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Old 08-16-2017, 09:06 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Question Looking for a bus that runs well

I'm just beginning my first skoolie project: a rolling massage studio. I'm a licensed massage therapist and for reasons too weird and long to explain, I'm hoping to base my practice out of a bus fitted out to be a massage studio inside, and drive to my clients instead of making them come to where I am.

I'm deeply afraid of getting something which isn't going to run very well or for very long, after I've put the work and money into rehabbing it, so I'm hoping for the best mechanical condition I can afford, though I'm still starting out and not sure how good that'll be. I'm completely okay with external dings; this is all about the way it functions, not the way it looks. (I can make it look good enough, if necessary, in the renovation process.) I'm also looking for something which I can legally take into Canada if possible.

Anyone trying to sell a bus that might work for me? Anyone run across one they're not buying themselves, but which I might find a good fit for this project? Anyone able to help me understand what I can do to make sure I find out about any mechanical problems that exist before I spend thousands of dollars on a bus that'll fall apart under me?

I'm a wee bit nervous about this whole thing... but the bus idea is too good a fit for what I'm trying to accomplish, to let it go without making the attempt.

[EDIT: Okay, I was stupid and left out some of the basics. I'm in western Washington state. Email via this site is probably the easiest way to reach me. And I absolutely need automatic transmission in my bus... I've never learned how to drive a manual ANYTHING. Thank you!]
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:22 PM   #2
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What Length

How big of a bus are you looking for? Do you just need enough room for your business or do you want to have "living quarters"
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:23 PM   #3
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Since you'll be using this for business use, you'll want to be mindful about GVWR and air brakes. You won't get the same RV exceptions most of us here do. Over 26,000 GVWR and you'll need a Class B license. You'll also need an air-brake endorsement if your bus has air brakes. Canada will be very strict on that (even with an RV, or so I am told). You'll also probably want some decent headroom, more than some school buses have. Would a shuttle-style bus fit your needs?
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:30 PM   #4
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Just need it to be big enough for the business; I don't plan to live in it. Might camp in it sometimes if I'm going somewhere further than a quick drive, but that's about it.

Ideally, the interior space will be about 25-30' (I don't know how much the engine and shell add to the length, so I can't give dimensions in terms of actual bus length with any precision). I need about 15' just as space for the table and room around it for me to maneuver and do my work, plus room for a small restroom and a tiny "office" area where I can sit down and talk to the client, as well as storing files. Call it 3-5' for the rest room, and another 5' or so to put a futon chair (where the client can sit and, if necessary, which I can fold out to sleep on when I need to camp in the thing once in a while), and a fold-down desk from the wall for me to write chart notes at. So it ends up with a minimum of 23' interior. I wouldn't mind a little more than that just for wiggle room, but I don't absolutely *need* more.
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:34 PM   #5
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How is a shuttle-style bus different? I know what a school bus looks like, of course; but I'm less sure what a shuttle-style bus looks like by comparison, or what advantages and disadvantages they each have.

I hadn't thought about headroom. People here seem to raise the roof on their school buses; is that something I might be able to do? I'll need my clients to be able to stand up comfortably inside, though not necessarily to have a lot of room beyond that. I'm only 5'5, so I'm not all that much of a problem in terms of ceiling height; but some of them might be.
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:58 PM   #6
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You should be able to get that much space without going over 26k. As far as mechanical condition try to find a low mile bus with good maintenance records. Have enough money to repair problems as they come up and do maintenance! like a car but more expensive to fix. Older buses will be less expensive to maintain without emissions equipment.... in theory. A rolling massage sounds great I'd be down for one!

You may run into more headache if it is a business vehicle but it can't be a whole lot different than a food truck. Not sure if you would have to claim it as DOT since your not hauling people or goods but im sure your DMV could explain everything before you make a purchase.
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Old 08-16-2017, 10:09 PM   #7
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Emissions equipment question

Jacob, thanks for giving me some of the basic starter info that I need. You mentioned that an older bus without emissions equipment would be theoretically easier to maintain. Would that make it impossible to take certain places, though? I know some states (mine included) have pretty strict emissions standards, though sometimes older vehicles are grandfathered in; and I have heard that Canada has even stricter than that, without the exception. We might be moving to Canada several years down the road, so I'd want to make sure I could take my studio with me (even though they also have stricter standards for massage licensing too, so I'd need to retrain to some extent if we do that).

I'll definitely talk to the DMV about this whole thing so I know what's allowed -- thanks for the suggestion!
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Old 08-16-2017, 10:17 PM   #8
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You could take it anywhere as long as you could get it registered. Now registering it in different states may be a different story. As far as I know most states allow vehicles to be grandfathered in but I am from Kansas so emission laws aren't something I worry about. And as far as Canada goes I am definitely clueless. Most states have there emission laws online Canada's could probably be found as well. I was considering moving and looked up Oregon and California but my truck couldn't be registered in either state And I'm not ready to part with it. ��
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Old 08-16-2017, 11:32 PM   #9
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I'm sure you've seen thousands of shuttle buses. Very common, some have wheelchair lifts. If you *really* need 20-something feet of interior space, you'd be looking at the upper limit for a shuttle bus. I have a full length Carpenter/IH school bus and it was right around 30' behind the driver's seat (I forget the exact length).

Emissions in most places is virtually non-existent. California and NY State are the only 2 exceptions I am aware of, and if you are using an older bus, it may exempt emissions (especially if you are registered in another state).

A roof raise isn't so much hard, as it is time consuming. It will require welding skills, or the willingness to hire a welder. It will require additional metal in the form of wall supports and the additional side panels (plus any windows you may wish to delete). It will require power tools, muscle-grease, "colorful metaphors" and may even demand a sacrifice of blood (how many of you have lost blood, one way or another, while doing a roof raise?) Don't forget to account for the surface area inside, whether it's sheet metal or some other interior surface. Be aware that some buses have slightly sloped sides which will make a roof raise that much more challenging.
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Old 08-16-2017, 11:39 PM   #10
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Thanks, Brad. I really need over 20 feet; anything over 23' is a luxury that would be nice but isn't essential. So yes, it sounds as if I'd be looking at the long end of the shuttle range.

I'm seeing some listed school buses which claim 7.5' internal height. I don't know if they've already had their roofs raised, or if they were just made like that, but that would be plenty for my purposes. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about what I should be asking in order not to walk into something stupid with them, before I go investigate!

Any pointers about what information I should be seeking, other than the obvious about title and maintenance history/mechanical issues that I'd ask in buying any other used vehicle?
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Old 08-16-2017, 11:47 PM   #11
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A school bus with inside height of 7'5"? Are you sure it's not 75" (more common)? Share the listing for further feedback (most of us won't bid against you).
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:01 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Brad_SwiftFur View Post
A school bus with inside height of 7'5"? Are you sure it's not 75" (more common)? Share the listing for further feedback (most of us won't bid against you).
I was surprised too! Since this bus is local, I'm planning to go see it in person and bring my tape measure, so I'll have a chance to find out for certain.

https://portland.craigslist.org/clk/cto/6225061114.html is the listing, but the dimensions weren't in it. When I asked the seller for the interior cabin dimensions, the answer was, "From the driver seat to the back is 27 feet from side to side 7 1/2 feet and 7 1/2 feet height."
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:22 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PocketNaomi View Post
I was surprised too! Since this bus is local, I'm planning to go see it in person and bring my tape measure, so I'll have a chance to find out for certain.
That's a whole-lotta bus. It's beautiful and very similar to mine, but that sticker in the ad tells the GVWR and somebody mentioned CDL and strict Canada. CDL class is great idea and fun at Jr College- will learn and feel more comfortable.

Anywho, be picky, there are plenty of tall buses. Check out bunches, drive bunches and don't fall in love with the first one you meet.

Shorter bus would be a whole lot easier to maneuver- how many beds/therapists in your mobile office?

Welcome !
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:29 AM   #14
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That's a whole-lotta bus. It's beautiful and very similar to mine, but that sticker in the ad tells the GVWR and somebody mentioned CDL and strict Canada. CDL class is great idea and fun at Jr College- will learn and feel more comfortable.

Anywho, be picky, there are plenty of tall buses. Check out bunches, drive bunches and don't fall in love with the first one you meet.

Shorter bus would be a whole lot easier to maneuver- how many beds/therapists in your mobile office?

Welcome !
Yes, exactly -- I'm hoping to get my CDL regardless of the GVWR of the bus I buy, just because I'll feel better knowing that I've had the education to drive the thing comfortably... even if I *could* legally drive it without one.

Only one therapist, but you'd be surprised how much space you need to work *around* a table. Six feet of actual table length, plus 5 feet at each end necessary just for me to be able to move around and do the work... especially since I *won't* have a lot of room on the sides of the table, so all the heavy work requiring leverage or leaning positions will need to be done from the ends.

So it's 16 feet of length just for the actual workspace alone. Add a bathroom and a little bit of space for a semi-office -- two chairs for us to sit in and talk through what they need me to help them with; a small foldout table to write chart notes on, and a place to store files -- and I'm not going to get away with under 20', though it doesn't have to be a lot over. 26' is generous; 22' would be barely possible.
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:49 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PocketNaomi View Post
I was surprised too! Since this bus is local, I'm planning to go see it in person and bring my tape measure, so I'll have a chance to find out for certain.

https://portland.craigslist.org/clk/cto/6225061114.html is the listing, but the dimensions weren't in it. When I asked the seller for the interior cabin dimensions, the answer was, "From the driver seat to the back is 27 feet from side to side 7 1/2 feet and 7 1/2 feet height."
I ran the VIN on it. Cat C7 engine. DPF and regen systems (newer than '04 model). Minor damage on right rear. GVWR well over 26K and air brakes. Very high asking price.

Since you don't mind getting the CDL and air brakes, I see no problem with this (And I prefer air brakes for myself).

The body damage isn't a deal breaker, depends on your point of view.

The Cat C7 engine, and associated emissions hardware, however, will be a maintenance nightmare. A quick google search showed a number of costly problems people were having. It may (or may not) be a good engine, but be aware that most replacement parts *ONLY* come from Cat, at a premium price (and many aren't open weekends).

If it were me, I'd pass on this one.
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:55 AM   #16
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I almost missed this, as per the Gates VIN decoder site I often use:

Cab Type Non-School w/78" Headroom

Not the 7 1/2 feet he's claiming.
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:56 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad_SwiftFur View Post
I ran the VIN on it. Cat C7 engine. DPF and regen systems (newer than '04 model). Minor damage on right rear. GVWR well over 26K and air brakes. Very high asking price.

Since you don't mind getting the CDL and air brakes, I see no problem with this (And I prefer air brakes for myself).

The body damage isn't a deal breaker, depends on your point of view.

The Cat C7 engine, and associated emissions hardware, however, will be a maintenance nightmare. A quick google search showed a number of costly problems people were having. It may (or may not) be a good engine, but be aware that most replacement parts *ONLY* come from Cat, at a premium price (and many aren't open weekends).

If it were me, I'd pass on this one.
Thank you! I appreciate the advice. The body configuration is just about right for me but that isn't enough if the engine isn't. I'll pass, and watch out for that engine in future.
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Old 08-17-2017, 05:12 AM   #18
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I'll bet you'll find the bus very hard to park at customers' homes. Seems to me that there are probably much easier ways of doing mobile massage. And wouldn't the bus' body condition matter too? I mean- if its your mobile office you don't want a banged up rusty bucket, ya know?
My better half is an LMT. She just puts the table and supplies in our van or station wagon and then gives the client the massage in the comfort of their own home.
Just my 2 cents.
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Old 08-17-2017, 08:32 AM   #19
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Quote:
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I'll bet you'll find the bus very hard to park at customers' homes. Seems to me that there are probably much easier ways of doing mobile massage. And wouldn't the bus' body condition matter too? I mean- if its your mobile office you don't want a banged up rusty bucket, ya know?
My better half is an LMT. She just puts the table and supplies in our van or station wagon and then gives the client the massage in the comfort of their own home.
Just my 2 cents.
I've done that, certainly. But it's a lot less safe than bringing a space that you can control, especially for a woman. I'm just not comfortable walking into the homes of people I don't know, by myself.

When I can bring my own space it's a little better... but more to the point, when I can being my own space, I'm not confined to the business model of going to individual clients' homes. I *can* do that -- and around here, there's unlikely to be a space concern -- but I can also go to street festivals, county fairs, block parties, etc, and be ready to work as a vendor in the space I bring with me. I can even do birthday parties and wedding showers.

All of that is a safer way to make money than bringing my table into the home of every stranger who wants to see me. It's one thing to have a studio and then do outcall work for clients whom you already know through that; but for the outcall to be my only way of bringing in new business doesn't feel safe to me, even in a pretty safe neighborhood.
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Old 08-17-2017, 09:37 AM   #20
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I've done that, certainly. But it's a lot less safe
Ugggh. Stinks that has to be such a primary concern in the modern world.

CCP would save you $20,000.
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