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Old 08-04-2015, 03:32 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Montreal, Canada
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Thumbs up Clueless enthusiast needs help

Hi Everyone!

I've been lurking through the forums for a little while and thought I might as well start my own thread now.

As the tittle says, I'm clueless. This is gonna be my first vehicle whatsoever. I'm planning to convert the minibus as a minimalist camper van to roam Canada and the US with my wife and son (2 y.o.) for about a year. Afterwards, it's gonna be used occasionally as a camper van for camping trip and such.

I've been searching through the forums in order to have an idea of what to aim for and what to avoid. Btw, I'm from Eastern Canada (Quebec) and what seems to be most readily available around here are Ford E350/E450 and GMC from the late 90's/early 2000's with ~155 000-190 000 miles on them.

Now, here's what I understood so far :
  • In the GMC, the engines are more reliable after 2000 (something about a partnership with Detroit Diesel before that )
  • In the Ford, aiming between 1995 and 2002 would get me the 7.3L Powerstroke, which is a very good engine.
  • For good highway driving, I should really aim for a turbocharged engine
  • There seems to be something about gear ratio that's better for highway. I didn't understand much about that.
  • Stay away from starcraft (also known as starcrap)
  • Shuttle bus are not as reliable as school bus. Not sure why.
  • I don't understand much about chassis brand. Any comments are welcome.
  • Some of the buses come with the lift for wheelchair still working. Is it worth taking one of those and selling the lift back or not?

Any comments or suggestions will be welcome! It seems that shuttle bus are not liked as much as school bus. The main advantage I see in them is that they already have seats with seat belts. Thus, I could just remove the seats I don't want and keep 2-3, wile in the school bus I'd have to buy seats and put them in.

Also, if anyone knowledgeable could tell me what engine can be expected in what brand at what time... AND which ones I should be aiming for. That would be most appreciated!

Finally, does anyone can suggest a good book to learn the basics of taking care of a diesel engine? (Diesel engine for dummies maybe?)

Hope you'll be able to help me out!

Math
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Old 08-04-2015, 09:11 PM   #2
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Join Date: Jul 2015
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I should probably not give away my line on cool auctions, but check it out: Accueil - Disposition des biens

There is also a federal gov. version of this.

The deals look seriously good considering most of the buses I saw where still registered at time of the auction (meaning they had been inspected in the last year!).

For the gearing ratios I'll refer you to "how stuff works" on transmission and gear ratios. They do a better job at explaining what is what. Basically, the higher the final ratio in the diff, the more power you make but the higher the rpms on the highway. It's a trade off between hill climbing (power) and flat driving (fuel economy).

Steer clear of city buses (like those special needs ones). They were made to ferry people around town so theire gearing is most probably aimed at power (getting off the start reasonably quick) and not highway fuel economy. At all those system for the lifts... I'd rather find a simple bus than a complicated one!! (IMO)

That's all I learned from lurking here for a while! good lcuk, and contact me if you want to meet up, I'm the same area as you!
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Old 08-04-2015, 09:43 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Math View Post
  • In the Ford, aiming between 1995 and 2002 would get me the 7.3L Powerstroke, which is a very good engine.
  • For good highway driving, I should really aim for a turbocharged engine

All 7.3l Powerstrokes have a turbocharger. Older 7.3l IDIs won't likely have one.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Math View Post
  • Shuttle bus are not as reliable as school bus. Not sure why.
I don't know that they're less reliable, it's just that when it does come time to fix them you may be in worse shape than with a proper medium-duty chassis school bus. The engine compartments are usually cramped; the wiring is less accessible; there's that pesky dashboard prisoning all sorts of fans, heater cores, gauges behind it...

Buses with the larger chassis tend to have more room to climb around in the engine bay; they're easier to get under; can carry more weight; and are generally built sturdier (all steel).

The one positive note about the shuttle buses is that they are probably a nicer ride out of the gate. School buses can be a bit harsh, unless you find one with air-ride.
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Old 08-04-2015, 10:36 PM   #4
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Shuttle buses come with highway gearing, many school buses are only good to 55mph or so.
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Old 08-07-2015, 10:47 AM   #5
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Thanks a lot for your replies!

It helped me out already. You mentioned the gear ratio for highway max speed. How can I know that before buying the bus?

I'm also reading through here that you need to redo the floor, insulate the bus, etc. If we're going minimalist, we mostly want a "metal tent", do we actually need to go through all that? We're not planning on either using A/C or heater in there...

We'll also need new seats for the baby seat and for my wife. Is it easy to find seats with seatbelts and can you just fasten them in the holes left by the bus seats?
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Old 08-07-2015, 04:11 PM   #6
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A bus with no insulation will be like sitting in your car.
No heat or air will depend on where you park
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Old 08-09-2015, 02:21 PM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Ok!

I might have found something worth buying!

It is a 2000 Ford E350, with a 7.3L (turbo diesel). It has ~197 000 km on it (~122 000 miles) and goes for 1800$.

Does anyone has something to say against that engine? Also, does someone knowledgeable can tell me if this is gonna be a good bus fort highway driving?

Still looking through the steps of a conversion. I was wondering, how to you take off the side panels in order to change the insulation in there?

Also, I don't mind ripping off the floor, using rustolem, vapor barrier, insulation, subfloor then flooring... But I'd REALLY like to understand what each of these steps do. What would happen if you skipped the vapor barrier or insulation?

Finally, since I'm travelling with my wife and 2 y.o., I'll need to add two others seats. Anyways has any experience with that? I can figure out how to fix the seats into the frame, but how do you do about the seat belts? I guess you're not all alone in your buses... How did you guys do?

Thanks a lot for the help and the awesome community!
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Old 08-09-2015, 04:18 PM   #8
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Join Date: May 2010
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Coachwork: Eldorado Aerotech 24'
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Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 19
The 1999 - 2003 7.3L Powerstrokes are a desirable engine. Good power, decent fuel mileage and great parts availability from most any auto parts store.

http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f34/th...sel-10607.html
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Old 08-09-2015, 08:45 PM   #9
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Thank you very VERY much roach for the link to the 7.3L powerstroke thread. I will definitely write down much of the information in that thread to bring on the road with me!
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Old 08-09-2015, 09:07 PM   #10
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Join Date: May 2010
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Posts: 1,927
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Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 19
'Twas my pleasure

Are you looking at a shortie school bus or a shuttle bus?
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Old 08-10-2015, 10:45 AM   #11
Mini-Skoolie
 
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For the moment i'm mostly looking at shorty school buses. They seem more affordable and readily available in my area.

Do you have any suggestions or comment on either? I'm here to learn!

I'm under the impression that the short school bus would be easier to strip down then the shuttle bus and the parts might be more readily available. That's mostly why I'm leaning this way right now. (And the fact that they seem to be cheaper and more abundant around here! )
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Old 08-10-2015, 11:29 AM   #12
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Any given short skoolie will be much better constructed than any van conversion. The buses were designed from the gound up to do what they do. Van conversions are "chop jobs" no matter how you look at it. The vans all seem to also share a lot of electrical issues...make that "nightmares" in many cases.

Personally, Id look for a short skoolie with a diesel engine and newer gen tranny (anything AFTER the Allison 543).

Just my dos centavos.
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Old 08-10-2015, 12:14 PM   #13
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Just to make sure I'm getting things right, what do you mean when you talk about short skoolie vs. van conversion.

Is a E350 short school bus a van conversion (front econoline/back school bus) or not?

I see some International that look like smaller, full size, school buses. Are these the "short skoolie"?
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Old 08-10-2015, 12:30 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Math View Post
Just to make sure I'm getting things right, what do you mean when you talk about short skoolie vs. van conversion.

Is a E350 short school bus a van conversion (front econoline/back school bus) or not?

I see some International that look like smaller, full size, school buses. Are these the "short skoolie"?
Yeh, it's pretty easy to tell. If the front of the vehicle looks like a van, it's a van conversion, van coach or shuttle coach. If the front of the vehicle looks like a full-sized bus, it's built on a typical school bus chassis.

Examples

Van conversion:





School bus chassis shortie:


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Old 08-10-2015, 02:59 PM   #15
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Another quick clue are the wheels. Look at the pix above from Jazty. Real buses have much heavier axles and the rims & tires will look more like a big rig arrangement. Vans typically run smaller, ordinary van or pickup truck axles, rims & tires.
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Old 08-10-2015, 03:03 PM   #16
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Thanks a lot! This clears it up for me!

Unfortunately, as I just wrote in MrBlah's thread, I'm not sure I'll be going the skoolie way.

I just contacted the branch of government regulating transportation (SAAQ here) and they told me that I can either register the minibus as a personally owned minibus, which means a special driver permit, mechanical inspection every 6 months and more expensive matriculation. Otherwise, I can do a full RV conversion (I was more going the campervan way), but here they ask for quite a bit :
  • Full kitchen : stove, fridge, counter, sink and table
  • Sleeping area
  • Complete washroom : shower or bath, fixed toilet with evacuation system
  • Electric system separated from the bus system
  • Propane system with certificate of proper installation
  • Drinkable water tank
  • Grey water tank
  • Water-heater (seriously?!)
  • Heating system independent from the bus system
  • At least two seats (with seatbelts)
  • At least as many seats (with seatbelts) as the sleeping capacity (max. 9)

Also, seats and seat belts must be bought new. Here's the reference for posterity (Heavy Vehicles Converted into Motor Homes | Road Safety | SAAQ).

Anyways, with that extensive list, I'm not sure I'll be going this way in Quebec. I'll have a quick look to see what's the legislation in Ontario and see if it wouldn't be easier over there...

Thanks a lot for the information so far! It might not get used, but it still really helped me learn a lot!
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Old 08-10-2015, 03:41 PM   #17
Bus Crazy
 
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Chassis: B3800 Short bus
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Math View Post
Anyways, with that extensive list, I'm not sure I'll be going this way in Quebec. I'll have a quick look to see what's the legislation in Ontario and see if it wouldn't be easier over there..
It sure is.. MUCH easier.

Check out these threads:
http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f18/lf...ada-10042.html
http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f10/co...-rv-10620.html
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Old 08-11-2015, 08:03 PM   #18
Mini-Skoolie
 
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It does seem a lot easier!

I've been digging blog and newspaper stories about converting a bus in Quebec and it does seems like an ordeal.

I think I'll write a post in the "legal" sub-forum for reference, but otherwise, I think this is it for me and the skoolie way... at least for the moment!

I don't "crave" the skoolie itself. Mostly, I wanted a campervan big enough for a family of three to be comfortable. Maybe eventually I'll come back to this project, but for the moment being, I'm more eager about travelling and spending time with the family then fighting a bureaucratic war...
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