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Old 02-17-2018, 06:38 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Cutaway vs conventional shortie

Hey yall,

I'm new here, and my GF and I are about to make the dive into bus living. The current plan is to take her cross-country for a few months each summer.

The one thing I can't decide between is a cutaway (van front) vs conventional (bus front) shortie. I'm looking at 5-6 windows. From what I've read so far, a cutaway tends to be more readily repairable (more common parts), and lower to the ground. A conventional is a bit higher up, and less easily repaired.

Are there bigger things I am missing? We are pretty easy-going and are used to living out of our hatchback, so things like space and height probably aren't huge issues for us. I like the look of a conventional better, but then again I don't want to get stranded in the middle of the Yukon with no recourse.

Am I over-thinking this?

PS I am looking at a 2006 Freightliner Thomas (Mercedes diesel engine) w/ 140k miles

Thank you!
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Old 02-17-2018, 06:47 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by darkrider007 View Post
Hey yall,

I'm new here, and my GF and I are about to make the dive into bus living. The current plan is to take her cross-country for a few months each summer.

The one thing I can't decide between is a cutaway (van front) vs conventional (bus front) shortie. I'm looking at 5-6 windows. From what I've read so far, a cutaway tends to be more readily repairable (more common parts), and lower to the ground. A conventional is a bit higher up, and less easily repaired.

Are there bigger things I am missing? We are pretty easy-going and are used to living out of our hatchback, so things like space and height probably aren't huge issues for us. I like the look of a conventional better, but then again I don't want to get stranded in the middle of the Yukon with no recourse.

Am I over-thinking this?

PS I am looking at a 2006 Freightliner Thomas (Mercedes diesel engine) w/ 140k miles

Thank you!
A new member
A couple of points.

You readily identified the advantages of a van chassis. However, if you want the legendary strength of a bus chassis, you need to buy a bus.

2006 is too new, and that Mercedes engine is awesome until it isn't. Post 2004, most diesels were so loaded with emissions controls that they lost much of their reliability.

I would wonder why such an expensive vehicle is being sold at only 12 years old.
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Old 02-17-2018, 07:10 PM   #3
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Cutaway vans will be Type A buses, they're typically much lighter and van spec engines, transmissions, and gearing. A lot of Type A buses will cruise at 70 on the highway. A type B bus will have the medium duty truck versions of those items and generally be tuned more conservatively and geared more for around town use.

The Seven Different School Bus Types - American Bus Sales
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Old 02-17-2018, 07:23 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
A couple of points.

You readily identified the advantages of a van chassis. However, if you want the legendary strength of a bus chassis, you need to buy a bus.

2006 is too new, and that Mercedes engine is awesome until it isn't. Post 2004, most diesels were so loaded with emissions controls that they lost much of their reliability.

I would wonder why such an expensive vehicle is being sold at only 12 years old.
Thanks - it sounds like something 2004 and under would be a better call. Also, are you saying that Mercedes engine has been known to have problems?
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Old 02-17-2018, 07:25 PM   #5
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If you're in the US (fill out your profile!) Mercedes will be more expensive to obtain parts and more difficult to find qualified mechanics. They're really good until they aren't.
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Old 02-17-2018, 08:06 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
A couple of points.

You readily identified the advantages of a van chassis. However, if you want the legendary strength of a bus chassis, you need to buy a bus.

2006 is too new, and that Mercedes engine is awesome until it isn't. Post 2004, most diesels were so loaded with emissions controls that they lost much of their reliability.

I would wonder why such an expensive vehicle is being sold at only 12 years old.
This might be a dumb question, but what sort of practical advantage would the chassis strength of a bus really give me? (all I can think of is a rollover event)

Also, in terms of pure reliability and longevity, are cutaway diesels (ie, an 2002 E350 7.3L) typically comparable to a bus? Ie, would 250k on a bus diesel vs 250k on a van diesel be of comparable values? Sorry for all the questions

edit: Profile updated, thanks!
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Old 02-17-2018, 08:13 PM   #7
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Hello

I have a cutaway van short bus and Im happy with it. I think overall it will be cheaper to own and operate than a real short bus.
Having said that, if I had gone to look at it and there would have been a real short bus there Id have bought it instead. I like the look better than the van but thats just me. Good luck on your adventures.
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Old 02-17-2018, 08:19 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darkrider007 View Post
This might be a dumb question, but what sort of practical advantage would the chassis strength of a bus really give me? (all I can think of is a rollover event)

Also, in terms of pure reliability and longevity, are cutaway diesels (ie, an 2002 E350 7.3L) typically comparable to a bus? Ie, would 250k on a bus diesel vs 250k on a van diesel be of comparable values? Sorry for all the questions

edit: Profile updated, thanks!
The strength of your build out could be compromised if inside a twisting shell. The stronger the chassis, the more secure your inside stays. Handling performance is upgraded with a stiffer chassis,
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Old 02-17-2018, 09:55 PM   #9
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The strength difference between a cutaway and a dognose shorty is comparable to the difference between the frame of a car and the frame of a 1 ton pickup truck. The cutaway will drive more like a regular vehicle because it is on a van frame. The dognose shorty will drive like a pickup truck on steroids.

It's always your choice but I'd suggest a 9 window FE or dognose for two people. That way you don't have to use your bed for a couch.
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Old 02-17-2018, 10:14 PM   #10
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Anytime you are talking about a Type 'A' bus built on a van/cut-away chassis you are talking about either a Ford E-350/450 or a Chevy/GMC G3500/4500 chassis. There are, for all practical purposes a 1-ton pickup chassis with 1-ton pickup running gear. The maximum GVWR is going to be 14,000 and some are as low as 12,000.

Type 'C' conventional buses built on IC (International), Blue Bird (Volvo), or Freightliner chassis are medium duty trucks with GVWR usually starting at 16,000.

What do the differences mean to you as a bus convertor?

First, almost every Type 'A' bus has more bus up on top than there is truck underneath. You will find the payload capacity on most Type 'A' buses is going to be less than 3,000 lbs. after you take out all of the seats. By the time you build out your kitchen, bathroom, sleeping quarters, plumping, HVAC and then fill it up with you, your GF, and all of your junk and plunder you will discover you will be pretty much up against the max GVWR of your bus. I think you will find the smallest Type 'C' bus will have more than 4,000 lbs. payload capacity before you take out the seats.

Second, since a Type 'A' bus is still basically a 1-ton truck that is working at 100% of capacity all the time you will discover tires don't wear as well, brakes wear out fairly quickly, and working on the engine is a royal PITA. Most of the front of the engine is buried under plenums and hoses so you can't really see or reach anything from outside and removing the dog house to work on the back of the engine means you are having to reach up under the firewall to reach stuff. Since Type 'C' buses are basically medium duty trucks that are never working more than about 85% capacity stuff doesn't wear out nearly as often. Newer Type 'C' buses have tilt hoods that make access to the engine and all of the components of the engine fairly easy. With medium duty tires and brakes the tires go a lot fewer RPM's per mile so they will go many more miles before they wear out. And the brake surface area can be more than double the brake surface area of a Type 'A'.

Lastly, since the Type 'C' is built higher off the ground you will have much more ground clearance if you choose to leave the asphalt for any reason. The higher ground clearance also allows for attaching your mechanicals high enough up under the bus that hooking them or dragging them off on stuff much less likely.

If you choose wisely you should be able to find a Type 'C' bus of the size you want that will get similar fuel mileage as a Type 'A' bus, that will generally cost less to purchase, less cost to repair, and give you a whole lot more bang for the buck.

Good luck and happy trails to you!
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Old 02-17-2018, 10:19 PM   #11
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The Ford Powerstroke 7.3L and the International DT444 are the same engine. Some of the bolt-ons are different but the basic engines are identical.

The 7.3 in a van body is a PITA to work on.
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Old 02-17-2018, 10:26 PM   #12
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The Ford Powerstroke 7.3L and the International DT444 are the same engine. Some of the bolt-ons are different but the basic engines are identical.

The 7.3 in a van body is a PITA to work on.
I may be wrong, but as I understand it they are more like "cousins", with few interchangeable parts.
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Old 02-17-2018, 10:41 PM   #13
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I may be wrong, but as I understand it they are more like "cousins", with few interchangeable parts.
You may be thinking of the 7.3L IDI engine which only shared the 7.3L displacement and a few other parts. The DT444e and the 7.3L powertroke will likely use different PCM and other bolt-ons but the basic engines are the same.
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Old 02-17-2018, 10:49 PM   #14
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You may be thinking of the 7.3L IDI engine which only shared the 7.3L displacement and a few other parts. The DT444e and the 7.3L powertroke will likely use different PCM and other bolt-ons but the basic engines are the same.
'k, thanks
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Old 02-20-2018, 12:12 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
Anytime you are talking about a Type 'A' bus built on a van/cut-away chassis you are talking about either a Ford E-350/450 or a Chevy/GMC G3500/4500 chassis. There are, for all practical purposes a 1-ton pickup chassis with 1-ton pickup running gear. The maximum GVWR is going to be 14,000 and some are as low as 12,000.

Type 'C' conventional buses built on IC (International), Blue Bird (Volvo), or Freightliner chassis are medium duty trucks with GVWR usually starting at 16,000.

What do the differences mean to you as a bus convertor?

First, almost every Type 'A' bus has more bus up on top than there is truck underneath. You will find the payload capacity on most Type 'A' buses is going to be less than 3,000 lbs. after you take out all of the seats. By the time you build out your kitchen, bathroom, sleeping quarters, plumping, HVAC and then fill it up with you, your GF, and all of your junk and plunder you will discover you will be pretty much up against the max GVWR of your bus. I think you will find the smallest Type 'C' bus will have more than 4,000 lbs. payload capacity before you take out the seats.

Second, since a Type 'A' bus is still basically a 1-ton truck that is working at 100% of capacity all the time you will discover tires don't wear as well, brakes wear out fairly quickly, and working on the engine is a royal PITA. Most of the front of the engine is buried under plenums and hoses so you can't really see or reach anything from outside and removing the dog house to work on the back of the engine means you are having to reach up under the firewall to reach stuff. Since Type 'C' buses are basically medium duty trucks that are never working more than about 85% capacity stuff doesn't wear out nearly as often. Newer Type 'C' buses have tilt hoods that make access to the engine and all of the components of the engine fairly easy. With medium duty tires and brakes the tires go a lot fewer RPM's per mile so they will go many more miles before they wear out. And the brake surface area can be more than double the brake surface area of a Type 'A'.

Lastly, since the Type 'C' is built higher off the ground you will have much more ground clearance if you choose to leave the asphalt for any reason. The higher ground clearance also allows for attaching your mechanicals high enough up under the bus that hooking them or dragging them off on stuff much less likely.

If you choose wisely you should be able to find a Type 'C' bus of the size you want that will get similar fuel mileage as a Type 'A' bus, that will generally cost less to purchase, less cost to repair, and give you a whole lot more bang for the buck.

Good luck and happy trails to you!
Wow - what an amazing, informative intro into the community! Thank you all for these detailed decision points!

After considering all of the above info, we have decided to go with a conventional shortie instead of the cutaway van type. We were actually able to sit in a couple this past weekend, and further narrow down our list! Cheers,
Derek
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Old 02-20-2018, 12:20 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by darkrider007 View Post
Wow - what an amazing, informative intro into the community! Thank you all for these detailed decision points!

After considering all of the above info, we have decided to go with a conventional shortie instead of the cutaway van type. We were actually able to sit in a couple this past weekend, and further narrow down our list! Cheers,
Derek
As you try out buses there are some engines that are best to avoid.

The VT365/MaxxForce7 engine found in many smaller IC buses is a boat anchor. It was basically the same 6.0L/6.7L that Ford used in their light duty trucks and vans. There are some workarounds but it can get very expensive very quickly.

The M-B engines found in Thomas buses with Freightliner chassis can be very expensive to keep. The parts are very dear and finding anyone, even at a F-liner dealer, difficult at best. F-liner tends to treat buses as the ugly step-child. They also come in two flavors. One if you are lucky would be one of the ones that has never been a problem. The other is the one that is a garage queen. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they might be one way or another. I have seen fleets where buses with consecutive VIN's and all receive the same PM and drive on the same sort of routes have completely different outcomes.
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