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Old 02-20-2015, 07:01 PM   #1
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Year: 1996
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Chassis: Ford E-350
Engine: 7.3L Turbo Diesel
1996 Ford/Collins school bus conversion project

Hi everyone, I am starting a conversion project and will most likely need some advice. So here it is from the begining! The main function will be for my band to tour California and beyond. However, there will most likely be a lot of camping trips hosted by this thing, so I miiiight end up putting in some other items more catered towards living than touring.

It is a 1996 Ford E-350 with a 7.3L Turbo Diesel, has 235,000 miles on it. I bought it about a month ago and was told that the school district was still using it up until October. Has brand new tires and brakes and seems to be in good working order. I first drove it from about 3 hours north of here to pick her up, that went very well. I then drove about an hour to get her painted, which turned out nice I think. However, on the way back I broke down in traffic. The engine lost power and cut out while driving 65mpg during rush hour... not that fun. After a tow and some shady mechanics I was told that the problem was not only a fuel leak (which I noticed as the tow truck picked her up) but also a bad Camshaft Position Sensor. They definitely took advantage of me being out of town and in need of help, but apparently fixed these problems. On my way back from the shop, she broke down again. Same problem. A very friendly tow truck driver helped me get it started by pumping the gas and cranking it at the same time. When it starts, it sounds/runs great. However from time to time it will shut down.

I managed to get home and after some research decided to replace that cam sensor again. Apparently the sensor can be bad from the factory if it isn't OEM. Now I am going to drive it around as much as possible to see if there is still the same problem. Any ideas on what else I can look for? I will post more pictures including some interior picks soon.

I paid $3500 for the bus. Any opinions on how good of a deal I got? I have been thinking of doing the bus thing for a long time now and finally pulled the trigger.
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Old 02-20-2015, 07:26 PM   #2
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Old 02-20-2015, 08:28 PM   #3
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Since you asked-
I guess it depends on the area. To me 3500 sounds a bit steep for price. But no need to worry. You got what looks like a solid bus. Get It sorted out mechanically before going too far with conversions would be my advice.
The 7.3 has a good reputation. That would have been my choice of engines. You should be able to find a ton of info as well as qualified mechanics who won't rip you off.
I hate breaking down, that sucks!
Diesel shops can be pretty price gougey to travelers. Especially if they don't have lots of grease under their nails. It all just depends, though.
The good thing is that you have a BEAUTIFUL bus and you got home safely.
The rest of the headaches from there on are just part of bus life.
Welcome aboard.
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Old 02-20-2015, 09:22 PM   #4
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Everything in an engine, whether gas or diesel, is connected. The camshaft and crankshaft rely on one another for the engine to work. Since the engine is cutting out and the camshaft censor is fine, then it's most likely a belt timing issue, which means the cam and/or crankshaft's timing isn't as it should be. This will most likely require either a retiming of both shafts(which requires a rebuild, worst case scenario), a slight adjustment to the belts, or it could just be a fault in the wiring to the censor.
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Old 02-20-2015, 09:49 PM   #5
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Engine: 7.3L Turbo Diesel
Is there anything I can check for or test to narrow down the problem? I'd love to do some preliminary work before taking it to a mechanic... Although it's looking like that needs to happen.
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Old 02-20-2015, 09:57 PM   #6
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Here are some more shots from today. I just removed some seats, took off the stop sign and removed all flashing red lights since I'm told that is needed for registering in California. Off to the DMV on Monday.
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Old 02-20-2015, 10:16 PM   #7
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What are some things that people have done to keep the passenger door/hydraulic system locked? I can reach in and pop that emergency lever pretty easy. I was thinking about just going to home depot and bolting on a standard fence type latch.
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Old 02-20-2015, 11:29 PM   #8
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engine

On the engine stopping I would go over to one of the Ford diesel forums
and search for any pattern failures on that engine for that year, it could be
a control module or maybe poor oil pressure. This depends on the type of
injection system you have on the motor, the later models used a separate
oil pressure system to operate the injectors and some times if the oil got
to thick it would affect the firing of the injectors. If you have a wire connector at the top of the valve covers that goes to the interior of the valve cover then you have the electronic controlled engine with the auxiliary oil
pressure system. The wires where they go into the valve covers are also
notorious for shorting out and breaking down. Check out the ford diesel forums and get a good idea of what they say for common failures and then
you can take it to the mechanic better prepared to understand what they are
doing to your rig and also request the old parts be returned to you as well.
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Old 02-21-2015, 08:41 AM   #9
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I'm so so sorry you have a Ford.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Veganvegabond View Post
Since the engine is cutting out and the camshaft censor is fine, then it's most likely a belt timing issue,
Do ford diesel engines really use a timing belt?

A Cummins the timing is set in the gear train in the front of the injection pump.

Nat
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Old 02-21-2015, 08:50 AM   #10
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Timing belt??? Huh? None here. Not even a timing chain-its gear to gear.
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Old 02-21-2015, 08:59 AM   #11
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I have had a NAPA CPS be bad out of the box-just recently. They are known to go bad. You can change it yourself in 10 minutes with just a 10mm wrench.
First thing I'd do is change the fuel filter-another doable DYI job.
Nothing wrong with the 7.3-you're just dealing with something that someone stop servicing because they were getting rid of it. At 235k miles (which is about what mine had on it when I got it) its time to check out a few things. Glow plugs-UVC (under valve cover) harness are a couple of others. www.dieselstop.com is a real good forum for the 7.3s.
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Old 02-21-2015, 09:41 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sdwarf36 View Post
Timing belt??? Huh? None here. Not even a timing chain-its gear to gear.
That's what I figured, but asked vs checking on Google.

Nat
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Old 02-21-2015, 11:12 AM   #13
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Engine: 7.3L Turbo Diesel
Thank you Thank you! All of this is great info, that is exactly why I joined this forum. I will research this weekend and see if I can't get a better grasp on the situation. I drove it all last night for about 3 hours up and down hills, stop and go around town and some higher speed straight aways. All with no sputters or shut downs, it seems to run great so far. I hope this is just a minor fix. I might be taking her up to San Francisco today (2 hours away) for a long test run.

I wasn't too happy to get a Ford either... But sometimes they find you. From what I read, these are reliable engines so I hope it isn't a money pit, I do have limits.
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Old 02-21-2015, 11:42 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wonderwander View Post
Thank you Thank you! All of this is great info, that is exactly why I joined this forum. I will research this weekend and see if I can't get a better grasp on the situation. I drove it all last night for about 3 hours up and down hills, stop and go around town and some higher speed straight aways. All with no sputters or shut downs, it seems to run great so far. I hope this is just a minor fix. I might be taking her up to San Francisco today (2 hours away) for a long test run.

I wasn't too happy to get a Ford either... But sometimes they find you. From what I read, these are reliable engines so I hope it isn't a money pit, I do have limits.
I know lots of guys who use vans for work, and ALL of them say a ford is a much better chassis and drivetrain than a GM.
My buddy's nursery runs all Ford e350's and they go hundreds of thousands of miles under quite a bit of abuse.
I know stealth campers who do three thousand mile trips across the country all the time in their Ford.
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Old 02-21-2015, 12:50 PM   #15
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Engine: 7.3L Turbo Diesel
Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I know lots of guys who use vans for work, and ALL of them say a ford is a much better chassis and drivetrain than a GM.
My buddy's nursery runs all Ford e350's and they go hundreds of thousands of miles under quite a bit of abuse.
I know stealth campers who do three thousand mile trips across the country all the time in their Ford.

This just made me feel a lot better. I have driven from coast to coast 15 times in the last 5 years and would love to make this a long distance driver. I'm planning on driving up to Vancouver in April so that will be the first big trip, hopefully everything is good to go for then.
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Old 02-21-2015, 04:58 PM   #16
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When I first picked up my E-450 it would lose power for a little while and pump out lots of white smoke. Turned out it was a partially plugged fuel filter.

You have a filter in the fuel bowl up behind the air filter assembly and two fuel strainers in the fuel pickup in the fuel tank. Now is a good time to make sure both are clean. To get at the fuel pickup you'll need the Ford quick disconnect tools which are available at most all parts stores and aren't very expensive.
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Old 02-24-2015, 05:49 PM   #17
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Year: 1996
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Chassis: Ford E-350
Engine: 7.3L Turbo Diesel
Engine trouble update:

I drove the bus all around town for a few hours with no trouble at all. I decided to take it on a longer drive so I got back on the highway and drove 10 miles north. This drive has some steep hills and was the first time I took the bus above 40 mph since I got it home. Towards the end of the drive, the engine lost power and I had to pull over. Once I put it in park, the engine was shuddering like it wanted to cut out. I gave it some gas for a bit and the engine leveled out again. After some time I was able to drive a few more miles before the same thing happened. I decided to take your advice and change the fuel filter, which I will do tonight.
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Old 02-24-2015, 08:44 PM   #18
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See my Short Bus posting. I finished it a year ago and eventually sold it but have lots of pictures. It turned out really nice. Very comfortable to camp in but a little noisy to travel in. Can't help you much on the engine issues - best to take it to a qualified Ford mechanic and bite the bullet.

Regarding the interior, the most complicated issue I had was the wiring. Along each wall at the top is a channel with a big wiring harness. Some of it is used, some not. It took a lot of sorting and headache to get it working properly with all the new lighting I added. I removed the big warning lights on front and back and filled the holes. In retrospect I would leave them and life would be simpler. I learned a great deal in the process, especially when it came to running gas lines and plumbing in my water system. Hope you have the skills or someone to help who does, and have a hardware store nearby....

good luck
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Old 02-25-2015, 06:38 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I know lots of guys who use vans for work, and ALL of them say a ford is a much better chassis and drivetrain than a GM.
My buddy's nursery runs all Ford e350's and they go hundreds of thousands of miles under quite a bit of abuse.
I know stealth campers who do three thousand mile trips across the country all the time in their Ford.
Not positive but I was told that the GM vans/bus are unibody and not full framed like Fords.
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Old 02-25-2015, 10:00 AM   #20
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I don't want to turn this into a ford vs chevy vs dodge thread.

Fords are cheaper than any other make. This is the single biggest reason why there are more of them on the road than any other manufacture.

What I don't like.

Parts changed four times in one model year. I had to carry the VIN just to get the right parts.

Lack of interchangeability. This is everything from engines to axles. Chevy and dodge stayed the same, ford never did.

The worst gas mileage in the truck world.

The most sad Diesel engines on the road. They only had one half decent diesel engine to date, and it still sucked to work on vs the Cummins. Diesel engines should be inline 6, not a V8.

Nat
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