed by rust.
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Old 04-09-2024, 05:59 PM   #9
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change the 6.0 to a 7.3.
the only difference is the motor mounts and transmissions.
the 6.0 used the 5r transmission and the 7.3 used the 4r transmission.
and the 7.3 was never emission regulated the 6.0 was the emission engine to replace the 7.3 the 4r tranny can be built for torque and horsepower without emissions. the 7.3 will fit with different motor mounts and no emissions mess.
my son and i just crammed a DT360 I6 in an 04 super duty wasnt the perfect fit but a tranny tuner to work with an all mechanical motor and a 4r tranny built for the engine.
its on the road.
if you dream it you can achieve it and we only have a gravel driveway and sometimes grass/dirt to deal with.
jack pads and some plywood to lay on make a world of difference.
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Old 04-09-2024, 05:59 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFinalCorn View Post
I'm looking for some help, advice, or even just condolences.
Quote:
Originally Posted by La Camioneta View Post
Sell the 6.0 if it halfway runs and find a Southern shuttle that's not been destroyed by rust.
La Camioneta has the right answer, honestly.
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Old 04-11-2024, 05:49 PM   #11
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Well, I had a whole reply written out, and the website logged me out as I tried to post. Rather unfortunate. If my reply feels curt it's because this is the second time I'm typing it out. (Third time posting, though, as the second time it logged me out I thought to copy first just in case!)

That said, thank you for the info. What I'm doing is pulling apart the rest of the body, then pulling up any subfloor with discoloration, and I'll go from there. I'm likely going to end up rebuilding most of it, so I don't know if I'd call it a completely custom body, but it's definitely going to be something.

When you say "flaking of the structural members towards the centerline", are you referring to what would be floor joists in a stick built house? The flaking on the long thin rails that run front to back are a paint or coating that was put on top of the rust, so far, I think. The rust on the frame rail and the I beam that tees off is surface rust - a pretty standard amount for Pennsylvania. Once more of it's visible, if I'm still uncertain about them, I'll have a body shop consult.

Assuming that's all good, what I'm leaning towards for the walls is buying new strut channel to replace the floor to roof structure, and then cleaning and reusing any materials in good condition as window supports, bracing, patches, and other minor applications. I have access to good scrap, so that can fill in where the shapes would make sense, of if I run out. Closing up a window or two is a good idea, and maybe making them sit higher on the body. I'll think about replacing - honestly, I hate RV windows, and I'm not sure what else I'd legally be able to install. What did you mean by "or better"?

As for the fiberglass, just pulling it down has convinced me to not even consider it. I never want to touch it again, even though I have more to pull out. So I'll likely be going with sheet metal, unless there's something else I don't know about yet.

Thanks again for your help!
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Old 04-11-2024, 07:17 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by TheFinalCorn View Post
What did you mean by "or better"?

Using something thicker than 16 ga mild steel, which weighs more, yes, but also resists more impact as well as lasts longer when you get a leak as nasty as your previous bus had.


I would also lump in using aluminum to that as well--although you would have to use some specialty products to prevent the aluminum and steel from having direct contact--even through metal fasteners like rivets--to prevent galvanic corrosion.
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Old 04-11-2024, 07:43 PM   #13
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Okay got it. Thank you again!
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