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Old 01-09-2018, 08:36 AM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Gathering advice stage

Hello, we haven't even purchased a bus yet but have two decent possibilities. There is good chance that if we buy in the next week or so we'd be doing our first trip in April so we'd need to hit it hard and have a decent plan.
We would be using this mostly for long road trips, a month or two max. We'd typically head west from the East coast and then south through Central America. Some areas of Mexico can be hot dessert like and some steamy jungle areas along the coast but evenings cool off and many areas are comfortable with temps in the 70's even during the day.
We're thinking AC while driving will be our most important heating/cooling necessity.
So number one question. How many people haven't torn out the ceiling and walls to insulate? Because of our time crunch and the fact that with 9 kids we will almost certainly never use this as a residence we're thinking of leaving the walls and ceiling as is and only tearing out the floor. Would this be a huge mistake? I'd love to hear from folks who've done this and how it worked out for them.
Thanks in advance for any and all advice. This forum is amazing and a wealth of information!
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Old 01-09-2018, 08:44 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by marlinangela View Post
Hello, we haven't even purchased a bus yet but have two decent possibilities. There is good chance that if we buy in the next week or so we'd be doing our first trip in April so we'd need to hit it hard and have a decent plan.
We would be using this mostly for long road trips, a month or two max. We'd typically head west from the East coast and then south through Central America.
It sounds like you want to take it slow...Get a bus...convert it in 3 months....be in Peru by April. As long as you are organized and can perform Major Miracles, I don't foresee any issues.

Tell us more about the buses you are thinking about.
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Old 01-09-2018, 09:01 AM   #3
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Ha, well my husband is a bit driven and once he decides to do something he does it with all he's got so if anyone can make this happen he could! He is a carpenter/furniture builder by trade and would possible have some help from a guy or two in his shop but it'd be basic for this trip.
It'd be between a 1996 or 2003 International. Both have a 7.3/T444E with automatic Allison transmission. Both claim to be in excellent running condition The 96 has less miles but possible more rust. The 1996 is already stripped of seats with an RV title and has a few basics included so that is the huge draw toward that one.
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Old 01-09-2018, 09:11 AM   #4
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Both have a 7.3/T444E with automatic Allison transmission. (545?)

..using this mostly for long road trips, a month or two max. We'd typically head west from the East coast and then south through Central America. Some areas of Mexico can be hot dessert like and some steamy jungle areas along the coast but evenings cool off and many areas are comfortable with temps in the 70's even during the day.
We're thinking AC while driving will be our most important
The problem is in bold: not enough motor in either bus to do what you want. We don't like the 545 transmission it probably has for that job.
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Old 01-09-2018, 09:32 AM   #5
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So we'd need to give up the idea of AC while driving? I'd be almost more concerned about the noise with windows down than the heat.

From what I read here a DT466 would be ideal but we were kinda hoping we could make do with what we found but maybe not.

Anyone else with this engine want to chime in with their experiences on long drives?
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Old 01-09-2018, 09:52 AM   #6
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If those are 40' buses, that engine would likely feel underpowered on the highway.

As everyone keeps saying, it all depends on how you're going to use your bus.

I'm sure you've read by now that insulation works both ways. It's not just for cold weather. It's also a great help if you're trying to ac your bus. It also deadens noise quite a bit. That said, it's a personal choice.

Sounds like a cool trip. Please be sure and keep us posted.
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Old 01-09-2018, 10:05 AM   #7
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We also saw a 2001 Bluebird with a DT466E. It would have been a longer drive to pick it up but sounds like it might be worth it for the engine we'd need.
Any guesstimates on how much $ are we looking at to decent install AC units?
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Old 01-09-2018, 10:08 AM   #8
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Being underpowered for the job doesn't mean it can't do the job. It's a bus, not a race car, you just need to have realistic expectations for it.

I took my bus through the mountains more than once with my dual AC running and I got to the top of all the hills eventually. I've got the lowest spec T444E and the AT542 transmission.
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Old 01-09-2018, 10:14 AM   #9
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From what I gathered by counting windows they'd all be more like 35'.

We did this drive 2 years ago in a Suburban pulling a 15 ft trailer. It is incredible views and an amazing way to experience countries many different landscapes.
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Old 01-09-2018, 10:46 AM   #10
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[QUOTE=brokedown;244102]Being underpowered for the job doesn't mean it can't do the job.

That is my husbands theory too..as long as it gets us there. Speed isn't our top priority, especially once we hit Central America.
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Old 01-09-2018, 10:56 AM   #11
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[QUOTE=marlinangela;244119]
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Being underpowered for the job doesn't mean it can't do the job.

That is my husbands theory too..as long as it gets us there. Speed isn't our top priority, especially once we hit Central America.
It isn't just speed- bigger motor gets bigger (better) transmission. Buses are ordered by Districts based on their needs and finances. Some buses are bare-bones and other districts put in al the bells and whistles- like A/C you covet. Adding A/C after the fact is $$$. Buying a better bus upfront does not have to cost more money.

Don't be too lazy to travel to get the "right" bus. It will be worth your while and you wanted to travel anyway.
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Old 01-09-2018, 11:16 AM   #12
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None of these already have AC so maybe we need to keep looking or decide we could live without and focus on insulating to help with climate control.

I, obviously, know next to nothing about engines/transmissions but it is a 5 speed Allison. No idea how good or bad that is.

Ha we do love travel, just somehow a 6 hour drive upstate and then home again doesn't have the same appeal as setting off for the South but it would absolutely be worth it for the right bus. If the April trip falls through we'd have the advantage of time to keep looking
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Old 01-09-2018, 11:32 AM   #13
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The 4 speed allisons are the ones you want to try to avoid. They're filled with peanut butter instead of transmission parts.

Really they're not that bad, until you want to take them on the highway, go up hills, or pull something behind you.

The common setup is the AT545, and they put it in just about any bus in the range most of us recommend buying.
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Old 01-10-2018, 08:40 AM   #14
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Any thoughts on this engine/tranny combo?
Intercooled 5.9l DT360 rated at 185hp, Allison A54. Better or worse than a T444?
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Old 01-10-2018, 10:34 AM   #15
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5.9 is a great motor. Pretty much any diesel option before the emissions changes after2003 or so will have a good reputation.

Conventional wisdom says that bigger is better but that's not really how it works with these. There is a large range of tuning and 5.9 can go pretty high while t444e can go pretty low. You will hear from people that neither motor is suitable for a big bus but most find here have one or the other.

Cummins 8.3 and Navistar dt466 also exist and can both go higher but don't necessarily.

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Old 01-10-2018, 10:48 AM   #16
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I haven't driven the at545 but from a fuel cost perspective you want a tranny with a lockup torque converter... we drove to Indiana and back to NY and back to Indiana and back to LI to get our bus with a DT466e and a 2000 series Allison transmission.

I've heard lots bad about vt365, cat if you need parts, mb, etc, and the safest bets seem to be the DT466e, 8.3 Cummins, 5.9 cummins, t444. roughly in that order. (Expect lots of arguments there but it seems to be the general consensus)

Transmissions for you should likely be limited to Allison 2000 or 3000 series. There's a plate on the tranny that has serial numbers and you can call Allison direct to get info if you don't know what it is.

Spend the time to get the right bus, and allow for lots of time for conversion... it's taking us twice as long as we thought probably.

If you're in LI (sounds like NYC area?) and want to check out our bus let me know and you can come down and visit and we can answer as many questions as we can! We can tell you about our bus buying experience as well... send me a dm on here (assuming there's a way) with email and I can write more!
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Old 01-10-2018, 03:29 PM   #17
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I haven't driven the at545 but from a fuel cost perspective you want a tranny with a lockup torque converter... we drove to Indiana and back to NY and back to Indiana and back to LI to get our bus with a DT466e and a 2000 series Allison transmission.

I've heard lots bad about vt365, cat if you need parts, mb, etc, and the safest bets seem to be the DT466e, 8.3 Cummins, 5.9 cummins, t444. roughly in that order. (Expect lots of arguments there but it seems to be the general consensus)

Transmissions for you should likely be limited to Allison 2000 or 3000 series. There's a plate on the tranny that has serial numbers and you can call Allison direct to get info if you don't know what it is.

Spend the time to get the right bus, and allow for lots of time for conversion... it's taking us twice as long as we thought probably.

If you're in LI (sounds like NYC area?) and want to check out our bus let me know and you can come down and visit and we can answer as many questions as we can! We can tell you about our bus buying experience as well... send me a dm on here (assuming there's a way) with email and I can write more!
It's not quite in that order. The Cummins 8.3 and Navistar DT530 head the list, the latter being quite rare, but awesome. Next the DT466, CAT3116 and 3126 (Merc is in here), then the 5.9s and T444. The VT365 doesn't make the list because it is inherently unreliable.

Each have their strengths and weaknesses. All have issues beyond 2004, and they just get worse after 2007.

Cummins 8.3, DT530 and DT466 can all be rebuilt without removing the engine from the frame (not so easy in the front-engined transits, but doable).

The CATs have parent-bore, not wet liners so have to come out, as do the V8s. CAT parts can be expensive as can the Mercs. That said, get a good one and they are terrific, AND they are a bit more tolerant of over-heating, the Achilles Heel of wet-liners.

Mercedes engines are more common in Thomas buses because Daimler, parent company of Mercedes, also owns Thomas Built Buses.

The AT545 transmission is a workhorse well suited to school buses and not well-suited to much else for the reasons stated.

All the others are fine. MT643 doesn't have overdrive. 2000 Series is stronger than 1000 series, but not by much. 3000 series is the better tranny and it is usually partnered with more powerful engines.

They can all be tuned to more horsepower. 5.9s tended to have 175 to 195hp. DT466 195 to 210. CATs around 230 for the more powerful ones and Cummins 8.3 was usually 250hp. DT530 is a bigger engine but also around 250hp.

Those bigger engines are usually tuned higher when you find them in RVs. It was common for the Cummins to leave the factory with 300+ hp for RV use.
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