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Old 02-22-2024, 08:24 PM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Feb 2024
Posts: 1
Finding the right school bus

Hi Iíve been looking into school buses for conversions for many months now and I still havenít found what Iím looking for or maybe I donít know what Iím looking for.

I will do a full conversion on the bus primarily used for outdoor activities, biking skiing surfing. I would need it to be able to handle mountains highways so I can go up to the ski mountain and I will most likely get some snow tires for it. Iím looking for a 5-7 window school bus. Anything under 5 window is too small and pretty much anything over 30 feet seems too big. The ceiling hight would need to be high around 6í5 or 6í6 because Iím 6í1 and with a floor and ceiling I want to be able to comfortably stand ideally without doing a roof raise. I would like if it has a handicap door somewhere on it but itís not 100% necessary.

From what Iíve seen the Cummins 5.9 will be my best shot for an engine because I need it to start when itís cold. (Below freezing) I donít love the idea of not being able to go faster than 55 on highway as well as only getting 5 mpg so if itís possible to have relatively good mpg for bus. Also obv disel. I heard the 7.3 v8 wonít start in cold and isnít super reliable. Iíve seen LOTS of 6.0s on market but I heard they are allllll badddd. I also donít really want anything over 200 thousand miles because I feel like they
Get much more likely to break around then. Please let me know what you think on the engine type and if my info is wrong or right or what not. All insight is appreciated.

Also what do you think I should be paying for a bus like this Iíve been looking all over Facebook marketplace, Craigslist go deals and allsurplus. Everywhere else didnít have like any buses. I live in Washington on west coast and am willing to go a state over to get a bus. Maybe as far as northern california. Iíve had the best luck on allsuprlus and govdeals (which I think is the same thing) because they are auctions and I am more likely to get a better price on them. I was hoping for under 5k ideal my around 3 or 4 but lmk if thatís unrealistic, I really want to get my hands on a bus so I can start converting but I donít want to rush it and buy a rust bucket or something. Also if you think mmy expectations are too big then lmk. Really any insight you have would be greatly appreciated im really wanting to find a bus to buy.


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Old 02-22-2024, 08:44 PM   #2
Join Date: Nov 2021
Posts: 64
Year: 1995
Chassis: International
Engine: DT466NGD
The 7.3 or t444e is a very good engine. The 6.0 and newer Ford or Navistar diesels are garbage.. So are the 19 and later Cummins engines. Im sure this thred will get interesting.
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Old 02-23-2024, 02:27 PM   #3
Bus Nut
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Join Date: Jun 2023
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 875
Year: 1995
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: International 3800
Engine: T444E
Rated Cap: 29
Many T444E's come with AT545 transmissions though and if you are going through mountains you don't want that transmission. it'll do it but slowly. This is also the most common transmission for many years, so it will limit your availability in your search. Go for an AT2000 or 3000, or manual Transmissions. The best engnies to look for are T444E's or DT466, the latter probably being slightly better, but both are fine engines and you can settle with a T444E and not feel juked. But with your requirements, an At545 is going to disappoint you.
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Old 02-23-2024, 09:58 PM   #4
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Join Date: Aug 2022
Location: Oregon
Posts: 129
Year: 2005
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: ford E350
Engine: 6.0 power stroke Diesel Navistar EFI
Rated Cap: wife & 2 corgis
sounds like your doing good homework.
i stated looking for a year and seriously the last 6 months of that.
youll know the right bus when ya see it?
keep in mind busses & shuttles are auctioned off for a reason.
you may get one for under $5k but be prepared mechanically for what comes next.
the good news is that its usually well taken care of from fleet mechanics.
its also cool thats its a fresh conversion start like a blank canvas.
not jumping in somebody elses can of worms LOL
all makes, models and brands have some kind of issue.
so pick whichever one you are comfortable with?
it helps if you are mechanically & electrically inclined.
i am now officially a certified you-tube mechanic LOL
i am very happy with my bus and will be at our 50th campsite next week.
keep up the good homework!
life is short, travel, camp & enjoy!
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Old 02-24-2024, 07:29 AM   #5
Bus Geek
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Columbus Ohio
Posts: 18,843
Year: 1991
Coachwork: Carpenter
Chassis: International 3800
Engine: DTA360 / MT643
Rated Cap: 7 Row Handicap
the T444E 7.3 will start in cold weather.. at least mine does anyway.. I have started it down to minus 10f not plugged in and it complained a little but didnt take a lot of effort..

I have since installed a webasto coolant heater on that bus.. ive started the coolant heater in minus 20f with no issues.. that pre-warms the engine which makes it start like its summer..

I have those coolant heaters on both my busses.. they double as cabin heaters using the original built in bus heaters.. (or in one case i replaced the crappy noisy bus heater with a nice jegs heater that works better)..

the T444E was made through 2004.. many of them in 2002 had the allison 2000 series transmission.. Most 2003's did and all 2004's pretty much had the allison 2000 (or MD-3060).. both of those transmissions are very mountain capable.. I own a 6 window short bus .. now my wheels and tires are small so its noit great in snow but the vast majority have larger tires and with a conversion that has a little weight to it in the back will go just fine in the snow with some rear drive tires that have a little bite..

buying rear tires labelled as "drive tires" generally gets you a decent tread vs using "all position".. tires

all position give a bit quieter ride, but rear drive tires with some tread definitely have better bite in snow.. busses, just like cars, suck on ice..

Van based busses to me suck in ice and snow compared to full chassis.. less ground clearance and the smaller tires to me just dont do as well..

on the highway van-based busses tend to be a bit quieter and smoother than full chassis school busses.. but i like the big-bus feel of full chassis busses.. personal preference..
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Old 02-24-2024, 03:34 PM   #6
Bus Nut
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Join Date: Jun 2023
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 875
Year: 1995
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: International 3800
Engine: T444E
Rated Cap: 29
Originally Posted by cadillackid View Post
the T444E 7.3 will start in cold weather.. at least mine does anyway.. I have started it down to minus 10f not plugged in and it complained a little but didnt take a lot of effort..
It won't if the glow plugs are not in good shape. My experience at least, though I agree if the everything is in working order it will start in cold weather. In summer time it starts on a dime, but in winter it struggles around 40F with no working glow plugs.
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