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Old 04-04-2019, 08:54 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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I need help deciding! Mini vs Full size bus?

I have been on craigslist for the past 2 years looking at vans and buses, it seems like I can never really make my mind up or find a good one or the other thats not over 1,000 miles away so I always research one to see if its worth the trip and end up finding something that leans the other way or info about something wrong with that certain model or year.

I bought a 1986 Econoline 6.9l idi cargo van the beginning of last year and loved it, absolute beast! Was good for working out of, but sucked driving anywhere over an hr away. Loud slapping exhaust and screaming doing 65-70. Sold it about 6 months ago to get something more suitable for highway cross country trips.

I have mainly been looking at 7.3l Powerstroke Or 6.6 Duramax mini busses, but started looking into getting a shorter full size bus after learning their not too mich longer than a Mini or extended van and have tons of space. From what Ive researched I wiuld want a DT466 with a MD3060 or 2000 series. Which are kinda hard to find.

But aside from the inside space, Im trying figure out reliability and ease of owning wise how different the two are. Would really like to hear any opinions that you have on why you chose one or the other for mechanical reasons.

This is my opinion on the pros and cons of each.

Mini bus-

Pros: Very easy to find parts and mechanics if needed. Probably little better mpgs but not too much. Easier too drive and faster I would guess? Tons of info to be found on the engines.

Cons: Very hard to work on. Not as reliable and bulletproof? Very little ground clearence. Not equipped with amenities that a full size would have air brakes, airbag suspension, ect.?

Full size bus-

Pros: Very easy to work on? Tons of space around parts. Built better and to be maintained easier? Better mechanical amenities? Way more ground clearance.

Cons: kinda the unknown for me. Harder to find parts and mechanics. More expensive parts and maintenance? Not a ton of info out about certain mechanical areas.

Really just trying to get some outside opinions on what im thinking, I would love to own a DT466 bus, but not if its going to be a huge learning curve where if anything happens will be a research project and hassle to find out whats going on. And I understand this happens with any vehicle but it just seems to me that a full size bus is kinda on that next level of knowing whats what. Thank you if you read all of that and all help is appreciated!
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Old 04-05-2019, 06:39 AM   #2
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Personally , Iím not too keen on the minibus idea.
For whatever reason Iíd rather have a BUS bus

Now. I went 40í feet. At the time I figured bigger is better but there are some cons...

Youíll have to decide for your own needs ,of course.
Also depends on how many people will be traveling.

The trick is to balance square footage vs. the ability to get in to tighter spaces. Remember there are limits in some national parks.

My flat nose 40í is gonna be interesting to see how far I can get out into the deeper camp areas

I doní know what you plan to do with your rig but, If I were to do it again. Iíd look at a mid size FRONT engine bus. Probably BlueBird.

And do yourself a favor. Texas, Arizona or WEST coast Washington should be on your shortlist of states to buy from. My WA bus is 20 years old and rust free. Look at bus carefully (or pay someone local) to make sure you arenít getting yourself into a rusty can of worms. Time and money up front and getting a great bus will save you tenfold in the long run.

IMO there are smoking deals at the government auction sites but the good ones go pretty high anyway. I got outbid for months before I went with a Bus fleet reseller. I can personally recommend NWbus.com and hear nothing but great things about AAA bus in Phoenix. My two cents...

Good luck and get to building!
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:03 AM   #3
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Thanks! Aside from the size and rust is their any pros or cons you get mechanically owning a Full size bus?

Thats my major dilemma, the full size buses that have been looking at are the mid size short bus. Longest one being 30 feet, most are 26-29 feet. Thats only 6-10 ft longer than a Full size pickup.

It’s just the mechanics of the full size bus that is out of my realm. Im fairly mechanic savvy, and im not too scared of the engine mostly the transmission and anyother heavy machinery part that could go bad. I know the transmissions are EXPENSIVE and probably hard to find parts and get fixed. I would guess that the rest of the parts if something goes wrong would be a pain to find and/or really expensive.

I plan on using it to live in the mountains in the winter to ski and adventuring the NPW. I never knew there are restrictions of how big a vehicle can be to go into National parks. And yes I’ve had those in my search list, actually found a really nice mini 7.3l bus thats in WA. Problem is im in FL so I REALLY have to commit.
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:14 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Surf44 View Post
Thanks! Aside from the size and rust is their any pros or cons you get mechanically owning a Full size bus?

Thats my major dilemma, the full size buses that have been looking at are the mid size short bus. Longest one being 30 feet, most are 26-29 feet. Thats only 6-10 ft longer than a Full size pickup.

Itís just the mechanics of the full size bus that is out of my realm. Im fairly mechanic savvy, and im not too scared of the engine mostly the transmission and anyother heavy machinery part that could go bad. I know the transmissions are EXPENSIVE and probably hard to find parts and get fixed. I would guess that the rest of the parts if something goes wrong would be a pain to find and/or really expensive.

I plan on using it to live in the mountains in the winter to ski and adventuring the NPW. I never knew there are restrictions of how big a vehicle can be to go into National parks. And yes Iíve had those in my search list, actually found a really nice mini 7.3l bus thats in WA. Problem is im in FL so I REALLY have to commit.
What part of FL?
Maybe come drive my bus around the block and see if its something you'd want to drive a thousand miles in.
I like the shortest full size I can find. This is what I've ended up with after 4 previous buses-
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:22 AM   #5
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The '03 we have now is our first venture into big trucks as well. I did have almost 4 years experience on a local town highway crew when I was 'between careers' so did get my hands dirty on basic maintenance with them. I've also been playing with cars since the late 70's (street and race/rally cars) but nothing this big.

Having something sitting in the yard that I don't have the tools to work on is a little weird, but we did our research and think we found a good example that will last a long time. We figure any parts we'll need on a road trip can be found at any decent truck stop. Yes they will be expensive, but whatever it is, it will probably be the last time we have to replace that item.

You don't need a CDL to drive one, but it would be a good idea to look at some of the pre-trip videos or maybe work with a local truck shop to get familiar with the workings of the bus.
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:42 AM   #6
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Over in Cocoa Beach. I have actually just been looking at one just like your bus thats up in NC. It has the T444e and I think the MT643 trans. The drain bolt on side means that if Im correct.
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Old 04-05-2019, 09:03 AM   #7
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Over in Cocoa Beach. I have actually just been looking at one just like your bus thats up in NC. It has the T444e and I think the MT643 trans. The drain bolt on side means that if Im correct.
make sure its capable of doing more than 45-50 mph. That's the main thing to watch for with buses from NC.
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Old 04-05-2019, 09:32 AM   #8
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thats just a deep pan.. they were on most of the newer AT545s.. that second hole was designed wither for a temp sensor or you could locate the dip stick on that side..



the pan pattern is shared between the 545 and 643 if I remember right..



that one looks like a 545 as it appears theres an SAE2 to SAE3 adapter ring on the bell.. hard to tell on the pic but looks like the step-down ring on the flywheel housing..



-Christopher
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Old 04-05-2019, 10:34 AM   #9
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I was just going off of the pics in the sticky how to tell the difference between at545 and mt643
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Old 04-05-2019, 10:36 AM   #10
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My 8 window midsize bus is 29ft long. my crew cab truck is 20ft. being around this length was important to me so we could navigate remote forest service roads.

by mini bus do you mean like the cutaway fiberglass buses?
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Old 04-05-2019, 11:11 AM   #11
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My 8 window midsize bus is 29ft long. my crew cab truck is 20ft. being around this length was important to me so we could navigate remote forest service roads.

by mini bus do you mean like the cutaway fiberglass buses?
Yes Id rather have the School bus since those are metal and look better, but yea the cutaway van/bus.
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Old 04-05-2019, 11:21 AM   #12
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Yes Id rather have the School bus since those are metal and look better, but yea the cutaway van/bus.
being metal makes them easier to work with. good luck on the search.
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Old 04-05-2019, 12:31 PM   #13
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Full size bus all the way. There are a lot more desirable engines options and if you have a dognose there is a tone more room to get in and work on everything. I have a 28' international that screams down the highway at 65-70 mph. I get 10 mpg. Any mechanically injected inline six cylinder engine should be good for you. Dt466 and the Cummins 8.3 being number one. Though 5.9 Cummins and dt360 international engines are a little small, they are great engines and wouldn't turn away if all the other components met my needs. Other than the Allison 2000/3000 series transmission the Alison 634 is also a great tranny option. A bus is a flying brick so if you get 10 mpg and can do 60+ on the freeway your just about on par...though some do better, they are pretty fer and far between.
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Old 04-05-2019, 12:40 PM   #14
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I've stuck with cutaways so far. I've also stuck with certain bodies that allow a 6'4" in center isle height. This is a setup that works well for me since it keeps the bus very easily maneuverable but I can still stand up easily. The gearing allows highway speeds of my choosing and I get better mpg's (~12-15). It seems to be a real unicorn of a shorty to have a desirable engine/trans/gearing and headroom but I get all of that in my cutaways.
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Old 04-05-2019, 01:56 PM   #15
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Coachwork: American Cargo 14'L x 7'8"W x 7'H Box
Chassis: Ford E350 Cutaway
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 11500 lbs
Don't forget to look at box vans and box trucks.

The inside height on my Ford E-350 14' box van is a full 7 feet from the factory. It is 93" wide with flat walls/ceiling that will make adding insulation and finishing the build-out really simple. The box is made from 1.5" aluminum profiles, 16" on center with aluminum sheeting on the outside and nice plywood on the inside. Floor is 1.5" wood with steel cross members.

With a 7.3L diesel under the hood I get 12-13 mpg regardless of whether I am driving back roads or cruising down the highway between 65 and 70 mph. It will go well over 80 and accelerate very nicely if necessary but obviously at the cost of increased fuel consumption.

I choose the Ford cutaway chassis since I live a few mile from Ujoint Offroad and decided to go with a small off-roadable RV rather than a bus and a 4WD toad. My goal is not the typical apartment-on-wheels skoolie but a 4WD travel machine where I can prepare a meal, take a shower, take a sh!t, and catch some Zs in. (My housing needs have always been very modest but I am somewhat adventurous with where I take my vehicles.)

Even in its current form with DRW I was able to take this box van up some pretty gnarly dirt roads here in Western North Carolina. The only issue are low branches that I have to scrape through very slowly to avoid beating up the front of the box. I trying to find a fiberglass wind deflector that I can reinforce to act as a branch deflector.

To avoid hassle when overnighting in populated areas, I plan to keep this build fairly stealthy on the outside. One side door (possibly on the driver side) and a few Arctic Tern windows high up, both easy to install in a box body. The current rear roll-up door will be replaced at some point by a drop down rear gate, that can double as a porch.
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Old 04-05-2019, 03:20 PM   #16
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Seems six to one, half dozen to another. It'll depend on your needs and how you want to do your bus. I chose a cut-away because it has a high headroom body, small enough to be classified as a van (easier for insurance/registration), a gas motor that just about anyone can work on (I don't plan to use it often, so mileage isn't as much of a concern), and is smaller/easier to drive and park. Since it's a vacation vehicle, I don't need it to be a full house size, and don't want a motor/drive train that's expensive to work with. Everyone has their own priorities.

Chris
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Old 04-05-2019, 06:40 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dazdconfsd View Post
I've stuck with cutaways so far. I've also stuck with certain bodies that allow a 6'4" in center isle height. This is a setup that works well for me since it keeps the bus very easily maneuverable but I can still stand up easily. The gearing allows highway speeds of my choosing and I get better mpg's (~12-15). It seems to be a real unicorn of a shorty to have a desirable engine/trans/gearing and headroom but I get all of that in my cutaways.
What would the desired engine/trans/gearing be in your opinion?

Havenít thought of the box truck idea. The more I think about I like how simple the build would be and having straight walls and roof.
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:06 PM   #18
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Join Date: Jun 2015
Location: Asheville, NC
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Year: 1999
Coachwork: American Cargo 14'L x 7'8"W x 7'H Box
Chassis: Ford E350 Cutaway
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 11500 lbs
Just saw that one of UJoint's customers had a very similar idea to the conversion I have in mind. As you can see, this looks like a work van that nobody thinks twice about being parked in the middle of a city. The relatively compact size and the 4WD will make this go to any place but the hardest jeep trails.

Quoted from UJoint's website:

"This 2015 E350 spartan bodied van came to us for a conversion, we all fell in love with it! What an awesome package. V10, 6 speed auto, 4.56 gears, Stage 2 front axle with RSC, 35" BFG AT KO2s on XD wheels. Check out the !"

396_Walker_1.JPG

396_Walker_2.JPG

This is also an example for a great driveline option in newer cutaway vans. With the venerable 7.3L you are unfortunately getting a vehicle that is over 15 years old.
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:37 PM   #19
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Yea that thing is SICK! You’ve honestly made me start look at box trucks, they seem to be the cheapest vehicle high ground clearance and extremely versatile in building.
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Old 04-05-2019, 08:59 PM   #20
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Join Date: Jun 2015
Location: Asheville, NC
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Year: 1999
Coachwork: American Cargo 14'L x 7'8"W x 7'H Box
Chassis: Ford E350 Cutaway
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 11500 lbs
Here is the current interior layout for my slightly longer 14' box. Scale is 6" per square.

20190405_204233s.jpg

The dinette benches can be pulled out forward to create a queen sized bed platform. Additionally, benches and table will be mounted on a platform that can be rolled forward or aft in the van.

With little storage needs, the dinette/bed will be secured closer to the rear door to create more living space. If I need maximum cargo space (to haul building supplies for example), the dinette can be moved forward against the chest fridge or, after moving the fridge into the galley, even against the toilet/shower stall.

If converting the dinette into a bed turns out to be too much hassle or the bench cushions are too uncomfortable as a mattress, a separate bed platform will be hoisted under the roof and lowered over the dinette at night. My brother does this in his custom built Sprinter and it works great even with his lower ceiling. I am trying out the convertible dinette first as it will allow another skylight/vent in the rear of the box.

A 32" x 76" side door will be installed just in front of the rear wheel well with retractable steps underneath. All fixed counters, stalls, and plumbing are concentrated at the front of the body. Fresh water tanks and the Lithium battery bank will be located under the floor between the frame rails. A black and grey tank also underfloor on the driver side, outside of the rails. On the passenger side some under-body truck boxes for tools and maybe an additional grey tank for the kitchen sink to distribute the weight a little better and to simplify the drain plumbing.
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