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Old 02-25-2021, 12:13 AM   #1
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Join Date: May 2015
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Help! Convert the bus I have or get a new one?

Hello everyone! this is my first post and Im loving how much info is on here. I already live in a partially converted skoolie. Been in it about 4-5 years. However, its not finished all the way and I'm itching to have a fully converted bus. So I'm wondering, Is the bus I have now a good foundation to build on or should I look for another rig to meet my needs? When I bought this bus I was not as informed about what to look for or whats best. Plus my girlfriend at the time wanted it because it has flowers painted on it and the bus was green... not the best tools of discernment i know haha i ended up getting this one and it drives, was registered as an rv and has a partial conversion so it seems legit to me. Again been in it about 4-5 years, but Its got a super low ceiling. I want to raise it, but before i get to converting i wanna know if the frame is good, and the transmission/engine is good setup. Is this a good bus to further invest in? Hopefully someone on here has seen or used my bus before and can bring some clarity.

What i know so far about the bus.
it is a 1990 Thomas school bus with a 8.2 Gm detroit built desiel engine. It has an at545 transmission with a tag on it from 2006. it has around 196k miles on it. has some slight engine work to do, but runs solid so far. I did notice a little rust on the leave springs of the back tires. Curious if that is an issue or can be cleaned up. Also if the bus is decent for a committed build then I'm also comfortable trading out engine/tranny down the road if need be. As long as the body is good and I can build it how I want I dont mind investing into my home. I want to raise the ceiling for sure first thing!

Also there is a little engine work i have to do. I had a local fire department mechanic take a look at it and told me the power steering pump probably needs to be replaced (the overflow reservoir seems to over fill when i turn and shoots out the top onto my engine) Also a bolt to the tension pulley seems to be missing or broken inside. I was told both fixes shouldnt be too bad. Just takes time. which I have a lot of.

So I have some pics attached and if you had this bus and a choice to finish this or get a new one what would you do? Hopefully this is good and I can start doing the final conversion for my mobile music studio!
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Optimized-bus side shot open door.jpg (1.12 MB, 14 views)
File Type: jpg Optimized-bus inside shot.jpg (1.02 MB, 15 views)
File Type: jpg Optimized-stud.jpg (996.3 KB, 15 views)
File Type: png Optimized-vin specs.png (294.0 KB, 3 views)
File Type: jpg Optimized-rusty front tire.jpg (572.1 KB, 16 views)
File Type: jpg Optimized-rusty hook.jpg (793.4 KB, 16 views)
File Type: jpg Optimized-side engine.jpg (577.2 KB, 15 views)
The7feller is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-25-2021, 01:48 AM   #2
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Doesn't appear to be in terrible shape for the age. The rust I see can be easily blasted off, and I would recommend rustproofing/painting afterward, it will greatly delay any encore appearance. However, be sure to check the springs for any cracks or misalignment with each other after blasting. If so, that would be an issue.

The 8.2 is a quirky beast and is difficult to get serviced properly as time goes on (fewer diesel mechanics these days understand them due to their veritable rareness today). Even in marine applications, these engines did have problems with head gaskets, though some say they are fine as long as they are not overheated. The 8.2 has, I would say, a disproportionate split between its haters and its fans, sadly, not in its favor.

That being said, it's not the worst engine ever, but it's not the best either. Like its little brother, the 6.2, it started life as a marine / industrial engine that was adapted to highway vehicle use. Most Detroit engines have long been legendary in their durability and longevity, but sadly, the 8.2 was not one of those. It may sound harsh, but I liken it to the MaxxForce of recent years... Okay until it's not. Though I would put my money on the MaxxForce needing a tow to the shop before the 8.2 would -- the 8.2 will likely drive itself there.

That all being said, if your plans do not include highway cruising and the smelly exhaust from the pincher fuel system is not excessively objectionable, you're already one up with a rebuilt transmission. And I've heard that it may be possible to swap the pincher fuel system for that of the 6.2, or at least rework its internals with 6.2 fuel system parts - commonly done with the remaining Oldsmobile diesels on the road. If and when the 8.2 gives up the ghost (may or may not happen), you may find it much easier and less trouble to swap for a tall-deck 366 or 427 gasser, a factory offering in these, though it will require fuel system modifications / replacement.

The AT545 is an okay trans as long as you're not in a hurry and don't abuse it. It's just not meant for interstate or mountain driving in this heavy of a vehicle. And most skoolies weren't built to run today's interstate speeds, so for their intended purpose, the AT545 is just fine. Where the problem starts is with folks that think 70-80 mph is doable without consequence in a 12,000-lb flying brick that was only built for stop-to-stop hauling of children to school.

I would say if your plans are limited to the occasional outing and do not include cross-country travel, say, mostly back roads without a lot of extreme hills or mountains, have at it. If it's not being driven long distances or every day, that bus will probably run forever without any major issues if it is not overheated or abused and is not driven over about 50. But if you insist on doing 70 on the freeway, yes, absolutely sell it and upgrade.
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Old 03-01-2021, 04:54 PM   #3
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Thanks for your input! I want to be abe to tour around so driving long is a must. I am happy to see that it isnt a lemon. It just isnt exactly the best for my needs. Been living in it on and off for years out in the mountains but i rarely drive it. Good for 4 years so far. seems to be the best use. I was adding up prices to get this thing road ready and even new engine/tranny plus tires it seems a newer bus would be cheaper and more ideal. Plus cruise control! i need it haha

thanks for your insight. It got my gears turning lol
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Old 03-01-2021, 05:52 PM   #4
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Join Date: Feb 2019
Location: New Hampshire
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Year: 1990
Coachwork: Thomas 4 window w/lift
Chassis: G30~Chevy cutaway
Engine: 5.7/350 Chevy Vortec
Rated Cap: Just me and my "stuff"?
Does it run, drive and stop in the yard?

Since you've had it 4 years and know it better than anyone reading this thread, only you can decide if its worth keeping or starting fresh.
The interior shots look like it's needing a bit more finishing, depending on your interpretation of it being "finished".

If it runs and drives and stops in the yard, it might be a good candidate to put resources into to get it back on the road. Only you again, can make that call.

Pic#5 shows a rounded bar with some degree of rot at the bottom. Doesn't look "terminal", but more pics of the undercarriage are needed for an internet evaluation!

Good luck, and post pics if you go ahead with the work on this bus...
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Old 03-01-2021, 10:53 PM   #5
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Join Date: May 2016
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Year: 2001
Coachwork: Blue Bird
Chassis: IH
Engine: T444E
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You'll probably find the 8.2 woefully underpowered for much long distance highway cruising. It's a dated engine so when (*Not* If) you break down or simply need service on the road, good luck finding parts. They are out there but most will have to be ordered.
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Old 03-01-2021, 11:47 PM   #6
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Location: Auburn, WA
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Year: 2000
Coachwork: IC / Amtran
Chassis: 3000 / 33' Flat Nose
Engine: IC T444E / Allison MT643
Rated Cap: 72 Kids / 48 Adults
Two comments and a question.

I have an MT643 transmission that is a mechanical 4 speed with a quirky electric modulator that is also used on some 545s. The 545 is even smaller than the 643 and when I search on YouTube for the 643 I find hardly any videos, yet the 545 is all over the place. I suspect this is for the reasons already mentioned, it wasn't made for highway speeds and pulling hills (mountain passes). I so wish I had at least a 5 speed electronic transmission for the cruise speed, the mpg and the close power band when pulling hills.

Based on what the other posters have said about the engine, it sounds to me like the buses Achilles tendon. It doesn't matter how much head room you have, or if your tranny isn't the best, if your engine doesn't run or isn't powerful enough.

My question is how tall are you? The issue with your hight clearance may not be because of you, but because of the bus. Depending on the brand, model and year, you can find buses that have plenty of head room depending on how tall you are. I'm 5'10", with shoes 5'11"+. Even with 2.25" of flooring and 3/4" of ceiling, I still have plenty of head room in my bus. If you're 6'1"+, then yeah, maybe a roof raise is reasonable if you can't find a bus with really good head clearance.

The amount of time, energy and resources to raise a roof would go a long way in converting a bus that already supplies enough head room. The cost of swapping out an engine and/or transmission would also go a long way towards purchasing a bus that's already "upgraded" to meet your travel needs.

If it were me, I'd bee looking for a replacement bus.

Best of luck.
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Old 03-02-2021, 12:00 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The7feller View Post
Thanks for your input! I want to be abe to tour around so driving long is a must. I am happy to see that it isnt a lemon. It just isnt exactly the best for my needs. Been living in it on and off for years out in the mountains but i rarely drive it. Good for 4 years so far. seems to be the best use. I was adding up prices to get this thing road ready and even new engine/tranny plus tires it seems a newer bus would be cheaper and more ideal. Plus cruise control! i need it haha

thanks for your insight. It got my gears turning lol
You might consider this suggestion I gave another member with quirky electronic / electrical and impending engine issues... Maybe a body swap onto a later-model gas motorhome chassis, something with a more updated engine that is easier to find parts and service for.

Would allow you to keep your current conversion, updated with more modern and more easily serviced mechanicals. Think P30/Workhorse chassis - (Blue Bird built their Mini-Bird on these, commonly available with 6.2 / 6.5 turbo Detroit diesel, LT small-block, Mark IV big-block or late-model LS power).

Most had automatic transmissions with overdrive, and though they are hydraulic, not air brake, most, if not all came with front disc brakes and other amenities such as cruise control (not routinely installed even on newer buses) and factory dashboard air-conditioning that could possibly be retained in the body swap. And there are plenty of these to be had with leaky roofs or possibly totaled by insurance for other reasons. Might even be able to scavenge some RV goodies for use in upgrading your conversion.

Check out ol_trunt's build thread, they did such a body swap, as well as Dave / Kenny / 86 Ford / 07 Kenworth. It's not impossible, though perhaps out of your own scope of abilities. I favor the 66-72 and 73-83 GM-chassis buses, but these are cool as well, and I would like to see more of them saved.
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Old 03-02-2021, 12:39 AM   #8
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Join Date: Jan 2020
Location: Fraser Valley British Columbia
Posts: 639
Year: 2007
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freightliner
Engine: C7 Cat
Quote:
Originally Posted by peteg59 View Post
Does it run, drive and stop in the yard?

Since you've had it 4 years and know it better than anyone reading this thread, only you can decide if its worth keeping or starting fresh.
The interior shots look like it's needing a bit more finishing, depending on your interpretation of it being "finished".

If it runs and drives and stops in the yard, it might be a good candidate to put resources into to get it back on the road. Only you again, can make that call.

Pic#5 shows a rounded bar with some degree of rot at the bottom. Doesn't look "terminal", but more pics of the undercarriage are needed for an internet evaluation!

Good luck, and post pics if you go ahead with the work on this bus...
Agree with what Pete says.
That round cross member does appear to have rust penatration right through so could be other places also but pics provide do make it look decent.
However you also need to be prepared to buying a complete new set of tires before going anywhere, they are old and sitting compressed in the mud like that for four years its for certain they're done.
Good luck

Oscar
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