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Old 05-17-2020, 07:32 PM   #1
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Question deciding between 2005 Thomas and 2006 Collins

I've been recommended a mechanic who will help me evaluate both buses next weekend. I've been googling and just want to make sure I'm not missing any common issues and will be able to make the best decision.

some background:
After years of wanting to do a conversion project I'm finally ready to pull the trigger and be able to roadtrip with my dog in style. With the current covid situation I don't want to wait any longer, and since I won't be traveling anytime soon this summer seems like the right time to start working on a lot of those tedious early tasks. I work in healthcare so I'm very fortunate that I haven't been out of work and will be able to buy necessary supplies.

I am fairly limited in my choices since I live in rural, coastal Alaska. I had debated a lot about whether or not I wanted to spend (a lot) more money finding and transporting one from the mainland or lower 48. One from mainland Alaska will probably actually have more rust problems (these look fairly decent underneath) and would be more expensive. Importing one from outside Alaska is going to be a big pain, expensive, and come with no guarantees. So after asking around there are 2 very similar buses here for sale that seem like good prospects.

They are both 5 window Ford e450s (I know this engine is a stinker but it's what I've got to work with). I really like the size for being easier to drive, maneuver, park, etc and that they don't require a CDL.
Both were retired from the local school system relatively recently.
The first is a Collins build, 2006 with 113k miles, that has only been driven a few times since the owner bought it from the schools. He bought it with the intention of it being his food truck 2.0, but then he got a second or third opinion on his original food truck and got it's issues fixed way cheaper than originally quoted. So he's had the bus sitting around for months. He says that the last time he started it, it seemed to be running rough and is honest that he doesn't know whether that's from sitting all winter or if there's something else wrong with it.

The second is a 2005 Thomas build with 81k miles that was used by a church for kids activities after being retired. The church says it has been idling rough the last couple of starts and they haven't used it this year so it's just been sitting. The guy I've been in contact with thinks it may need new injectors.

So assuming the are both in relatively similar condition under the hood, is there anything I should keep in mind when deciding which one to buy, or to watch for while working on and driving it?

thanks in advance from a longtime lurker here that finally made an account!
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Old 05-17-2020, 07:37 PM   #2
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Lots of people on this site with more knowledge than me...
If you can, avoid anything that requires DEF fluid.
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Old 05-17-2020, 07:54 PM   #3
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Unless they're gas, I would pass, before the repair shop breaks it off in your a--!

Seriously, the VT365 / 6.0 PowerStroke diesel is to be avoided. Don't buy any vehicle so equipped (essentially any diesel Ford built from 03-up, and later Navistars). It is a POS engine, sadly a sign of the years to come for Navistar, they honestly have yet to build a reliable emission-equipped engine. IMO, if you're wanting a smaller van-based chassis, avoid diesels altogether. I'm not impressed with the DuraMax either. Better off with a gasser going that route, especially if you live in Alaska. I'm surprised anyone would own a diesel there, I'm not sure I would.

If a PowerStroke 6.0 is idling rough, there's no good reason for it. My advice, bite the bullet, have a gasser or different diesel bus shipped from the mainland, it will STILL be cheaper and less headache than repairing and / or rebuilding a PowerJoke 6.0.

If you think shipping a bus is expensive, wait until you have to start shipping parts for a problem engine and waiting for them to arrive. The 6.0 is one of many reasons FORD stands for:

Found On Road Dead
Fix Or Repair Daily
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Old 05-17-2020, 11:11 PM   #4
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correction: one is a 7.3!

thanks guys! Got the VINs for both and the church gave me the wrong year, according to the sticker inside it and the VIN decoder their bus is actually a 2003 with the 7.3 engine, which google tells me is MUCH better than the 6.0. So this seems promising, will wait to see what the diesel mechanic says when he checks it out. I also will hopefully be able to get the maintenance records, the fleet company the school district contracts with didn't provide them to the new buyers. There was a ford dealership here until a few months ago that had a good reputation (family owned, they just retired) so I'm hoping that the recalled parts were all replaced.
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Old 05-17-2020, 11:37 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jocelyn View Post
thanks guys! Got the VINs for both and the church gave me the wrong year, according to the sticker inside it and the VIN decoder their bus is actually a 2003 with the 7.3 engine, which google tells me is MUCH better than the 6.0. So this seems promising, will wait to see what the diesel mechanic says when he checks it out. I also will hopefully be able to get the maintenance records, the fleet company the school district contracts with didn't provide them to the new buyers. There was a ford dealership here until a few months ago that had a good reputation (family owned, they just retired) so I'm hoping that the recalled parts were all replaced.
No reason to let the church know what their bus actually has. Caveat venditor as the Romans used to say.
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Old 05-18-2020, 01:44 AM   #6
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Here is a thread on the 2003 Thomas Ford E450 7.3L .


https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f27/2...rty-21698.html


Here is a thread on the 2006 Collins Ford E450:


https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f27/2...uft-17091.html
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Old 05-18-2020, 04:21 AM   #7
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The 8th space in the VIN is the engine code.
The 10th space in the VIN is the year model.

The year model with this VIN system starts with 'A' in 1981...26 years later they started over again with 'A' as far as I know.

1981+22=2003 = V in 10th digit.
According to my sources, the VIN engine code for a 7.3 should be F for that year.

So, if it is really a 2003 7.3...

The 8th space should be F...
The 10th space should be V.

Disclaimer: I can't guarantee accuracy of my sources, and I am not a Ford guy.

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No reason to let the church know what their bus actually has. Caveat venditor as the Romans used to say.
Now, MG, I'm surprised at you. You say this as if no church has ever gypped anyone...

There is some language in these two songs and some more devoutly religious folks may be offended.... View with caution. Unfortunately, you really can't trust a church that has an 800 number with agents standing by to process your credit card... And that is who these two songs discuss.



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Old 05-20-2020, 01:02 AM   #8
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wow I don't know the last time I saw Suicidal Tendencies referenced!
That takes me back.

I visited the church bus after work and popped the hood. Verified that it's got a 7.3 powerstroke. Also verified that batteries are 100% dead, church is fine with me pulling the primary out and leaving it to charge overnight.

I am flummoxed by the design decision to put the second battery under the bus in a case not accessible from the side in an opening compartment.... what is the reason for making it such a pain to access????! I really hope that I can start it for the mechanic this weekend.
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Old 05-20-2020, 01:35 AM   #9
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Maybe there's an access compartment in the floor above it?
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Old 05-20-2020, 03:41 AM   #10
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Is the secondary hooked up to the primary? If so, charging just the primary will not help as the dead secondary will draw down the primary. If you disconnect the secodary before hooking the primary back up, then the primary *might* be enough toget it turning over provided it has a full charge.
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Old 05-20-2020, 10:19 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
Maybe there's an access compartment in the floor above it?
Maybe.... but looking online it seems like this is a really common placement for a secondary battery, at least in Fords. You have to go underneath and unscrew bolts to drop the battery's box to access it. Again... why??!


Quote:
Originally Posted by Native View Post
Is the secondary hooked up to the primary? If so, charging just the primary will not help as the dead secondary will draw down the primary. If you disconnect the secodary before hooking the primary back up, then the primary *might* be enough toget it turning over provided it has a full charge.
I didn't even think of this, thank you! They should be connected. Off to google again.
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:22 AM   #12
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I've got the primary battery charging slowly now. It was a real PITA to pull out due to an extremely tight fitting case/shelf thingy that fit into grooves along the bottom. I fought with it for about 30 minutes to get it loose from the casing and pull it out, but what a nice feeling of accomplishment when I finally did.

The wiring looks like the batteries are indeed connected together. Should I do the same thing with the secondary battery under the bus, or just put the primary back in and hook it to my rav4 for awhile to try to get some charging to the other battery?
I suspect both batteries may be trash at this point, but I haven't even bought this thing yet and am not going to buy new batteries for it yet. I just want it to be running and able to drive around a bit for the mechanic so he can let me know what it needs.

Fishing season is kicking off so diesel mechanics are quite busy; this is basically just an afterhours favor for me so I want to respect his time and do what I can beforehand.
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:57 AM   #13
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If you get a good charge on the primary, then you may get away with disconnecting the secondary. If you have the time and energy, pull out the secondary battery and chanrge it too.


With the battery tray pulled out, spray WD-40 or slicone spray to make the tray move easier when you put the battery back on it. My tray was so rusted that it too a huge effort (like you experienced) to get it pulled out. I then refurbished the compartment and rebuilt the tray. Mine had bearings that had rusted/worn away.
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Old 05-21-2020, 03:16 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jocelyn View Post
I am flummoxed by the design decision to put the second battery under the bus in a case not accessible from the side in an opening compartment.... what is the reason for making it such a pain to access????! I really hope that I can start it for the mechanic this weekend.
Quote:
Originally Posted by CHEESE_WAGON View Post
Maybe there's an access compartment in the floor above it?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jocelyn View Post
Maybe.... but looking online it seems like this is a really common placement for a secondary battery, at least in Fords. You have to go underneath and unscrew bolts to drop the battery's box to access it. Again... why??!
Because it's a Ford. And a Ford is, well... a Ford.
Ford Ad - Fords Make Me Poop.jpg
Ford Ad - Your Parents Owned A Ford Too.jpg
Other than that...
I Got Nothin Silent Bob.jpeg
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Old 05-21-2020, 04:33 AM   #15
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If it has the 6.0L run away as fast as you can. Even if they are willing to give it to you for free it will still cost too much for you.


The 7.3L with the turbo is not a bad engine but the way in which it is shoehorned into the E-series body/frame it makes working on them difficult at best and impossible at the worst. Most repairs will cost 2x more than the same repairs done on a pickup or medium duty truck with the same engine.


Another problem with the Ford chassis is the automatic transmissions are made of spun sugar. Behind the diesel engines they tend to cook themselves and then self destruct on a regular basis. I owned three E-350 buses with the 7.3L diesel and the E4OD transmission. In three years I put seven transmissions into those three buses. The furthest I got was 42,000 miles and the least was 12,000 miles. The follow on 4R100 and 5R110W are better transmissions but they still are not nearly as stout as they need to be in a bus that has a GVWR of 14,000.



If it is running rough it could be a combination of things. But if it is anything other than a filter that has gotten gummed up after sitting for a while it is not going to be cheap. The Powerstroke is a direct injection electronically controlled engine. It uses high pressure engine lube oil to operate the fuel injectors. If the engine oil gets dirty it will cause the injectors to misfire. If the injectors misfire enough it will require replacing the injectors. If it has had injectors worked on it is possible the injectors were replaced in the wrong holes. Certain ones have to go back into specific cylinders as they "time" the engine. If they don't go in the correct hole it will still try to "time" the engine but it will never smooth out.
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Old 05-21-2020, 11:45 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Native View Post
If you get a good charge on the primary, then you may get away with disconnecting the secondary. If you have the time and energy, pull out the secondary battery and chanrge it too.


With the battery tray pulled out, spray WD-40 or slicone spray to make the tray move easier when you put the battery back on it. My tray was so rusted that it too a huge effort (like you experienced) to get it pulled out. I then refurbished the compartment and rebuilt the tray. Mine had bearings that had rusted/worn away.
I will definitely put some WD40 on that tray before putting it back in, thank you!

Based on the condition of the primary, I don't have much hope of getting the secondary out of it's case underneath without help.
What would be more efficient to get it charged without taking it out of the box:
-using jumper cables from my rav4 (v6) to the primary once it's back in
-plugging the charger into the rav's power outlet and being able to set how fast/slow it charges the battery (if this is a totally moronic idea please let me know!!)
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Old 05-21-2020, 12:01 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
If it is running rough it could be a combination of things. But if it is anything other than a filter that has gotten gummed up after sitting for a while it is not going to be cheap. The Powerstroke is a direct injection electronically controlled engine. It uses high pressure engine lube oil to operate the fuel injectors. If the engine oil gets dirty it will cause the injectors to misfire. If the injectors misfire enough it will require replacing the injectors. If it has had injectors worked on it is possible the injectors were replaced in the wrong holes. Certain ones have to go back into specific cylinders as they "time" the engine. If they don't go in the correct hole it will still try to "time" the engine but it will never smooth out.
It's just been sitting around for several months including over a heavy winter. I'm assuming that it will need new filters, new injector o-rings at least (I didn't know that the injectors were slightly different, good to know!), and that whatever fuel, oil and other fluids in there are likely gummy, dirty junk. I know it will need a lot of servicing, I'm hoping that it doesn't need major repairs cause I'd have to pass if that was the case.

Ironically the one for sale with the 6.0 engine started up easily and was running fine when I met the owner over the weekend, exhaust totally clear no smell or visual smoke. He says he hasn't driven it since last Fall but would start it and let it run every month or 2 for a few minutes.
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:06 PM   #18
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Lots of people on this site with more knowledge than me...
If you can, avoid anything that requires DEF fluid.
They donít use DEF I donít think
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:14 PM   #19
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If not for engine problems I think Iíd choose the Collins for its straight walls and flatter roof. It make wall construction and solar installation a little easier/better. I have an 07 Thomas and that 6 degree wall bender the window is a bit of a bugger when making wall panels. I made a template, but itís still a big pain.

I havenít worked on the Collins bus body to figure out where under body utilities fit, so keep that in mind. The under body space is an important, often overlooked aspect of bus conversion, especially on a shorty.

BTW, you donít mention bus body length
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Old 05-21-2020, 02:29 PM   #20
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As far as charging goes, the batteries don't need to be out of the vehicle to charge. If you can get cables onto one battery, it will charge the other battery. If you can get a charger on the main battery with it in place for a few hours, that's as good as the batteries will get. Since you already have it out, if the main battery takes a charge well, put it back in and see if you can disconnect the second battery where it sits. Trying to start with one decent battery is better than trying to start with one decent battery and one dead battery. Also, just disconnect the negative terminal on the secondary battery, that'll eliminate possible sparking on the electrical system but still take it out of the crcuit. If it's only been sitting for 6 months, the fuel shouldn't be a problem, if it's been a year or two, it could be a problem, but not likely. Diesel is already a dirty fuel, in the proper environment it can sit for 15 years and be just fine.
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