I am fairly new to the Skoolie life (got our bus on August 1st!). And I don't have much to contribute, just lots to learn. But I figured I'd make a post with the notes I took when I was researching what kind of bus to buy. Most of my notes are just quotes I wrote down as I browsed through this forum, and I included a few links where I gathered my info from. Just hoping this info all being in one place can help someone else who is trying to figure out where to begin like I was just a month or so ago!
For those who are looking to buy a bus and wondering where to start, I recommend first figuring out what you're looking for in your bus - what engine, what transmission, what body-type, etc. I'm hoping this post can help you figure out what you're looking for!
And I also definitely invite anyone else to contribute their thoughts as well! To all of you who have contributed in various threads in the past, and thereby helped me pick out our beautiful DT-466/Allison 2500/International
Also, if you drive a bus with an AT-545 or something else on here that's marked as bad: no hard feelings! These are all just notes I've taken on other people's opinions! I'd love to hear your thoughts on your own experience!
- dt466 is widely considered the best skoolie bus engine because of longevity, durability, and readily available parts; "best medium-duty engine ever built, bar none"; an excellent cold-starter; "Pretty much any variant of the dt466 should serve you well. Check for coolant in the oil (usually indicates cylinder liner seals leaking, rebuild in order to fix) but aside from that, I believe these engines can go a million miles if properly cared for"; known as one of the top 5 best engines ever made
- dt466e is the upgraded version of the 466. Also excellent, slightly more powerful and efficient and cleaner burning. Has more moving parts, and parts tend to be a bit pricier as well.
- dt360 is nearly identical to the 466, but w/ less horsepower, less displacement, and slightly better fuel mileage (though not all agree)
- Cummins 5.9 gets way better fuel economy than dt360, and is available w/ more hp than 360. Parts are available everywhere. At least some consider this their favorite engine; the older 12V 6BT mechanical engines are less money and use a bit less fuel than the late-1998 and newer 24-valve ISB's.
- Cummins 8.3 is the 5.9's big brother; excellent engine, though rare in buses. Potentially same things as "ISC" ??Not sure about that.
- One person says he would tend to stay away from any v8 diesel
- 9.0 International is rumored to be a boat anchor, but a very fuel efficient boat anchor; "I wouldn't own one if you gave it to me"
- Stay away from detroit diesel engines
- International's 6.9 and 7.3 IDI engines aren't bad, but are unforgiving of abuse or neglect. Would recommend PLENTY of service records before buying one. Not especially powerful, especially in mountains (no turbo)
- T444E came out around 1995 to replace the 7.3 IDI and is more durable and usually more powerful (170 or 190hp, but any dealer can turn it up to 210), not as forgiving as the 466, but not bad. They run hot, especially climbing hills. This is normal and won't hurt anything.
- Cummins 555ci is worse than the 9.0 International
- CAT engines have proprietary parts, must be purchased from a Cat dealer, tend to be more expensive. Many people have these in their skoolies, but there are also a number of horror stories
- AT545 - avoid. doesn't lock up, which makes them pretty dismal on the highway & in the hills. Have never seen a dt466 (engine) with an AT545.
- Allison MT643 - far superior to AT545. Does lock up in high gear.
- Aim for one of Allison's 1000,2000, 2500, or 3000 series
- The difference between these of interest to skoolies are horsepower and torque limits. If it came in the bus with the engine, it's fine. These are generally the preferred automatics installed in school buses in the last 25 years.
- The 1000 & 2500 series are 5-speed. They are able to run deep axle gears around-town, but still run at normal highway speeds without revving the engine on the governor.
- MD3060 - not sure much about this, but some people said that a dt466 with a MD3060 is "near a dream drivetrain"
- Another quote: "Cummins 8.3 w/ MD3060 transmission is probably the best engine and trans combo available in a school bus"
- Voith Transmission - uncommon and expensive to repair. Avoid.
Benefits of manual transmission:
- Longevity - treat it well and you'll get way more life out of a manual. Auto transmissions rely on belts/bands which create a lot of heat and friction. Just a matter of time till something gives.
- Service - Manual transmissions are easier to work on, lots of full time mechanics won't touch the inside of an auto transmission, they send them out.
- Control - being able to control shift points and clutch release rate is great for towing or driving in the snow/down steep grades. If an automatic decides to shift on you harshly at the wrong time in the snow it can initiate a spin.
- Even with a broken manual transmission, there's a good chance you can still limp it home, also allows the option of pop starting it if you find yourself with a dead battery
- Biggest favor you can do for yourself if you buy an auto is install an external transmission cooler and a transmission temp gauge. Make sure to check your transmission fluid regularly both for level and odor. Heat equals death to these things.
- "If you want to go to national parks, stay under 35ft for sure"
- "A rear engine is a lot quieter to drive, but can't have a garage in the back"
- "Get it checked out mechanically FOR SURE unless you're a diesel mechanic"
- "Buy from a rust free area. If you want a bus equipped for the mountains, buy a bus that comes from the mountains. You aren't going to find a bus with auto chains, sanders, and a transmission for the mountains in Kansas. A transmission that is good in Colorado isn't going to run 75 on the freeway for hours happily."
- "Check the code on the tires for the date they were manufactured"