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Old 12-16-2020, 02:19 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2020
Posts: 26
Family looking into skoolie travel

Hi all! Just joined the community here but have been reading books (Skoolie! by Will Sutherland) and watching videos, initially started with looking at minimalist living and tiny houses.

My family of five (wife, 3 boys in elementary school) and two dogs live in the CA bay area and are looking for a skoolie for occasional travel and parking in the backyard. My wife wants to build a deck to park next to and have it as a guest bedroom/area when we're not traveling.

SIZE- I am very reluctant to drive a huge 40 foot bus. There's the size factor and turning, but I'm worried that I will be a traffic hazard going 30 mph up mountain passes on the highway, or having a max speed of 50 mph. Is this a legitimate concern for all large buses, or are there certain engines/transmissions that allow for more car-similar speeds?

That said, I have 5 people and 2 dogs- will we fit in a more medium sized bus using bunk beds, WITHOUT a roof raise? Will driving performance of a medium bus (8 windows or so) be better, or they typically come with weaker engines?

AGE- I hear the older the bus, the better (like the 90s) as buses from 2000 onwards have electric components that fail, have worse engines, are not grandfathered into less stringent emissions standards, etc. Is this true?

WORK NEEDED- if this is a home for trips and not full time, do we still need to tear out the floor? The ceiling? Are the windows as-is adequate?

With all the concerns I have about construction (no experience with electrical or even wood/metalworking) we will probably look for a bus that's already stripped and has some internal improvements complete. Sorry if my questions are noobie and answered elsewhere. Looking forward to learning a lot from this community!

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Old 12-16-2020, 03:14 PM   #2
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Welcome to the site danamano.

There are answers or guidance for most of your questions or concerns on here, but you'll have to spend time and search them out.

Your geographical location, or the location(s) you'll be spending time in, will likely dictate what degree of insulation or renovation you'll need.

With a family of 5, plus 2 dogs, you'll likely want to buy the largest bus you can find or afford. Inside space is always at a premium, and a small or short bus might not serve you well if everyone is bumping into each other constantly.

As mentioned, take some time and research the various site topics to get answers to your questions.

It's easier for the members to answer you if you start out slow, and begin with your #1 concern and go from there.

It's a really good site, and there are many great folks on here that should be able to get answers to help you through the maze of skoolie building.
Good luck...
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Old 12-16-2020, 08:38 PM   #3
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Welcome! Good luck!
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Old 12-16-2020, 10:11 PM   #4
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Thanks for the feedback peteg59! I suppose my biggest concern is size, again being a road hazard. From looking at the site I've gathered some consistent pieces of advice- avoid AT545 transmissions for highways, MaxxForce engines, look for pre-2000 vehicles for better reliability, avoid hydraulic brakes, avoid rust/buy in sunny places. I just don't know if all of that applies to both large and medium buses. Yes with 5 people I imagine bigger is better, but I'm sure there's a way to get a queen bed in the back with utility closet in the side, a bunk on the side with toilet/kitchen on the other side, and a dining bench/table to convert into the 3rd kids bed.

Does this sound realistic in a 7-8 window bus? Maybe run a shower from the kitchen sink out the window? Again, not for full time living but for road trips in the summers.

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Old 12-16-2020, 11:06 PM   #5
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Tow a trailer to get more space instead of a 40ft bus. In fact, get a truck and tow a 5th wheel so your 3 kids get seatbelts and airbags.

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Old 12-16-2020, 11:17 PM   #6
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Thanks, but I'm not interested in an RV. One, they are much much more expensive- skoolie for 5k bus + 15k upgrades vs 50k+ for a motorized RV. Two, they are much much more fragile- kick an RV cabinet and it'll break, while my skoolie would use IKEA cabinets. Three, I'm looking forward to customizing and building the skoolie (maybe not the demolition part though). Four, the concept of driving around the country in a school bus still seems novel, maybe not as much as 4 years ago. Five, I want to be in the same vehicle as my family while driving, like a motorcoach without the $$$.

My family is the type that loves the tiny IKEA model homes as well.
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Old 12-17-2020, 06:52 AM   #7
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you can do a little bit of both..

1. 50 MPH is not the top speed of most busses.. the state of NC is one state that limits their busses to 45 or 50, but many here including myself have bought busses that will travel 65-70 if you want them to.. one of my busses loves to cruise at 70, the other one maxxes out at 68 but I drive ity at 55 and drive the state highways or non-interstate 4 lanes so I can see the sights as I road trip.. buying busses re-taught me the art and joy of the grerat american roadtrip.. ie if I just want to get someplace fast their's mastercard and American airlines, when I want to see the country and enjoy myself I drive one of the busses.

going up mountain grades at 30 MPH isnt a haxard as semi trucks have been doing it for ever since theyve been around... while I can haul ass up the hills in my red bus I tend not to do it as im not one to push my brakes to the limit.. by going slow up it means you have some safety zone in speed to play with going down the other side.

you can swap out your rear lights for LED's which makes you more visible when going slow in traffic esp at night or in the rain.

the 40 foot bus.. you have options.. if the main concern for having a shorter bus is for storage, you can pull a utility trailer that would be storage only, extra supplies like tools, camping gear, bikes, etc (not sure what your plans are as far as activities).. thus leaving you more space inside say a 30 footer for people and animals..

that said driving a 40 footer isnt as tough as it sounds.. a rear engine bus is a nice driver with no doghouse up front and great visibility as you sit right at the edge of the bus, .. you can install yourself backup and side view cameras if backing it is a concern in tight areas..

most all freeway exits and truck routes are designed for truckers that are 13 feet tall and have a 53 foot trailer.. so turning a 40 foot bus into truck stops for fuel, travelling through small towns you follow the signs for the truck route, you will be fine.. your bus will likely be 10.5 feet tall maximum unless you do a roof raise on it then it would go up a bit from there.

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Old 12-17-2020, 11:42 AM   #8
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A 40ft bus is great if you like Truck Stops. National parks have length limits and many many places you can't go like cool beach locations forget it. If you want to actually explore places you will need something smaller, and best is having a 'toad', but with Family of 5, a toad is not 2-person Jeep. And now your 40ft monster is even longer.
Getting a big vehicle that tows a trailer the best approach and safer for passengers.
Get a short bus then, if you have Partridge Family Syndrome and must have a Skoolie.

Or maybe this....

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Old 04-17-2021, 01:26 PM   #9
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Welcome to the skoolie community. Lots of information and opinions on this forum. We also have naysayers, hecklers, and trolls. [Edited by moderator: be nice]

If you do choose to buy a bus to convert, you'll find it is alot of work. Some "choose" to leave the walls or ceiling or even the floor because "it's too, much work", while others leave it, on which to park their off-road vehicles.

With our bus,, removing the floor was how/when we discovered the pee smell and the a/c refrigerant leak. Beneath the plywood, is also, the only place I found any rust on our entire bus. The ceiling removal is how I found that the ceiling e-hatch had been leaking since the botched, factory install. The walls under the windows is where gravity dumps the rainwater from the leaky windows.

You may consider sleeping in your bus prior to making any definitive decisions on what conditions your family will travel. Do it in inclimate weather, not "a nice night" to sleep outdoors.

Owning a retired bus is NOT inexpensive. They are old and the life expectancy of the mechanical parts are at or near their end. Most of us perform our own engine & drivetran repairs. If your bank account is thin and your skills are mediocre, maybe follow BNmbl's advice. If you have a history of persistence and perseverance, jump in here and finish one of your own.

Good luck with your search.
Frederick Douglass:
"Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude."
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Old 04-20-2021, 12:05 PM   #10
Join Date: Nov 2020
Posts: 36
I see this thread has a recent post 4 months later;
So I'm not sure how much info OP still needs ---

But I'm in the same camp;

Currently have a 30ft class C need to replace;
6 people;

Looking at:
$20k - $25k budget school bus conversion (I'll have the space and facility to do the work)
$45k 15 year old class A bunkhouse
$65k Super C chevy platform (diesel) with bunkhouse and cab-over bunk

Instead of saying "deep pockets", what is a number for a maintenance budget on a 15 year old school bus that just retired from school use?

$7,000 for tires, brakes, belts, hoses, possibly an air brake system, batteries?

Then $15 - $25 for a major engine replacement?

Also, I thought that school bus repair was cheaper (for the labor) and easier especially on the road than RV repair. All those big rig truck places will work on school bus tires, engines, and mechanical systems. But not on RVs. Gasoline based systems tend to have cheaper parts. In a comparison to an RV, however, the reasonable maintenance budget for an RV is not $0. It's probably comparable.
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